Keelay and Zaire 
of The Sole vibe

Zaire on the left, Keelay on the right.

I've been working with Keelay and Zaire of The Sole Vibe camp for quite a few years now. Some of the processors I've purchased, I've bought specifically to work on some of these guys' tracks, so it's only fitting that I set off this Client Spotlight section with a spotlight on them. I'm honestly honored to be associated with these dudes and their projects, real talk. Kee and Zee hustle like you can't even imagine and well, I'm glad they let me handle nearly all of their mixes and masters (these boys got skills on the mixing tip, but I suspect they rather spend time producing tracks than dealing with the "engineering shit"). At the time of this introduction, their album "Ridin' High" is about to drop on the Myx music label. The tracks on their Spotlight Player are from their "teaser" EP named fittingly, "Prelude to Drive". Like they like to say: "We out here, mang."

The following is a convo I had with Keelay and Zaire while we were close to wrapping up the "Ridin' High" album:

What’s going on fellas, let’s start out with where you guys are from:

Zaire: I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio, but currently in Newport News, VA. Gem City represent, haha
Keelay: Im out in San Francisco.

Who are your influences as producers?

Keelay: shieesh..theres sooo many to short tho’: Dre, Timbaland, Illmind, Dilla, Battlecat, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield..shieesh anybody that makes something moving
Zaire: Ha! my favorite question, (laughs). My influences rely heavily on Dilla, of course, Just Blaze, Hi-Tek, DJ Quik, Illmind, a matter of fact, a lot of westcoast heads
Keelay: dang I forgot quick and tek, & basically all of what boogie said
Zaire: …and thats not even getting into the old school cats like Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder etc.

How did you get into production?Was there a particular joint you heard that made you want to get into the game?

Zaire: Well, I started off wanting to be a DJ at first and bought my first Gemini turntable setup for like 200 lol. The mixer came with a sampler. After failing at learning to cut, (laughs), I tried my hand at sampling to make beats for my homies to freestyle to.

and when was that?

Zaire: That was about 2001, so about 6 years ago
Keelay: Hmmm...I'd have to say Moment Of Truth, the album

is that around the time you started making beats?

Keelay: I was just dj'n at that time, I didn’t' even start makin beats till about 2001 as well, but that album definitely was the defining factor that got me infatuated with beats

Who else makes up The Sole Vibe, and how did you guys come together to form a collective?

Keelay: Well Zaire, Fish (J-Fish) and I all became familiar with each other via, dang I don't even remember when that was, Id say three or four years ago
Zaire: that was around 2001 Keelay, on the boards at least
Keelay: daaamn, ok my bad, around ‘01! (laughs) We all bascially just talked a lot and really had a respect for each other.

You guys are both nice on the keys; do you guys have any sort of formal training?

Keelay: I’m renegade keyboard player (laughs)
Zaire: Well, I had a *little* formal training for about 4-5 months, but thats it
Keelay: I just hit keys till something sounds good
Zaire: Yeah, I'd say it’s all by ear

Do you have a particular approach when collaborating on tracks, like “I’ll make the drums and you do the rest”?

Zaire: Yeah, we'll usually let Keelay lace the drums, hahaha
Keelay: Umm..typically somebody will just start with an idea
Zaire:…and then we just add on
Keelay: whether its the drums or a melody, or a sample, then from there its like dominoes; everybody just starts adding on
Zaire: pretty much.

Is it hard to decide when a joint is finished?

Keelay:…and usually we have to kick Fish off the keyboard (laughs)
Zaire: Yeah that’s true, Fish gets carried away, that’s good though (laughs), but usually it’s not too much static when the tracks done

(Note: J-Fish wasn’t around for the interview to defend himself. -L)

…and the flip side of that coin is not coming up with ideas, How do you guys deal with beat slumps?

Keelay: maaan I wish I had an answer for that one; I usually just take a break and listen to records
Zaire: Well the way I deal with it is to start meddling outside of the box...I’ll try to get down on some R&B or just do somethin’ crazy like sample myself (laughs)
Keelay: I try to listen for new arrangements or ideas or really just take a damn break
Zaire: …or bite off of one of keelay's or fish's joints (laughter)

What gear are you guys working with at the moment?

Zaire: Yamaha Motif, Tech12's, ProTools, and records!
Keelay: Mpc 1000, Motif Rack, Roland Phantom, ProTools 7.0 and some other little toys
Zaire: oh yeah, and the Korg Microkorg

I’ve noticed that you guys are making your own melodies with chopped sections of samples, as well as adding your own live playing, making them completely original compositions, is this something that you guys do to avoid any sample-clearing hassles or is it a natural progression from the days of making beats entirely with samples?

Keelay: Id say its just a matter of trying to make something dope, you always wanna make something that’s original and creative
Zaire: Yeah I mean my main goal is just to try to come up with a dope beat. Unless we're working under specific parameters, I don’t really think about sample clearance, now, if that’s requested, then yeah, we can do it without samples. I think that’s one of our strengths...our versatility
Keelay: I think it just happens that way..but I would say its all a natural progression I think the goal is to always be progressing.

