Frank Nitt Has More Than Just Money On His Mind
While just a kid living in Detroit in the 80s, Frank Bush met and made friends with neighborhood kids Derrick Harvey (“Dank”) and James Yancey (“J. Dilla”). Frank and Dank would spend Saturday nights competing against other crews in the neighborhood in breakin’ battles, but Frank also had an interest in other elements of hip-hop culture, including DJing and rhyming, which he endeavored to make part of his everyday existence.
Dilla would eventually dub the duo ‘Frank n Dank’ and would work with them on numerous projects down the line. Since his friend’s passing in 2006, Frank has helped to preserve and celebrate his friend’s legacy in many ways. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble learned all about his work and more during an in-depth interview with the emcee. You should also check out his latest collaboration with Illa J and T3, “Money On My Mind” on iTunes here.
Who/what introduced you to hip-hop?
Oh, wow. That goes wayyyyy back, way back. It would be my brothers, I would say, my older brothers. But when I was young, when I was three, four, five years old…they’re both drummers, right, and they had bands in the basement. My mother, I don’t know why, and I guess Dilla’s mother did the same thing, would let them just practice with their live band in the basement of the house at all hours and never really complained about it.
So, there was always music around, but because they were older than me, and in the industry within Detroit, you know, they were connected to a lot of people and moving around. Initially, it was just them playing records, playing Grand Master Flash and things of that nature. And then, as I got a little older, they began taking me to concerts, which really sold me.
So, as a young six, seven year old, I was meeting The Fat Boys and Run-D.M.C. backstage at concerts because my brothers knew people. So, they could get backstage and meeting MC Hammer and all types of craziness as a kid. So, you know, from that point, I was in love.
At what point did you realize you wanted to make music a career?
Wow. You know what? I think when Dilla finally got put into position, it made it real. And, you know, up to that point, everybody was either in school or working a job and doing music and having fun with it, and doing it with the idea that we’ll try to secure some type of deal or something. But you always was working on trying to do something else to supplement the income.
It wasn’t ‘til Dilla was on, and it was like for real, I could see somebody actually making money for it and making a living from it. I mean, somebody close to me. Obviously, there’s other rappers or whatever. It made it so I felt as though, “Okay, I’m not gonna focus on anything else. I gotta own up to it, and say this is not just the job I wanna have but the lifestyle I wanna lead, the culture I wanna be part of.” You know?
So, you and Dilla were close even before you worked together?
Oh, yeah. I met Dilla in 1986. Yeah, I was twelve. He was thirteen. It’s funny, I crack jokes to his little brother. When I met Dilla, his brother hadn’t been born yet. Illa J was like maybe three or four months from being born.
That’s adorable. How did you and Derrick Harvey come together to form Frank n Dank?
Oh, man. You’re gonna get some stories today. You’ve got loaded questions. Let me tell you.
I’m a huge fan.
Okay. Good, good, good. This is the thing. Dank was Dank before it was Frank n Dank. Right? Obviously, I’m Frank because that’s my real name. I’ve always been Frank. Dank and Dilla knew each other before me. I moved into the neighborhood when I was twelve, and I met those guys. They were in elementary school together, you know, fourth, fifth grade. So, they knew each other a couple years before me.
So, we were all friends already. And I was doing verses solo, and I was part of another group, and, you know, obviously getting beats from Dilla and that thing. We were all together. Slum was around, and it was actually T3 and J. Dilla’s idea that Frank n Dank should be a group.
So, we’re all in the basement and, you know, Slum is really doing the majority of the song making and working because they were the big brothers. You know what I’m saying? They were the more established working group. And it was T3 and Dilla’s idea, and obviously Baatin was there and saying “Yeah, that’s what we need to do.” You know, that me and Dank should be a group. Because again, I was already doing songs. And I was around Dilla all the time, every day, so I was always in the studio.
Like, if there wasn’t anyone else in the studio but me and him, we would just make a song just to listen to for ourselves. So, I was always there kind of perpetually working. Dank was more in the street, you know, without saying too much. Dank was getting his, uh, thug love on. So, you know, he had to go through a certain clean up period before he was in the studio consistently, if that makes any sense.
