Dawaun Parker may not be a name that you find regularly on social media or on YouTube showing off how he made a certain beat but his contributions to some of your favorite albums is note-worthy.
The GRAMMY winning musician, also known as D-Park, has spent most of his career producing records out of Dr. Dre’s camp which includes credits with 50 Cent, Eminem, Jay-Z, Raekwon, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, T.I. and many more. Known for keeping a low profile, it’s kind of difficult to grab a hold of him but we did manage to have a lengthy conversation with Dawaun recently, who is fresh off multiple credits on Eminem’s latest album, Music to Be Murdered By.
Along with rest of the “jam band” of producers that work with Dr. Dre in crafting songs — Trevor Lawrence Jr., Dem Jointz, and Erik Griggs — Dawaun has as many as six credits on Music To be Murdered By, which debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and received mostly positive reviews. “I hate to use the term ‘vibe’ or whatever, but we’re just vibing out basically. When we lock in on something that everyone seems to like, we push the button on it and then go to the next idea, really. It’s not really anything more complicated than that,” Dawaun explains the making of some of the tracks with the Aftermath-affiliated team.
In our exclusive chat, we discussed the creation of Eminem’s new outing, how the album was kept a secret from even the producers till it was time for paperwork, the status of Dr. Dre’s long pending Detox album, Dre’s role as a “producer,” and his personal journey as an artist himself. We even tried to get some info out of him in regards to Kanye West’s recently announced Jesus is King II album in collaboration with the good doctor.
We were somewhat successful. Here’s the chat, slightly edited for clarity:
HHNM: Congrats on multiple credits on Music To Be Murdered By which I think is getting a good reaction. Obviously with Em it’s always gonna be a lot of negative backlash but I think the non-biased listeners are appreciating it, calling it one of his best albums in the last few years.
Dawaun: Oh, thank you. I feel like it’s the same thing. I mean Em is a polarizing figure, you know, that’s no secret. But he’s a legend and I do think that he showed that he’s still going, on this project. Yeah, it’s cool to be a part of it. I’ve always been a huge fan and I’m glad to have contributed to this one.
Yeah. Now that the dust has settled I think I would actually rate it maybe the fifth best album of his career. It really grows on you. I was actually surprised at how much I ended up liking it.
Oh, it’s really cool, man. I definitely didn’t know what the album was gonna be like until everyone else heard it, you know. I heard it along with everybody else. I knew a fair amount of what we had done but even then there’s always changes and adjustments and things like that and you never know if anybody’s gonna keep anything or what’s gonna make it or what’s not. It’s just cool to be a part of it again and I’m glad to be a part of the arrangement of it in terms of like, the intro and the outro, just being a part of the theme of the album so it’s really cool.
Right. I actually want to talk about that intro because Em comes out blazing on that and started the album on some note. How did that come about? Did you know that he had picked that beat, he was gonna rap on that for the intro? Did you know that already?
No. You don’t know anything really until they give you paperwork (laughs). And even then, you know, they still may call an audible at the last moment. But that’s when you have a sense of like ‘okay, there’s gonna be something there I guess’ and yeah I’ve been in this business long enough to still kind of wait ‘til everyone else hears it, that’s kind of when you believe it too.
On the second half, you’re a co-producer on three consecutive tracks; ‘Never Love Again’, ‘Little Engine’, ‘Lock It Up’. All of them are with Dem Jointz, Dre and Trevor Lawrence Jr. How do you guys get together? Just run me through the process of how you get together and produce and compose on a song together.
Well for those particular sessions, and shoutout to everyone who contributed by the way, but I would describe it is basically that we were like a jam band of producers. We were like a band that already knows how to make beats as well so it just makes kind of like, a unique experience and Dre’s the coach of that. So yeah, we were just there creating ideas. I hate to use the term ‘vibe’ or whatever, but we’re just vibing out basically. When we lock in on something that everyone seems to like, we push the button on it and then go to the next idea, really. It’s not really anything more complicated than that. We get to see a lot of different studio footage these days, right? If you look at YouTube you see all kinds of producers, all kinds of people in the studio and you get glimpses of what people want you to see, but I think that we still, for the most part, get a sense of what it’s like when people are making a track together. There’s a few of us and we can play instruments, we can program drums, we can chop and we can just all do everything. And so we just all pick a piece when we’re all vibing together just like a band, you’re playing a part. That’s pretty much it. It’s really no different than when other groups of people collaborate.
