NBA Youngboy's Engineer Jason "Cheese" Goldberg Discusses "The Last Slimeto" Sessions & How "Heart &
Engineers play a bigger role in the creative process, even if the job description is quite technical. Take Jason “Cheese” Goldberg, for example – the diamond-certified engineer behind many of NBA Youngboy’s latest releases. Over the past few years, he’s not only locked in with Youngboy to make sure his records sound crispy but he’s taken on a few other roles, as well, that practically makes him more of a record producer than an engineer.
In the past few years, Youngboy’s legal issues have created some significant roadblocks in his career but with the help of Goldberg, he’s remained consistent in his output. In a matter of six months, YB’s dropped roughly sixty songs, none of which would be possible without Goldberg’s dedication and loyalty. From recording and mixing down records to serving as a liaison between YB and his label, Goldberg wears plenty of hats that have allowed the two to maximize their creative process. He’s choosing the beats, contacting producers, and gauging YB’s headspace before they enter the studio.
The position Goldberg is in is one that he’s worked toward since working in traditional studio spaces. From working with Hans Zimmer at Remote Control Productions, the time he’s put in has allowed him to hone his skills further. Songs can be turned around in 45-minutes, from recording to mixing and mastering, in any environment, like cars, trailers, or closets, without compromising the quality. On The Last Slimeto, YB recorded a few songs in his cars, thanks to Jason’s portable set-up that takes 15 minutes to set up and tear down.
“We got a record where he recorded a song in his Tesla, and he recorded a song in his Bentley GT. The environments really don't get in the way so much anymore, which also I feel like is a step forward in the progress of the movement in which I want to keep progressing and educating the world on,” he explained.
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Ahead of the release of The Last Slimeto, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jason “Cheese” Goldberg to discuss his background in engineering, the process behind NBA Youngboy’s new album, and much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before you started working with Youngboy, what were you doing and who were you working with?
I came up pretty traditionally. I wanted to educate myself as much as possible before I ultimately ended up solo and independent as a creative and engineer. So before I went on my own, I always had support from studios. I did a couple years of school and came up. I was at Remote Control Productions, working with Hans Zimmer on music for movies back in 2010 and then moved over to a studio in Santa Monica – Winmark – to get back into music. That was like hip-hop, pop, R&B, and I started from the ground up again. I did an internship at Capitol Records. Everything in my career path was just about educating myself more, and how I could be confident enough to really stand on my own with some of the greats. That's really where I came from, from the start. It's like working with Alan Myerson at Remote Control Productions, he had 30 years of experience. You know, just this giant in the industry, and I always saw myself as somebody that could sit at the table with somebody like that. So, by doing that, I made sure that I not only put in the time, right? Because it's really about putting in the time, at the end of the day. It's about committing yourself 110% into the art of it. The list is kind of extensive for people that I've worked with. At the studios, you get a lot of people that pull through. I was there for about six years. More so, it's not so much about the individuals as to what I was learning along the way. Working with some of the greats that have been here.
It's hard to go back, you know? I feel like a year is like four years, because we put so many hours in. You know, like 18-hour day minimum. Back then, I was pulling like 65 days, taking a day off, 45 days, taking a day off, 60 days – just nonstop. It's all a bit of a blur, but end of it, when I came out, I was in a place that was comfortable enough with my own skill set, you know, from where my creativity comes from, to say, "Well, I have this idea and I want to run with it and see how I can help this part of the industry,” which is rap. That's kind of my little rig I put together because of the way that rappers move around. So, I spent a lot of time in the studio. Having my studios right off the rig and being able to have that in a backpack, a Pelican case, and a suitcase travel with me and not lose the quality of sound because of where my ears were at and how much time I put in training the skill set in those rooms. You know, now we're sitting in any environment with any artist catching the same quality of sound. I was seeing that happening where records could be recorded on a tour bus and then making Hot 100, you know? I think that ultimately, just for me, it was just about putting in the time and educating myself to understand it better, and to be a better engineer and that ultimately allowed me to use my creativity in a different way, in a confident way, with just about anybody I'm in the room with.
You're known as Youngboy's engineer, but you do wear a lot of hats. So I wanted to know what exactly do you do in your creative partnership with NBA Youngboy.
So, with YB, we release a lot of music, right? And if you look at the last, like, six months, I think it's like 60 songs that had been released. So that's a lot faster pace than a lot of other people, so with that pace comes a speed that you have to work at. So, ultimately, the fundamentals for me being his engineer and helping him create music, it comes right at the core down to just really understanding the art and being really fast. Being able to kind of move in any situation, you know? Bruce Lee says, "Be water, my friend," right? So like, just being able to move to any environment and then ultimately keep a creative, positive, working [environment] to where he's motivated to make music. And that's always been the goal. How can I motivate more music and how can we get more music?
