After sunset, Needlz scoots around New York's streets like a man on a mission, bouncing from recording studio to recording studio, rubbing elbows with 50 Cent, Fabolous and The Game as a young producer on the rise. Years ahead of most in the depth of his discography — which includes cuts for Ludacris, Fabolous and G-Unit — he manages to keep up with his frenzied pace, working odd hours to make things pop. And things are definitely popping for Khari “Needlz” Cain.
A master of multitasking, Needlz drives, sorts session time on his celly, conducts an interview and sends off a FedEx package in one fell swoop. Yet there's a forward motion about his bursts of energy, an even pace, and though he moves fast, his grind appears not to waiver. This methodology also applies to Needlz's production work. “When I sit down to make a beat, I make a constant effort,” he says. “I start with the drums. Besides the kick and the snare, I look for little things like snippets of vocal samples and a sample of a guitar riff. The kick has to be heard; the snare has to be heard. It has to have personality.”
A graduate of New York University's music-business master's program, the Michigan native landed an internship at Bad Boy that took him behind the scenes and inspired him to start making beats. Experience as a DJ while attending Florida State University as an undergraduate enables Needlz to make beats tailored to dancefloors. “I make beats that I like, uptempo club beats and no hi-hats,” he says. His break came when Method Man liked what he heard on a demo. Master engineer Duro, who now mixes down a large number of Needlz's tracks, is also a fan. “His rhythm is in the pocket,” Duro says. “He has a fierce club tempo.”
Needlz's style is a result of self-teaching and poring over the manuals to the gear in his studio, which features hip-hop staples such as an Akai MPC2000XL and a Digidesign Pro Tools 6.7 rig. In terms of synths, he prefers the Kurzweil K2661 and the Roland MKS-80. “I have all the tools that allow me to manipulate sound,” he says. While still exploring the technical process, Needlz works on instinct. “If I'm not using a hi-hat, I use little weird sounds,” he reveals. “Most of them are sound effects, stuff off the Kurzweil K2661. One time, I put a pocket full of change and started shaking and putting it to the microphone.”
He is known best for the production work on Young Buck's single “Let Me In.” “I took little snippets of samples, and there was a guitar note, and I messed around on the keyboard and came up with a different melody,” he says. “It took me a couple hours to do the beat. It's something that's a different combo of samples, drums being loud, syncopation, the cadence of the drums.” He used a different pattern of that guitar riff on “Piggy Bank” for 50 Cent's new album due out in February.
Although hip-hop producers like Needlz provide the initial inspiration for the latest joint, they don't have much control of the final product. Rather, they submit beat tapes to artists for consideration. “I give my manager at least five beats a week on CD,” Needlz says. “I usually send an intro, 16 bars and a hook, and then I fade it down to a minute-and-a-half. The way the game is, you don't get a chance to [talk to the] rappers or write a hook.”
Nevertheless, he hopes to increase his involvement in the production game by using his production company, Dry Rain, as the means, producing artists from beginning to end. “It started out as just a hobby,” he says. “Now, I'm getting into it more and more.” With his name listed in the credits of upcoming projects by Jermaine Dupri and Anthony Hamilton, Trina, Redman, Rich Boy, Scarface and The Game featuring Nate Dogg, his fortitude will undoubtedly keep Needlz on the record.