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The biggest rap producer you've never heard of 

Bangladesh has produced hits for Lil Wayne and Beyoncé, but the Atlanta beat maker remains unbought and unbossed

OF SOUND MIND: Bangladesh revels in independence from the comfort of his southwest Atlanta home studio.

JOEFF DAVIS

OF SOUND MIND: Bangladesh revels in independence from the comfort of his southwest Atlanta home studio.

click to enlarge READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP: In an industry where celebrity status is money in the bank, Bangladesh's success is an anomaly. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • JOEFF DAVIS
  • READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP: In an industry where celebrity status is money in the bank, Bangladesh's success is an anomaly.

Bangladesh is still pissed at Lil Wayne's label Cash Money Records. Which is understandable, considering the Atlanta music producer claims Cash Money has yet to dish out, um, cash money for the huge hit he made for Wayne, "A Milli," more than three years ago. The label could very well owe him a milli by now, but so far he says it's given him nothing but excuses.

"They're hood niggas from New Orleans," Bangladesh says, none too gingerly, of the label's brass. "In the streets you use your muscle — you don't pay niggas. You don't do certain things you're supposed to do."

But who, might you ask, is this guy to be talking shit? Well, as an A-list beatmaker for more than a decade, Bangladesh has earned the right to speak his mind. Having gotten his start on Ludacris' 2000 major label debut, Back for the First Time, the 31-year-old unsung hitmaker has remained fiercely independent, declining invitations to join such established rap labels as Disturbing tha Peace and Bad Boy. While career decisions like those have probably cost him the chance to become a household name, they've also afforded him something money can't buy: the ability to stay relevant and true to his art. He's found time to craft a pair of upcoming solo albums — both of which sound pretty far out there — while simultaneously securing singles with the hottest artists going.

"He comes with big records, records that don't sound like anything else," says DJ Drama, the influential Atlanta mixtape impresario. "You don't hear five songs on the radio from him at a time, but the ones you do hear are always very big records. He's very smart about who he chooses for his production."

Yet in many ways, Bangladesh has struggled as an outsider. He's got no guaranteed income, and, per the Cash Money situation, even when he does make a hit he doesn't know for sure if he'll be paid. But by not associating himself with any particular sound, or any particular movement, he's been able to transcend fads and forge something somewhat unique in hip-hop — a long-term career.

Born Shondrae Crawford, he's called "Bang" nowadays and lives in southwest Atlanta, where he has custody of two of his four kids. He's tatted-up, with portraits of his children and the word "Warrior" on his arm, and often comes across cocky and self-satisfied, such as when he talks about why he turned down Diddy's offer to join Bad Boy. "What for? I'm the shit by myself," he says. "I don't want to feel like I'm working for a[nother] nigga."

Today, however, finds him in an introspective mood. He's speaking over the phone from his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, where he's attending a family member's funeral. His clan has been ensconced in Iowa's largest city since his grandparents migrated north from Mississippi. Bang's father was out of the picture, but his grandfather and maternal uncles were "local celebrities," he says, for their singing and preaching talents. "They was pastors, and they all sang and played instruments. They had a gospel group and traveled a lot."

In that way, he's like many other rap producers who come from traditional musical backgrounds; Atlanta-transplant Drumma Boy's father was a clarinetist and first chair in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, while the father of another Memphis native, Atlanta-based Jazze Pha, was the bass player for '70s funk band the Bar-Kays. Still, nobody predicted that Bang, a precocious kid from one of the country's whitest states, would become a highly influential hip-hop beatmaker — except for Bang himself. In fact, he cited "music producer" as his intended occupation during an elementary school career day, despite not knowing what the term meant. He just knew that he loved "Yo! MTV Raps" and BET's "Rap City," and so he began to formulate a plan. "I knew I didn't want to sing or rap," he says. "Probably by my sophomore year [in high school] I knew I wanted to make beats."

It was the mid-'90s, and after falling hard for local legends-in-the-making OutKast and Organized Noize, he somehow convinced his mother to let him go live with his aunt in Atlanta. He finished his junior and senior years of high school here — at Andre and Big's alma matter Tri-Cities High, nonetheless — and got serious about production.

His big break came while he was cutting hair, of all things, at a shop he owned in College Park called Loose Endz. A radio personality Chris Lova Lova, who later became known as Ludacris, stopped by, and Bang passed along his beats.

He ended up doing the majority of the production on Back for the First Time, including "What's Your Fantasy," one of Luda's most enduring songs. Highlighted by a vaguely exotic synth progression, its beat is subtly seductive and walks a line between commercial and avant-garde. This balancing act has come to define Bang's sound. He chose his producer name because his music feels, well, somewhat foreign. Not that it's easy to pin down; his compositions run the gamut from grimy and industrial — such as Eightball & MJG's "Forever" — to glossy and playful, like Kelis' "Bossy." Eschewing the comforting soul samples used by Kanye West, he often prefers distorted effects and strange tempos, creating a feeling of disorientation, such as on Nicki Minaj's "Did It On'em." One of his favorite techniques is chopping up vocals and distorting their speed or pitch, as on Beyoncé's "Diva" — which he co-produced and co-wrote.

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