Prior to that, Frank was just kind of around all the time. I was working and honing my craft and getting it that way. And Dank, while he was there from time to time and not like, you know, he would be there all the time in the sense of our friend being around. But like for work things and things like that, studio sessions, a lot the time, he had to go to work, so he couldn’t come to the studio. Because we all started out as dancers, and then me and Dilla started DJing parties together, so we always were a group in a lot of ways. We would go to the club as a group. We would have group dance routines. We were always travelling as groups in one form or another.
And throughout our childhood, me, Dilla and Dank, prior to Dilla being part of Slum, or before we actually knew Slum, we were groups in different formations. Dilla would rap, I would DJ, Dank would be a dancer. There was groups where Dilla was rapping, we had a whole other DJ, and me and Dank was dancing just as kids, you know. It’s just what we did.
Please tell me there’s video footage of this.
There is but there’s only person I know who has it on VHS somewhere in their house. You know what I’m saying? There’s footage of us performing in a church.
I wish I would have known this two weekends ago when I met Ma Dukes because I would have asked her if she had it.
She actually hooked that show up because it was her church. I mean, their family church. I was DJing, Dank was dancing and Dilla was rapping, and we performed for a room full of seventy-year-olds. It was great.
That’s incredible. This is a pretty broad question. Answer however you like. What was it like working with Dilla?
Ah, man. I don’t know – mystifying. I asked him a lot. Again, I’ve known him for, at this point, it must be close to thirty years now. So, you know, it was a lot of, “What were you thinking when you made that beat?” It was a lot of that.
A lot of learning.
Yeah, and I was very, very lucky. I don’t really talk a lot about this, not in public anyways. But, for me, he allowed me to just be around. He’s a very secretive guy. He don’t like people taking his techniques or using his style because he feel like he worked hard on that stuff. You can’t just take it. If I showed you, that’s one thing, but if just listen to my record and try to do me, don’t do me, do you.
So, he wasn’t really keen on allowing people to see the process and be involved in the process, and he was notorious for going to the headphones. That’s what we called it. Because he would start, you know, you’ll hear him listening to samples, and like if there’s a room full of people, he’ll listen, listen, and then all of a sudden, there’d be silence because he’d be in the headphones, and the next thing you hear will be a done beat. He wasn’t just gonna let any or everybody listen to how he constructed his music. So, for me, because I was so close to him, right? And you know, his family was my family, so I was allowed to be there.
Because he trusted you.
Yeah. So, I got to see his working process and see the blood, sweat and tears and see blisters on his fingers and they’d bust, and he wanted them to bust, so he could put Band-Aids on them so they don’t hurt as much so he can keep working. You know what I mean? So, you know, it was, I don’t know, man, it was mystifying because not only was his work ethic beyond this world, but then he would make some stuff. Because, you know, there’s a ton of guys who work really hard, but they don’t consistently come out with things that make you say, “How did you make that?” And he did every day, at least in my mind. Every day. So, yeah, it was very mystifying.
Who else would you name as creative influences on your career?
You know, it’s different people for different things. I mean, overall, obviously Dilla would be the biggest influence. The way I make music, the way I attack the studio, I learned all that from him. So, he’s probably the biggest influence, but, you know, there’s other people I look at for certain things when it pertains to music, and even the business of music.
Like, I think Busta Rhymes is my favorite emcee. So, when I think about an emcee to pattern myself after in execution and skill sets….I would never want to rap like him. I can’t roar on a record like he can. So, I would never attempt to emulate that, but the way he constructs his rhymes, the way he attacks beats, and you know Busta can rhyme on any type of beat, at any given moment on any given Sunday. So, I patterned that part of my skill set after him. And then, just people that I think is just ill like they just ill and what they make is just crazy.
How was Dilla Day L.A.?
Oh, man. It was incredible. It was incredible. Everyone showed up and showed out. It was really, really good. Obviously, if you’ve seen the flyer you know Dave NY was hosting.
I was gonna say, Dave NY kept rubbing it in my face because I really wanted to come out, but I couldn’t. I went to J Dilla Weekend in Miami, so I couldn’t make it to L.A.
