Where did the beat come from?
Though Stephen Glover provided the vocals, the beat was actually created by 27-year-old producer Christopher Cobb, who goes by the name Chemist and has produced tracks for artists like Freeway, Nipsey Hussle, and Tory Lanez. While he's produced music for Donald before -- check out this Donkey Kong Country sampling track "Eat Your Vegetables" -- he describes himself as Stephen's go-to-producer. His connection to Stephen was how he ended up creating the beat for the "Paper Boi" track, which he sent to the rapper long before the show was finished. In fact, he didn't know the the song was featured so prominently in the pilot until he saw it a couple weeks ago at the New York premiere.
"I see that it fits perfectly for the show," Chemist told me over the phone while taking a break from work in the studio. "He's trying to capture that vibe of pure Altanta hip-hop scene, which seems to be a dying one -- or maybe not a dying one but a changing one -- that sound really comes from 2003 or 2008, when most of those synths were developed, those heavy horns and electronic synths. I used that whistle, which was very popular with Shawty Lo's D4L tracks. I was just trying to capture the essence of Atlanta."
While Chemist isn't an Atlanta native -- he hails from Richmond, Virginia -- he grew up listening to the city's long tradition of innovative, boundary-pushing hip-hop. Chemist started making beats over 11 years ago and first gained a following on the website SoundClick, taking inspiration from the super-producers of the late '90s and early '00s like Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze, and Timbaland, who now produces the music for FOX's glossy hip-hop soap opera Empire. Though much of Chemist's work favors the sample-heavy approach of J Dilla, he says the "Paper Boi" beat was particularly inspired by Atlanta rapper Rocko's 2008 hit "Umma Do Me."
Hearing the song on the show, Chemist could see why the beat was a good fit for Paper Boi. "It catches the essence of the inner-city sound," he said. "With a lot of pop, everything is so fine-tuned and very well mixed and engineered, but with a lot of hip-hop producers, we don't know anything. We just grab expensive equipment and start chopping, and whatever we come up with is whatever we come up with. The ones who work the hardest come up with unique sounds."