Producing greatness: Meet Grabbitz
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • May 24, 2012 @ 8:46am
Grabbitz isn’t sure which style of producer he fashions himself after.
Will he be like Swizz Beatz, celebrated as one of hip-hop’s best for his work with Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, while also dropping his own albums? Or does he prefer the quiet excellence of Drake’s producer, “40,” an under-appreciated, underexposed star of the music business?
The answer for 19-year-old Nick Chiari, a hip-hop/dubstep producer/performer hybrid whose stage name “Grabbitz” is beginning to resonate hope for Buffalo’s undeveloped hip-hop scene, doesn’t matter—yet. In the meantime, he’s earned opportunities to further his fledgling career, from collaborating with Chae Hawk to producing the music for Chad Michael Murray’s website to opening for Talib Kweli at Town Ballroom May 31.
“It’s my first big act and my first big venue,” Grabbitz said. “I’d say it’s pretty monumental. I’m really excited and very thankful for the opportunity to be part of the [Talib Kweli] show.”
The birth of Grabbitz
Chiari’s foray into music was innocent enough. Then a 15-year-old sophomore at Iroquois Central High School, roughly 20 minutes southeast of Buffalo, he experimented with production on an Xbox before delving into GarageBand—nothing too outlandish for an ambitious youngster exploring a potential hobby.
At the same time, Chiari and a high school friend, Andrew Nycz, created alter egos as rappers, Grabbitz and Snippitz, mostly so “they could swear and shit,” Chiari reminisced. As he grew more accustomed with the software, Chiari mentioned that an entire library of songs began to form in his mind, awfully prodigious for a high school underclassman.
“We both shared the same wacky sense of humor and both really loved making music,” Nycz said, “and even at a young age Nick had a lot of talent and it just grew. At first, it was a way to have fun, and it turned into a complete passion.”
Encouraged by high school friends like Nycz, the ego ‘Grabbitz’ developed a life of its own. “Iroquois was really cool for my music,” Chiari said. “[My friends] could tell the difference from my music and amateur chumpy bull. People weren’t selfish and could appreciate the talent in others.”
Instead of seeing the suburban roots of his rap career as an obstacle, Chiari embraced them. “I’ve never had to worry about writing or rapping fake shit,” he said at a Starbucks in Depew. “I didn’t want to take on rapper stereotypes, because I’ll admit I didn’t have that tough of a life growing up.”
While the designation of “white rapper” drew unavoidable comparisons to Eminem—a reference Chiari considered “one of the biggest compliments he could ever get”—the burgeoning artist was fascinated more by the production talents of Timbaland. Balancing his ability to “spit” with a growing understanding of musical production, it wouldn’t take long before Grabbitz would be noticed on a bigger stage.
Enter the Hawk
The fact that Grabbitz is relevant right now is partly a testament to the trust earned from local rapper Chae Hawk, who sees Grabbitz as “his gift from God.”
A perfectionist, Hawk—recently featured alongside names like Wyclef Jean and Bow Wow on Vibe.com for his single “Heartlock”—demanded a producer for his soon-to-be released album who would remain loyal while testing Hawk’s work ethic.
“Grabbitz came to me right when a close friend and collaborator of mine just upped and left with the music we created intended for the album [Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted],” explained Hawk, who’s spent over four years crafting the album expected to be released in late August.
“My music is very personal to me, so anyone I collaborate with I like to get to know them on that personal level because they are responsible for the canvas to my painting,” he continued.
Grabbitz detailed his first meeting with Hawk, explaining that the rapper—who formed a local hip-hop consulting agency/label Team Radio to lend a three-point plan for musical acts to become industry ready—called him out of the blue in Aug. 2011 after seeing a Grabbitz YouTube clip.
“I felt like he was me, exactly where I was at his age, but I didn’t have the technology tools,” Hawk said. “Once I heard his production it was all over!” Grabbitz produced nine of the album’s fourteen tracks on “Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted.”
After performing together at Club Diablo in Nov. 2011 (then March 4 at the Vault - PHOTOS), the business partnership between Grabbitz and Hawk morphed into a near-inseparable friendship, as the duo meets several times a week to brainstorm, create and perfect. Chiari is proud of how efficient the two are—“We complete something every time we’re together,” Grabbitz said.
Love for Production
I did not expect Grabbitz to bristle when I referred to him as a rapper. He’s producer first, performer second, he says, and Hawk’s Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted will be the pinnacle of his production so far. In a music culture that tends to shortchange producers—“knob-twiddlers” sounds a little degrading, right?—Grabbitz reveres the art of audio engineering even if it’s not an easy path to the spotlight.
He’s fascinated by sound-shaping, mixing and mastering; his eyes lit up when he described bending a sound-wave or layering a track; and he’s allergic to anything preset or automated. He was quick to laud the meticulously-created, distinctive growl in Skrillex’s dubstep as aggressively pioneering. Grabbitz’s language was littered with terms like compressors, reverb and plug-ins, and he’s enamored with the massive amount of sound creation knowledge that’s currently within his reach.
Though he spent the spring taking a class at the University at Buffalo, Grabbitz’s current plan is to earn a certificate from ProMedia Training or Dubspot as the next step in furthering his career. Mastering Pro Tools 10 is a must for any professional-level sound engineer, and Chiari recognizes this fact.
Dubstep phase and coming releases
When he was first introduced to dubstep, Grabbitz absolutely loathed it. Reluctant to give the genre another chance, he listened to Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites—then was quickly hooked. He may not be as experienced spinning dubstep live as he is at spitting rhymes or producing electro tracks, but Grabbitz has collaborated with other Team Radio DJs at the label’s Klusterfuck, a regular party held at the Vault, 702 Main Street, Buffalo.
“It’s cool to DJ parties and still be able to spit my own [rap music],” Grabbitz admitted. “With most musicians, it’s one or the other.”
With an even more expansive arsenal, Grabbitz will release two LPs in quick succession this summer, as his “Self Titled”—it’s not “Grabbitz,” it’s actually “Self Titled”—rap album will be followed closely by an electronic LP, “Epstacy” that he defines as a “conglomeration of styles” including poppy summer tracks, hardcore and dubstep.
“There’s a lot of dubstep influence, even in the rap CD,” Grabbitz said. “The electronic LP is already completely done, and it’s definitely a diverse album.”
Grabbitz stares through the Starbucks windows onto a bustling Transit Road, still mulling where he sees himself in the future. He’s opened up enough doors that even he’s unsure where he’ll find his production niche.
“I don’t really know what will blow up first,” he admits. “It could be music for a horror film or a club banger. I could produce soundtracks for video games and still make a comfortable living.”
The dreams remain big, even if the current picture is cloudy. Finally, Grabbitz settles on Kanye West as his most admired producer, mainly because of his willingness to produce for many different artists.
In the meantime, though, it’s the Grabbitz and Chae Hawk show in Western New York’s hip-hop scene, the deserving duo set to open for a megastar at a large, respected venue.
“I don’t really know where this path will bring us,” Grabbitz said. “No one in hip-hop has put Buffalo on the map yet. To me, Chae Hawk has the best chance. He’s down to ride until the very end.” If Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted does vault Hawk into prominence, expect Grabbitz to be very close behind.
(Two photos courtesy of Chuck Alaimo from Hawk and Grabbitz’s show at the Vault in March 2012).