A core member of Griselda's instrumental foundation, producer Camoflauge Monk has been synonymous with the Buffalo crew's still-growing success. His work with Westside Gunn in particular goes back to the rapper's influential HWH mixtapes and includes key placements on acclaimed albums like FLYGOD and Pray For Paris. On April 1, he'll be releasing an album of his own called Pushing Buttons through his Art Dealer Music imprint.
Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Buffalo is your home, in every sense of the word, right?
At some point, some part of the album or whatever we working on, part of it has to get created in Buffalo. It's like the cherry on top, pretty much. It's like how Von Miller was added to the Bills. That's how we treat Buffalo, like Von Miller.
Obviously people associate you with Buffalo, being part of the sound that we associate Buffalo with in hip-hop. There has to be something that binds or keeps you there, because clearly this is a city that has inspired you artistically.
And I didn't even know it. We didn't know what was going on. Like we just from Buffalo, New York. We're second to New York City. That's all we knew, in the beginning stages. Buffalo is a rare and special place because it's not that fast paced. You'll see the same person more than once. It's not like New York City or anything remotely even close. I like to call it slow-mo. That's why we spend time in Phoenix a lot, 'cause Phoenix is ideally slow-mo. It feels just like being in Buffalo, if Buffalo just was hot all the time. It really has that feeling to me. That's why I create music in Phoenix a lot. There's no beaches. It's slow-mo and it's beautiful. You got that type of vibe.
Go to Phoenix, bro. They have Instagram joints out now of just different places in Phoenix that you don't know nothing about. It's so much cool stuff. They got arcades inside of fancy restaurants that you wouldn't even know about. There's a secret way you can go. It's that type of different. It's like a bunch of people came there and just tried their ideas, you know? So it's a bunch of cool little quirky stuff that you can get into in Phoenix that'll inspire you on a whole other level. We're a restaurant eating and then they be like, go behind this bookshelf. And it turns into a freaking arcade. Like, holy shit, that's crazy.
Beyond your work with Griselda, and all these projects of yours where it's like rapper-plus-Camoflauge-Monk, how do you then get to take on an album of your own like Pushing Buttons?
It's basically divine timing, I guess. For the past six months, I've been working on just Griselda stuff. I've been back and forth from Phoenix, in between states, creating albums. We even went to Puerto Rico and did [Mach-Hommy's] Pray For Haiti and [Armani Caesar's] The Liz 2. So I'm all over, just finding my way, and everything is slowly cultivating and coming together. In the midst of me being able to create these projects and be around in these other projects, whether it be West or if they do it on their own due diligence, certain artists will just pop up here and there. Like, just 'cause, whether it's showing love or we in they city or West might fly such-and-such out, you feel me? Those are opportunities for me to stretch my catalog even more, outside of what I'm normally doing.
Something simple as the AA Rashid track ["You Need Friends I Need A Benz"], that happened because when I made that beat, when I heard the sample, I knew I wanted AA on it. I've been back and forth with my homies over at Tuff Kong, and I've been talking to my vinyl homies over at Lowtechrecords too. And they was always just saying like, you should fuck with AA, do something with AA. And I'm like, you know what? Y'all right. 'Cause I'm always with him. He's the only person I do mushrooms with. I've only done mushrooms with AA and I try to keep it like that. It's like a spiritual retreat for me or something. I'm always with him, but we never do music. I love him because he loves Buffalo. He's the type of person that'll come to Buffalo on his own. He loves toys, and we got a few toys shops here. He'll be in Buffalo and I don't even know. He'll just call me like, yo I'm in Buffalo, what's up?
Finally, I sent him a record. I instantly knew he was on it. The beat didn't originally sound how it did in the beginning. He rapped to a totally different part. He sent the verse back the next day. And I sat with it for probably a week before I decided like, okay, I hear it now. I'm about to change the whole beat around. So I sequenced the whole beat different and everything, and I literally matched his vocal to what I sequenced. It came out beautiful. I'm not saying that the first version wasn't dope, but the second version made it make sense. It was like, damn, this beat was formed to your verses, to your hook, your chorus, like you rap with the beat. You're floating with the beat. And I wanted to speed up my production just a little bit more. The vibe of this project that I'm putting out, it's pretty much a whole vibe. It's called Pushing Buttons, 'cause that's literally what I do. I push buttons all day. It happens to come out and make beautiful music.
Given the pace at which you create, what keeps you focused?
Well, I don't do nothing without direction. I don't go into the studio unless I know we're doing something. I'm never in a studio just to be in a studio. We're literally accomplishing a goal every time we step foot on this court, just like any basketball team, or any football team whenever they step out on that field. We have direction; we have a game plan. We got plays we gotta run, and I treat it as such–even down to my production. I don't make beats just to make beats. I spend countless hours and days just finding shit that I know I want to work with. So when I'm making beats, I'm dealing with a folder of 30, 50 joints that I know I'm guaranteed going to use. So now my workflow is increased; I'm making faster production. I'm about to sit here and go through or 200 samples and probably get 150 beats outta all of them, and then come back to them last 50 samples fricking down the line, for the end of the year.
Half of the year I'm with this half of Griselda, and another half I'm with another half. So it's like a domino effect at this point now, almost. Going into projects, we know off rip, when West ready to do a project, he gonna make that phone call and we gonna be somewhere and we gonna be creating. W gonna be going through music, whether if it's his kitchen in Phoenix or wherever, that's what we gonna be doing. Same thing with Mach-Hommy. I got two different emails for Mach-Hommy: Finesse The Goofy and Camoflauge Monk. And depending on which email I send to him, he know what time it is, what type of time we on, what we about to do. And I love that. I love the fact that, me as a producer, I got direction. I have a coach with plays that's being ran.
