“There is solder in these plugins! Hip-Hop Renaissance Man X: 144 talks about music production philosophy and Metric Halo plugins
SAFETY HARBOR, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 2021: Hip-hop artist X: 144 has always had plenty to do, and while the pandemic has changed where and how things happen, he’s busier than ever. Over the course of her long career, X: 144 has produced and designed for Ms. Lauryn Hill, Blueprint & Aesop Rock, Kool G Rap, MF Doom, Qusai, and more, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He composes and produces for All Most Nothing, a fluid genre-power duo. Together with monster rapper Alias the @ikt, X: 144 is currently living in the past, present and future with three All Most Nothing albums in different stages of production. The first one standing, LEFT, aired smoothly on Audeze’s Twitch channel, where the duo broke down their process for each song. X: 144 (credited Maged Khalil Ragab) also exercises his skills with renowned video games including Madden NFL and The Last of Us Part II. He was responsible for the dialogue on The Last of Us Part II and recently shared an MPSE Golden Reel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing: Interactive Computer Game. As if all that wasn’t enough, X: 144 has made music videos for Ms. Lauryn Hill, The Alchemist, Solillaquists of Sound, Dark Time Sunshine, and more.
X: 144 takes the music and the hip-hop community seriously. “There is a huge cultural gap between the current generation of hip-hop artists and the founders,” he said. “A lot of it is that we don’t welcome young artists at the door. We don’t help them. We don’t breed them. Worse yet, there are a lot of hip-hop pioneers out there who actively hated / loathed the current generation. It’s not effective, and that’s the underlying reason why the genre belongs to companies and not to us. It needs to change. “
Given this perspective, X: 144 intends to guide the next generation of hip-hop artists. He seized the containment of Covid-19 as an opportunity to share his production philosophy and engineering techniques with the community. “When I was going up, it was school for hard knocks,” he said. “Hip-hop is inherently competitive, and it was the survival of the fittest. I was forged in fire. But all I ever wanted was someone to help me, help me get better. X: 144 spent the majority of the lockdown delivering a dual channel experience on Twitch (@ X144Live). On Thursdays, he listens to community submissions and gives actionable commentary to up-and-coming artists who submit their work. He devotes up to 10-20 minutes to each submission, acknowledging the originality and unique artistry of each song before tailoring his comments to help the artist realize his vision even more effectively. On Saturday, X: 144 invites an established musical artist into the virtual studio for live Q&A and to mix one of their songs in real time. “The next generation can see how decisions are made,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing I wish I had seen when I was younger.”
Given all of its transparency and eagerness to share, X: 144 received many tips and tricks in return from friends in the industry. “Whenever I swap ‘secret sauce’ recipes with my Boogie buddy from Backpack Jax, he talks so much about Metric Halo plugins,” he said. “I knew Metric Halo. I had used a Metric Halo 2882 hardware interface to master Madden NFL. I compared it to all the other interfaces available, and the dimensionality of the 2882 made everything else feel like listening through a plastic straw. So, I knew Boogie’s recommendations were well founded, but even so, I was like, “Do I really need these Metric Halo plugins?” And he said, ‘Hey man, they look awesome!’ “
He continued, “The Metric Halo plugins are some of the most analog plugins I’ve heard in recent years. Really, they don’t look like plugins; they sound like hardware. It looks like electricity. Just instantiating a Metric Halo plugin is like browsing through excellent analog material that is zeroed out. Fidelity, clarity, roundness, warmth and detail all contribute enormously to the ease of obtaining a result. I think there is solder in these plugins!
X: 144 rarely uses presets. It’s a habit that dates back to his beginnings with an Akai MPC 3000 drum machine. “I had to taste everything from scratch per session,” he said. “I learned later that people save their sounds to Zip drives for reuse later, but I’ve done it from scratch each time. I did this whole ritual with my vinyl: cleaning the stylus, cleaning the vinyl, listening carefully, then handling most of the editing in the capture. So even though I’ll be reusing drum sounds these days (because I paid my dues!), I’m really not a preset guy on processor plugins. I’m not a revisited guy. I am a fiddler. And because I always find results from scratch, I got pretty quick.
ChannelStrip is the Metric Halo plug-in from X: 144. “I like the compression and I like the equalizer,” he said. “And they sound great on anything. The results are always right. I know what I’m getting. ChannelStrip never flattens the source and never reduces dimensionality. On the contrary, ChannelStrip adds more dimensionality from before to. rear, especially with an additive equalizer.
X: 144 takes care to distinguish the character of a sound from its key. “Philosophically speaking, I want the character to be captured in the content,” he said. “It’s like the adage that your master is as good as your mix; your mix is as good as your recording; and your recording is as good as your talent. When I’m involved in the recording, I always make sure the character is there. But when I receive material that someone else has recorded, sometimes I need tools to convey that character. Ironically, Metric Halo’s signal path modeller, Character, is not what X: 144 achieves in these situations. “In my opinion, Metric Halo is all about your tone,” he said. “Same character.”
X: 144 uses the Metric Halo character a lot, but considers the various flavors of harmonic distortion it imparts to be fundamentally on tone. “This harmonic distortion is really musical and, in theory at least, very clean,” he explained. “It’s just an accentuated tone. Saturation is tone, distortion is character, if you know what I mean. Metric Halo Character adds warmth and roundness and pushes the signal in the direction it needs to go. It adds something that is clearly audible if you A / B, but without that reference it’s not obvious. The inherent fidelity of Metric Halo makes Character a truly excellent sound creation tool.
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