Meet Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean and Curren$y's Secret Weapon: Fort Worth Producer Cardo

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Ronald La Tour very clearly remembers the first time he met Wiz Khalifa. It was a few years back at this point, when Khalifa was just starting to make a name for himself, releasing mixtapes at an impressive clip and earning endless praise for each.

After some fruitful back-and-forth communications with a handful of people in Khalifa's inner circle, La Tour, who produces hip-hop tracks under the name of Cardo, was finally given a chance to meet the man himself. Khalifa, in town for a gig at Cirque nightclub in downtown Dallas, had his people ring La Tour up; the fast-rising Pittsburgh rapper, a fan of the Fort Wort-dwelling producer's work, wanted to meet the man in person, to see if they clicked and, more important, if they could work together.

But, at first, La Tour debated even showing up.

"I had a little stomach trouble," the 27-year-old Minneapolis native recalled earlier this week. "I was debating if I should go or not. Eventually, I gave in, decided to head out there and got some Pepto Bismol on the way. And Wiz, from the moment I met him, embraced me."

They haven't looked back since. A few years into their relationship, Cardo, now an official member of Khalifa's Taylor Gang, continuously provides Khalifa with new tracks to rap over (the most celebrated of Khalifa's Cardo-produced bunch include "Mezmorized" and "In The Cut").

"I just give Wiz a lot of beats, man," Cardo says with a laugh.

But as Khalifa's celebrity has increased, so too has Cardo's profile. There's hardly an up-and-coming rapper out there these days who hasn't collaborated with Cardo at this point. Among the names of rappers he's worked with? Dom Kennedy, Big Sean, Curren$y, Mac Miller, Nipsey Hustle and Smoke DZA.

Late last week, his latest beat for Khalifa dropped. Just a few days since its leak, the song "Proceed," also featuring Curren$y and Big Sean, has already been namechecked by essentially every hip-hop blog that matters in the current climate. (Download the track for free after the jump.)

Bonus MP3:

Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y and Big Sean -- "Proceed (Produced by Cardo)"

For Cardo, it's just the latest feather in his cap.

But, perhaps more interesting is the fact that, as Cardo continues his ascension, North Texas is earning a reputation as a hotbed for hip-hop production in 2011. Cardo's hardly the only area producer with steam these days; he's joined by the likes of Symbolyc One (who this year alone has worked with Kanye West, Jay-Z and Beyonce), Play-N-Skillz (the two-time Grammy winners known for their work with Chamillionaire, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, David Guetta and Bun B) and Picnictyme (the member of Erykah Badu's Cannabinoids and producer of the insanely blog-hyped A.Dd+ debut full-length, When Pigs Fly).

Like his cohorts, Cardo's hardly new to the hip-hop production game. Originally a rapper who, along with his brother, worked to save up money so they could buy a beat generator game for their Playstation so they could create songs to rap over, Cardo's graduated to more sophisticated software since moving to Fort Worth almost seven years ago. These days, after a stint as a home loan manager for Bank of America, he's producing full-time -- and an array of material, from the songs he's commissioned to write to the songs he produces on the cheap for rising rapper to use.

"I grew up on West Coast music," the producer says when asked about his sonic style. "I prefer gangster music, I guess. My idol was and always will be DJ Quik. I was trying to make beats just like Quik when I started, but it didn't work out. I couldn't get the rhythm."

Eventually, he says, he settled on his own sound, one he calls "uplifting, everyday music" or sometimes "new G-funk" (where rhythm is life and life is rhythm, natch). Settling on that sound has helped Cardo futher carve out his niche in the hip-hop world -- and a niche he's rapidly expanding upon, too.

Other projects in his pipleine include a project from a Wisconsin rapper named Gerald Walker, as well as his own "secret project," which he not-so-humbly compares to Dr. Dre's iconic The Chronic release.

"It's gonna be major," Cardo says, acknowledging that it'll be a disc of his beats, with other rappers rapping over it, but refusing to go into further detail.

On the immediate horizon, though, is the album "Proceed" can be found on -- an as-yet-unnamed mixtape from Khalifa, Sean and Curren$y that Cardo has been told will feature as many as three of his beats.

Just as should be expected, really. Now and forever, he says, his work with Khalifa will remain at the top of his to-do list.

"Everyone in the Taylor Gang is family," he says. "We all came up together. We all know each other personally. We all did it when no one else thought we could do it. These days, Wiz be busy and I be busy -- but he wanted it that way. And I'm grateful. But Wiz is definitely my top priority -- and not just because he says so. He gave me the opportunity when he didn't have to."

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