Written by Devon Acuña and Jack Farrell
Deadly Nedly is an Edmonton-based DJ/producer who recently released his expansive and feature-heavy first project, Northernmost Million. We stopped by his studio to talk about the project, YEG Hip-Hop, DJ albums, and the pandemic.
Ned: I used to make a bunch of beats live for cyphers. I was inspired by Cypher Wild if you guys have heard of that. I DJ’d a show, if you guys have heard of Komrade from Brothers Grimm. The first show I did was in 2015. It was a Merkules show, and Celph Titled and Apathy, they’re Demigodz. They’re kinda like rappers from that Merkules vein of just doing that very lyrical, prairie Hip-Hop of, like, Stompdown and Battleaxe.
Jack: One of the questions I’ve got for you is actually about Komrade’s verse, because his whole verse is shitting on, really, the Battleaxe group.
Ned: Yeah, so Komrade has always been someone who put me on, he put me on that first show. There’s a DJ called Crooklyn, who was a DJ for this group called the Nasty Boys. I went to high school with their little brother, so I was always kind of in that friend group, and then DJ Crooklyn had a child, so they needed a DJ for that night. I already had a Maschine in 2015. I wasn’t super DJing yet, but I had this little DJ set, and a turntable ‘cause I was actually trying to sample vinyl, and I was watching the shows and I knew that if me and my friends wanted to do a crew, that would be the thing to do. I had the Akai AMX, just this little piece of gear. I did that show, and my computer was messing up, and DJ Weezl --- the guy who would later come to be on “Cave Drips,” he’s a legendary DJ, he won some DMC’s in the 2000’s, its kinda like the olympics for DJs --- he was at that show and my gear was fucking up and he [DJ Weezl] was like “dude, I can do it if you want.” I crashed that first gig.
Ned clarified afterwards that Merkules didn’t throw him under the bus when his gear crashed, he freestyled to keep the show going while Ned dealt with his equipment.
So yeah, I was just doing those gigs with Komrade, and I think this was actually around the time I was getting tinnitus and I was telling him I can’t be doing so many shows, and I remember there was this Frank Nitt show happening. If you’re a beatmaker/DJ, you know it was a J Dilla affiliate, but also on his own Frank Nitt has some songs that I came to find out about. So I came back and did the gig after two weeks of being like ”I can’t do gigs.” At a certain point, it’s what you live for. Am I gonna start giving up opportunities because I’m just gonna sit in my basement --- my mom’s basement at the time? Like I’m not gonna DJ because my ears are ringing. You gotta take care. Whatever it is, just figure it out.
Devon: So before that you were just spinning people’s beats, you weren’t making your own really?
Ned: Yeah, and I had the Maschine before I started DJing the gigs, but I was just such a noob, and then through the gigs is how I met people and started networking and actually got better as a producer, ‘cause I was able to come out of my shell and just be part of the community. Like, obviously not right now, and it’s hard to say about the future, but at that time the Sampler Cafe was a really good place to meet local producers.
There’s the post partum of putting out the album and not being able to tour it and go DJ in the clubs, play my stuff and just hustle CDs to people face to face. I’m just trying to make these instagram posts and get attention but not play myself. It’s hard, you’re trying to not shove it down peoples’ throat. I always did live beat videos and stuff, you wanna put stuff out there but the project was the time for it, like “dude you can’t just spend the pandemic tryna get people to like your live videos, it’s time to make something that will hopefully last forever.”
Devon: So you made this project over the course of the pandemic?
Ned: Yeah, the fucking CERB started htting and I was able to fund some of the features, so it was like: using all those connections---talking about my beginning as a DJ---meeting all these people, having Komrade who gave me my first gig, but then being a guy who would work with anybody and doing a lot of shows. I did the BoogE Town thing, but now I’m here and I’m not trying to do a collective anymore, it’s good to always work on yourself as an individual.
Devon: You said this is your first project. Was it way more work than you thought it was gonna be, getting fucking thirty features for an album and recording them all?
Ned: I didn't know what to expect and, at first, I was collecting songs. I was like, “I'm gonna take my beats and make songs with them,” and then I was like, “it's gonna be twelve songs. It's gonna be fifteen songs,” and then I was close to twenty songs. And I was thinking I wanted to say something on the intro, so that's why I was like, “twenty tracks crafted right here in Edmonton, set the roaring twenties off right.”
Devon: Oh, I didn't even catch that.
Ned: Yeah, twenty tracks, 2021, 2020. It's all about the twenties now. That was the whole idea, where I was like, okay, I'm gonna push myself to do that.
Devon: So you didn't set out initially to have such a big project?
Ned: No, I didn't, and then everything just came together. I guess I just tried to get serious during the pandemic, cause it’s hard. You gotta try to do something, right?
Devon: Stay busy ‘cause you're locked inside.
Ned: Yeah. So there's certain people who talk about it as a blessing in disguise. You know, it's just so hard on guys like us that don't have a ton of cash, but to get that CERB, it was honestly more money than I probably was earning, to be real. And to sit at home and do nothing and be earning that money. It was like “Jesus.”