When a particular beat gets to Em, does he know who did all of those beats? Is he selective like that? If Dre hands over something to him or if something comes to him, he performs on it and the rest of it happens later? Or does he know prior that Dawaun did it or Dem Jointz are on it or whoever is on it.
It would be hard to say for every track that’s been made, and that’s not something I really ever think about but I’ve been in the studio with Em, you know, he’s been there. So I’d imagine that he knows who’s contributing and yeah, I think that he’s aware of all the process.
So on this album as well, he was in the studio for a little bit on some of the tracks I’m guessing?
Yeah. We got to spend some time with him in the studio for this project. Not the entirety of it obviously, but yeah.
A lot of listeners get confused with Dr. Dre’s role as a producer like ‘does he actually make beats? Does he mix? What does he do?’ Can you explain to the layman what the process is of him as a producer as opposed to just a beatmaker? How does that work?
Well I’d like to answer that by giving my perspective about just what a producer is period and obviously someone like Dre will match that description or that will describe him. A producer is a person who helps bring the artist’s vision into fruition and there are different methods of achieving that. Before there was ever a Hip-Hop genre, there were producers. So what did they do to produce a record? Did they make a beat? No. Did they play all of the instruments? No. Did they write the song? Not necessarily that either. But what they might have done was they might have put all of that together. They might have said ‘these strings need to be over here and we’re going to get this singer and we’re going to get this person to write it’, bringing all of that together and making the in-studio decisions and helping to get everyone’s best performance for the particular record, that’s the producer. Now we know with Hip-Hop, there became a new genre which had a new method of creating music and so that means that our definition and our concept of what production is has to adjust and evolve. There are people who are making beats and I think that we, besides drum programming or sample manipulation or something or giving them credits that read ‘made the beat’, we say they were the producer. And now we have a lot of beatmakers who say they’ve produced, but they only make beats. And that’s not to diminish them or belittle them, but the difference is, I can say it like this and Dre has said this before so I learned this from him, “once you make the beat, you’ve still got to produce the record”.
Right. I think I’ve heard Jimmy Iovine say that somewhere too because he used to be a producer as well back in the day with other Rock acts and everything.
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, you have Quincy Jones, you have George Martin, Dre’s in that category. He’s a producer’s producer at the highest level and nothing would sound how it sounds if he wasn’t in the room.
‘Lock It Up’ with Anderson .Paak, that is clearly a fan favorite, I really like that song. Whose idea was it to have him do the chorus on that? That’s one collab no one was expecting on the album.
I can’t say for sure but I think that was Em. I think that anytime that there’s a feature on an Em project it’s obviously someone that he was interested in having on a record. I think they’ve worked together before but I do think that there was a level of surprise to it for the fans. It’s been really cool, I actually ran into Anderson at the GRAMMY event where Dre got his award and he was telling me he was getting great feedback for that record too so it was really cool that we caught one.
Yeah that song really goes. It’s like a modern version of an Eminem banger so I really like it.
It’s really cool. I remember us making that joint, I’m thankful that one person heard it and liked it and then the next person, that it got through all the stages, you’re always thankful for that.
How long did Em work on the album, any idea?
No idea whatsoever. Yeah, none whatsoever. Didn’t even know there was gonna be an album, like I said, until pretty shortly before everyone else. I knew before it dropped but not long before that.
I don’t remember exactly but I saw a report that the album was originally supposed to release in December sometime but pushed back because he couldn’t finish it in time. Is there any truth to that?
