XMPL Cover Story: The Border City – M.A.D Studios

DJ KyDD, Sugar Shad and Yung Lowz

As we touch up on the art of creating possibilities that seem to be over looked in this city, it is hard not to speak about M.A.D Recordings. M.A.D is Windsor’s most prestigious recording studio. Lead by owner Sugar Shad (Brandon Deriveau), the quality of services is automatically set by his history and credentials. Shad is an elite audio engineer that excels in artist development, but the resume speaks for itself. Hip-Hop is a game of earning your stripes and Shad’s include working with artists like, Tech N9ne, Style P, Jr Reid, French Montana, Zay Hilfiger, 3MFrench, Oba Rolland, Dipset, Ohno & Yung Nobel & Edi Imean from Outlawz.

Working along side him are two young producers, who are have created their own track record around the city and surrounding areas. The younger of the two who works closely with Big Saturn is Yung Lowz, who excels in finding new sounds and matching melodies to bring out the most in an artist. The second is friend of XMPL, DJ KyDD who is in the middle of his take over with Detroit artist Nessy The Rilla. KyDD is a DJ and producer which when executed correctly, is a lethal combination.

The studio is a hub for the city and allows anyone the opportunity to pursue a music career. Welcoming in beginners to fully developed artists, M.A.D Studios will help nurture artists and teach them how to create lanes in this industry. I had a chance to sit in with Shad, KyDD & Lowz during their sessions with Nessy & Saturn and it allowed me to see an inside perspective of how this studio carries itself. There is a comfort level between the producers and artists that stood out, everything was constructive and detailed in execution. Shad also was actively there to assist, critique and indulge in the music that was being created.

Sugar Shad

Saturn talked to us about his story with M.A.D, here is what he had to say:

“I walked into MAD Studios probably May or June 2017, I’ve been here for a little while. It’s been nothing but good vibes and creation ever since then. Since I walked in, I developed as an artist a lot for sure, the sound is crazy now. Working with Shadow, KyDD & Lowzy as I grow, they grow, as they grow, I grow. In the last couple years we polished the sound… It’s wild, blows my mind sometimes.

MAD Studios is crazy because a small place like Windsor has such a great studio, a great sound and great people… Talented people, but the sound here is ridiculous, even when I go back to Toronto or when I go on trips to places, like Cali or Atlanta – and I show people some stuff, they always ask ‘Woah- Where are you getting this mixed and recorded?’ They seem shocked when I tell them we got a spot in Canada. It’s pretty cool to see the shock factor because, we got it over here for sure!

I taught myself to really kick it up a notch with the writing, this is home. I usually only write here. I try not to write when I’m out or any other places. When it comes to feedback and criticism, we’re family nothing hurts us, if it’s garbage we gotta fix it, keep it moving, no hard feelings, get it going and just get better, on to bigger and better things. We are very communicative. I recorded a lot of places, there are places where I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll still get the work done, I won’t necessarily shut down, but I feel like I limit myself. Being able to solidify myself here, really know my vocal range, really know how well I can write, and just experimenting and playing around – now when I go to other places, I know exactly what to do and what I can do.

Being here in Windsor right now, there is influence from the States, so I’m listening to a lot of different music that I wasn’t listening to before, like the Detroit scene and other cities around. Being able to have that so close, it changes your sound as well being inspired by different things. When it comes to writing, I try to keep it as fun and as positive as possible, party, lit, fun. I do come from a negative past, I’m not from a good place. We’ve been through some tough times, so you’re going to hear that in the music as well, it’s inevitable, it’s going to come out. Mostly I try to keep it fun, energy I like it uptempo, jumpy but I could also hit the feelers a little bit.

The main person I work with is Lowzy, he makes a lot of my beats, we just get it poppin’. We’ve been working and growing together for the last couple of years now. When I dropped my EP ‘Right Path’, Lowzy produced 5 out of the 6 tracks, he put in a lot of work on there. Shoutout to everybody on that EP as well, I don’t want to miss anyone, y’all know who you are. It’s all on me, they give me as much time as I need, some days I can put out 10 tracks and it works at the artists pace.

I’ll probably have a project for you guys first quarter and maybe another right after.” 

Yung Lowz, Big Saturn

Even though Saturn is a Toronto-based artist that records in this city, M.A.D still has a lot of local influence that comes to their studio for their premium quality and sound. Artists like Peso Benjies, Danny Green, Mugelezi, BRAAKS, RT Raz and many more. Their influence and talent is not limited, as we seen with Saturn they do have reach. KyDD is the latest to knock on the door of the sleeping giant that is Detroit. We’ve seen him DJ across the border and we’ve seen him host the decks for Young Tory. Now he’s been working closely with Detroit artist Nessy.

