monster beats by dr. dre tour in-ear headphones Young Roanoke beat maker finds a ‘Major Key’ to success
On Sunday night in Los Angeles, hip hop impresario DJ Khaled’s “Major Key” will be up for a Grammy Award for best rap album.
The disc features performances from across the hip hop spectrum, including Drake, Jay Z, Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and Rayshon Cobbs Jr., a quiet, unassuming 22 year old who lives in Roanoke.
Receive today’s headlines in your inbox with our daily news emailOn the other side of the country, the former Roanoker who helped Cobbs start his career will be rooting for him. Wayne Hancock II, 40, a singer and rapper who has lived in Philadelphia for more than six years, started working with Cobbs about three years ago, pushing him to market his production skills.
Hancock said you might not necessarily notice the reserved Cobbs in a crowd, but that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.
“I’m really proud of him,” Hancock said. “And he’s proof of what can happen when hard work meets talent meets being teachable. He’s just a really humble cat.”
Cobbs’ multiple trips to Hancock’s home base exposed him to a high level of performance and production and helped him get out of his shell when it came to letting people hear his tracks.
“He took me under his wing,” said Cobbs, whose father and Hancock are longtime friends. “He showed me a lot of stuff, and I am forever grateful for that man.
“I was so much of a perfectionist then, that I would have never shared it, because I never thought it was good enough to share. But he really pushed me to get out there and share my music.”
The young man also known as “808 Ray” the number represents his drum machine of choice, the Roland TR 808 grew his skills from his Roanoke bedroom to a Patrick Henry High School electronic music class to the Music Lab at Jefferson Center. It became clear along the way, through his own experiences and through prodding from Hancock, that he needed to venture beyond Roanoke, both in real life and digitally.
“Get out of town,” he said he would advise anyone on his career path. “Get a new breath of air. Get some diversity in you. When I was in Philly, we went to the live music scene. It was mind blowing. Those guys up there, [playing] that jazz and that old Motown, I could sit and watch that all night.
“Roanoke is not bad by any means, but it’s slow down here. If you never go outside your city, you always go in an infinite circle. You never get beyond that.”
Cobbs came up with an audio program called FL Studio on his laptop. He remembers that he “dabbled, dibbed and dabbed” with it for years, up until his senior year at Patrick Henry, when he decided to take Mike Havens’ electronic music class. By the time he finished, he knew music was what he wanted to do for a living.
“That’s the only class I ever liked going to,” Cobbs said. “It was like being immersed in the music, really, seeing it on the technical side. And it was really fun. I love it.”
Cobbs arrived in Havens’ class in the fall of 2011. He was a quiet guy but was turning out some interesting projects, Havens remembered. As the semester wound down, Cobbs distinguished himself from his classmates with his remix of a Nine Inch Nails song,
The teacher suggested that Cobbs enroll in the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, an after school, music performance and production center largely geared toward grades 6 12. Cobbs, who found himself staying after school to work on electronic music class projects, was short on gear at home, so he headed toward the lab, which stocks a lot of equipment and features several recording suites.
“You could get some good hands on with equipment we didn’t have at the school,” Havens said.
Cobbs found that the suites had quality speakers in a soundproofed room that dampened out reverb. At home, he had just one speaker in a bedroom where sound bounced around. The stuff he made at home sounded bad in the lab, and horrible in the all important “car test.”
“Gotta have it right in the car,” Cobbs said in an interview at the lab. “You don’t want it sounding messed up when you hear your song bumping down the street in somebody else’s car. . It really opened my mind to mixing, and how important sonics are to the record.”
When he wasn’t in school or at the lab, he was tinkering with FL Studio and Logic programs, watching YouTube tutorials and reading books on production.
As his skills grew, his father noticed. Rayshon “Blink” Cobbs called up his old friend, Hancock. The two had met as 15 year olds, when they were both in the Patrick Henry High School Men of Distinction a cappella group.
” ‘Blink’ was like, ‘Look man, I know you’re really around music,’ ” Hancock remembered. ” ‘I don’t have that professional ear or background. But I think Ray has something nice.’ ”
Hancock gigs and records frequently in Philadelphia and does artist development and coaching for about 20 people, of whom at least six are serious. He has learned not to have expectations. Then, he listened to the younger Cobbs’ tracks.
“And it was like, ‘Wow, yeah, he’s really got something,’ ” Hancock said.
Cobbs Jr., following Hancock’s advice, looked for ways to get his beats out there. He homed in on producers Marcello “Cool” Valenzano and Andre “Dre” Lyon, known as Cool Dre. The Miami area pair host “Soundcloud Tuesday,” from their studio, sharing and critiquing submitted music, for free.
“I said, I’m going to take advantage of that, because usually people like that charge hundreds of dollars just to have a session, just to tell you what you can do and tweak the beat and that’s all that happens,” Cobbs Jr. said. “You get nowhere with it.”
He sent tracks week after week, and when Cool Dre finally got to his stuff, “they didn’t have anything bad to say,” Cobbs Jr. remembered. A couple of weeks later, they played another one of his tracks. Then,
they reached out to him.