I mean around that time is when we knew that there may be a project, when we started to hear rumors about one too just like everyone else so I don’t know if there was an intended release date but perhaps that’s what fuelled that in retrospect people like ‘well I heard that there might have been a thing, so it probably was supposed to come out then’. But really when it comes to all of those kinds of things, I, maybe even more than average, I don’t pay attention to that stuff (laughs). I really, really don’t. As cliché as it sounds, I’m really just focused on what I can contribute musically. That can be challenging at times, but that’s always my goal. I’ve also been in the business long enough now to learn that intended release dates and all of the ancillary stuff that comes with it, that stuff changes and it’s elastic. Also, I don’t want outside opinions and that kinda stuff to affect what I’m doing in the studio, to be worried about expectations and all of that stuff, especially for things that I’m not in control of. I’m being asked to contribute to these records, you know? They’re not my records. So I’m just thankful to be a part of them and that’s where it ends, I go onto the next thing.
I also wanna ask, over 2018, 2019, there have been a few hints that Dre might still be releasing or working on Detox. Can you tell us something about that? Is Dre working? What is he up to with regards to that?
(Laughs) I cannot confirm or deny anything like that, just directly. Really man, we work on music. I’m always fascinated when these stories emerge because we don’t talk about that. We really just make music and then you don’t know what anyone is gonna do until suddenly it’s like ‘oh yeah, this group of things we’ve been making, I’m gonna do this with it’, you know? So yeah, I call it the unicorn album that’s been a topic for years and years and years. At this point it has to be no comment (laughs).
Yeah, yeah, I know what they said (laughs). I know what they said and that’s great. I just know what I work on, that’s it. Everything we’ve made is dope and maybe one day it’ll be heard, who knows?
Let’s hope, let’s pray. You were dropping music as a rapper, I remember I was covering that. Are you planning to release more stuff or have you put that to the side? What’s up with that?
Oh man, this question’s unexpected actually (laughs). I love Hip-Hop, I think it’s cool to rap and you know, I don’t know that I’ll ever stop making songs. Whether I put any of them out, that really remains to be seen. When I really went into more focus on production and trying to collaborate more on records and not really put attention on my own thing, I didn’t really think that it would be missed but I continue to run into people who ask me about this, you know? So on some level I can’t escape it, while at the same time it’s like, yeah, ain’t no-one looking for that or checking for that. It would be an organic thing if it ever happens. If I end up making a song that I’m like ‘I’d like to see what people think about this’ then maybe I’ll put it on SoundCloud or something like that. But otherwise, right now it’s just a day at a time and focusing on these current records and production but nah, I appreciate you asking about it.
Yeah I remember because I was covering all of that, you used to drop them occasionally. So I was like ‘let me ask you what’s up with that’.
Those records are always… you know, I wasn’t pursuing a record deal or anything like that. So to be able to have those SoundCloud records and during that blog era for a few to cover them, I’m really thankful for that because it allowed me to do what I do and for it to not be a complete surprise if I drop a freestyle or something like that. It won’t be, you know, ‘who does this guy think he is?’
Right. Now that the Em album is out, what else can we look forward to hearing from you this year? More production, more work on that side?
Who knows? There’s quite a few people who have hit me up since this record dropped. Every time a significant project drops, there’s people who come around, people who are reminded that you may have something to contribute. I’ve never really liked calling things too early and saying ‘we’re in the lab’ or ‘we got a record together’ because if you never hear the record then what was the point in me mentioning it? Kinda like, just to prove that I’m working? (Laughs). So yeah, I have been going in on the recent so hopefully there’s something significant you hear real soon. And you’ve seen a picture that’s been posted with two significant figures that have said that they’re working on an album, so I’ll just allude to that and we’ll move onto the next question (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, that was my next question. Have you had a chance to work on it personally with them? Whatever you can speak on.
I’m sure we will all come to know soon. Let’s revisit that once something drops.
Those two working together, that picture was definitely very, very interesting. I think we’re really looking forward to the outcome of that collaboration. Definitely hoping to read your credits on some of that.
Appreciate that, man, very much. I hope so too. Thank you.