Devon: Makes you feel kind of guilty, right?
Ned: And as an artist, are you just gonna lose yourself to addiction? What are you gonna do? You know?
Jack: So, I love DJ albums. I love having so many different people that come together that you, one, don't expect and, two, never thought you would see. So, I'm wondering if there was anybody that you wanted to get featured on it that just didn't work out, or if all the features that you got were everyone you wanted?
Ned: Yeah, there's definitely a few guys. You know how we're doing everything over the internet, so you'll have this verse from someone and then you'll get a verse from somebody else and you'll be like, “okay, this is more what I want” and then you might have to tell someone it's not gonna work.
Devon: Oh, so you cut some people too?
Ned: You don't want to do that, because it could ruin relationships. But at the end of the day, it's just about making music you want and the really real artists, they don't mind at all. They still show love, and there's people I want to work with in the future. There's a guy named Ken Will Win, I tried to get him on a track. That didn't work out, but shout out to him. There's a guy, Dilla Sean. That song with Valkyrie on it, “My love,” she murdered it, but originally I had Dilla Sean on there. I just needed that female perspective, even though I loved what he did. He was just cool with it and it was no big deal.
Devon: That’s dope that you put the music ahead of the relationship a little bit.
Ned: I try to, man. You know, it's so much politics and also, yeah, you try to work with the big artists but you shouldn't pander. There were certain people I sent the beats to, like Trippz from Doom Squad, for example. He's dope, and he was down to do a song. He wasn't even talking about money. But I was so overwhelmed starting this big thing that, at the end, I was like, I need to get these songs done and put this out, even if maybe I could do a better promo run later or whatever it is.
Jack: So you were talking about sending these things to people and having certain people say that they don't think they’re kinda right for it. So I'm wondering, did you make the beats with people in mind and then you send them the shit?
Ned: Certain tracks. Especially once it got down to the grit. I was looking to fill certain spots, and I really had to think. At the beginning, I was sending everyone all the beats. It's my first time, I'm learning. Maybe that's insulting or not the best thing to do, just give all your beats to people and then end up not even having them on the project, because they’re like “oh, what the fuck Ned, I said I liked four of your beats and you didn't even hit me back.” I do try to hit people back, obviously, but they might feel left out. I try my best and at the end of the day everyone tries their best. You try to have forgiveness in your heart, just move responsibly. If they lash out at me, that would suck, but I would understand. And going forward, obviously, I’ll just try to bridge that.
Devon: Word, some people are always looking for a reason to get in their ego, you know?
Ned: I mean, I'm not perfect, right? I need to learn from this stuff, and I should admit that I can learn from it. So it goes both ways. It's a learning experience. Going forward, hopefully I can make more songs, man. I'm not gonna do Northernmost Million two right away, but I think I want to produce for artists, do individual songs. I haven't opened up a beat store yet, I haven't done that hustle. When I was doing BoogE town, I was helping a lot of other producers sell their beats and stuff. I was just trying to focus on my own stuff, and I didn't really sell the beats, I just tried to make songs. So we'll see what happens with that.
Devon: Have you done a lot of producing for people before this project?
Ned: Not a ton. I've engineered and mixed and recorded a lot of stuff for people, and that was kind of helping me lay the roots --- just being down to record people for cheap or free --- later hitting them up like “dude, remember back in the day, you came to my mom's basement? I’m making a project now, do you think you could not charge me a million bucks?”
Devon: It feels like you've been networking for a while, making those connections.
Ned: Yeah, with the DJing and the engineering. It's sort of been my passion. Now I'm transitioning into being an artist, I guess. A DJ that makes albums, right? Would you call them an artist? I mean, it's just such a broad term nowadays. Who actually takes the time to even buy the CD or care that I mixed a lot of the beats, that I made a majority of the beats? There were some of the beats that I got guest producers on, and bought the beats off them. I'm trying to live within my capabilities, being blessed with the opportunity to be a DJ, and there's so many producers who keep it real. They do all their own stuff, and I respect the shit out of them. But maybe I'm going to be the guy who's trying to do the songs. I'm always trying to connect the best producers with the best artists, but it got to the point, especially with the pandemic, where I was like, I need to do something and put this passion into just trying to make something as Ned and just be deadly.
Jack: You have a very wide range of styles on this record.
Ned: That was another thing with getting the guest producers, I wanted to have different flavors.
Jack: I was listening to it and I kind of started thinking about who your beats kinda reminded me of. First thoughts were Ant from Atmosphere.
Ned: I love Ant.
Jack: Exile, Chuck Strangers, and even the kid that made some of Cordae’s album, Kid Culture, reminded me of the “Ain’t Done” song.
Ned: Yeah, that's got the local legend Touch, and K-Blitz. The crazy thing is, I didn't even know this when I was doing the song, but I guess they had some sort of rivalry back in the day, like ten years ago. So for them to come together on the song, it was kind of just good vibes all around. K-Blitz did his thing first and then Touch gave me the verse back and he was like “me and K-Blitz we ain’t on that fake shit.” He was shouting him out, you know? And it was the last song on the project.
