“Life always has been a hard lesson on the Ying Yang Twins,” says Eric Ron “Kaine” Jackson Jr., one-half of the Atlanta-based, Platinum-selling party-rap duo. “Me and D-Roc were born with physical disabilities. I have cerebral palsy. D-Roc has a pre-mature hand; its growth was stunted from birth. When I was born, they had to break my feet and set them straight. What you see D-Roc and me doing came from our drive to not let our disabilities make us quitters. And that is why we are glad our fans are growing with us. A lot of people lose their fans 'cause they lose who they are originally, but we can't lose originality. It is built in our bodies.”
Riding a wave of crunk (crazy plus drunk) music that has made stars out of Atlanta's Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, Ying Yang Twins come to the game labeled as moronic, bass-belching party rappers looking to cash in, and the duo has. Lil Jon may have helped put Ying Yang on the map with “Salt Shaker” and “Get Low,” but Kaine and D'Angelo “D-Roc” Holmes quickly established themselves as fire-starter talents in their own right with a string of Dirty South hit singles that were boisterous, lewd and totally crunktastic. Their third album, Me & My Brother (TVT, 2003), had all the markings of contemporary Dirty South crunk: ridiculous raps, drunk and disorderly choruses and foul-mouthed lyrics celebrating the joys of copious XXX sex and alcohol. Sonically, hits like “Whats Happnin!” and “Naggin'” were like having a party during an earthquake. As technolike hi-hats ping-ponged over brisk beats and three-note synth lines, massive 808 bass rhythms nailed that sloppy crunk sound: deep, mean and dangerously low-down.
Produced and co-written by former Miami bass-music star Mr. Collipark — also known as DJ Smurf, Beat-in-Azz and legally as Michael Crooms — Me & My Brother was the kind of record that gave parents headaches (Ying Yang music has been banned at proms nationwide) as Kaine and D-Roc laughed all the way to the bank. But even if you despise the misogynist, simplistic sound of Dirty South crunk, respect must be paid to the genre's titanic grip on rap radio. With millions of albums sold, Ying Yang finally means to break out of crunk's strangle-mold with U.S.A. (United State of Atlanta) (Collipark/TVT, 2005). Featuring the Twins' tracks and covers of songs originally recorded by Al Green and the Isley Brothers — as well as collaborations with Mike Jones, Maroon 5 and Lil Jon — U.S.A. trims down crunk's elephantine bass and diversifies the duo's stylistic range. Toughened by their physical disabilities and high-stakes lifestyle, Kaine and D-Roc defy you to call Ying Yang Twins crunk.
“Right now, we stand at a real high position, just because of our creativity,” D-Roc explains from his home in Atlanta's neighboring Gwinnett County. “This is our fourth album, so we treat it like we are going to the prom. You go to the prom dressed up for the occasion. We are wearing suits. We are giving you a whole different outlet of Atlanta. When you say Atlanta, you say ‘crunk,’ but there is a lot more to Atlanta than crunk. People in Atlanta work; they go to church; everybody don't just crunk all the time.”
CREATING WITH COLLIPARK
Working out of his Collipark Studios in Hampton, Ga., Collipark farmed out some of U.S.A.'s tracks to producers such as Midnight Black, DJ Paul and Tom Slick. And The Zone's Billy Hume and Joel Mullis, whose credits include Ludacris and Bone Crusher, also engineered some vocals. But producer and co-writer Collipark is the mastermind behind Ying Yang Twins' sound and success. And his method is governed by simplicity.
“I am not a technical person,” Collipark says. “My music comes from feeling and soul, not the fact that I can chop samples up and manipulate this, that and the third. Most of my good stuff comes in my head first. I feel like if I get too much into the technical aspect, I will start losing some of the feeling in my music.”
Technically masterful or not, Collipark knows what works. His gear includes a Yamaha Motif ES6 keyboard; a Roland VX-5050 synth module; an E-mu SP-1200; and plenty of Roland TR-808 bass kicks, which permeate U.S.A.'s first hit single, “Wait (The Whisper Song).”
“Most of my stuff starts with the Motif,” he explains. “I will get something working, and if I feel like I need something extra to spice it up, then I will go to the Roland VX-5050. I don't just sit down and go through sounds on a keyboard and wait till I find something. I will be in the shower, and something will hit me. I will run downstairs and get it cracking on the Motif. I use the Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, but I don't like the keyboard aspect of it because you have to actually load sounds into it. You got the Motif and the Korg Triton — you can just cut those on, and the sounds pop up. Once I get into the studio and dump it into Pro Tools, I turn the plug-ins over to my engineers, Billy Hume and Joel Mullis. I don't like too much going on; I am a reverb and delay man. Other than that, if something needs to be thickened up, I let them figure it out, but I always try to start with good sounds.”
GETTING IN THE ZONE
Atlanta's The Zone studio is home base for engineers Hume and Mullis, whose lengthy client list includes Lil Jon, Ludacris, Mr. Magic, Michelle Malone and David Banner. Hume and Mullis have engineered vocals on all of the Ying Yang Twins' records, preferring Metric Halo ChannelStrip, McDSP FilterBank and CompressorBank and TC Electronic Master X plug-ins.