Yeah. It was really good. Dave hosted, and obviously myself and Guilty and Phat Kat and J. Rocc and Phoreyz all came and showed up. But then also Bishop Lamont showed up, FatLip from Pharcyde showed up, so it just turned out. DJ Rhettmatic showed up. It was just a lot. And then, obviously, having Ma Dukes there. The house was packed. It was just a really, really good vibe. Everyone, I can honestly say, everybody tore down the show.
Can you explain what you mean when you say that you’re a J. Dilla music catalog curator?
Well, being that, you know, the storage that he had all his records in, he also had an archive of music of unheard, unused beats in all forms from cassettes to reel to reel to CD, whatever. It was like throughout the years, so whatever era he was in, whether he was writing cassettes or CDs or whatever, that’s what it was on. So, in that were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of unused Dilla beats. When Ma Dukes finally got her hands on it all and began to archive it all, you know, she wanted someone who could, you know, obviously, you ain’t gonna be able to pinpoint an exact time a beat was made or whatever, but for a lot of them, I was there, if not trying to rap on it at the time.
So, she wanted someone who was close to him and kind of understood his method and could just kind of get the beats in a way and categorize the beats and be familiar with the songs he’s put out so you wouldn’t overlap or have beats that had been sold before in the archive. So, my job was really to help catalog all the beats and get them all dumped into a more modern system into ProTools and things of that nature, so we’d have them. And then, you know, for certain projects and certain artists, I would be a part of the construction of the song.
Like, a lot of the beats were short because they were beats that he would just put on a tape to listen to for himself just like a tester. So, the beat is a minute long or a minute and a half long, and, in the past, people had his beat tapes where the beats was the same length, and they would extend the beats. But Dilla made beats kinda weird, so if you don’t know, or if you can’t learn how to understand it, it’ll never really sound right. And I think, prior to a lot of things that came out where, yeah it was a Dilla beat, but it doesn’t feel like it all the way because it was somebody else putting it together.
Because you know his process.
Yeah, someone who didn’t know his process or know that he gonna make his drums five bars and his loop four bars. Weird stuff like that. So, my job is to construct beats, and it’s different things that he did in the process, without divulging too much that I know. So, when it comes to constructing a Dilla song for quality control, that’s my job. And just to make sure we ain’t double-dipping on beats and things of that nature, just to be aware of his previous catalog of music and then all of his new stuff that’s existing now.
And, you know, just working with artists like, you know, Akomplice Clothing did a collaboration with the J. Dilla Foundation, and Joey Bada$$ jumped on a record. I went to the studio and gave those beats to Joey and put the drops in it and extended the beat and all that good stuff for that. Same with the Sunset Blvd album that me and Illa J, the Yancey Boys, put out. Same with the Lost Scrolls. There was a couple of Dilla exclusives on a 7”. We put a couple of Dilla verses, raps, unheard raps and a couple of beats as well. So, just things like that.
You know, his image, when it comes to putting out a record, just everything that has to do with putting out a Dilla record is kind of my curator job when it comes from the family. Now, certain artists will just get a beat. In a case with like Nas or someone like a Busta, or someone like that will just get a beat because they have their track record, they have their way of doing things, and if they want me involved, then I will be.
A lot of the time, in situations like that, I would just be the one with the beats. And I’ll come and play the beats for them so they can pick a beat or whatever, and then obviously I’ll know what beats have been picked and how to archive it or whatever. It’s more just care-taking, and then, you know, some of the technical when I have to extend beats or arrange a song or things of that nature being that I know the process.
So, you just touched on it a bit. You and Illa J released Sunset Blvd in 2013. Are there any plans for a future Yancey Boys project?
Well, I mean, you know, yeah. Like, my next record is coming out. He’s all over it, obviously, and I’m on his next solo record that’s coming out. So, it’s kind of an ongoing thing. That’s my little bro, so it never really stops.
The first single, “Money On My Mind” from your forthcoming release Frankie Rothstein features Illa J and T3. What was it like shooting the video for that track?