Are there any artists or labels that you guys won’t sample from, not even small sections, just to avoid issues in the future?

Keelay: Nope! (laughs), if I’m inspired by it, I’ll sample it

Everything is open game then.

Zaire: Yeah I see everything as open, especially if I think we can flip it well.
Keelay: if its hot..I’ll go for it, even if I know it won’t be used

Cool, how do u guys feel about sampling from other hip hop records, like open drums & basslines?

Zaire: Well personally, I feel as a beatmaker, you should use all resources available. I know for a fact that a lot of our favorite beatmakers make it a point to sample any and everything, so I dont limit myself
Keelay: People do it. My whole goal is to take things and make them original; if you take a snare from a Dilla record and just use it on your beat (untouched) that’s wack, but if you can make it sound different, I ain’t mad at it
Zaire: yessir - I mean, there are ethics involved, like if there is a signature snare etc., you gotta make it your own; I’ll sample a Dilla snare in a heartbeat, but I’m not gonna use the same snare off of "Find My Way" to make another "Find My Way" (laughs)

How do u guys feel about technology, do you think there are too many heads jumping on the beatmaking bandwagon these days?

Zaire: Oh yeah most def. I mean these days, it’s very easy to cross that line from fan to artists, so people try their hand at it and a lot of the time these folks burn out after a year or two…
Keelay: it is what it is I guess, things are gonna cycle through and those who are really here to make music are gonna continue to do it and continue to elevate.
Zaire:…yeah exactly. I ain’t mad at them though, ‘cause I'm in the same boat trying to express myself musically, so its all good.

I think the biggest thing is that people (listeners) find themselves having to critique everything because they've put on the "producer's hat" on, these days it’s likely you’ll have someone say “Oh, that joint is cool, but I would have pitched that snare…”Is this something that you guys consider when making beats?

Keelay: Hahaha, that’s funny, but its true too
Zaire: Well I try to have the best of both worlds...I want to be a fan and a beatmaker/producer, sometimes I gotta take off that “producer’s hat” and be a fan instead of criticizing every sound
Keelay: since everybody is a producer or an mc or a dj..everybody wants to over analyze the music…
Zaire: yeah man
Keelay: I just wanna make something I think is dope at the end of the day, that’s really all I think about in the lab.
Zaire: sometimes its just about the music, not in-depth analysis (laughs)....that analysis should be used elsewhere in the world, feel me?

Are you guys trying to impress other beatmakers when making beats?

Keelay: naaah..
Zaire: I'm not trying to impress beatmakers.
Keelay: I do get inspired by other beat makers though, I know Zai and Fish will send me RIGHT back to the lab when I hear their new joints, but I’m not worried bout others hatin’ on my snare eq or nuthin’ (laughs)

So creative competition happens within the camp

Keelay: ahh yeah..Like craaazy
Zaire: (laughs) that’s the best thing we got going for us is that creative competition! Sharpening the blades so to speak.
Keelay: Both Fish and Zaire…frustrate the hail out of me
Zaire: here we go (laughter)
Keelay:…but it pushes me to be more creative in a lot of ways, so its a great thing

Word, what would u guys tell someone who is trying to get started making beats, what is your best advice to them?

Keelay: Shieet..make not rules or limits. I know when I first started, I used to limit myself ‘cause I wanted to sound like "so-and-so"and that was a baaaaad move..(laughs)
Zaire: yeah man, dont limit yourself, thats the most important, and do what you feel; gravitate to what you're good at and continue to elevate where you're weak. other than that, we're all in the same boat trying to make a living off of what we love
Keelay:…and get ya hustle game crackin’ more than anything.

How about an MC? What advice would you give an MC who wants to get in the game

Zaire: be ready to WORK!
Keelay: Think further than just 16's and 8's
Zaire: I mean you have to grind extra hard cuz now, EVERYbody has a computer mic and a pc so everybody is 'next up'
Keelay: Yeah, be ready to hustle.
Zaire: You gotta have grind and hustle AND stand out, to compliment that talent

How important is the role of the producer when it comes to dealing with an MC and getting their best performance out?

Keelay: I would say its a two way street… I think things work best when both sides have somewhat of a vision. Cats have to be able to take criticism and be flexible tho’, and sometimes that isn't always easy
Zaire: I think you gotta be objective and look for the best outcome...which is gonna be the best for all parties involved. You GOTTA have thicker skin and be ready to take criticism. I think that’s real important. ‘cause in art, folks take things VERY personal...which is cool to some extent, but a lot of the times, the critics have good input

How do you guys deal with MCs who want to put on the Producer's Hat during a session?

Zaire: I never really had a problem with that actually *knocks on wood*
Keelay: neither (laughs)

So nobody’s done the "I think you should use this sample… here, I brought the record with me..."