Let’s see what Nessy had to say about his time recording at M.A.D and experience coming to Windsor:

“I love M.A.D. M.A.D is home. I don’t want to record anyone else, I’m not going to lie. They understand my sound, where I’m trying to be, where I want to go to and they help me get there. The vision in my head, they bring it to life. I’m super comfortable recording here, I can come here write a song on the same day and leave with it done, knowing it’s a quality song. Where I can’t do that at other studios, either the vibe is off or a lot of commotion is going on, where here, it’s like a Dojo in a sense. I really appreciate that.

Coming to Windsor man… It’s definitely a trip every time, I love coming to Windsor. I like coming here for the little culture shocks that I notice, like the spelling on the food and the way they walk and talk, but it’s all love being able to cross the border to somewhere that’s so close yet so far. It’s cool recording in Windsor, meeting all the artists, there’s a lot of dope vibes out here, a lot of good humble people and I definitely love coming out here.” Nothing really can put this into words like hearing from the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Nessy The Rilla

This recording studio welcomed XMPL into their humble abode. Seeing the amount of work they put into their music and the communication between each other and the artists they work with is truly inspiring! Pushing forward they will continue to be dominant in the city and will also ring bells outside ‘The Border City’.

In my interview with Shad, Kydd & Lowz I got a taste of their influences, goals, projects and more. Here is how our conversation went:

XMPL: M.A.D is comprised of 3 entities, can you tell us where you’re from, how you met and how M.A.D was created? 

Sugar Shad: “Currently M.A.D Studios is based out of Windsor Ontario Canada. I was lucky enough to meet these two (KyDD & Lowz), through a mentoring program I hosted for upcoming and aspiring producers.

What kind of music do you excel in right now?

KyDD: Definitely Hip-Hop, I think we are really getting into the Hip-Hop scene more now, but we do work with a lot of different genres with artists.

Shad: I would say the majority of our artists are comprised of Hip-Hop, Pop, R&B and Gospel at the moment, but like he says we definitely have a forte for the Hip-Hop genre.


What kind of changes do you notice in Hip-Hop from when you first started producing till now?

Shad: I would say the arrangements of the instrumentation on the beats, I’d say the high hats and the 808’s have influenced a lot of the game right now and it’s the different variations and patterns that these guys are able to create with these simple two tools that are actually creating all these new vibes we’re getting today.

How important do you think lyrics are in today’s game?

Kydd: I gotta hear something quotable, they’re very important. I’m not going to be humming a base line while I’m doing my dishes. To me, yeah lyrics are everything.

Lowz: I think lyrics are huge! If somebody is sitting there saying something stupid, they don’t want to be caught out there with that reputation. I think lyrics are a very big thing, especially today.

Shad: It’s really interesting to hear this coming from the new generation, because I come from an era where it’s all about the lyricism. We could go A capella, we could do it just over a kick and a snare and then we’re ready to rap and show people our talents. With the new age with all the heavy production, you find a lot of artists hiding behind that, so to find there’s still a huge appreciation for it is great to know. There’s still an appreciation for the real art of Hip-Hop. 

Yung Lowz

What tracks would you say put you on to 808’s as a producer?

Lowz: A track that I would have to say put me on to 808’s would have to be ‘Jump Man’ by Drake, because Metro Boomin’ was a very big influence in my life as a producer, I really looked up to Metro. ‘Jump Man’ was the first song I took in that Metro made the beat and I started looking into that a bit more and that’s when I started to get 808 heavy with my beats.

KyDD: For me, I’d have to go back. ‘Killa CAM’ by Cameron. The way the 808’s were hitting heavy, it started driving a lot of my beats. I was really heavy with the 808’s, if it didn’t match how heavy that track was, I didn’t like it.

With 808’s being so heavy today what do you think it took away from older Hip-Hop?

Shad: As a mixing engineer you see how big the of a component the 808 actually is, it actually eats up a large bandwidth part of the track. Before it was a lot of Boom-Bap so it left a lot of space for the rapper to be heard. There was a lot more lyrical music I’d say, coming across the 90’s and early 00’s and after that the percussion got so crazy that it started to lead with the beat. Now the artists are following the beat and the beat is taking the forefront of the stage.

With production being so crucial today, many of the younger Hip-Hop heads are picking up music programs instead of trying to become the rapper. What would you say is something people have to get into the game with if they want to become a producer?

Shad: Dedication. Dedication has to be the number on thing and constant practice. Because everyone now has access to production tools and it’s becoming the new fad, that everyone wants to become a producer the competition raid has sky rocketed. What I see separating one producer to the next is exactly how many hours they’re putting into their craft. So there is a couple of people that dabble into beats, spending a couple hours in the day and then there is the real producers that are making beats 8-10 hours a day. It’s really hard to compete with those guys when they’re putting in so many hours into production.

I was lucky enough to sit in a few sessions with KyDD & Lowzy and both weren’t afraid to tell their artists what works and what doesn’t. What would you say producers tend to miss when working with different artists?

