IMAKEMADBEATS, né James Dukes, is a Memphis native who left home to find his true musical calling. Feeling disconnected from gangster rap and traditional music genres, he found himself at Manhattan’s legendary Quad Studios, where he became a go-to ghost producer and found a new niche in scoring for film and television. He reveled in the fact that music could speak without words, an idea that inspired the single Better Left Unsaid.
The masked creator has worked with a who’s who list of the indie underground scene in the millennium on wax, in the studio, and on stage, including Black Milk, Oh No, Talib Kweli, Solange Knowles, and Roc C, with whom he released the collaborative The Transcontinentalproject in 2009.
He’s working with the city of Memphis on the Memphis Music Initiative and currently scoring a play in addition to this upcoming EP. His Unapologetic label has a ton of amazing releases on deck for this year in addition to this one.
When did you know that being a musician was your calling?
Probably when I was 12 or 13. Nothing made me feel like music did.
Describe three other occupations you’ve held.
The electronics guy at Target, Level 2 technician for Lexmark Printers, and network administration.
What inspires you to perform?
Vulnerability. Overcoming my natural shyness. When I put on my mask, I can’t explain it. It’s a rush… a challenge.
What instruments, if any, do you play?
MPC and piano.
How would you describe your brand of music?
It’s an Unapologetic brand. A style based on my deepest and innermost vulnerabilities, dreams, fascinations and ambitions. It’s a little dusty, but the kind of the dust that textures it. I believe music is nothing more than audible emotion. My music is my emotion.
When you are on stage, what do you want to convey about your style?
I want to convey that I’m unapologetically myself… and I believe that being that is the best version of me I can be. It’s when I’m at my most potent. Naturally, I lean towards dreamy and still aggressive sounds, so I hope people can receive my imagination.
Name three musicians who have influenced your approach to being a musician?
Describe your creative process from concept to complete song.
It can be very simple or very wild. It can take 30 minutes or weeks. I don’t have one or two ways to answer this… there’s a serious variety. But just to give an example, sometimes it starts with chords on my Korg SV-1, which will lead to a melody or overall mood. I’ll then lay that into my MPC Renaissance, and begin to program or live record percussion. After that, who knows what can happen in the world of software. Pitching, stretching, filtering, chopping… all possibilities. I have some crazy talented vocalists on my team so if I have an idea for vocals in my head, I’ll have them perform them in the studio, and then we go back to the powers of software in terms of manipulation. I’ll then mix, master, drive around and listen, go back and make adjustments if necessary. That’s the simplest explanation.
How do you select your creative music partners to fashion your musical voice?
Character over everything. That’s where it starts. Talent will never outrank character in my book. I’ve been through too much with too many terrible characters. I am blessed to be surrounded by some of the greatest artists I’ve ever heard, who also have amazing character. That’s my team, and anytime I want a partner, I have an amazing roster to choose from.
What advice would you give anyone preparing to enter the music business about publishing and management?
Publishing is your longevity. Never ever overlook the importance of your publishing. Make sure whoever is representing you isn’t just representing your music, but also your brand as a person and an artist.
If you were going to sing for any famous person as a celebration of what they have done for humanity, who would it be?
I wouldn’t sing, but I’d make a song for Malcolm X. He’s an inspiration on so many levels and his importance is often understated in my opinion. We need more of him in this world.
How do you hope to impact society through your music?
For people to be inspired to show the not-so-easy to understand parts of themselves shamelessly. For people to understand the most vulnerable and tender parts of their minds and hearts can give someone courage, strength, and confidence. For people to fall in love with being themselves.
If you could go outside the USA to write and produce music, what country would you choose and why?
Probably France or Germany. When I dropped my self-titled album IMAKEMADBEATS years ago, a very big chunk of fans came from there, and after studying the music there… it’s inspiring. I love what they are doing over there and the appreciation for pushing envelopes.
What do you like the most about being a musician?
Creating. I get to talk to people without necessarily using words.
What producers are you looking forward to working with soon?
Honestly, I want to just continue working with my team. Right now my mind is on us and I’m loving it. Kid Maestro is my favorite up and coming producer. He’s a young guy, but is on the verge of some great things.
Name three musicians you would like to record with that are hit makers?
Pharrell, Dr. Dre, Anderson.Paak
What musical achievements have you yet to attain?
I have yet to score a movie. I will. Very soon.
Finish the sentence…
When I hit the stage I feel… vicious.
When the crowd is responding to my music I know… they are receiving me.
I appreciate my fans because… they appreciate me and my vulnerabilities.
Music is my calling… it’s how I speak.
My method of studying music is… very unorthodox.
When you find my music I want you to… turn off the lights and sit in a room alone… and listen.
Name your favorite two books.
Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Get Sh*t Done by Lauris Liberts, Startup Vitamins