In a career that spans nearly 30 years Kevin Gilliam, better known as Battlecat, has produced timeless and iconic music for several artists such as Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound (“Cali Iz Active”), Xzibit (“Get Your Walk On”), Tha Eastsidaz (“G’d Up”), Kurupt (“We Can Freak It”), Domino (“Ghetto Jam”), E-40 (“Nah, Nah..”) and countless others. Known for his signature fat, synth bass lines, and soulful keys, Battlecat productions bring a sense of laid-back, funky soul to any artist with which he collaborates.
Battlecat recently sat down with Chad Kiser for HipHopDX to discuss a number of topics ranging from his recovery from a heart attack he suffered only a few years ago, his early work with Michael Jackson and the MJJ Music label, his upcoming involvement with Dr. Dre and the Pharmacy Show on Beats 1 Radio, and plenty more.
Battlecat’s Near Death Experience
HipHopDX: First things first, a couple of years ago, you had quite the health scare. How are you feeling these days, and how did that affect your outlook on life in general?
Battlecat: The importance of health and parenting for me as an artist and producer is very vital. My experience as a father has been very challenging, as has been my health. There must be regulations of the heart, the mind, and the soul that will be a balance in your life. Family is important because they see your joy and your happiness through your music, which motivates them to be a part of what you do. I started taking my health, and my intake of food and things of that nature, very seriously. To look in the eyes of my son and a friend that was there when I did have my scare, they felt hopeless. They couldn’t help me because it was something beyond their control. It had everything to do with what I was doing around them and when I wasn’t around them. So I’m very cautious about my intake of food and prioritizing things that I do now. I’m on a bike now, and I love it because I got people who can’t imagine Battlecat in the hood riding a bike. But it just lets them know that it doesn’t matter what the celebrity status is, anyone can disappear. Anyone can be in an unfortunate health situation by not taking care of themselves.
I’ll never forget getting a phone call from Dr. Dre when I woke up from the recovery from the first part of the heart attack I had. I told him I was fine and he was like, “I’m glad you are because I’m not liking what I’m hearing. Fuck the music, the music’s going to come; you know that ‘Cat. You inspire me as well, but this shit right here is what I do. I’m a health nut, so if you really want to take it serious I can be instrumental in helping you be platinum that way.” We laughed, and it was cool to know that he cared like that. Him and Ice Cube and Tyrese reached out to me. I was very grateful because with the celebrity status and people being in their own world, you don’t think they’re really concerned, but they really are. So I’m glad I got my West Coast family supporting me, too.
DX: With the passing of Prince and 2Pac’s mother Afeni Shakur, and the much discussed theories on their vaulted music each estate left behind, I wonder what kind of gems are hidden in the DJ Battlecat vaults. You’ve worked with what seems like everybody in the music industry. There has to be some pretty hefty bangers and collaborations locked up in there!
Battlecat: I got one jewel that I was so blessed to have come across my lap. I had a project that was dedicated to a dear friend and artist in Proof from D12. The D12 members wanted to do a tribute song to him. I think the production was over their heads, but I felt they could handle it because of how crazy they were as artists. They ended up not using it, but I kept the vocals and the person who did the hook was Nate Dogg. I have so much work I did with him on other records, I always wanted to have him on other types of production or style of music. I was blessed to have the session of his performance, and I can’t wait for people to hear what he says on the hook. It’s touching; it’s melodic, with some small funk elements. It was a beautiful experience to have this and that I could give it back. I’m reaching out to Nate Dogg’s family to make sure all of the business and proceeds go through the right channels. That’s just one of them gems I have that you’ll hear on Turntable Journalism.
DX: Speaking of Turntable Journalism, tell us about your upcoming project and what fans of Battlecat can expect.
Battlecat: It’s time right now. I had a spiritual tug-of-war making this album. The event of the music industry changing and longing for the music with a message has me inspired and moving forward to completing this musical masterpiece. My fans can expect that classic Battlecat signature with a broad musical touch to it this time around.
Dr. Dre, Xzibit & Snoop Dogg Collaborations
DX: I wanted to run down just a couple of joints with you that I personally like and just wanted to get your thoughts and history on them. The first being the “Just Dippin’ (Remix)” from Snoop Dogg’s No Limit Top Dogg project. Dr. Dre originally did the track, but then you came in and did a dope remix of it. Tell me about putting that record together.
Battlecat: I got a call because I was brought up in a conversation about being approached to do a remix because the record was funky and there wasn’t too many people in mind to do a remix; and they would normally do the remixes themselves and all in-house. The relationship between me and Snoop inspired Dre to bring me up to do the remix. It felt good because of my upbringing with Dr. Dre. In ‘89 he showed me time signatures and bars, and I hadn’t known what that was in my earlier days as a beat programmer. To have the opportunity to take one of his original compositions and remix it for him was a helluva way to show him my appreciation of what he taught me. Me being passionate about Roger Troutman, George Clinton, Brass Construction to name a few who showed me in so many ways how to melodically keep something familiar, even with a remix. Don’t take out the main elements that everyone is familiar with. Incorporate that with the remix. That’s what made me really happy about doing that remix, them guitars. [Hums the guitars from “Just Dippin’”] I kept that involved and Dre was so happy about that because he knew I had arrived, I really can handle it, and I nailed the opportunity.