Keelay: Oh yeah, well actually…(laughs) I love it when cats come to the table with ideas
Zaire: Oh yeah ideas are great… but i never had a nightmare rapper tho’ (laughs)
Keelay: I think its dope, I know a few times tho’, cats have ideas but aren't sure how the ideas materialize and thats when I tell them "I'll let you know when the joints done.. Peace!" – that’s only happened once...Not to name names (laughter)

Well, the thing is if they're there to spit some rhymes, but instead want to have a seat behind you and transform into Quincy Jones, at one point it's almost like you want to say "Hey, don't you want to go kick some rhymes in the booth?"

Keelay: exaactly! (laughs)

But it sounds like the MCs you guys deal with (generally) want to stick to being…MCs!

Zaire: yeah i'd say thats true for the most part

God bless you both! (both heads laugh)

Keelay: yeah..and its crazy ‘cause foreal, in ‘07 we do most everything via the net, and that’s just a whole other ball game

Right, do you guys feel that's opened up way more posibilites?

Zaire: Oh, definitely, cuts out a lot of travel which ultimately = saving money for everyone, plus its an instant way to get things done
Keelay: Truth. The net has become an amazing tool, although, I would love to be in the studio with some of the artists that we've worked with…
Zaire: True That
Keelay: …and especially in the studio with you Rox!, during some mixes and masters

Thanks! (for those catching up, Keelay is in San Francisco, Zaire in VA and I’m in L.A.) Do you guys think platforms matter when collab'ing thru the web? is Pro Tools a must-have?

Zaire: Well, I'm a dinosaur, ‘cause I just switched to Pro Tools about 4-5 months ago, that made things a lot easier when sending things out to be worked on, that continuity
Keelay: it does help when people have ProTools, but everything is workable ya know?
It’s nice when you can just send a session tho’ and not have to bounce the files out of PT that’s like nails on the chalboard doin’ them bounces (laughs)

(note: ProTools, at the time of this interview only does real-time bounces (rendering of audio files) unlike other DAWs that can export multiple files in faster than real-time processing; there are workarounds, but the function is not as simple as exporting individual files from other DAWs. –L)

Zaire, I don't want to put you on the spot brother, but recently you blew me away with some singing on the hooks of a couple of tracks I've mixed and mastered for you guys, have you been singing for a while?

Zaire: (laughs) naw man
Keelay: hahahahahahahahahahaha!
Zaire: what you're experiencing is something passed down from my pops and drunk uncles, just singin to be singin

C’mon now, don't be modest, you got a voice man!

Keelay: Zaire been singing ever since I known him! (laughs)
Zaire: yeah man, alcohol is involved every time too (laughs), but yeah I do like to sing.
I just dont have the chops to do it all the time, can’t hit certain notes, or carry certain tunes, but I can hit certain spots to fool the masses, that’s what I can do! (laughter from both heads)
Zaire:…but i cant front, i love singin’.

In my humble opinion, that's just another level of talent that you bring to your production, so keep at it, can people get at you for singing hooks, or is it something you'd only do on Sole Vibe projects?

Zaire: man if I can nail a hook and feel good about it, then I’m all for it, but I’ll always err on the side of caution feel me, ‘cause I know that I ain’t got the chops to GET DOWN (laughs)

What's in the works for The Sole Vibe, what projects are you guys working on?

Keelay: Shieesh tooo many things!
Zaire: the Ridin' High album as you know…
Keelay: Zaire and I got our Ridin High album coming I'd say early ’08, (fingers crossed), the single should be out on OM records Oct or Nov., we excited about that. Thanks to you again, L-ROX for lacin’ us with the ill mixes and masters! Slo MO is workin on his full length Flag Day…Zaire and I are doin’ some Movie scoring with our homey Surreal from Speed of Life films, which we are both really excited about
Zaire: Wow thats a lot of stuff, we got some work to do (laughter)
Keelay: We got a few more projects lined up that are comin slowly but surely, a remake project and you KNOW Zaire gonna be saaangin on that one! (laughter). Slo Mo and Mush mouf and Illmind have thier Fortilive project in the works, which should be out in 08 as well (again fingers crossed)

Well, I’m definitely grateful to be on the journey with you guys. Thanks for taking the time to chop it up!

Keelay: yeah man thanks to you L-ROX!!
Zaire: Yeah man much love to you L-reezy, you've really been down from day one.

Definitely, I’ve been a fan of you guys’ work for a few years now. You guys are an example for anyone who goes around saying “hip hop is dead”, not true, they’re just not looking deep enough to listen to the good, independent, stuff out there. You guys got any last words, shout-outs?

Zaire: Oh of course, to the Sole Vibe fam, in house and extended, of course to Redsecta!, UGHH fam…
Keelay: umm yeaup.. the whole sole vibe click...HOLLA!
Zaire: yeah man, HOLLA!

You can catch up with Keelay and Zaire and The Sole Vibe crew by hitting up their Internet spots at:

Bonus: here's a video for one of the tracks on "Ridin' High", "The Times":



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