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Exclusive: Noah '40' Shebib Talks Drake's 'Nothing Was The Same', Prod

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Noah “40” Shebib, the producer/engineer who helps sculpt Drake’s atmospheric aesthetics, talks soundtracking Nothing Was The Same and trying to bring Aaliyah back to life

STORY: John Kennedy l PHOTOS: Zach Gold

The scene inside Ontario, Canada’s Metalworks Studios looks like a indoor camp site. There are propped-up tents everywhere. Inside, air mattresses wear warm sheets and comforters while iPads serve as mini TVs. Instead of Porta Potties, there’s a washroom with a no-entry sign on the door—its shower reserved for guests of October’s Very Own. The release of Drake’s Nothing Was The Same is two months away so it’s officially crunch time, which means no one is going home. Noah “40” Shebib, the Quincy to Drake’s MJ, is orchestrating his own circle of Hit Men, from in-house talent like Majid Jordan, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Nineteen85 to extended family like Boi-1da and Detail, to put the finishing lacquer on Drake's strongest body of work yet.

“I’m like the militant general of the army—I live there and command my fucking army of interns and assistants and engineers,” says 40 of his recording boot camp. “We would pass out at 8, 9, 10 a.m., wake up, go to the breakfast bar, hop in the shower. Our creative processes at the end of albums are intense. People were pretty shaken up, like holy fuck.”

Shebib became the phantom face behind Drake’s moody aesthetics after hearing his music on the radio in Toronto rapper Jelly’s condo basement back in 2005. “I looked at Jelly like, ‘Yo I gotta find this kid. He’s fucking unbelievable,’” he remembers. “We connected and I instantly realized that he knows how to make music, he’s not scared of melody. I think he found in me, too, that I always did something different.”

In embracing their sonic otherness, the tag team has become the center of the music’s nucleus, especially as Drake and 40 have outdone themselves with Nothing Was The Same, VIBE’s top pick of 2013. Here, 40 gives the lowdown on his contributions to the album, the greatness that is Cam’ron, and why Aaliyah’s posthumous album failed to launch.

VIBE: With its beat progressions, “Tuscan Leather” opens Nothing Was The Same in an epic way. How much time did you spend on the intro?

Noah “40” Shebib: “Tuscan Leather,” that’s where I came from. That’s what I used to make—not to say it’s not a blatant Heatmakers/Dipset beat [laughs]. I love taking shit and flipping it. There’s nothing I can’t do. Literally. I’m not trying to be a facetious asshole, but I’m serious. If I can think of it from an acoustical standpoint, I can most likely achieve it. It’s like a magic trick; people are like, How did you do it? Well, I did it in two parts and put them together and accidentally created something amazing.

It seems like this album ventures from the 808s & Heartbreaks-influenced sound of Drake’s So Far Gone days.

The irony is I don’t listen to music. When it comes to 808s, for me, that was an influence of “Say What’s Real.” Drake rapped on [Kanye’s “Say You Will”] and it sounded so good that I just ran with that, which developed into something that me and Drake embellished upon moving forward. But ultimately the sound of Nothing Was The Same, to me, is moving backwards, going back to some of my roots and elaborating on what we created through So Far Gone, which of course had direct implications from Kanye West and a lot of other music as well. It’s not like I was listening to 808s when I was making that. I was listening to The Smiths, Van Morrisson’s Astral Weeks. That’s what I had on repeat. I’m not focused on what other people are doing because I’m concerned with elaborating my own musical palette and trying to discover something new.

Talk about the decision to explore your past, harder-edged sound.

Oliver encouraged me to do some of those old beats. We’re constantly trying to find aggression and energy, so maybe that was the motivation. But I don’t know how much of that [listeners] really got. I did a lot more stuff that nobody will ever hear. When we got the acappella from Hov [for “Pound Cake”] I had a beat an hour later. It was like a classic Hov record, a flipped sample in the “Tuscan Leather” vein. Drake was super amped. Then we sat with it and were like, Fuck, is this part of our album? We gave it to Boi-1da and he just murdered it. Our jaw dropped.

The beat for “Wu-Tang Forever” had that gritty feel, too.

I didn’t like “Wu-Tang Forever.” It sounded too different but I guess that resonated. People loved that shit. Maybe I don’t get it.

Do you and Drake ever disagree?


Do you and Drake ever disagree?

