To tell the truth, I wasn't going to use any big-name producers on this album, admits burgeoning rapper and hip-hop phenomenon Lupe Fiasco from his home

“To tell the truth, I wasn't going to use any big-name producers on this album,” admits burgeoning rapper and hip-hop phenomenon Lupe Fiasco from his home base of Chicago. However, Fiasco's long-awaited debut Food & Liquor (1st and 15th/Atlantic, 2006) features contributions from such production heavyweights as The Neptunes, Kanye West and Linkin Park/Fort Minor's Mike Shinoda. “All the bigwigs got involved in the last three weeks of recording,” Fiasco adds. “I didn't want the album to be one of those releases just using names to sell it. That concept has crippled so many records and artists in the last few years. I had another idea.”

The idea was to entrust most of the album to his in-house crew 1st and 15th Productions, led by budding beat-makers Prolyfic and Soundtrakk, long-time Chi-town associates Fiasco has been working with for years.

“Prolyfic's been there from the beginning; he'll always get to make a bulk of my music,” Fiasco lauds. “We picked up Soundtrakk about two years ago. He stepped in and blew everybody away. To me, those two together can compete with any name producers out there, and in certain instances, crush them.”

And Soundtrakk's happy to return the love. “It's great working with Lupe. He's a very creative dude,” Soundtrakk says. “I have a lot of respect for him as an artist and a lyricist. I put him up there with all my favorite rappers. I don't think anybody out there is fucking with him lyric-wise right now. He rides any beat perfectly and comes up with great concepts.”

Initially making beats for local Chicago rap group The Movement, Soundtrakk made his way up the ranks to become an apprentice for Windy City production legend No I.D., who also counts Kanye West among his past protégés.

“I heard a lot of amazing beats at his studio,” Soundtrakk says of No I.D. “It gave me a reality check. I realized that I had to step up my game. I started making beats in 2001 on a program called Acid Hip Hop by Sonic Foundry. Later on that year, I copped the [Akai] MPC2000XL and my Roland XV-3080 sound module. It's funny because once I got those two pieces of equipment, I fell off right away, and nobody was feeling me anymore. I had to build myself back up. I thought switching to an MPC and a keyboard would make my beats sound as good as The Neptunes and Timbaland. I didn't realize that there was much more to it.”

For Prolyfic, another fan of the MPC2000XL, using computer programs isn't even an option. “It's like the instant mashed potatoes of beat-making,” he says. “It's one thing to start out with what you can afford and then upgrade as you grind up some dough. But when you turn those downloaded programs into your formula to make it, then that's where I draw the line. Most of these guys don't even really understand what their programs are doing for them. Having to work hard to afford real equipment made me what I am today.”

For Fiasco, the fusion of Prolyfic and Soundtrakk's work makes for a great complement to his MC style. “Prolyfic's signature is the way he programs the drums, really technical,” Fiasco says. “His drum patterns are like a crazy rock drummer going off on a solo. He has kind of a space-age edge, being influenced by the Neptunes and Kanye West. Soundtrakk, on the other hand, is a more universal producer. He can sit down and make something like ‘Kick, Push’ [referencing the suave break-out single that big-ups his beloved skateboard culture] and then come up with a heavy, rugged track like ‘Real’ that's hard and rock ‘n’ roll.”

“I'm really happy with the album,” Fiasco continues. “I like to think it follows the formula of the first DMX album, where he didn't really use many known producers. He had Swizz Beatz, but even he was still growing off of DMX. You look at the credits and all of those amazing songs that made him a star, and they're produced by Lil' Rob, who to this day lots of people don't know. But he captured DMX's sound. To me, Soundtrakk and Prolyfic captured my sound. It's much more impressive to do it with fresh, unsung producers with a new story. Hopefully it'll help launch their careers, and in the future, they'll be ranked right up there next to The Neptunes and Kanye West.”