“The plug-in that I get the most use out of with the Twins is ChannelStrip,” Mullis explains. “We group all the vocals by Kaine or D-Roc in subgroups to an auxiliary track with ChannelStrip, and we also use ChannelStrip for all-over groove compression and EQ to make the vocals more precise and present. A lot of these Southern rap songs might have four or five layers of vocals stacked on top of each other, and ChannelStrip really helps them sound like one cohesive performance. The vocals on U.S.A. were all cut using a Neumann TLM 170 through an Avalon Vt-737sp into a Distressor Compressor, then direct to Pro Tools.”
In addition to carefully editing “Salt Shaker” and “Wait (The Whisper Song)” to comply with acceptable standards for radio and video play (see the sidebar “From a Whisper to a Bleep”), Mullis used Pro Tools and plug-ins to effect “Wiggle Then Move,” the third track from U.S.A.
“‘Wiggle Then Move’ was another track with vocals recorded in a lot of different places with different sounds,” Mullis continues. “Once Mr. Collipark got it together, we did a lot of trial-and-error editing in Pro Tools, moving verses around and creating the song out of a lot of composite stuff from various Ying Yang Twins sessions and again doing the same thing as we did in ‘Wait,’ getting it all lined up and sounding like one song. That was the most edited and challenging track on that end.”
BASS AS A BEING
With “Wait (The Whisper Song)” peaking at the No. 3 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart, Collipark's past success as a Miami-bass DJ comes into serious play. Although a few songs on U.S.A. use the same old crunked-up bass sounds, “Wait” lays out precisely defined boom-blips of 808-derived bass as the song's central melody, rhythm and perpetual motion machine.
“After making a record like ‘Wait,’ where the bass is actually breathing, it made me want to experiment with doing more with less,” Collipark says. “It is hard to make a kick, a synthesized bass sound and a finger snap into a hit. The secret is that feeling, that soul. Anyway, I saw how the [people] moved to ‘Wait’ — I never saw that with bass music or crunk music. In ‘Wait,’ I used the bass as a separate voice all on its own as opposed to it just beating through the woofer. With ‘Pull My Hair,’ I wanted to take it a step further. I don't want to use the same exact sound, but I did use the same theory: to use the 808 bass almost like a vibrator.
“The hi-hats come from the Motif's Human Drum kit,” he continues. “It had the feel before I added the hi-hat, but I liked the Human kit's hi-hat. The ‘Wait’ beat sounds like something you can beat on the table in the lunchroom. If you are in the lunchroom, banging the beat, what do you use for the hi-hat? You will use your mouth. To me, the drums sound like something on a trash can in an alley, and you can just see somebody using their mouth for the hi-hat.”
United State of Atlanta's myriad producers and styles — from the R&B of “Belle” and “Brother” to the epic kung fu production (by Midnight Black) of “4 Oz” to Collipark's remix of “Boom Boom” (with Britney Spears) — prove that not only are Kaine and D-Roc distancing themselves from crunk but older styles have equal influence on the group's sound. For Collipark, it is all about the Roland TR-808.
“Go as far back as the S.O.S. Band's ‘Tell Me If You Still Care’ or Marvin Gaye's ‘Sexual Healing,’” Collipark says. “Those records had Roland TR-808 drum kits. Any record that had those 808 drum kits was an instant hit in the hood. Even before bass music, when that 808 came on the scene, it had a feel to it. ‘Sexual Healing’ was smooth, but it made you groove 'cause of that 808. In bass music, we just took the 808 and maximized the use of it. On U.S.A., we are using variations of the 808 in ‘Shake,’ ‘Wait’ and ‘Pull My Hair.’ The 808 was the beginning of the bass sound. I can't tell you exactly how we made the bass on those tracks, but it is all coming from the Motif and the Roland XV-5050. I am using less and less E-mu SP-1200 these days.”
To illustrate his point, Collipark explains the sounds he used in “Bedroom Boom,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a Japanese cartoon, with its freak melody, heavily compressed drum track, chirping percussion and oceanic bass notes. “The concept for ‘Bedroom Boom’ came from the mixtapes I used to do when I was DJing,” he says. “We would take slow songs and put 808 drumbeats behind them. It is just to pay homage to our background. The sounds came from the E-mu SP-1200, and I also programmed an original 808 kit that came out of one of those rackmounts. But it just wasn't hitting, so I had to go back to the SP-1200. The only thing I used from the SP-1200 was the kick and the 808 drums; the rest I kept from the Roland rack module.”
Before Kaine and D-Roc met Collipark, the two had long been making music together. They met when they were both 16 and began writing and rapping soon thereafter. “We always had a producer with an MPC2000 or an SP-12,” Kaine says. “They made the beats, and we would go to the studio. I make my own beats: I beatbox with my mouth and beat on my chest. I actually be sounding like a radio. People be tripping on that old-school vibe. It has got soul — that is what a lot of artists lack. But D-Roc and Kaine have got soul.”
Whether or not the soul is easy to spot, at the least, U.S.A. confirms Ying Yang Twins' seemingly endless success and desire to move beyond the confines of simple crunk. Playa haters and moralists will still take the Twins to task, but for Kaine and D-Roc, the noncrunk future leads to endless riches, strip clubs and superstar status.
“We are the Ying Yang Twins by the people,” Kaine concludes. “We are the people's champs. That is why they love us. And the music we make, we don't look at it as hard, 'cause we create a feeling of life, which is the upside, the Ying side. Ying Yang Twins will be forever. The music we are making is going to be like Parliament is today: timeless. Ying Yang Twins is an endless jam.”