Producer Symbolyc One Discusses His Faith and His First Time Working with Kanye West

Producer Symbolyc One talks about his new book and the key to a successful career as a producer: soul music and pain.
Producer Symbolyc One talks about his new book and the key to a successful career as a producer: soul music and pain. Brandon Allen / Cosign

Waco-based hip-hop producer Symbolyc One (or “S1,” for short) can look back on a life of astonishing achievement, but as far as he’s concerned, he would not have developed the lofty bully pulpit he stands comfortably on were it not for God or, on a more tangible level, those peers who batted for him at pivotal moments.

Given S1's humble outlook, and the fact that he's worked with A-listers such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Drake, Lil Uzi Vert, Madonna, Lorde and Gladys Knight, he’s not exactly used to being the center of attention — despite the fact that just this week he won his third Grammy.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, S1 had a rare moment, where he became front and center to an adoring audience at Josey Records as he hosted a book signing in promotion of his new memoir Pray.Focus.Plan.Execute.

While the producer laid out his story rather candidly in the book and at its promotional event, he still sat with us to discuss his life and career.

(The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

What was the extent of your involvement in Kanye West’s “Power”?
I did that beat here in Texas. Kanye got a hold [of it]. From there, that’s when I started working with him. He took the beat, basically did his thing to it and added his co-production to it.

Was “Power” the introduction to you and Kanye’s relationship?

Yes. The bridge between me and Kanye was a songwriter by the name of Rhymefest. I was working with Rhymefest, and [there] was a situation where he introduced my music to Kanye [and] played it for him. Kanye loved it, was like, “Yo, I’m about to change this guy’s life. Get him out here ASAP.” Life pretty much changed. [laughs]

You said in an interview that you worked with Eminem recently. Were you involved with Music to Be Murdered By in any capacity?

I worked on it, but the joints that I did with him didn’t make the final cut on the album. And that happens a lot in the music industry. The thing is, artists nowadays have so many songs that sometimes it’s just hard to choose, and when they do choose, what makes sense to the album, or to the concept, or to the theme?

I’ve noticed that the most respected producers are both left and right side of the brain people: They have loads of technical knowledge and know so much about the physics of sound, but at the same time, they’re very creative and work best when their vision is attuned to that of the artist’s. Which of these two sides in your brain is most frequently at the wheel, and which do you think is more important?
Man, that’s one of the things I struggle with, because sometimes it’s hard to turn off one side and to transition into the other. There [are] moments where I really need to be creative. I may have deadlines, and I need to be in a creative space, but because other things go on in the business world, I may not be able to. The struggle I deal with sometimes is just being able to transition between the two, but I think the creative side is so important because that’s the side that creates things, and that’s the side that I’m able to execute ideas, create product and create business from that product.

If someone came up to you and asked you to point them in the direction of releases that are benchmarks for production, what music would you recommend?

I would point them to soul music. And that just comes from me being so inspired by [it]. Even before my career, growing up, I would always be in the vicinity of people playing soul music — my parents and their '60s, '70s record collection — so I remember going through their collection and being so inspired by what I was hearing. The music was able to manipulate how I felt.

What kind of soul? Like James Brown?

Yeah, and like Earth, Wind and Fire. Marvin Gaye.

You grew up in a pretty Christian environment, so does Southern gospel also play a role in your life?

Yes, I love gospel music as well! I loved church for the music growing up. Being young, I wasn’t into the preaching and the message at that particular time, but I was always mesmerized by hearing the church choir and seeing the musicians.

As a man of faith, I’m sure at some point in your life, you’ve encountered some moment where you thought, “Why does God let bad things happen to me?” How do you reconcile that with your faith, and do you find benefit in suffering?
It’s funny you ask that, because I have a chapter in my book titled “No Failure, No Fuel,” and it’s basically just me championing my failures. My failures, setbacks and things I went through were so important because it was in those moments that I grew and evolved. It created character, and I needed those moments to handle certain situations. So I think the failures and pain attributes to the motivation, inspiration and evolution of me as a person and a producer.

Are there any particular moments in life you can recall that made you a better person?

Yeah, just life as a whole, man. For instance, dealing with racism early on. Around second grade, my parents moved to a predominantly white community, and that’s when I first experienced racism. At that point, I realized that even though you have a few naive individuals that give into that hate, there are more people of good than of bad. That’s the one thing I’ve realized — you can’t put everyone in the same predicament just because [of] a few people’s hate.

How would you explain the title Pray.Focus.Plan.Execute to those who have not read the book?
Well first of all, it’s my brand, but also, I consider it a lifestyle. It’s simple and straight to-the-point. The word “pray” means having a conversation with God — not just when things are bad, but in the good times as well.

“Focus” — that’s another thing. It’s being able to cut out any distractions that have nothing to do with where you’re trying to go.

I consider “plan” as writing your life’s map. Writing everything down from your dreams, ideas, goals, to-dos…

And then “execute,” that’s pretty much taking everything — prayer, focus, plan — and executing. Even with prayer — the Bible says, “Faith without works is dead,” so that means you can pray, but if you don’t put the action towards that, nothing will ever happen.

In psychology, there’s something called “the narrative identity theory,” which basically says that we view our life as a movie, where we’re the protagonist. Let’s just say your life is a movie — what would be the climax of the movie, and what other points would be important to the plot?
That’s a great question. I would say the climax would be me being introduced to Rhymefest. When I met Rhymefest, he was working on an album, and he wanted some beats. [I gave him] four beats, but he was at the end of his album budget. He hit me up and said, “I can only pay you for two beats, but do you mind giving me the other two?” At that point, there was a decision that I had to make.

I made the decision, “Just pay me for the two, and I’ll just give you these two.” I gave him those two, and a couple months later, he calls me, he’s like, “Yo, I’m in the studio with Kanye. Send me some beats, and if I get the opportunity, I’ll try to play them for him.” So I sent some beats over, and I didn’t hear from him for about two weeks, but he hit me up with the text, and he said, “Kanye is loving your stuff, he’s about to change your life.”

It wasn’t until eight or nine months later, we had a conversation, and he was like, “Man, no one has ever looked out for me the way you did giving me those two beats, so since you blessed me, I felt like it was a must for me to bless you.”
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.