Nas and C-Sick

Red Bull Big Tune beat battle winner C-Sick gets to collaborate with Nas on an original track. Pretty frickin' sweet, huh?
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A seasoned hip-hop vet welcomes a rookie into the game

Self-proclaimed “''90s baby” Charles “C-Sick” Dumazer is an unashamed product of the Internet era.

At only 18 years old, this emerging hip-hop beatmaker out of Chicago never learned how to use an ASR or MPC or even how to dig for vinyl. “I''m just very digital—very digital,” says the reserved producer who searches for songs and sounds on Google to sample. But in just a little over two years since producing his first beats on the demo version of Fruity Loops Studios, C-Sick already finds himself sitting across from legendary hip-hop lyricist Nas, ready to record his first commercial single.

The rookie''s rise to such a notable collaboration didn''t exactly fall in his lap. This high school senior has proven to be a fast learner and is beginning to pay his dues working with local MCs like Peeda Pan and GLC. And it''s his lifetime exposure to hip-hop and all music—first in the South of France then in the South Side of Chicago—that has helped him develop an ear for quality, sample-based tracks. In particular Chicago juke is the high-bpm sound that help shape the producer''s initial work. “When I came to Chicago [at age 10], juke music was always around me,” he says. “It was like a culture, it was a lifestyle, and you couldn''t be away from it.”

The beats that won C-Sick the Chicago leg of Red Bull Big Tune beat battle last year and the finals in New York weren''t entirely juke-heavy, though. Instead, the then 17-year-old captured the crowd with his mid-tempo heaters, which were a mix of bouncy soul-backed beats and heavy-hitting Just Blaze–inspired backdrops. “I''m trying to be creative and try to bring our [Chicago] flavor in producing ‘cause we sample just like on the East Coast a lot, but there''s always a little twist to it,” he says.

On a cool April night at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, Calif., C-Sick''s ability to meld classic East Coast sample-based sensibilities with Chicago''s penchant for percussion is proving to be a formula that even Nas can appreciate. As part of C-Sick''s prize for winning Big Tune 2008, he was awarded the opportunity to work with the Queensbridge-bred MC. And now he''s playing beats for Nas off of FL Studios 7 on his Toshiba laptop that sound impressive booming from the Genelec speakers.

While Nas was sent some of C-Sick''s beats ahead of time, the instrumental that was ultimately chosen was selected on the spot. As Nas recalls of the process, “Everything he''s playing me is good, but he told me he had something that he had just made for me—a beat that he really heard me on.”

That custom beat didn''t have the robust quality of the tracks he played at Red Bull Big Tune—instead, it was a crisp, emotive instrumental featuring subtle strings and guitar samples. When I talk to C-Sick about the choice, we both agree that it''s the perfect beat for Nas. C-Sick explains that the track wasn''t that heavy because he wanted to let Nas'' signature vocals complete the song. “His flow is a melody,” the producer says. “When I made the beat, I thought of Nas—I needed that extra melody.”

Before the recording could commence, C-Sick had to get a crash course in live production. Coming from a self-taught, laptop-based production experience, he was a little lost initially when Big Tune co-founders and session assistants Jake One and Vitamin D told him that the bass on the beat wasn''t going to work and that he needed to replace it using a synth. But after Vitamin set up an M-Audio Axiom 49, C-Sick quickly got in the zone, played the proper keys and the single was on its way.

When asking Nas about the analog era of recording and how he feels about the difference of working with computer-exclusive producers such as C-Sick, he actually prefers the efficiency of digital technology. “With digital, it''s a lot faster, it''s a lot easier—so it''s all good,” Nas says. “There''s probably a sound difference between digital and analog, but I haven''t figured it out yet so I just keep it moving.”

At the end of day, Nas hit the nail on the head. The fact the C-Sick hadn''t used any physical production equipment is irrelevant—it''s what comes from his work on FL Studios or whatever platform he uses that counts. Since Nas has already expressed interest in working with the rookie again, clearly C-Sick is onto something.

At one point in the night I ask C-Sick if he''s overwhelmed by the thought of using Digidesign Pro Tools and a gigantic Solid State Logic console like the one at Red Bull, and while humble, he also seems ready for anything. “I''m sure I''ll be able to pick it up,” he says. “Pro Tools could be the same way [as learning FL Studios]. It''d be like riding a bike, really.”