Interview: I Am Hip Hop Meet Producer Frank G!

Frank “Frank G” Guas­tella has been a con­sist­ent force on the cre­at­ive scene for many years. Since his start as a pro­du­cer, video­graph­er, engin­eer, and live musi­cian, Frank has cre­ated and per­formed across sev­er­al music­al genres, includ­ing hip-hop, R&B and rock. Through his abil­ity to integ­rate live instru­ment­a­tion into his stu­dio work, and a nat­ur­al tal­ent for song­writ­ing, he has developed an ori­gin­al and dis­tinct style, appeal­ing to a wide vari­ety of listen­ers.
His NJ com­pan­ies, ISH Pro­duc­tions and Cre­at­ive World Media, have provided music and visu­als for many artists such as CeeLo Green, Wu Tang Clan, John Amos, Talib Kweli, Styles P, KRS-One and oth­ers. His work has also been fea­tured on a vari­ety of net­works, includ­ing HBO, the NFL, PBS, MTV, and Siri­usXM.
When he is not work­ing in the stu­dio, Frank G’s cre­ativ­ity extends into the classroom as a teach­er of bio­logy at South Orange Middle School.
I watched your video on the cre­ation of the song ‘Mar­vin’. I can see that you have a lot of respect for Raek­won. Can you tell us what it was like to work with him?
First and fore­most, grow­ing up I was a huge Wu Tang fan. They were super innov­at­ive to me and I always respec­ted their unique influ­ence on hip hop cul­ture. From their record­ings, the indi­vidu­al per­son­al­it­ies of its mem­bers, to their live shows and mar­ket­ing, I was intrigued by the group’s abil­it­ies to cre­ate a real move­ment. That being said, Raek­won was always one of my favor­ite emcees out of the group, prob­ably because of his abil­ity to integ­rate storytelling in his rhymes. It was like he was always paint­ing a visu­al with his words and I was drawn to emcees that had the abil­ity to do that. Need­less to say, I had count­less instru­ment­als in my cata­log that I put aside spe­cific­ally for Raek­won in hopes that one day we would link. I met Raek­won offi­cially at his stu­dio in 2012 after respond­ing to a ran­dom engin­eer­ing request by him and his team on Twit­ter. They were look­ing for some loc­al engin­eers to help with some upcom­ing pro­jects and I, along with a good friend/frequent col­lab­or­at­or, Roads Art, ended up recording/mixing him on a few fea­tures that he was put­ting out at the time. One night in the stu­dio, I ended up play­ing some instru­ment­als and he was like, “Yo, who wrote these?!” I began show­ing him some beats and he star­ted writ­ing and record­ing to them imme­di­ately. When Rae is into a par­tic­u­lar instru­ment­al it’s unmis­tak­able, and he star­ted get­ting pretty excited about the music I had shown him. That was a moment I’ll nev­er for­get. We have had really good chem­istry when it comes to mak­ing music togeth­er.

In ‘mar­vin’ are you using samples or are you play­ing the notes through a daw?

 For his new album, The Wild, we had dis­cussed cre­at­ing pro­ject with some of those clas­sic soul sound­scapes Rae’s fans are accus­tomed to. As far as the song “Mar­vin,” goes, I used a sample from a Banks & Hamp­ton song, “Pas­sion and Promises.”and also played some instru­ments. I played live bass, drums, a gui­tar part, and some keys to round out the song. I recor­ded, chopped and mixed everything dir­ectly in Pro Tools.  

Which pro­du­cers were you influ­enced by?

 There are so many pro­du­cers, in many genres, that I have learned from and stud­ied intently. As far as hip-hop is con­cerned, my favor­ite pro­du­cer of all time is Dilla, hands down. His sound was unlike any­thing I had ever heard before and his music instantly puts me in a cre­at­ive mood. Aside from Dilla, my influ­ences include 9th Won­der, Fly­ing Lotus, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Tim­ba­l­and, Just Blaze, and Organ­ized Noize.

 Is it dif­fi­cult to juggle your bio­logy teach­ing with the music­al jour­ney?

