“The spirit kept telling me to move. If you end up staying here, you’re going to end up killing somebody or you’re going to end up getting killed,” admitted 35-year-old producer Honorable C.N.O.T.E. after a near-death experience, which pushed the Michigan native to take his talents down south.
Honorable C.N.O.T.E. — a name given to him by his older brother when he was just in the fourth grade — has aligned himself with some of the best hip-hop has to offer since transplanting to Atlanta. Whether it’s linking up with ATL mainstays such as 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane or producing for the next generation of artists like Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert, C-Note has the ability to spark creativity in any room. Recently, he even helped produce Migos’ infectious single “Supastars,” alongside Buddah Bless.
C.N.O.T.E. credits his evolution to his newfound understanding of classical music, as he’s currently exploring the theory behind synths. He capped off 2017 with another potential hit on his hands, as Trippie Redd’s “Dark Knight Dummo” made an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 72. In addition, the record has accumulated more than 8 million plays on Redd’s SoundCloud.
Billboard connected with C.N.O.T.E. during a studio break for a phone interview touching on the creative process behind “Dark Knight Dummo,” his contributions to Quality Control’s compilation album, Astroworld studio sessions, a joint album with Tracy T and turning vegan.
How would you describe your upbringing in Michigan, as well as your early musical influences who helped shape you as a producer?
We had this guy that goes by the name of DJ Camouflage. He had a little rap group and we would go into his house and he’d be making beats on a DR-5. That was the first time I was influenced. Then, I always liked T-Mix, who was a big influence of mine. When Roc-A-Fella started, I was a Kanye West and Just Blaze head — Timbaland too. All three of them.
You were stabbed after getting into a fight. Was that what made you decide to move to Atlanta?
Some other stuff happened before that, but that story is a long one. I ended up getting into a fight at a gas station where I got stabbed in the neck. We were throwing hands and somehow during our tussle, he pulled out something and stabbed me. I didn’t even know it happened until the police came and I looked at my shirt. The spirit kept telling me to move. “If you end up staying here, you’re going to end up killing somebody or you’re going to end up getting killed.”
I noticed you’ve gotten a lot of your bigger placements within the last decade. Was that just part of the process of building those relationships, or did something change with your beatmaking?
When I first got down to Atlanta, I was submitting beats to A&Rs to get to artists. That wasn’t a fun process to me. I didn’t like that game. Then I got introduced to working with artists, and that’s where I felt it was like back at home working with homies. I would pull up on 2 Chainz or Gucci Mane. When I got those relationships, that’s when it started going.
Gucci Mane actually ended up rapping on one of my demos, that’s when I knew I had to go down to Atlanta. My big break was moving to Atlanta. I knew it was going to happen. Atlanta hasn’t done anything but show love to me. Future had the studio across the street from where I was at. He was over there recording every day.
How would you describe the evolution of your production style over the years?
The evolution of my production style took place when I started listening to classical music. Before, I’d listen to it and like it, but when I started really breaking it down, they’d have 45 violins doing the same thing. Earlier in my career, I’d think that would have to be a chord. Then people started really teaching me stuff and it helped develop my sound. Like, I could take this and add a distorted 808 to it and use an orchestra with some hard drums behind it. Right now, I’m going through the theory of synths. I’m learning how to make a synth. My sound is kind of everything right now. I take in what I like and make it my own.
Getting into some records, what was the creative process like when you crafted “Dark Knight Dummo” for Trippie Redd?
When I make these beats, I put what’s going on in the world into it. I don’t really make a beat for a particular artist. I see earthquakes or talks of war, and that’s what the beat represents. It builds up and tells a story. They twisted it up for the hook. The original beat goes from real slow until the drums come in to feel like if you looked outside you’d think some atomic bombs were going off. Then it goes into somebody’s victory music.
Fooly Faime linked up with Trippie Redd, and they already had the song done by the time I got to the studio. I thought it was so hard, and what Travis Scott did on some of those melodies was crazy. That song is very entertaining to me. I wasn’t familiar with [Trippie Redd] at first until I got to the studio. He started playing me some songs and he wasn’t really feeling the beats I was playing, so he showed me what he can do. We ended up making another song that’s hard as f—. Mike Dean mixed the vocals on that — he killed Travis’ shit.
Have you been in on any sessions for Travis Scott’s Astroworld? What can you tell us about his upcoming album?
