Kanye Producer Talks Modern Definitions of Success

By 
Bryan Parys
October 7, 2019

Grammy-winning producer Che Pope (Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, the Weeknd) reflected on his career as part of this year's Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium.

Grammy-winning producer Che Pope
Panel discussion featuring Tonya Butler, Che Pope, and Prince Charles Alexander
Grammy-winning producer Che Pope
Panelists at the 2019 Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium, from left to right: Tonya Butler, assistant chair of the Music Business/Management Department; Che Pope; and Prince Charles Alexander, professor in the Music Production and Engineering Department
Image by Adam Ridhwan
Image by Adam Ridhwan

Che Pope knows a thing or two about the landscape of popular music in the last quarter decade. He was there in the '90s, recording to tape and making use of sampling machines you now find on eBay described as "vintage." But as he made clear at a roundtable discussion during the 13th annual Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium, it's not the gear that makes your career. For one, Pope won a Grammy using that equipment in 1999 with Lauryn Hill, and another Grammy with the Weeknd using current production technologies in 2015. In between, he's worked with everyone from Santana and India.Arie to Kanye West and Teyana Taylor.

"[As a producer] It's your job to get the record finished, so that the artist is happy, but that also the record label is happy, because you are the bridge between the two."

—Che Pope

As he relayed in a conversation with fellow panelists Tonya Butler, assistant chair of the Music Business/Management Department, and Prince Charles Alexander, professor in the Music Production and Engineering Department, success for Pope is more about fulfilling the basic definition of a producer, being the "person who takes a song from A to Z," he said, noting that his work isn't done until the song is officially released. "If the songwriting needs work, fix the songwriting," he went on. "If the chorus needs to be reworked or reorchestrated...it's your job to do that. It's your job to get the record finished, so that the artist is happy, but that also the record label is happy, because you are the bridge between the two."

When asked about the right way to make and sustain a career as a producer, he stated up front that "there is no right way," but at the core of success is to ensure your skillset is up to par. He cited Berklee students as being set up particularly well for production success because of their training as musicians. As he said, musicians are "more prepared for real-life situations. Nothing can replace a musician. Because when you're in the studio and it's 12 at night, and the song ain't right, the fact that that person can sit at a piano or guitar and fix that song? That's intangible."

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