“NO I.D. on the track, let the story begin,” D.O.A. by Jay-Z. Def Jam’s Executive Vice President of A&R at Def Jam, NO I.D. has spent more than 20 years in the music industry. He produced for Common, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”), Jay-Z (“D.O.A.”), and Kanye West (“Heartless”), but people still don’t know who he is and maybe that’s because he is a humble dude and don’t chase fame. NO I.D. was also the President of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. Complex interviewed the Chi Town native and he discussed his position over at Def Jam, his role in the making of Watch the Throne, and his relationship with Kanye West. Below are some excerpts:
How did you end up as the Executive Vice President of A&R at Def Jam?
I’ve done music for a while, but I was always an introvert doing music. I never had a PR person, ever. I never really did a lot of interviews. When I started working with G.O.O.D. Music, I was the president for a while.
That led me to meet Big Sean, and I developed a relationship with [Island Def Jam head of A&R] Karen Kwak and [Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Island Def Jam Music Group] L.A. Reid at the time. They got to know me and that led to them offering me a job.
What were some of those accomplishments that made Def Jam want to hire you?
It was simple things, like being able to grab Big Sean and take him from scratch. I’m really good at taking things from scratch and helping develop them, versus chasing after the hottest thing going.
I come from an era where you just build something. Me and Common built what we built from Chicago from scratch. Then helping Kanye get to where he’s gotten. Being involved with helping extend the success of Jay-Z.
When people get to see me interact with the creative giants, they see the perspective and the respect. A lot of times, people don’t have that respect, from a music perspective, with the music people.
For example, I came in when Watch The Throne was happening. It wasn’t like I was actively working on the project, but I came in with some insight that helped bring records like “Otis,” “Made In America,” and “No Church In The Wild.”
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NEXT PAGE: NO I.D. SPEAK ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH KANYE WEST, AND DEF JAM RECORDS
You’ve been around for a long time, but weren’t truly appreciated until the last few years, when Kanye gave you the shoutout on “Big Brother” and then Jay did the same on “D.O.A.” You’re one of the few people who got appreciated late in their career as opposed to early in their career.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that I never had a publicist and never tried to do anything to make myself get the credit. I really was just trying to grow as a human being and as a producer. I always had it mapped out in my head that it would go like that, but I never really knew that it would fully end up going that way. It was kind of amazing to see it happen.
I really mapped it out after [producer and Def Jam co-founder] Rick Rubin. He was my inspiration. I used to study who I wanted to be like, and it was [the late Atlantic Records producer] Tom Dowd and Rick Rubin. They had these really long careers, but they really did a lot for people and music that was not seen.
I like how Rick Rubin did a lot for hip-hop and then went off in other genres. He’s still doing humongous records, yet you don’t see him in the forefront. You don’t say, “Hey, Rick Rubin got the new Adele”—but he right there doing it.
Do you see yourself becoming the President of Def Jam one day?
I’ve heard some of that. That would be me looking ahead. I’m not looking ahead. I’m looking at where my feet are now. I’m gonna be a really good Executive Vice President. If I do this good, then I do this good. [Laughs.] Again, there’s no hustle in my actions. Let me do what I have, and be the best at what I do. If I do this really good, does it even matter who’s the president?
We talking about titles, but what do they even mean? You got more control to do what? You’re getting a little more money? Okay, well I got access to make money. I’m a producer. I have access to sell, grow, and develop artists. I have a label here also. I got everything that I need. I’m not worried about whether I am that or not.
lot of the late resurgence of your career has to do with Kanye. He would bring it up all the time, like, ‘No ID’s my mentor and I learned from him.’ How has your relationship with Kanye affected your career?
I’ll be the first to say it helped me, period. The one thing, being humble enough to tell you, is even if you help someone or teach someone, that doesn’t mean they can’t help or teach you. It’s just not like that.
He always gave it up to me, in my opinion, because I’ve never tried to claim anything or ask him for anything or take anything for what I did do to help him. I think he went through so much with people and people felt entitled. For me, I never felt entitled to anything. I always just gave.
The law of life is, you give and you receive. It didn’t surprise me that I would receive. It surprised everyone that he would give to me like that. It’s just the energy of the universe. Everything is what it is. I give to people when I don’t even have a reason to give to people. I gave to him and never asked for anything.
I never wanted to even say that I was his mentor. I never once even said that. When you think about it, I never said, like, ‘Yeah I taught Kanye West’ This is what he says. I always thought of myself as the male figure that he didn’t have growing up because his father wasn’t around.
Music stuff was there too, but a lot of the things we’ve always talked about was more about life than just music. With music, we was competitive but were helping each other. It just so happens that when I met him, I helped him get to a certain level before he could help me see things.
So if you and Kanye don’t have a mentor relationship, what kind of relationship do you have?
I’m not saying we don’t, I’m just saying that I never would have said that word. I don’t know what it is, because I don’t try to access it. It just is. I felt like he was a younger guy, so he wasn’t like my friend like the way Common was my friend. We have a different friendship from a younger-older guy sense.
He says Jay is his big brother, but I feel like a brother. I don’t know if I’m big, little, equal, or whatever it is. We’re more like brothers—fighting when we want to, arguing when we want to, be there or not be there, don’t talk for six months or talk every day. A brother, more than a big brother or the brother. That’s my brother.
Since then, it’s just been back and forth with any talented people. Nobody really ever asked me what I thought. They just say, “You mentored him and taught him.” If you really want my word on the record, I helped him early and he helped me later.
No one ever asked me that. They always say we know you did this and we know you did that. Maybe I did, but I never once used that as a platform for anything. Anything I ever did was out of pure giving at the moment, and it was never planned.
Read the entire interview over at Complex.