What I was finding along the way was, well, we have to find music to do that, right? It's not just about the recording. We have to find music that motivates us to do it, too. So I was running into a few problems where the music wasn't right. So we were growing and I just started using my ear and I started networking solo because the label wasn't getting me music that was inspiring him. So then, early on, I took it upon myself to start reaching out to the, you know, the talented individuals that are working in music, some producers, and I started really with the kids, just listening to beats. Sometimes, I'd have to listen to 1,000 beats to find one that maybe sounded right for where he was at at the time and what he's into, and then also what I'm looking for on where the music is sitting sonically and how it makes me feel. And then, I'd start setting stuff to the side so that we didn't have to go through 600 beats in a day and not get anything. Because my goal is to make music, right? So when I started doing that, I started meeting a lot of people – a lot of musicians and producers – and it was working. The music that I was finding and ultimately helping guys lock in on by communicating with was working. And we started getting some records. I just kept doing it. So I'm always recording, right? And then that recording process, you know, we can start a record and it can be done in 45 minutes with the master and then it's out, right? That's how fast we can move. So, I record it, mix it, master it, put it out. But the thing that makes it so fast is I'm prepared in a lot of ways where, depending on what his mood or vibe is or where he's at or where we're at creatively, I can network through hundreds of guys that I have that I'm communicating with constantly to continue to make music, right? It's been a bit more fun because I've been able to be a bit more creative in the process, you know. When you're looking at what an engineer [does], it's a very technical job description, right? And so I always come from a technical standpoint, because I'm an engineer first, but I also believe that creativity is the source of everything that I do. So being able to be more creative in the process has given me a few more hats and allowed me to be more involved in the process of making music by communicating and working with a lot of these guys to make more music. Just being there on ground zero with YB and going through the day-to-day really allows for a strong connection creatively. That has opened doors for us to make music together. I'm proud of a lot of music we've done and put out and I'm glad that it's being received and I'm grateful.
Some of those hats – it's like, sometimes, I got the producer hat on, sometimes, I got the songwriting hat on, sometimes I got the A&R hat on. Sometimes, I'm doing lights for music videos, sometimes, I'm holding another camera for music videos. I'm the liaison with label, talking about releases and some marketing stuff. Just being completely involved in all aspects, I think, goes to the time I've put in this. When you look at where I started and how I ended up, it's like everything in my path has always kind of never been a straight line. There's always been a lot of other job descriptions that you were kind of simultaneously doing right. That ultimately made me better and helped to that progress that I was looking for and that I've always been looking for in educating myself and motivating me to keep pushing.
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Do you think more artists would benefit from having their engineer take on more of an A&R role themselves?
I think it's a challenging request, right? It's a big responsibility. There's a lot on your shoulders when you start to get more involved in that, right? Because if you look at it, and you're – it has been just me and YB for a few projects, right? Since about Sincerely, Kentrell. So, you know, if I'm going the wrong direction, then you have to take responsibility for that. And that's a risky play because now there's a lot more on the line. It's not about recording at proper levels. It's not about making sure the edits are clean. It's not about making sure sonically we're matching, and we're hitting where we're supposed to. Now we're in, "Oh, this is music, and it feels a certain way, and people are receiving this, or they're not." That's a challenging request. I think if you are a creative person, it can only help the process. Ultimately, at the end of the day, the artist is the one deciding what story they want to tell, right? So you can help and you can be a part of the process, but, at end of the day, the artist is going to resonate with something and tell that story or not. So, there is a little bit of relief in knowing, “Well, we can help support our artists.” I think everyone should help support their artist. I think that this is the new wave. This is the progression of where we are currently. You used to have the record producers in the room, making the records, using the musicians and having the artists come in the booth and then it changed to making music and artists getting on music, and now we have beats and beats gets sent out and recorded on. I think the engineer, when properly using the creative process, can have a huge impact on music. I'd like to think that I'm showing the world that's possible.
When you're putting together his projects, especially just touching on the point of the artist's choice about what stories they want to make – how do you tap into his mind when you're putting together a tracklist for an album while he's gone?
It's all reinforcing, it's all supporting where he's at. With a real artist, nothing happens without that real artist giving you that direction. Really everything I do has been just about the supportive role of having a like-minded creative person around with the skill set to make sure that everything is right and that works properly, right? Makes it easy, makes it smooth. You don't have to think so much, you can just be.