Sometimes. I challenge Drake when it comes to decision making. He didn’t want to put “Marvin’s Room” on Take Care and I was like, “Bro, fuck you, you’ve gotta put this on there. It’s a moment.” But there’s a flip side—I made that beat in a few hours. He comes in, like, “I’m using this.” I’m like, “No, no, it’s not done yet. I just started.” He’s like, “No, it’s done. Don’t do anything else.” It stayed that way. My objective is to make him happy. If he says yes, then I’m good. This album I feel I was more of an overseer. Not to say I didn’t contribute a lot—I produced a big chunk with my bare hands, writing music, playing keyboards, programming drums—but I feel I played more for a general role from a creative standpoint. Like, I’m just here to help, man.

So you got your Rick Rubin on?

Yeah, I suppose. I like to think I do on every album. I’m a different producer. I don’t know a lot of people that have the same skill set that I do. People throw around the term producer loosely. Worse than that, they give you the lecture between what a beat maker is and what a producer is. That shit makes me want to vomit on myself for the most part, because I know the people who are talking about it are just beatmakers and they don’t know anything except how to program one sequencer. There’s a lot more to producing. So that’s something that I hold very close to my heart—being able to have a wide skill set and being valuable on all fronts, whether tracking, recording, Pro Tools, playing instruments, writing songs, whatever. I try to contribute as much as I can and help the artist deliver their vision, which is the most important thing.

How did you end up working on Nas’ “Bye Baby,” and what exactly did you contribute?

Salam is really close to my manager Mr. Morgan. He’s like, “Salaam has this record he’s working on with Nas, and they want you to fuck with it.” Salaam sent me the looped sample and vocals for Nas. After that I got the entire session for the Guy record—all the separated Aaron Hall vocals, all the separated parts. I took all the parts and rebuilt some of them, flipped and mashed them all together and built the whole song. But I let Salaam lead on the production credit because even though I did the majority of the work, the initial idea of the sample, loop and the raps were all done with Salaam, and it was his idea.

What are you listening to now?

Cam’ron’s mixtape [Ghetto Heaven, Vol. 1]. [Laughs] I’ve been listening to Kool G Rap and The Smiths and, like, punk. That’s where I’m at. Yo, Cam’s the best. Cam’s music is so R&B. That’s my influence. Fuck everybody. I love those R&B/rap crosses. Especially if they’re done gangster enough—it’s this juxtaposition that I’ve always loved. We don’t achieve that with Drake because he’s not gangster. But instead of being on a street rapper with an R&B sound, we push on good music.

Which artists are on your personal wish list?


Which artists are on your personal wish list?

N.O.R.E. I want to fuck with Ghostface, Raekwon. I want to bring my sound and do what I know I can do with rap. Obviously working with Sade was a dream and I somehow achieved that.

That’s right: Sade’s “The Moon And The Sky (Remix)” with Jay Z. How did that record come about?

Jay Z emailed me like, “Yo, I want you to do this Sade record.” That record was tough, [though]. We went back and forth and I can’t say it ended up the way I really wanted. The record had five versions—the first me and Jay were like, Whew! We did it! And then Sade was like, Yeah, you change this, you change that. Me and Jay were deflated. I kept trying and it became a dead record for five months. I went back to the table, sent it to Sade and as soon as she greenlit it I was happy that she was happy.

Many of your collaborations with other artists have come through Drake. Maybe you could be the conduit for his bucket-list collabo with Sade.

Well, I was that for Aaliyah. Aaliyah’s label Blackground—the Hankersons, her uncle and cousin—came to me and said if she was around she’d want you to do this [posthumous] project. I’ve been obsessed with Aaliyah forever, and I know Drake has his relationship with her. But that opportunity was mine. Drake said, “Can I do it with you?” and I was like, “Of course, we’ll do it together.” The world reacting to Drake’s involvement so negatively, I just wanted nothing to do with it. That was a very sad experience for me. I was naïve to the politics surrounding Aaliyah’s legacy and a bit ignorant to Timbaland’s relationship and everybody else involved and how they’d feel. Tim said to me “Don’t stop, make the album.” I think that was Tim taking the position of, “I’m not going to stop you. If you’re not going to do it, that’s your decision.” But ultimately, I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t like the stigma. We released [“Enough Said”], but I was seven songs deep. [Aaliyah’s] mother saying “I don’t want this out” was enough for me. I walked away very quickly.

Now that you and Drake have released Nothing Was The Same, where do you go next, musically?

We finally made an album we’ve been trying to make for a long time. Now that we made “that album,” which is an eclectic mix of music and genres, we can do other things, like maybe a rap or an R&B album. I don’t know what we’re going to make next, but both me and Drake are hungry to start working on it, like, yesterday. I’d love to try something different. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen—if we’ll let each other or if the world will let us.

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