It’s coming soon — I definitely was in the studio with Travis earlier in 2017. We got some shit that sounded really good. That’s all I could let you know with Astroworld for now, but it’s crazy. It’s looking like I’m going to be involved.
You produced two records on Quality Control: Control the Streets, Vol.1. Could you take me through the creative process for “The Load” featuring Gucci Mane, Lil Baby and Marlo?
With “The Load,” I knew I wanted to do something I haven’t felt in a long time. I was playing with the keyboard then started adding to these synths. It sounds like a school bus bouncing on a cloud. I took it over to Gucci Mane’s house and when he heard that he was like, “That’s the one right there, that shit is hard.” The rest is history. We went back in and mixed Lil Baby and Marlo‘s verse and I went in and added the ending part on there. That’s one of my favorite beats.
How about for “Holiday” with Quavo and Lil Yachty?
Super Mario came over my crib and I heard that melody and I was like, “Let me put some drums to that.” I put my kind of drums on there and we’ve been sitting on that beat for almost a year. One day, 2 Chainz had a concert with Quavo and he was going to perform a song with Meek Mill. I was like, “It’s like that?” I pulled up to the studio with them after the show and Lil Yachty was there. I did a couple beats. He was going crazy in there. I pulled up some beats and we did like three songs that day and “Holiday” was one. All three are real hard, though. That boy is on fire over there. “Holiday” just felt perfect for the season. That’s my Christmas record right there.
How have you been able to adjust and connect so well with varying generations of artists?
It goes back to me not trying to sound like someone. If I’m a producer, I’m going to paint this picture and this picture is true, so anyone can identify with it. I can pick up on a person’s sound. I give them what they want and when we build our relationship, in return, I give them what I want. Being a producer is all about giving and taking. I know I can go in any room with any artist and spark creativity in the room. Everyone’s creative, but sometimes I have to fall back and know how to move in a room.
I read you experienced some of that when collaborating with Lil Uzi Vert on “20 Min.”
That’s just what that was. We came off of 1017 vs The World and he told me he was working on his album and wanted some beats for it. I started sending him beats and he was recording to a lot of them. I’m thinking he’s really fucking with me so I’m going to make some bomb-ass shit. We had this song “Change My Phone” that everyone really liked off 1017 vs The World — that’s me really studying synths. I just want to be different, so I went back to that same synth and started messing with that patch.
I feel like it was for an ’80s rock band and I put the drums behind it and that loop was so good I didn’t want to break it down. I let [Uzi] spazz out on it. That’s a three-minute loop. I wanted to change some shit with it, but he wanted it just like that. You never know what’s going to work. Sometimes I overthink shit as a producer, but I’m learning to let things go the way they belong.
Are we going to see you on SremmLife 3? I saw you were recently in the studio with Rae Sremmurd.
More than likely — we’ve been working. I know I’m on Swaecation for sure. For SremmLife 3 I was just out in Los Angeles and we camped out and banged out beats. I’m in a space where I’m creating now and I don’t know what’s going to go on what.
What inspired you to become vegan and change your lifestyle?
I wasn’t trying to be one of those producers that make it up out of their struggle, but then he dies. I’m not cashing that check. I’m already a pre-diabetic with high blood pressure. Sometimes, my arms and hands fall asleep. They couldn’t find anything else wrong with me when I would go to the doctors, but I knew there was.
One day I’m in the studio and my left side started to freeze up and I thought I was about to have a heart attack. After that, I stopped eating meat. That’s when I saw Waka Flocka skinny as hell on Instagram and I had to see what he was doing. He introduced me to Dr. Amsu and Dr. Amun. They started putting me up on fasting and the right things to eat.
They started me on a 30-day fruit fast with nothing but fruit and water for a month. I didn’t think I could get through that, but my body started adjusting. This whole journey taught me some real shit, sometimes you have to go through it yourself. I lost a lot of weight when I did 40 days with just minerals and water, then became vegan because I couldn’t eat cheese. My body couldn’t handle the shit anymore.
What’s next for you?
Tracy T and I just finished a collaboration album — it’s called I Ain’t the Guy and I’m working on this 20/20 project, which is top secret. That “Dark Knight Dummo” or “New Level” sound I branded as 20/20. It’s all mosh-pit music. That’s the album I’m working on. I got some surprises on that.