For S1, blessings in his career have come at just the right moment. From his early days as a rough-and-tumble producer in lauded underground hip-hop collective Strange Fruit Project to competing in and generally losing in beat battles, Symbolic One has persevered over the past few decades, with opportunities coming from taking steep risks that paid off and the generosity of others stepping in when he didn’t even ask for help.
The Waco, Texas native traces the trajectory of his by-the-bootstraps career in his freshly released book Pray.Focus.Plan.Execute: A Memoir, a compelling read that contextualizes moments throughout his life through the lens of faith and self-assurance. Born Larry Darnell Griffin Jr., the 43-year-old discusses everything from his endurance as a hip-hop hustler to getting his first shot after meeting Rhymefest and giving him free beats for his sophomore album, on the promise that he would introduce his music to Kanye West if and when he had the opportunity. When the rapper delivered, S1 elevated his career to the next level, producing “Power” for West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and going on to work on Jay-Z and West’s Watch the Throne, Madonna’s Rebel Heart, Beyonce’s 4 and tracks for Lorde, Lil Uzi Vert and Eminem.
Throughout the course of the memoir, S1 details each opportunity by sprinkling in behind-the-curtain gems, from West giving him $20,000 at the moment he and his family needed it most to meeting Beyonce during the Watch the Throne sessions and spinning it into producing her 4 single “Best Thing I Never Had.” But he does so with insight and perspective, capping each chapter with meditations on those experiences, and how they tied into believing in God and sticking to the tenants of the book title’s mantra.
With work set for upcoming albums from J. Cole, Lecrae and Eminem, S1 speaks on why he decided to write a memoir at this point in his career, and how keeping the faith paid off.
What inspired you to write this book?
It wasn’t until later on that I realized that I was actually writing this book in the process of living it. When I got to the point where I could step back from everything — once everything slowed down — I started to reflect on certain moments and experiences that I had, and I just had these “wow” moments. I felt like in the moment of doing these things and accomplishing these things, I wasn’t really living in the moment. It was always, do this and move onto the next thing.
The idea for the book started about two and a half years ago. I would just write out little things. I would pick a song or a situation and pull my notepad out on my phone. And then over time, as I started to look, I was like, “Oh, I really do have a lot of stories I could share that would be impactful for people.”
The book is filtered through the tenants of Pray.Focus.Plan.Execute. Where did you come up with this mantra, and have you been applying this to your career for a while?
Now, of course, it’s my brand and my mission statement. However, it wasn’t until I started writing the book that I realized these four principles were present in all of my achievements. That gave it more power, when I started to realize that. In all of these situations, I was always praying, I was always trying to focus and block out distractions and find the space where I can focus on only the things that matter.
Of course, I’m a habitual planne,r to where I always write things out — where it’s my goals or to-dos or tasks I need to complete. I was always drawing a map for my life and vision. And then the last part of it is execute, which is taking the plan and executing it. Completing ideas and making them come to life. I looked back and realized all these things were present in all of my experiences and situations that I lived.
A point made throughout the book is that you put yourself out there so consistently, particularly in describing the beat battles you did. What was your mentality focusing on and bringing those beat battles to the page?
There were three parts to my career. There was of course the learning, but then creating my group project, the Strange Fruit Project, because that was when I was able to shape a sound for a group. But then after having great underground success with that, it was like, I don’t want to be stuck in just having this sound for this particular group, so how can I transition out of that? I think the production showcases were putting me on a platform to show people I could do other things. That was the main reason for that, just to show that yes, this is my group and I can create a sound for that, but I can do this type of music or provide this type of sound as well.
You mention in the book that you gave Rhymefest two free beats on the promise that he’d get back at you someday. Why would you take that risk?
At that moment, I just felt there were some things I would have to take risks in. That’s one of the things. Because I had had conversations with Rhymefest — from those conversations is what naturally convinced me what my decision should be in that situation. If I was going to have a conversation with him and getting a negative vibe, I probably wouldn’t have given him those two beats. But because our situations were so genuine, and he was a really good person, that’s what my decision was based on.
The book sprinkles nuggets of information that are very compelling, like recording more with Kanye than we’ve heard, or Beyoncé having an unreleased cover of Mayer Hawthorne’s “Rain.” Was there more you wanted to put in?
There was so much more. It got to the point where me and my wife were having conversations where it was so much and I had to make sense with the story I was trying to tell. There were a lot of chapters that I may have removed. At the same time, I may release a chapter or two in the next three months or something like that. I’ll find something to do.
Nowadays, it seems like you have more of an ability to pick who you work with. How do you go about doing that?
Once I decided my purpose in life, and that is to give back, encourage and motivate others, every decision I make, whether it’s music or partnerships, it has to align with that purpose. Even musically, even now, with certain projects, I have to be excited about it. It was a point in my career where I just had to work on everything, whether it was being stuck in a publishing deal and just completing the song commitment terms. Now that I’m in a more comfortable space, I have to be excited about working on music. I never want it to feel like a job. So if I work on a project that feels like work, then it’s probably not a good fit for me.
Since faith is such an integral part of who you are, have you entertained the idea of doing more faith-based music?
Yeah, always. Lecrae is about to release a new album. I worked on maybe three or four songs on that that I produced. And then Andy Mineo, I’ve been working with him. A couple of other really dope Christian rappers as well, but I’m open to doing more in that world. And then Kirk Franklin as well. I’m up for a Grammy for his album Long, Live, Love, which came out third quarter last year. I’m always working in that world.
What else are you working on?
There are three or four projects I’ve been really focused on. Those are J. Cole — I’ve been working with him quite a bit over the past five, six months. Knocking out a lot of music with him. Eminem, I’ve been working with him a bit. And then Lecrae. But I’ve been doing a song here for this artist or a song there, but those are the ones I’ve been focused on contributing to.
What do you hope people take from the experience of learning more about your life through this book?
I think the main thing with people reading my book — of course they’re going to learn more about me as a producer and person. However, the main thing I want them to get from the book is: I just want them to know that there’s no difference from me and what I’ve accomplished and the possibilities of them accomplishing as well. That’s the reason I wanted to write this book in a very down-to-earth format and I wanted to highlight within these stories less of my achievements, but more of the failures that got me to those achievements, the process of getting to those achievements. I want people to know that as long as you’re applying the principles every day, consistently, that you will accomplish whatever you set out to accomplish. That’s the message that the whole book conveys.