KyDD: That chemistry, because a lot of artists would focus on YouTube and a type of beat, for example a Future-type beat so when they finally get their hands on a producer they say “Make it like this”, when true say the artists hasn’t found that sound. So when you have that 1 on 1 with an artist you can work together to find that sound for an artist, the beat that compliments the artist and more other than trying to fit themselves into a “Future-type beat.”

What do you look for in an artist that makes you want to work with them?

Lowz: To be honest? The number one thing I’m looking for is sauce. I just want to see if they’re hard or not. If the artist goes hard then I’m interested right off the rip, but then after that I want to see how hard they work. If I’m looking at somebody and they don’t work hard, that doesn’t interest me because I don’t think they’ll work hard with my product.

Shad – KyDD and Lowzy both speak highly of you, calling you sensei. They’ve been growing with you and makes us wonder, how welcoming is M.A.D to beginners and what specific knowledge lever are you looking for?

Shad: Well, the advantage of M.A.D Studios and what separates us from your every day music studio is M.A.D actually stands for Music Artist Development. So we want to bring in the new comers, allow them to take advantage of our experience and help them fast-track through the industry. We invite new comers, people who have already established themselves on the internet as well as professional artists who just enjoy that polished sound and are looking for a good studio to work at. I would say we cater to all levels of the market and definitely inviting to everyone.

What would you say your biggest strength is in production?

Lowzy: I would definitely say my drums if I had to say anything music wise. My music, my production is definitely drum heavy.

KyDD: I would have to agree, because when we first met Shad, he was teaching us how to make our beats better. We had a certain level, then Shad brought us to that next level, and throughout the years he was always throwing out tips and pointers on how we can make it even better. Working under Shad as well, he’s taught us the recording engineering side, but we still excel with our drums, most definitely.

Shad: I’d say artist coaching, being well versed in all aspects of music I’m able to help the artist in finding their comfort zone, so we are able to get the best product out of the artist. 

Sugar Shad

What was the biggest thing you had to coach your artists in?

Shad: How to stay personable. Be authentic “you can’t fake the funk”, that’s part of our motto. Teaching them to be disciplined, as an entrepreneur you have to be in control of your own time, so the discipline to practice your craft and get that out there. Like I said that personality, to work well with an artist, to make them feel welcome and to really make them feel at ease in this environment, so that they can create freely.

What did you learn from Shad and what made you to continue the path as a producer?

KyDD: For me it doesn’t even relate to the music, Shad’s been like a big bro. We spend a lot of hours with him, so as soon as we get here and our energy is down he sees it off rip. Sometimes he’ll pull us aside and catch up with us, give us that life motivation we needed to hear, not knowing we needed to hear it. He put’s us back on track, he’s been through it all, so he knows how to guide us down the right path.

Lowz: That’s a big factor, I agree with him, but also regarding the music, Shadow has taught me everything. From mixing, recording, everything I needed to know about music. He’s the guy.

What is it that artists like yourselves and ones you work with have to learn and accept about criticism?

Shad: The music industry is nothing personal. Us being the engineers on the other side of the glass, we only want to see the best come out of you. We only want the best for you, we want to see you shine. If we are taking the time to criticize or adjust or critique the art, know that it’s coming from a good place. It’s nothing malicious, it’s nothing against the artist, it’s nothing personal, it’s simply just ways to tweak the art.

What does MAD Studios have cooking up for us in 2020?

Shad: 2020 is going to be our double down year, everything we’ve done in the past, you’re going to see it amplified. We’ll have a lot more releases, we are currently working heavily with 4 artists, so there will be a lot of projects coming out. Big Saturn, he is going to be one of them. We have a nice project going with Nessy The Rilla, my main man is still in there kickin’. Munch music, he’s got another project that we’re working on and the newest edition, yet to be announced, I got my eyes on Gidz. Currently I think he’s one of the most underrated artists in the city and in 2020 I think we’re going to be dragging him into the studio to lay down some heat.

If you can pick 3 artists outside the genre of Hip-Hop from any point in time, to make a track with who would you pick?

KyDD: I already know! Billy Talent, definitely Billy Talent, I’m a rocker fan, so Billy Talent for sure. Tame Impala, big big fan of his work. He’s more experimental but what he does is crazy. James Blake, I love his work and what he did with Travis…  Ouuf, blew my mind. Especially because I was a fan before they worked together, yeah gotta say James Blake.

Shad: It’s definitely a difficult one, because most of the legendary artists we wanted to work with we didn’t, we sampled them. They’ve been incorporated in the Hip-Hop genre but they never really collaborated. One that I would think, just because of style would be Rick James. His whole persona in the Hip-Hop genre would be accepted, I feel like they merge really well.

Lowzy: That’s a hard decision, just because I’m trying to think of an artist that’s not in the Hip-Hop scene, but will sound good in the Hip-Hop scene. A fire track would be a Jimmy Hendrix and Future on a track together.     

Photos by: Sneaker Buddha

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