Zachariah Wise, aka Wise of DC Hip-Hop Legendary super group Team Demolition has been a friend and contemporary of mine for almost 20 years.
I have had the pleasure and honor of rocking with Wise and Team Demolition on countless iconic live music concerts and occasions in the early development and brick laying days of 90's DC Hip-Hop. During those stored years Team Demolition and Infinite Loop (my crew) rolled together like a pack of hungry young lions to shows, battles, conferences, and fellowshipped regularly pursuing our dreams of achieving sustainable careers as artists.
Ahhhh the Glory Days!
Fast forward to fall 2013 and I find myself paying a business visit to Wise at his new studio location for Depth Charge Recordings. Everyone and their mamma knows about Depth Charge. Wise has had the studio in operation since I've known him. As a member of Infinite Loop, I used to go out to his family's house out near Centerville, VA to record and cipher. There, the studio underwent several renovations; each time improving in quality and capabilities.
Wise has recorded untold scores of DC Hip-Hop artists and musicians in general over the last 20 years under the Depth Charge imprint. Some years ago he made the big boy move and relocated to a very nice building and space just off Jeff-Davis Hwy over the Arlington County line. Depth Charge is not just a state of the art recording studio, but also is a complete CD manufacturing outfit. I have been using Depth Charge's CD duplicating services for almost ten years now. Every time I have a show or tour I put my order in and make the trip out to see my brother Wise for pick up. His prices are great for my D.I.Y budget and his service is excellent!
Wise has recently released a new EP called "Doh Doh". I know because I get college radio charts through email, and I have been seeing Wise's new release climbing up the charts week after week. Wise is no stranger to releasing classic DC Hip-Hop records. In fact, Wise and Team Demolition are the first I know to independently release Hip-Hop vinyl in the DMV. For me, they set the bar on what it takes to be successful in the game at the indie level here in the DMV. It is absolute truth that much of my success and an indie Hip-Hop artist has come from watching and being helped Mr. Zachariah Wise. To him I am eternally grateful and I would like to introduce those who don't know to this DMV music legend and pioneer.
So on my recent fall visit to pick up a CD order, I took the time to sit down with my brother Wise and ask him a few questions about himself to give readers some insight:
The studio looks great! Give the readers a little background about your company and operations.
Depth Charge Studios has been in its current Alexandria location for two years now and we were next door between 2005 and 2011. I started the company as a label and a studio in the basement of my house in Fairfax back in 1996. I opened up the studio to outside clients and used the money to both grow the company and put out the records of my crew, Team Demolition. It grew to the point where we had two studios, a rehearsal space and offices all crammed into a 1000 square foot basement. When the opportunity came to move to a more centralized location, I jumped on it. By that time, Team Demo had become more of a production company as opposed to just being a rap group. We had put out two albums, a half a dozen twelve-inch singles, and it was time to focus on the more lucrative stuff. We started producing records for a lot of artists and my clientele as a recording and mix engineer grew substantially. We got involved with some big labels and artists and things happened.
Team Demo has definitely become a prominent fixture as far as music production in the area. Tell the people some of the records you've done that the people may have heard. What are some of the latest things you guys have produced?
The track we are most known for is "Crime Wave" by 50 Cent back in 2009, but as I've said earlier we have been producing records since the mid 90s. We have worked with so many people it is hard to remember them all. Last year we produced Sean Price's single, "Haraam," which made a bunch of noise. Recently, we collaborated on a Sauce Money record called, "Just Nice," with DJ Premier. That was a huge thrill. We also just did a record with Sauce called, "The Borough," featuring up and coming Brooklyn MCs, Skyzoo, Torae, Troy Ave and Maffew Ragazino; and we have a couple of tracks on Wais-P's (formerly of Roc-a-Fella) upcoming album on Show Off Records. Plus, there is of course my EP, "The Way of the Doh Doh," which came out in September. I did that completely in-house.
So you said you are focused more on the production side, but you couldn't stay away from the mic too long huh?
(Laughs) I guess not. I have a different philosophy when it comes to making my own records than that of most artists. I'm already a full-time professional. I make a good living doing what I do. I have no aspirations of becoming a pop star at this point in my life. I'm a musician. I write a lot of music. Most of it ends up going to other people, but every now and then I do something I really like and I make it my own. Once I have a few of those, the question becomes what to do with them? That's basically what the "Doh Doh" EP is. I was encouraged by colleagues, whose opinions I really value, to push it hard, so I did. It's basically a giant advertisement for what I do personally, for Team Demo and for Depth Charge Studios. This EP has a blue-eyed soul feel to it and doesn't sound like a lot of stuff that is out there so if it catches on, it could do something, but if it doesn't, it doesn't. If I can make a little money and get some of the music placed in TV, film, video games etc., I'm happy.
Who are some of the clients and projects who have been coming through Depth Charge Studios lately?
We've definitely been busy. A lot of DMV heavyweights are working on records right now. Kingpen Slim, Gods Illa, Black Cobain, Joie 13 and Scrilla have all been in here a lot working on projects. I just got to record and mix a record by DC artist, Cousin Bubb that featured Scarface. He was in DC on tour with the Geto Boys a couple months ago and came through and laid a verse. That was pretty damn cool.
What are some of the challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
For me personally, I learned early not to step out of bounds with people. I may be hired to record and mix a project for an artist that I wouldn't mind producing, but there are other producers there and I have to respect their work and their project. I'm being paid for my time and expertise so I can't just start playing my tracks for the artist and step on toes. If they ask me to contribute, then that opens the door, but I have learned how to recognize my role with each client. Other than that, I imagine it is just like running any other business. Some months I am rich, some months I am dipping into my savings account. When I was younger I used to say that all I ever wanted to do was make a living doing music and nothing else. I've been doing that for fifteen years. The rest is gravy.
What's been the key to staying in the music business as long as you have?
More than anything, this is a customer service business. Whether I am producing, recording, mixing or mastering, I'm always aware that these are people's dreams I am working on. It may not be something I would listen to outside of the professional environment, but I don't get hung up on my subjective opinion of things. I treat everyone the same and try to give people the best value for their dollar. I work as fast as possible without compromising quality and I don't just push the buttons. I have over 40,000 hours of studio time logged in my career and I have no problem sharing my experience and insights with my clients if they want it. My clients come back and refer others. Play that out over the course of twenty years and you have a career.
Zachariah Wise and his Depth Charge Recording Studio can be found online at http://www.depthcharge.com/