It's just try and fail, you know, the people gonna relate to it or not. And nine times– 10 times outta 10 at this point–we shootin' and we definitely not missing. Not to be like cocky or nothing, but like we really make good fucking music. At the end of the day, we make great fucking music and can't nobody deny that or take that from us. I'm gonna have to big that up every time, because there's so many artists who come out and got good music, but then fall off or can't stay a family or whatever. A lot of times, people be in business together and they was never friends. That helps too though, not gonna hold you. That definitely helps, the fact that I was in the mud with a lot of these people, you feel me? People who I'm with being famous to me is something that we kind of would laugh at, like, you famous, bro? Shut up.
The thing is that, with Griselda or otherwise, you're still doing it your way.
It's still my way. It's still on me. It ain't nobody directing me how to make a beat. I still gotta deliver on that end, you know? But like, we got the direction to be able to hone this Griselda sound that's just dope. I'm glad it represents us. We don't sound like you or somebody else. I love that Buffalo gets the shine like that. I just hope people can understand that we are really just ahead of our time. So everything kind of looks bigger and brighter and faster than what it is, objects, you know, they appear closer in the mirror. This type of shit takes time. We got nothing but time. I see us on the next 10, 20 years, before we reach what we potentially really can be together. It is going take like another 10 years for that. 'Cause you gotta think like, ain't none of us been at this level before. All of this is pretty much new to us, so the decisions people make from here on out, the moves we make, the projects we put out, it all gotta make sense.
At what point did you realize that your music with Griselda was reaching well beyond say the audience you might've initially been hitting, on this bigger national or international level? When was it first like visible to you?
FLYGOD. That was over the hump, pretty much. We had people like Combat Jack behind it, and pushed the narrative even more. Tyron [Perryman] from Tea & Converse, pushing the narrative even more. It was dope to have that space, because even though a lot of people was doing music still at the time, our sound was very limited. It was easier, when you come across it, you can stop and listen to it. It was easier then. FLYGOD was the epitome of just everything. It showed me like, when we put together something solid, really solid, look what we can do. Look what's possible.
FLYGOD was definitely that, but "327" was the one that really was like, damn, this is special. It opened my eyes for me to realize, just on production period, how I'm touching a lot of samples or touching a lot of stuff that nobody's ever discovered yet. A lot of this shit is shit that I just noticed my mom playing records, throughout the collection, throughout my years. It's just me doubling back on that shit that I already once heard before, and fucking asking questions and figuring out more shit and getting deeper into vinyl, samples, and shit. It's four, five years in between them, and you can see the growth in that, from FLYGOD to "327." Everything has been going up. Everything's been ascending. It's getting better and better.
Griselda has a tour coming up, playing some big venues. As somebody who's making these beats, when you hear your songs in these live settings, what does that feel like for you? What does it feel like for you hear this music, not just on a radio show, not just bumping from a car, but in this room full of people who are all there experiencing it?
It's dope. It's definitely beautiful. I like it more when the people that don't know it's me that did it, they be like, oh shit, you did this? I like those moments, like something I probably made on the couch or something. Sometimes, I don't even play the stage. I go in a crowd with the people and watch the show. That's why I can't wait for all of us collectively to be overseas and then see that reaction.
Outside of the Griselda work people know you for, with Westside Gunn and otherwise, you're known for working extensively with Tha God Fahim. After all these years, how does that working relationship keep going? How do you guys maintain the levels of energy and quality when you two get together?
You know, Fahim is a producer too. When we were first together, he was producing. He wasn't even really rapping when I first met him. He was an apprentice at a barbershop that West was getting haircuts at. He was cutting next to the dude who cut West. He played beats for me that day off his phone. It was fucking nuts, fucking crazy. I think he rapped, I think I heard some of his songs that day.
We had a chemistry, because we were the youngest. It was easy for us to relate. It was easy for us to click, you know? And I seen one day he dropped a project. It was Shadows Over Nazereth, I believe. He dropped that before we dropped FLYGOD, I'm not sure, somewhere around them times. I was listening to it and I'm going through it. I'm like, damn, this shit is fucking sweet. I fuck with his style of rap. And at the end of the day, we at camp, like we together. So it's only right that I play shit for West, [and] if he don't fuck with it, I'm sending it to Fahim. And I'm creating shit specifically just for fucking Fahim. So I would send Fahim mountains of beats. I just kept sending him shit.
The point where I was at, during the FLYGOD times and moving forward, I was happy that I didn't have to work a nine-to-five. I could sit here, I could take care of my kids, and fucking make beats. That's how I spent the majority of my summers. My catalog, I'm just sitting on shit. As you can see, all them projects we did–and Fahim got even way more beats than projects we fucking put out. He's probably sitting on my biggest catalog. God forbid, if I was to ever pass away, I want Fahim to put out the fucking project, because he got all the shit. He got a lot of shit that I probably don't even have anymore, which is dope.
But yeah, sending him a whole bunch of production back to back to back, and then him sending them shits right back, back to back to back, it was like, what the fuck? And I'm like, let's see what we can do, let's just say, fuck the results, bro. Let's sit down together. We just gonna aimlessly put out music, bro. We gonna create a hype from us just putting out fucking music. It was something about that he took and he understood that shit and made it even better. We got to drop 70 tapes of some shit. I'm like, okay, fuck. I ain't get shit else to do. We doing more than y'all artist is doing, so at some point you gonna have to tap in and realize like, oh shit, what the fuck going on? You gonna have to listen at some point. That's the hype that we created. That was dope. That was sweet. That was a nice move because, not only did it make us better, it made our catalogs fucking flawless.