 For me per­son­ally, it isn’t dif­fi­cult to juggle a bunch of things. I have always been someone who val­ues work eth­ic, as it’s one of the few things you as an indi­vidu­al can con­trol. So per­son­ally, filling my day with things that keep me inspired is the most import­ant aspect of stay­ing happy. I am inspired by inspir­ing oth­ers. Wheth­er it be through music, or the con­nec­tions my cre­at­ive jour­neys cre­ate, or my influ­ence on future gen­er­a­tions in the classroom, I think the abil­ity to juggle mul­tiple pas­sions has opened more doors for me than the aver­age “cre­at­ive.” I have had former stu­dents of mine reach out to me years later, and end up intern­ing for me at my stu­dio. I have unex­pec­tedly met industry con­tacts through par­ents of stu­dents that I have had an impact on. I enjoy being busy so I embrace it. In addi­tion to my pro­duc­tion com­pany, The ISH Pro­duc­tions, I co-own a graph­ic design/video­graphy com­pany called Cre­at­ive World Media, so I am still con­stantly jug­gling and try­ing to diver­si­fy. I think when you’re pas­sion­ate about what you’re doing, wheth­er that’s one thing or ten things, it nev­er feels dif­fi­cult to bal­ance because at the end of the day, you enjoy the work you do.

How long have you been pro­du­cing and what made you take that step into the actu­al cre­ation of music?

I have been play­ing music­al instru­ments prac­tic­ally my whole life, but I star­ted focus­ing on pro­duc­tion full-time around 2003, after my band Philip’s Head had broken up. It was around that time that I had star­ted turn­ing my love for hip-hop into some­thing more ser­i­ous and began focus­ing on devel­op­ing my sound and my cata­log.

How long did it take you to find your style and get settled in your sound?

I think find­ing your style and get­ting settled in your own sound is an ongo­ing pro­cess. I am con­stantly devel­op­ing as a musician/engineer and I am always try­ing to push myself to be bet­ter. So I am still dili­gently con­tinu­ing to devel­op my sound. I think I am also pretty aware of try­ing not to settle into a par­tic­u­lar sound in order to avoid get­ting bored. I try to approach every time I sit down to pro­duce music as a chance to do some­thing new.

Can you describe your earli­est beats?

 My earli­est beats soun­ded more like soundtracks than actu­al beats, in my opin­ion. When I first star­ted pro­du­cing, I was more con­cerned with mak­ing as many beats as pos­sible and learn­ing the DAW’s, not neces­sar­ily mak­ing great sound­ing beats. I thought they were great back then, but they make me cringe now! You can clearly hear the sim­pli­city in them. As I developed as a pro­du­cer, and more import­antly, as an engin­eer, I was bet­ter able to “pro­duce” the sounds in my head more accur­ately and with more emo­tion and intent.

Have you always pro­duced hip-hop or have you dabbled in oth­er styles?

 My favor­ite music to pro­duce, and most pre­dom­in­ant, is hip-hop and r&b, but I have been for­tu­nate to pro­duce in oth­er genres as well. I have writ­ten songs licensed for tele­vi­sion and radio, and those oppor­tun­it­ies have allowed me to integ­rate many dif­fer­ent styles into my pro­duc­tion. Even when I am pro­du­cing hip-hop though, I try to incor­por­ate oth­er styles into my ideas. For example, I recently released an album with some of my former band-mates and oth­er close musi­cian friends of mine entitled, 12 Ses­sions. We met for some ran­dom jam ses­sions for twelve weeks straight and the songs from each of these ses­sions con­tin­ued to evolve through­out the pro­ject, as each week, dif­fer­ent musi­cians added their touch and musi­cian­ship to the com­pos­i­tions. These com­pos­i­tions were then treated as “ori­gin­al samples” to be fur­ther chopped, manip­u­lated, and arranged to form com­pletely new pieces of music. If you have time to check it out, it’s avail­able for free on cre­at­ive­world­me­! I think it’s always import­ant to keep push­ing hip-hop and explor­ing new and unique ways of present­ing it to people.

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Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philo­sophy, Soci­ology, Anthro­po­logy and all things intro­spect­ive. Someone who is equally at home in under­ground house raves as he is in café’s. He is con­tinu­ally ques­tion­ing the sys­tem and his own lines of reas­on­ing. There­fore, he is always rein­vent­ing him­self.

About Nicholas Milverton

Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology and all things introspective. Someone who is equally at home in underground house raves as he is in cafe's. He is continually questioning the system and his own lines of reasoning. Therefore, he is always reinventing himself.