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"I always knew Toomp was on the verge of exploding" as a major talent, says Def Jam's Shakir Stewart, who helped broker the deal. He points out that the song deal didn't guarantee studio sessions with top acts; it was up to Toomp to network and capitalize on the opportunity.
Toomp hooked up with Kanye West almost by accident: The Chicago rapper/producer was seeking permission to remix Toomp's beat for Young Jeezy's "I Got Money." When they met, however, they had "a bonding moment," Stewart says.
West invited Toomp to contribute on his new album, and he worked on three songs during West's sessions for Graduation. The first two were co-productions. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" is a dirge-like anthem that incorporates bits and pieces of Jeezy's "I Got Money" to masterful effect. "Good Life" is a bubbly number weaved around a sample from Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." and a vocoder hook from Florida R&B star T-Pain.
Near the end of the Graduation sessions, Toomp produced a song called "Big Brother" himself. It's West's bittersweet homage to Jay-Z, his mentor in the record industry. He details with unnerving honesty how Jay-Z helped give him his break yet, after West became a star himself, he wanted to "beat my brother/Sibling rivalry."
In the end, chastened by experience, West dedicates the song to his mentor: "So here's a few words from your kid brother/If you admire somebody, you should go 'head and tell 'em/People never get the flowers while they can still smell 'em."
As Toomp's music swells with orchestral melodies, you can't help but notice that West's "Big Brother" lyrics parallel Toomp's relationship with his "little brother," T.I. Toomp doesn't deny the comparison.
"That track just came from the heart," he says, "and I might have been thinking about T.I. when I made it. I don't know."
On an afternoon in November, two months after West's Graduation has peaked at the top of the Billboard album charts, Toomp is back in his studio, swiveling in that squeaky chair. A year into his production deal with Def Jam, he's flourished, and not just professionally. He mentions with pride that his first child, a daughter named Caden Alon, is 2 months old.
West and Toomp's "Good Life" single sits at No. 7 on the Billboard singles chart. Jay-Z's American Gangster, released Nov. 6, opened at No. 1 on the album charts, and Toomp's "Say Hello" is one of its highlights. In the coming months, he's slated to go into the studio with Nas and Mariah Carey.
"I really killed that song deal," he boasts.
Toomp's next goal is to secure a deal with Def Jam for his production company, NZone Entertainment. He's grooming a new crop of acts, including the songwriting team Six20, and rappers Kenoe and Suga Suga. "Hopefully we can do even bigger business," Stewart says. "If Toomp brings in the right artist that fits our machine, I would eventually do a record label with Toomp, if it made sense."
A few weeks later, Toomp gets the really big news – confirmation that after two decades as a journeyman, he's as hot a commodity as he's ever been: The Recording Academy announces Dec. 6 that Kanye West is up for eight Grammys and, for his work on Graduation, Toomp has a share in three of the nominations.
For T.I., this fall has been a bit rougher. On Oct. 13, hours before he was set to perform at the BET Hip-Hop Awards at the Atlanta Civic Center, the rapper was arrested by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. He's charged with buying unregistered automatic weapons and stuck in Jonesboro under house arrest. If convicted in a trial next year, he could face five or more years.
He's begun work on a fifth album, Paper Trail, but it's unclear how extensive Toomp's involvement will be. Toomp says he visited his former protégé and talks to him twice a week – and that among the things they've talked about is working together again.
"He's just hoping for this cloud to pass over so he can continue to make beautiful music and entertain his fans," he says. "Thank God he can see his family."
When Geter's asked if T.I. and Toomp are working together, he allows that Toomp may have passed the rapper a beat but emphasizes that T.I. doesn't collaborate closely with producers.
"I think it's just the chemistry, man. I think they just go together well," Geter says. "I could get a beat from Toomp right now, and take it down to Tip's house right now, and [T.I.'s voice and Toomp's beat] are gonna go together, sound-wise. They don't have to be together though, man."
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