Music producer No I.D. needs no introduction at all. Simply pop in a track off Usher’s new album, Here I Stand, or listen to some old school Common tracks and the former Southern Illinois University student is easily identifiable as one of Chi-Town’s finest talents. He may have high-profile artists on his résumé (he’s also Kanye West’s mentor), but No I.D. is a humble guy, even when asking others to spare some change.
“Common was at Florida A&M [University] so I moved out there. We ended up finishing his first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar? We called it that because we were so broke we used to go around the campus just borrowing dollars from people. That’s how we drank and ate everyday,”Â he admits.
Ready to divulge some more, Rap-Up.com got No I.D. to discuss his best advice to date, the meaning of his moniker, and becoming a producer by default.
Why the name No I.D.?
Nothing special. It’s just my first name backwards [laughs]. There’s no deep meaning. My first name is Dion.
What was the musical environment like when you were growing up in Chicago?
When I was growing up, house music was the dominant music in Chicago. I was a DJ and I used to DJ house music so I started making it. It was my first musical experience. I’d go test it out at the club and do what I do. Me and Common, we grew up together so we were in a rap group together in high school. We used to open up for rap artists that came to our town like N.W.A., Big Daddy Kane, Too $hort… That’s when I first started rapping. Eventually, when I realized I wasn’t going to graduate from college, I came home and he was still doing the rap thing. I was like, well I’mma do it too. So I started making beats for myself, which he eventually took for him and that was the demo that got his record deal. That’s how by default I became a producer.
Kanye refers to you as his mentor. How does that make you feel?
I appreciate the fact that at that stage in his career he’ll say it because a lot of people don’t. He was 14 and I was 20, so I was the older guy that could tell him a lot of things about being a man since he didn’t really have a father figure around.
Being someone’s mentor usually means you see potential in that person. What did you see in Kanye?
At first I was like, “Oh boy, here’s a young kid and he’s real persistent.”Â It wasn’t like I really saw anything. I was just doing it, but then as he kept going, I saw he had a lot of potential so I just kept going from there.
Did you help him cope when his mother passed away?
We had one talk, the day or the day after. That was one of the first times that I was speechless, mainly because his mom and my mom is how we met. His mother asked my mother could she get me to help him. It really hit home because you never really think about losing your mom. He copes with things so much himself. He focuses so much on what he’s doing because music is his life, so he knows how to cope good.
How did your mom deal with Dr. Donda West’s death?
It wasn’t like they were close. I don’t want to say that. I think his mother knew someone that knew my mother. It wasn’t a heavy thing like that.
You worked with Jermaine Dupri on Jay-Z’s “Success”Â and “Fallin’”Â off American Gangster as well as Bow Wow’s “Let Me Hold You”Â and “Outta My System.”Â How did you and J.D. become friends?
The first time I met him was when Kanye did a Jagged Edge remix, this was years ago. [J.D.] is honestly one of the coolest people I’ve met in the industry. A lot of times I meet people and I don’t necessarily care for their personality. I don’t like the big I, little you environment. He was always just a really cool guy and I’m a reserved, quiet, cool guy so it was just a good fit for us to be friends and work together.
What are some of your favorite tracks that you’ve produced?
I really like this latest “Best Thing,”Â Usher featuring Jay-Z. “The Success,”Â Jay-Z featuring Nas. I really like “I Used to Love H.E.R.”Â by Common, a lot of the early Common stuff.
Talk about some of the new projects you’re working on.
I worked on Nas’ new album. I’m working on Jim Jones. Next week I fly out to work with Amerie. Hannah, she’s incredible. She’s an 18-year-old singer and she just started working on her project. I worked on Killer Mike too; he’s a really good friend of mine. I’m going to actually executive produce his next album. I think he’s one of the most incredible rappers in the South.
What was it like working on Nas’ untitled album being that it’s stirring up so much controversy?
His process was a little weird to me because, when I was working with him, he booked one room for me to do beats and one room for him to work on the song. The whole title thing, I understand why some people felt offended, but I understand creatively where he was coming from. Somehow, I think it highlighted that there’s a generation gap. The black kids and the older black people who actually struggled through the Civil Rights Movement, it’s real disconnected and I think the whole thing highlighted it very well. I didn’t like the fact that I saw black leaders attacking young black men without saying, “Hey, let me come dialogue with you first before I go off in front of the camera.”Â I don’t like when younger black men or artists attack older black men when they should respect them by saying, “Hey, let me talk to you on the side first before we put this all out in the media.”Â People don’t really understand the effect it has on people who are just watching. Younger people use that word everyday and think what are ya’ll talking about? This is just a word. Hopefully everybody will figure it out.
If you weren’t a music producer, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
I’d probably be running my father’s electrical company or be a minister.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
[Laughs] It was something my friend Killer Mike said to me one day. I was discussing some relationship issues with him and he said, “One day you gonna wake up dead and say, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“I wish I was,’ and I said, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“If I’m dead I’m not saying nothing.’”Â I realized the pun in the statement was why don’t you do what you want to do. Why are you thinking about it? Just do it. I’ve been going by that ever since.