Q&A with Boonie Mayfield

His stage surname is a nod to Curtis Mayfield, a pioneer of funk and architect of politically conscious African American music. Drawing inspiration from the same tones of rhythm and history, Boonie Mayfield, aka Boon Doc, is cut from a similar cloth of soul greatness. A dancer, songwriter and beat executioner, Boon Doc has managed to stay in his lane while carving a niche of modernism and originality. Applying the principles of production, he's created a sound and technique all his own. Much like his namesake, he speaks the language of society and environment through his music. We recently caught up with Boonie for a discussion on the elements of beat-making, his favorite Dilla execution and the particulars of sound.

Westword (Ru Johnson): How does producing actually work?

Boonie Mayfield: Well, "producing" is a somewhat tossed term. There are different types of producers: Some do the beat-making; some don't make tracks at all, but have an ear, and bring musicians to piece together the puzzle. There are some who have the skill of arranging and structuring tracks, songs etc. And of course combine all of these.

The way "true producing" works, in my opinion, is complimenting and guiding the artist with their songs/album to execute the best representation of the artist and what the project means and feels like. It's like being the director in a movie. You got the props -- equipment/instruments. In order to establish the setting -- the music. You got the cameras and microphones -- the booth and recording. You have the script -- the lyrics/song. And, of course, the actors and actresses -- the vocalists.

WW: Do you create sounds with any particular artist in mind?

BM: Most of the time, I don't. I mainly just go with the flow, and then later, as the beat progresses and I finish it, an artist I think would sound good on it comes to mind.There are two funny things about forcing yourself with a particular artist in mind: 1) Your beat will end up sounding like someone else's -- say, if you had Clipse in mind, you may end up subconsciously producing a beat that sounds like the Neptunes.

2) Majority of the time, the artist won't pick the beats that you made specifically for them. They may choose a beat you thought was the wackiest crap you ever made, and turn it into a hot song, or choose something you didn't think fits their style. You could make a beat for Nas thinking hell love it, but he'll skip that beat, and end up choosing the track you made for Snoop Dogg.

WW: Because you are a songwriter as well, do you often write material for the tracks you create?

BM: Oh yeah, most definitely, that's how I started producing in the first place. But, I tell you what: It's tough writing to your own beats sometimes, because you've already worn your ears out listening to the beat for hours, as you made it, and after you finished it. It's not a surprise like when you get a beat from someone else and instantly start writing to it because the sound is something fresh in your mind.

WW: Can you pin down a favorite Dilla execution?

BM: This has to be the most unfair question for any hardcore Dilla fan like myself [laughs]. I'm going to have to squeeze in a top five, because choosing just one is impossible for me. In no particular order: "The Look of Love," Slum Village, "Bullsh*t," Pharcyde, "Stakes Is High," De La Soul, "Didn't Cha Know," Erykah Badu, and "Wordplay," A Tribe Called Quest. Everything he did on the Like Water for Chocolate album is in a class of its own.

WW: What are some elements that are essential to beat-making?

BM: Great sounding drums. Too many people get caught up with the "drums have to hit super hard"-syndrome. Hard hitting kicks don't always matter -- unless it's for the clubs -- they just have to sound good together. Knowing what type of percussion and sounds to use to set a certain groove or mood of a track is very important.Knowing when to use a snare, rim shot, clap, snaps or a mixture is the point. You don't put no damn thin 808-clap on an M.O.P. style boom-bap track. That won't work.

WW: Is there a Boon Doc touch? Something you slip into every beat?

BM: Just that good soulfulness or that chicken-grease and catfish McNugget funk. There's no specific sound in particular that I put in everything. There's a vibe and feel that people notice in my drums, rhythm and overall beat structure. I've seen people say "Hey that sounds like a Boon Doc style beat," and I had no idea exactly why. I guess that's just how personalities in music work. You can give the exact same drum set and rhythm sequence to ?uestlove and Travis Barker, and still tell the difference of who's playing it with your eyes closed.

WW: If your music production had a taste, what would it be? Color?

BM: Interesting question. The color of a lot of my production would be brown, because it's earthy, warm and soulful. Plus, most of my music has a fall or winter vibe to it, which is a time where you'll see a lot of brown being worn. If it had a taste depending on the track, it would either have the taste of coffee or an ice-cold ale beer, which are both brown.

WW: What other artistic objectives do you take on, aside from dancing and beat making?

BM: Acting has always been one of my biggest passions. I miss doing it, and I plan on pursuing it in the future. I love to write. Video production is another art form that I enjoy, as well. I love putting together sketch comedy ideas and documentaries.