When I think of a tracklist, I want it to be a ride, I want it to feel different. You know, peaks and valleys. I want to go on a ride. I think a lot of the music that we've done together has been a ride. You know, tracklists are important. I think that takes you on that journey.
How do you think being out in Utah has affected his creative process since being there?
Utah is a beautiful place. It's inspiring. I remember the first time back – because this wasn't the first time we went to Utah. You know, we did Utah almost a year and a half ago. We were working a session. I remember we took a little drive, we were working at a house and we went to another house and I remember looking out at these mountains that were so big. I couldn't really believe it. I'm from Los Angeles, and the mountains are pretty big here but it was different. My eyes kind of opened wide. And I was like, ‘wow.’ I felt inspired. You know, it's a slower pace.
When we were working out for this time, when he got back and went to Utah and I met him, it was close to winter. So really cold, some snow – beautiful. Mountains were covered. When we first started, man, we were just having so much fun just making music again, you know? I think for a lot in this industry, the environment really does play a role on where an artist is at. He's such a talented individual that he can take his mind into so many different places.
I think how it played its part in the creative process, I think you can hear some of it in some of the lyrics on some of that environment. I know he's excited to get out on the road and start getting some of that excitement back in his life. But, you know, we've made a lot of music and I'm pretty proud of it.
A lot of it was done in a bedroom. I had my rig on a dresser in an empty room sitting on a Pelican case, just making music with a little booth that I built for him. That's where we recorded a huge amount of the music that's been put out since. On this album, for The Last Slimeto, we've got a couple in there [where] he was using his cars as a recording booth for some of it. We got a record where he recorded a song in his Tesla, and he recorded song in his Bentley GT. The environments really don't get in the way so much anymore, which also I feel like is a step forward in the progress of the movement in which I want to keep progressing and educating the world on.
I've heard you've engineered in crazy spaces from closets to cars and just anywhere –
In tour buses and hotels and, you know, trailers on Hollywood Boulevard. Yeah, anywhere, anywhere we can get it in at because it takes me about 10 minutes to set up, 10 minutes to break down, and 15 minutes on the setup and teardown. For the Utah stuff, we were kind of settled in for the most part at two locations. We started at one house, and then we moved up into the mountains for the second half. You know, the mountain – the view, it's amazing. Top of the mountain just overlooking Salt Lake City.
Two questions to bounce off of that, but first and foremost, how's YB been lately?
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I think our relationship's always been good making music. It's been amazing that I've been able to be creative with him. For us, it makes us feel better to be able to create. At the other end, for our supporters, it makes them feel better, too. So it's like this gratitude on both sides, right? I know we're grateful that we get to release in almost a therapeutic way, and the supporters gets receive and are just as grateful in that way. Like I said, hopefully, there's a tour coming up. He's lucky he's got his family and everybody that's rocking for him. Good. It's just good that we're able to continue because I didn't get to make music with him for like eight, nine months. It was really, really amazing to be able to – you know, when you look at what we've done since, it's just a lot of music, and he needs to do it. It makes him feel better, you know?
Do you recall what the first conversation you guys had or what the energy was like when you guys first linked up after he was released?
Man, it was all smiles. You know, it was just like, I got my buddy back. I think our friendship stems from the place we get to go creatively together. When I first saw him, I linked up with a few guys to make a song that would kind of jumpstart us being together. That was “Heart and Soul.” When I saw him, I gave him a hug, and I played him that record and we just went and we didn't stop. I really care about the man. It was great to be able to be back creating with him again, making music. When I first saw him, some of the best music and creating I have done so far in my time.
What's a typical session like with Youngboy?
So it's all really fast, right? So, he gets motivated, or he's excited to go, he wants to hear something that's going to hit. That comes from me doing what I do because I'm with him a lot. It's like being in a band. You get to play music with, you know – if it's a guitar player, or a bass player and a drummer and keyboard or piano player, they're all communicating together. For some reason, the music just works. In a lot of ways, how we go, it's feeling out energy. With those little conversations that happen for where we're getting started, it's like, "Okay, this is where we want to go," or maybe we just randomly go into stuff that feels good that I had and that inspires a direction.