Touch, he's a DJ, as well as a producer and a rapper. I haven't gotten to that point yet where I'm rapping but I'm seeing that it's so much fun to be an artist and a DJ even, and then making the beats is great. I need to keep making beats and pushing myself, otherwise I'm being lazy and I need to push myself for that. Certain songs---like with “Grey”---we did the music video and I made the beat and I was doing the beat live and that was important to me. But, shout out to YEGNE1, shout out to Rory who did the bass for some of the other producers, the first song was Mahsicho. Rhea, they're an indigenous producer from Vancouver and Edmonton. MKT Beats, he did a couple of beats. DJ Weezl did a couple of the beats as well, and he helped lock down that Moka Only verse. Yeah, just use those connections, man.
Devon: So a lot of it is about those connections for you?
Ned: Yeah, and just honoring them. Trying to show that we're not just hanging out at the bar talking shit. Like, let's make some music together and connect with those people on that level.
Jack: I really liked that track “Fed Up,” and I really want to know what the sample is at the beginning.
Ned: Yeah, so I produced that one. It's “She's a Fox”. Jimi Hendrix is playing the guitar there, it's this group called The Icemen that Jimi Hendrix used to play guitar for. I think Amy Winehouse might have sampled that track before.
Jack: Do you do a lot of sampling for your beats?
Ned: Yeah, I sample a lot of records. That's my style, that's kind of how I learned. I like to chop up the records. I did a live beat for the video, that's a real thing that I can do at the bar. People love it, they love to see it, the live stuff. And at the cyphers you can bring that energy for the rappers because sometimes you just jank it up a bit, get a little crazy with them and it brings that element.
Devon: I feel like the album is mostly boombap, that seems to be more of your vibe. Are you interested in the new school shit at all?
Ned: Yeah, I definitely am. I just need to keep learning. Not that the old school shit is easier, but it's just really what I came up on. I tried to have those different flavors, like “My Love”. I think that I'm just doing what I love, which is inspired by all that stuff. I did come to that realization where I needed to get those more modern beats.
Jack: Just backtracking back to sampling and beatmaking, do you have a process of finding songs you sample? Do you just throw a record on and just listen to it?
Ned: It could be something I find, man. It could be like a cardinal sin to be Shazam-ing songs as a DJ for people, but if you hear something, you want to find it, maybe you'll just be walking around or, for me, hanging out with you guys, hanging out with people at the studio, working with different genres of artists. Just talk to people, dude. Walking down the street, if you hear a song, write down the lyrics. Don't forget when your friend shows you a cool song. Sometimes you don't love it, but just try to give stuff a chance. Yeah, and then try to remember it when you do. Write it down. Or just get home and load’er up. Whatever it is, YouTube to mp3 or vinyl to fucking- you know, whatever it is just get those sounds. CDs, vinyls, tapes, gotta look everywhere.
Devon: So what's the next move, are you working on new shit yet?
Ned: Yeah, I was talking about that project with BIGDOG LEX, and then just making a whole bunch of new beats. I think it'd be cool to do a project called Champion Sound, like Edmonton had “the city of champions,” instead of going back to Northernmost Million right away. Who knows, maybe it'll be two million one day and I’ll do Northernmost Million Two then. But for now, It'd be fun to just keep it local, do a local project like a Champion Sound project, so hopefully look out for that this summer. I gotta push myself to put out music, even if it's not gonna be twenty songs this time.
Jack: That kind of comes full circle for you, ‘cause you were telling us about the Yancey Boys stuff, and J Dilla put out an album called Champion Sound with Madlib.
Ned: Yeah, someone actually said that, like, maybe you shouldn't do champion sound because you'd be biting Dilla and so that's why I still have to develop these ideas. I'm still just stacking songs. Just stacking bread up for the next features, right?
Devon: So who's the big influences? Who influences your music?
Ned: Dilla, Premiere, Metro Boomin. You know, beats by J Black, DJ Quik. Funk Flex, he did a lot of stuff, the RZA --- something that someone said about the RZA once, it was just like a YouTube comment I read that I'll quote to you, “the reason the RZA was the best producer was because he could take a crazy dude like ODB, get him in the studio to make a full length album.” And that's an inspiring quote. I love that.
Jack: Being able to bring the best out of people.
Ned: Yeah, that's what we try to do. And as DJs we try to make people have the best time possible.
Jack: Is there anything we didn't ask you that you were kind of looking forward to talking about?
Ned: Just those credits, just shouting out the guys in the credits like the guy who did the album cover. The photo was originally by Ernie Paniccioli and then [the design was by] AJA Louden. AJA’s crazy and he appreciates Hip-Hop and I was able to reach out to him. So, you know, I also have the logo by Curly. I don’t want to flex with all this stuff, it's just that it means a lot to me.
The Absurd Collective is a collective of young artists that operates on Treaty 6 territory.