Producer Cardo on making Drake’s new No. 1 hit, Kendrick Lamar’s “evil genius”

Before he was producing No. 1 hits with Drake, Cardo made beats on a PlayStation

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J. Films

The name might be new to you, but you probably haven’t escaped the music.

Music producer Ronald LaTour, better known  by his professional name, Cardo, has helped produce some of the biggest songs of the decade, including God’s Plan, Drake‘s second song to reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and one that broke records on Spotify and Apple Music in its first week of release. All it took to make the beat was some family help, and a music production program anyone can download for free.

Before he was helping Drake make history, music was already Cardo’s life. He created the sound behind breakout records from Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, and the newest member of the Kardashian clan, Travis Scott. He’s been making music since he was 16 years old, when Playstation’s MTV Music Generator game was his music studio in the early 2000s. He even got fired from his job selling home loans at Bank of America after getting caught making beats at his desk. “[My manager] told me to my face, ‘You not going to make it nowhere with this music shit,” Cardo recalls.

In our recent interview, Cardo explains how making beats on consumer gear eventually lead to a number-one record with Drake, a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on the upcoming Black Panther soundtrack, and a rising career among hip hop’s brightest.

Digital Trends: When did you start making beats? What did you use when you started?

Cardo: I really started making beats early 2000, 2001, on MTV Music Generator. Just being raised in a musically oriented house, it kind of came naturally. I was on Fruity Loops as well, too. I think Fruity Loops 4. I messed with it here and there, but didn’t do much with it because I didn’t have a computer at the time. I was using my mom’s computer. We had a PlayStation, and that’s when Music Generator was out. My dad was like “Let’s get it.” That’s weird, though. Right?

I had a PlayStation back then, but I had no idea people were making beats on it. For those who don’t know, what is MTV Music Generator and how did you make beats on it?

Music Generator was a beat-making simulator, and you can make beats on the PlayStation. But, you needed to have a memory card in order to save your beats. There were loops, and all of that. You could create your own sounds. You could sample. If you had the CD, you could open up the disc [in the PlayStation] and sample whatever piece you wanted to sample. My brother Sosa was a pro at that.

We tried to figure out how the hell we can get these beats on CDs. My brother being the mastermind with this shit was like, “What if we get a CD recorder?” I’d seen those, at the time, at Circuit City, which was still around. We got a CD recorder and my brother was like, “OK, we’ll put the auxiliary cords from the PlayStation for the audio and plug it into the back of the CD recorder, so when you press record in the CD recorder you can press play on the PlayStation, and it records right through there. My brother Sosa thought of that. He started selling beat CDs for $10 a CD, and started getting a name for himself.

How old were you when you were making music on your PlayStation?

I was about 16 years old. Then Music Generator 2 came out, and we mastered that. We just kept getting better over time. Then I got a Roland MV-8000. That motherfucker was hell to play with because it was the actual hardware. Hardware can be a pain in the ass to work with. It didn’t last long because making a beat on the MV was time-consuming. It could take up your whole day just making one beat. You could make 3 or 4 beats on Fruity Loops in a day. So, I switched it up, and got more involved with Fruity Loops around Fruity Loops 5 or 6. I kept at it … and then it became an everyday thing for me.

Are there any beats that we’ve heard that you made on Fruity Loops?

I made Mesmerized from Wiz Khalifa’s Kush & OJ mixtape on Fruity Loops. Anything that you’ve heard from me from 2010 until now has all been made on Fruity Loops.

This year you went from bubbling under the surface to co-producing Drake’s #1 record, God’s Plan. How did you make that beat? What is your reaction to the response.

My cousin was like, “Yo, this is destined for us.”

It was really my cousin’s idea, Young Exclusive. He brought it to the table, sent it to me, I did what I had to do, then sent it to Drake around September 2017. The name of the beat originally was called Grace of God, which was really weird. He called the song God’s Plan … My cousin was like, “Yo, this is destined for us.”

What did you use to make Drake’s God’s Plan?

Just Fruity Loops. Yeah, and some VST’s (Virtual Studio Technology). I can’t give away the VST’s. [Laughs]. Every magician can’t give their damn tricks out. All I’ll tell y’all is you can make anything out of anything. That’s a fucking fact.

Days after God’s Plan reaches #1 on Billboard, we find out you produced a Kendrick Lamar collaboration with Travis Scott for the upcoming Black Panther soundtrack. What can you tell me about that song?

That record is a banger. It’s hard to describe. It’s one of those records that as soon as you hear it in the club you’re like, “Oh shit. This is going up.” It got that bounce to it. Of course [Kendrick Lamar] and Travis coming in and doing what they have to do. It’s for the clubs. It’s for you to have a good time. It’s for you to bounce around. It’s fire. Honestly, I made that beat in October. I sent it to [Kendrick]. Next thing I know, he hit me back the same day with a rough of the idea.

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J. Films
J. Films

My relationship with [Kendrick] is that’s my bro, bro. We have a cool, solid relationship. We exchange ideas and he’ll tell me what he got in mind. I’ll be like, “Alright, cool.” I’ll send it back to him and he goes, “This is it. This is ear candy.”

So, in September you send Drake the beat that turns into a #1 record. Then, a month later you send Kendrick a beat that turns into a song on one of the most anticipated albums of 2018.

It’s quite scary. You never know how many seeds you plant until you see that shit bloom. I’m starting to see everything bloom.

Which recording sessions have you been a part of that have shaped the way you produce?

The person that pushes me the most, outside of my kids, is Kendrick.

[Laughs] Kendrick Lamar. [Laughs]. Being around Kendrick, he’s like an evil genius. I don’t want to say evil genius, but that nigga just knows what he wants to do. He comes in the studio and knows exactly where he wants to go. He doesn’t even need an atlas map. We might go off road for a section, but we’re going in the same direction. Kendrick will push you like, “Bro, you can do better shit than that.” I talk to [Kendrick] every other day. The person that pushes me the most, outside of my kids, is Kendrick.

Any programs or VSTs you think people trying to get into making beats should download?

There’s a lot of VSTs. Nexus is still one of my go-tos. It has so many damn expansion packs. I fuck with Midi Monsters. I fuck with anything from Native Instruments. There’s millions of components from Native Instruments. I like Goliath. I fuck with Dune. Electrax, of course. Anything from Tone 2. Tone 2 makes some of the best VSTs, to me. It’s millions of them.

If you could think of a piece of technology you wished existed that would help you make music easier, what would it be and what would it do?

That’s a good one. I’d love to make something for kids that’s just for music. Helping them learn how to play, create their own keys, and chords. Something for kids. Kids are so musically inclined in a weird way. You look at Kidz Bop. I wish I could’ve thought of Kidz Bop before anybody. Those make billions. Kids listen to those songs every day. I’d want to create something that influences that, or was influenced from that, and also helps kids make music. Something like this definitely can happen still.