He sits down, he comes in, and he hears something and a lot of the times, it's right. A lot of times, it's spot on to where his ears at, what he's feeling, and he'll just go. He freestyles off the top of the head, and we move really fast. Like I said, we can have a song down in 45 minutes so it's a fast, fast process. I think that comes from me doing my work to make sure that we have music that we're feeling good about. That's part of the direction creatively, protected on a lot of areas. Him as an artist, there's nowhere he can't go. So he'll come in and sit down and pick a song that he wants to work on and we'll make some music. Like I said, that's the ultimate goal. I don't want to sit there for hours, and listen to beats with no direction. It's a lot harder of a process not only on the creativity, but it's a bit draining. So having that connection and being able to go makes it a lot more productive, but also makes it feel a lot easier. I think for where he's at as an artist, and where I'm at with the experience, it feels easy, but we're working pretty hard. It's a weird thing, and ultimately, just trying to have fun.
How many songs would you say you guys on average will breeze through in a session, just working at the pace you guys work at?
Depending on how long we go, probably like, you know, four to seven.
How long on average would each session be in order to get to that number?
Probably like 12 hours.
What's a unique studio habit that he has that you've maybe never seen someone else do to get those creative juices flowing?
Interesting question. You know, YB is a real honest person. So I think for him, it's in the moment. I think that's also why we work so fast. You need to be ready to capture that. When you're working with an artist that comes in and is ready, you want to make sure that you don't have to wait to get it, because that moment is – that’s the special part, right? There's a lot of different ways to make music, but for Youngboy, when he comes through those doors, it's on go. I think that would be the one that I would pull away from the most. It's just about him being ready in the moment to just explode creatively. And he can go. You know, like I said, there's nothing holding him back from going anywhere when he makes music. It's just about getting in that moment with him, if that makes sense.
I apologize if I'm misquoting but I believe he did say at a certain point, "I'm not releasing another project until The Last Slimeto." How did working on this project compare to the others?
Yeah, I think we got a lot more time to make music. This is probably one of the longest runs we've had just making music. We've got the single releases, the stuff we've been putting out, that’s just been where he's at. But, for the most part, for this album, it's the highest number of recorded songs that we've had for a project. I think we ultimately ended up at like 300 to choose from. That just comes from the time that we had to make music, and it's been great just being able to go through the day-to-day and just continue to create and to feel it out. There is a restriction of the walls that we're in, but for the time that we've had on it and the time that we put in on it, I think that would be one of the biggest things. It's like, you know, we dropped 10 for the preorder and a few singles along the way, but yeah, I'm excited that the fans are gonna get some new music. We all get to continue on this journey together where ultimately, [we] just put this out and continue on, moving on to the next one, and continue making music. I think the time we had was probably the biggest thing, because we got to experiment and try different things and have some fun with some different directions. And ultimately, at its core, be true to who he is as an artist.
YB fans ride so hard. It was so dope seeing how everybody kind of came together to support him during his case in L.A. Were you there when he beat the case?
I was in LA, but I didn't go to the trials. Yeah, it was just a big relief, you know? I had this relief, and then it's like, "Okay, excellent." Just kind of how I move my own way. It's like, "Okay, that's done. What's next?" But, you know, I know it made him feel good to feel that connection. The fans are such a huge part of this journey. A lot of it is, like I said, it's just gratitude on both ends. You know, I get messages every day. "Thank you." "This really helped me." I don't respond to everything. But every time I read it, I think “Thank you," you know? “You really helped me,” right? So it's just gratitude on both ends.
Did anybody ever send YB a pair of those black and white Crocs?
Was he happy with them?
Yeah, it was – yeah. I don't want to say too much, but yeah.
No, that's fair. I just found it to be a hilarious thing.
That was really what it was. It was just a hilarious thing, you know?
I'm glad he got those through. It was a specific type of Croc he was looking for.
I must've had 1,000 people hit me with -- I mean, if you go look at the spike of Crocs that were purchased that day... must have been pretty extreme.
What are the updates on the tour?
Tour is a real thing, you know, and as soon as the restrictions get taken off, he's hitting the road and I hear Chicago's first on the list and. He's got a great team; Alex is putting in the time to figure it out and it's gonna be a lot of fun, I think. Everybody from Never Broke Again should be involved and should be an exciting thing for him to get out and play some of this new music for the fans.
What are three pieces of advice that you would give to a budding engineer or producer?
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Understanding the tools so you don't have to think about them. Putting in the time, right? You got to put everything into it. Just dive in with everything you got. If you're gonna do something, you got to do it with everything. So keep putting in the time, everything you got and... stay humble. Be grateful. Work hard. I like that one as number two: stay humble, be grateful, and work hard. Yeah, that's a good one. So we got: understanding the tools so you don't have to think about them. Stay humble, be grateful, work hard. And the third one would be... have fun.