The Producer’s Voice: DK The Punisher [@dkthepunisher]

Words By: Miki Hellerbach

The Producer’s Voice is a new series for GUAP where we highlight the stories of instrumental crafters. We hope to bring their stories to the forefront instead of kept behind the artist they are producing for.

DK The Punisher is the multitalented artist that managed to work with legends and legends in the making off the strength of him sticking to his sounds.

Baltimore bred producer DK The Punisher initially garnered his musical affinity from his father. His father was a singer and also had a keyboard in DK’s childhood home that DK would mess around on. In the house, DK’s family would also play late 90s classics from artists like Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, and Lauryn Hill which he describes as “soulful but still Hip Hop.” These albums would give him a palette to draw from that would carry with him throughout his producing journey.

From ‘04-’06 with the help of a new computer his mother purchased, DK learned to make beats of his own due to not being able to afford the instrumentals he found online at the time. Once he got what he qualified as “good enough” he finessed Myspace to reach out to artists on the west coast whose sounds he was intrigued by including Dom Kennedy and Pac Div. He would eventually make virtual contact with Teron Carter over iChat who put him on to the early sounds of Anderson .Paak and SiR. This was at the end of high school.

The next big connection DK made was with legendary producer Andre Harris who became a mentor. Harris flew him out to LA for the initial meeting and DK eventually moved in with Harris in 2013. The sessions that DK ended up participating in from being in this space were with amazing singers like Letoya Luckett and Jill Scott (these tracks ended up on Scott‘s 2015 album Woman). It’s difficult not to put it down to fate as with this collaboration with Scott, DK had ended up collaborating with one of the artists he grew up listening to. 

These sessions also led to the link that would propel DK into a career of his own. One day singer/songwriter Pooh Bear stopped by the house searching for instrumentals to write over for Justin Bieber’s 2013 compilation album Journals. DK played a plethora of beats, but Pooh Bear selected only two or three to take away. Then DK didn’t hear anything for months. Then suddenly Pooh Bear sent a demo for what eventually would become the standout track “All That Matters”. This placement would open up a whole new world and DK would go on to participate in compositions crafted for a wide ranging set of artists in the Hip Hop and R&B sphere from then until now.

I asked DK The Punisher to give the backstory of three of his top instrumentals. Take a read.

“All That Matters” by Justin Bieber

“Pooh Bear was very selective. When he sent back his demo for “All That Matters” Dre was like, “If he’s sending a demo, Justin’s probably gonna cut it.” I was broke and fresh out of my mom’s crib. Then when I got the beat back with Justin’s vocals it seemed more real. Then when they told me he was releasing one song a week for ten weeks and “All That Matters” was gonna be the second week I was like, “What?!” Then it came out! I was doing my best Tiffany Gouche impression.

I played a chord progression with a midi reason guitar sound on the keys but it sounded too fake. I was in my bedroom at Dre’s crib and went downstairs to the studio to ask him to play it on guitar. He knocked it out quickly and added some sauce. I took it back to my room to work it out a little more. I originally wanted to give it to Letoya Luckett but she didn’t really like it.

That was also a super Timbaland inspired bounce. It’s funny cuz at the time there was a manager trying to court me who kept asking why I put Trap drums on everything. Then that song ended up going up. What’s also funny is if someone had come and told me, “Hey, we need a bunch of beats for Justin Bieber,” I would’ve tried to put together a bunch of Pop shit and sent it. This was a lesson in not trying to cater to what artists have done in the past. You never know what they may be working on.”

“D’evils” by Sir

“What’s crazy is that song almost didn’t make the album (November). It was one of our favorites though. I was living in Baltimore at the time but was coming out here to LA to work on the album. D Smoke and SiR were roommates at the time and Smoke hit me cuz he was going out of town and told me I could use his room to come out and work. So I came out and we were working every day.

That one happened after one morning when we came out on the balcony, smoked, and talked about life and goals with the album. I went back inside, opened my laptop, and went through some Reggae joints going down a YouTube rabbit hole. Then I came across this song called One Spliff A Day”. I played it and heard that little vocal break. I was like, “There’s no way I can’t flip this.” I pitched the sample up while keeping the tempo the same, which is a specific Ableton capability. Then I did some chords with my little Beats Pill and my midi controller at the dining room table. SiR wrote the song right there while I was making the beat.

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Then I was like, “I know I want guitar,” so I called the homie Bradford. That song would not be the same song if there was another guitar player. His feel brought everything to life. He played through the song four times with different amps. Then I took that home and arranged everything, like the drop outs and all that. Then replayed the key parts to make it feel more live and that was the song. The song was never mixed. That’s still my two track mix and beat with the vocals SiR gave me because it was so down to the wire.

It was on the playlist at first but then they took it off up until everything got mastered. They had to clear the sample and all that. Sample clearance is a headache so if you don’t think a record is gonna be meaningful then a lot of times they’ll be like, “It’s not worth it.” But we believed in it. We went to a playlist retreat at DJ Jazzy Jeff’s house and SiR played it for him. Jeff was telling me, “That “D’evils” joint is crazy!” I was like, “That’s an amazing compliment but it’s probably not gonna see the light of day.” But we thought, “If those people are giving the green light we should fight for this record.” It was the best decision we made.

With the hi hats I tried to emulate a drummer so they wouldn’t all be at the same velocity. Then got that Reggae bounce from working with Dre. It also stands out cuz it’s really simple. The engineer mentors I’ve had have told me, “The less sounds you use the more everything will shine.” That one kick I used filled up so much space. Then I added the one snare with a clap layered on top, a little flanger on the hi hats, piano, and key bass that people thought was live.”

“Broke+-” by Jay Rock

“That joint took a while to come together. I made the beat in like 2016 back in Baltimore in some Airbnb I had. It was inspired by Dead Presidents actually. It sounds so eerie and dark and I wanted to create something like that. At first, it was no drums, just keys on Rhodes piano. I used a compact plug in called Piano in Blue that sounds really realistic. I played it out and then pretty much sampled myself and slowed it down. I pitched everything around and played with it in Ableton. I wanted it to sound dirty and like a sample cuz that’s the foundation of Hip Hop. Then I added drums that I wanted to feel like some UGK shit.

It came out dope and I sent it to Jay Rock almost immediately. I remember I was on a date and Jay Rock called me and was excited! He said, “This is crazy ima send you the voice note.” The voice note was the whole first verse and the hook and it was crazy. Jay Rock’s one of my favourite rappers and super underrated. He reminds me of DMX in a lot of ways. But that voice note is all I heard for a long time. I didn’t even hear the second verse until the album came out.” 

Follow DK The Punisher on Twitter and Instagram
Also, DK curated this playlist with many of the songs he’s worked on

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