DX: There’s a record you did for Xzibit’s Restless project—“Get Your Walk On”—where you collaborated with Mel-Man on the track. What was that collaborative process like working with Mel-Man and putting that joint together?
Battlecat: Producers can be very territorial about their music. I didn’t know that Mel-Man was involved with it at first because there was another producer who had his hands in it, too, and that was Fredwreck. And Xzibit, he took chances because usually artists don’t do it that way. Most artists won’t let you touch another producer’s work because they don’t want the opportunity fucked up to work with them again. But his experience from Dre is the reason why he took the leadership in saying, “I want to try something,” on some Quincy Jones shit. And it just made the record that much more explosive. I played bass line and some chords, and it worked. It was what he was looking for. I was shying away from accepting points and notoriety, but I was entitled to it as far as he was concerned so I salute to him in bringing me on to another man’s composition.
Working With Michael Jackson
DX: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the project you did with Quo, from Michael Jackson’s former label MJJ Music. My brother, Travis, introduced me to this song and ultimately to Battlecat productions. How did the Michael Jackson / MJJ Music connection develop for you to work on this project?
Battlecat: A young man named Bobby King and Mariah Carey’s brother reached out to me right before I did the stuff for Domino. They initially wanted me to come in and do some additional scratching, which I did, and they loved it. About a year later, I did Domino’s album and it came across they’re radar that I had done that record and it showcased that I had done a lot of funk and Hip Hop from the West Coast. When they got the deal with Michael Jackson, they called and reached back. At that time, I was signed to Madonna and working on my project. They asked if I would open to produce a couple of songs now that they have the deal with MJJ Music. I was floored! I was like “yea, let’s go!”
They told Mike they always wanted to flip “Heartbreak Hotel,” so Mike sent the original reels to Madonna’s studio. I pulled up the reels and heard every element in the song like an eargasm and with having all the Hip Hop elements in me already; I just killed it. [Laughs] I’ll never forget the phone call I got after it was done. Michael spoke to me and said, “Battlecat, I just want to say you’ve done an incredible job, and you’re so funky! I’m glad you were chosen to do this record. I can’t thank you enough.” That gave me all the confidence in the world because you’re talking about someone who is hands-on a musician, dancer, and an understudy of all the greats at Motown. He didn’t care about the name, he was just happy that someone can be that tasteful and respectful to his music and do it right.
DX: Switching gears, you recently signed on to be a part of Dr. Dre’s Pharmacy Radio Show. How did that unfold and what can we expect from you during the show?
Battlecat: What I’ve been doing with Dr. Dre is major for the West Coast, the black entertainment music. Dr. Dre’s Pharmacy Radio Show is a major platform for me. My co-hosts are personal friends like Dre, Xzibit, DJ Pooh, Bobcat, and J. Rocc. This family has embraced my historical contributions to music, and being Dr. Dre’s music supervisor and program director gave a rebirth of KDAY that was the pivotal voice of West Coast Hip Hop.
DX: Speaking of Dr. Dre, there was a lot of talk a few years back on Detox, and there was a video that surfaced of you, Snoop, Warren G, DJ Pooh, D.O.C., and DJ Quik all going into the studio to work on tracks for it. What ultimately became of those Detox sessions?
Battlecat: Within a few days everybody played their part, but I just don’t know what they did with their contributions. I have the contributions that I did, and I’ve been working with Dr. Dre. And let’s put it this way, he is pleased to have me present on all factors of music. That materialized out of that. When Dre got a chance to hear me and see me physically play keyboard and choose things in a tasteful way, he was very enthused to the point he said, “you know what? ‘Cat, I got about a few left in me and I know you got some good shit left in you, so let’s put something together monumental, historic, and bigger than we have ever done before all this shit is said and done.” I was enthused that he felt like that about me. I think he just wanted to know if I see like he sees it, and do I want it as much as they know I deserve it. So, you’re going to hear some things in the future with Dr. Dre and Battlecat, believe that! You can count on that. Me and him are definitely cooking some shit up!
DX: In closing, Stan Sheppard has worked with you over the last 20 years and he recently set up the incredible debut collaboration you did with Glasses Malone on the song entitled “U’re Playin’ Wit Fire,” which is included on the upcoming Chicago benefit project entitled “Inner City Dreams.” Will you be working more with Glasses in the future?
Battlecat: Me and Glasses collaborated on this song to benefit the “Inner City Dreams” project. I love the one lyric out of it that says, “If you choose the streets, you’re playing with fire.” It’s true. I lost a brother to the streets and few other cats to the Crips and Blood lifestyle. It was a no-brainer for me to do it with Glasses and Stan because we knew it was something that started here, and then it caught on in other regions and it’s been a problem. We wanted to address it though a song, which is the best way to communicate. Once they see success behind pushing a positive topic and giving proceeds back to the families of victims of this madness, then they can see we have some type of a solution to address the crazy shit that California inspired. Not saying all of it is our fault, but we played a major role with them being inspired to be just like us. I was very happy and enthused to do this project. And me and Glasses are also doing an album together from top to bottom.