It was cool, man. I wanted to do something a little like just grimy, you know what I’m saying? Because I think money on my mind, what’s expected these days would connote a bunch of bottles and chains and a strip club and bouncing booties, and not that I don’t like those things. I’m not saying that I don’t like a well-shaped woman. What I’m saying is that I’m an adult now, so I have to be more conscious of what I display to the people.
You know, this record is about the grind, and if I’m in the club popping bottles, then I already got money, and I’m thinking about booty shaking, I ain’t grindin’. So, I wanted to be true to what it was about. I wanted to keep it simple because there’s no floss in chasing your money and trying to be in a place where you’re comfortable on this earth.
What can fans expect from the new album, which is due to drop in May?
A lot of diversity. Coming off of Sunset Blvd, which was my last project with Illa, we had, you know, just Dilla on production and then a ton of features. We had, you know, Common, Talib, Eric Roberson, and the list goes on. Right? Just tons of great guests. So, with my next project, you know, because, for me, a project is project whether I’m doing a Yancey Boys record or a Frank n Drank record or a Frank Nitt record, it’s per project. So, whatever I did last reflects on what’s coming up. With this one, we’re coming off of one producer, a bunch of features, I decided to flip it and have a bunch of producers and only a few features.
So, for this record, obviously I got a Dilla joint on there, I got a joint from Rhettmatic, I got a joint from J. Rocc, I got joint from Young RJ, which is “Money On My Mind.” I got a joint from a producer from Italy. I produced a couple. I have a production team by the name of A.O.M., and it stands for Angry Old Men, so we did a couple on there as well. And then, you know, features-wise, I really kept it to the fam. You know, Illa J’s there, and the only other real feature is Dank on all the skits and Botni Applebum, which is a singer that’s on Sunset Blvd. She sung on the joint with Posdnuos, “Beautiful.”
So, and you know, me and her are working on her project, as well. I’m on the production side. And me and her are co-writing joints and things of that nature. So, I really kept it to just that. And Rhettmatic put some cuts on it for me. It was really just a sound project as far as who wrote songs, but from a production side, obviously I stepped out and got a bunch of quality producers.
Of course. Do you have any other plans for 2015? Do you think you’ll tour?
Yeah, actually as we speak right now, a run in Australia is being planned for May/June, and I’m doing Europe, hopefully, in April, will be the plan, and then late summer July/August, if everything goes as I see it, I’ll be doing a stateside run.
Nice. You’ll hit New York?
Yeah, that’s the plan. I’ve been getting a lot of, “When are you coming to New York?”
We like to do that to people.
That’s big, you know. New York is a scary place when it comes to rapping in front of people.
It shouldn’t be.
They will boo the shit out of you. But you know what? I will say that it’s never happened. I’ve performed in New York several times. You know what I’m saying? It has never happened.
Yeah, but it happens to people that don’t deserve to be on stage.
Alright. Okay, I’ll take that. I’ll take that. Yeah, but New York is cool. I could never live there, but it’s cool.
Anyone could live here.
New York is tough. For a Detroit boy who is used to walking out of my house and having a front yard, New York is really, really tough because everything goes up where Detroit and L.A., for that matter, spreads out. That’s why I’m so comfortable living in L.A.
Okay, I’ll give you that. I’m not gonna say anything.
She’s like, “I don’t care.” She’s a New York girl. She’s a New York girl. That’s alright.
You know it. Is there anything else that you want to add or promote?
Just pick up the single from iTunes right now, album Frankie Rothstein in May, and catch me on the road all summer. What else do I have going on that’s interesting? It’s something I need to tell you.
It doesn’t even have to be interesting.
It doesn’t have to be. (Laughs) What else is going on with Frank? Oh, I’m in the midst of, I actually sent the paperwork in today. I’m opening a new imprint, so look out for some new music from the imprint in the next two months. It will be announced and all that good stuff. We’ll have new music, videos, all types of stuff. The new deal is with Fat Beats for this Frankie Rothstein record, just in case don’t nobody know that. What else?
What’s the imprint called?
The imprint is called Primo Atto, which is Italian for first act, and it’s with me and Robroy who is a producer actually on my upcoming Frankie Rothstein record. And me and him mixed and mastered my record as well. So, that’s my dude basically.
Yeah, that’s my dude. That’s my guy.