The city of Atlanta is painted with just as much opportunity as it is art. Music plays its role as an elevator of status and culture. Atlanta is filled with dense minds who can creatively articulate joy and struggle within the same sound. When you do it well, you make it, but even then, there are only a few slots. Over the past 5-to-ten years, a new era of artists and producers have redesigned the landscape, and Honorable C.N.O.T.E. has been at the forefront of it all.
His beats have allowed for artists like 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane to maintain the waves they’ve already created and has also allowed for fresh artists like the Migos to float to the top, reflecting their triumph and survival in his signature C.N.O.T.E. production. Hailing from Benton Harbor, Michigan, even knowing his worth couldn’t predict a discography this important. Acknowledging difference as his blessing, C.N.O.T.E. was able to make a deal with God, exchanging open ears to his music for extended faith among his people. As the new Atlanta began to take over, he suddenly earned his seat at the Brick Factory and has successfully watched a remarkable career unfold and evolve into something that cannot be denied.
In his own words, this is the story of Honorable C.N.O.T.E. and how he beat the odds in a musical paradise.
When You’re Really Tired Of Something, You’ll Change It
“The place I grew up in, Benton Harbor, Michigan, is a really poor city. The annual household income is $10,000 a year, the crime rate is high… a lot of people don’t make it out of there. The hardest ships you can think of is what we go through. From me and my grandma sharing senior meals and selling dope in the projects, to me getting my first MOTIF6. Everywhere from my brother getting killed when I was 13, to me getting stabbed in the neck: I come from that. Basically, God had to tell me to go. He literally told me to go.
“One day I prayed and I asked God to help me with my music, and I would help bring people to him. So my homeboy moved down to Atlanta, and he kept on asking me for beat CD’s. I sent him a beat CD. He passed it along to Kenny, who was managing the Franchise Boyz at the time. He asked me to send more beats because I used to talk over my beats so that people couldn’t rap over them.
“I sent him some beats untagged, and he sent me a clip of Gucci Mane rapping over it. It was him, Black Magic, and Young Snead. I’ll never forget it because he was the first big rapper to rap over one of my beats, ever. And I was still in Michigan. I was playing that beat for everybody. I was in my head like, “Gucci Mane is rapping over one of my beats, I’m about to make it out the hood!” I went back home, and my grandma used to pray every time I made beats. I knew that I was never gonna leave her because she was really all I had. Even though I sold dope and she didn’t raise me to be a certain kind of way, she never judged me. She always supported anything I wanted to do. I looked up, and said, “God, you know I’m not gonna leave her.” The next day, I found her in the bathroom not moving. She lost her leg. That messed me up.
“The lights were getting cut off at this point. My grandpa was on an oxygen tank so he had been panicking every time the lights went off. We were tired of struggling so I went out and started selling weed and shit. Then I kept on hearing this voice say, “Go to Atlanta. It’s time for you to go now.” My boy ended up getting killed that Friday.
“The third was that I had this white boy named Slim. Everybody in the hood used to call him Slim Shady because he used to have the throwback jerseys.
“I used to ride around with him, and Benton Harbor doesn’t have a lot of white people. At the time, actually, there were none. I stopped at the gas station to pay for some gas. I came out of the gas station, and I saw this diesel dude banging on the window like, “Get out the car white boy!” He was talking to Slim. So I thought, maybe if he saw me start pumping gas in my car, he would leave Slim the fuck alone because he would see that he was with me. At this time, I had the East Side on smash because people knew what was going on with me. I thought he would have respected it, but he didn’t. I went to pump the gas, and he looked up. He just kept banging on the window.
“So I was like, “Aye man get the fuck away from my car.” He stopped, came around the car, got in my face, and was like, “What you gonna do about it?”. Then he leaned in and said, “you big bitch”. I stalled on him. So we got to fighting, and eventually, the police came and broke up the fight. During the fight, I hit him in the chin, and he fell to the ground. Usually, when a nigga falls I can Debo my way on top of him and start punching him in the face, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have any power to really do it. So when the police came, everybody told me to look down at my shirt. I had a white t-shirt on, and my shirt was all red. This nigga cut me in my neck from the back of my neck to the front, so he gave me a buck 50.
“I drove myself to the hospital thinking it wasn’t that bad. I got in there and the doctor told me I was lucky. He said, “You know where your jugular vein is right? That’s what he tried to hit, and he was a millimeter from it.” Since I didn’t have insurance, he put 18 staples in my neck and sent me on my way.
“The next day I was in the projects selling weed, and people were mad. They were grabbing pistols and what not. I heard a voice say “Don’t kill them. Tell them not to kill them.” At first, I was in my head like, “Man, what? Nah, I’m not telling them that,” but then they asked me again not to kill them. So I told my boys not to. Everybody was looking at me crazy, but there was something bigger going on.
“After that, I didn’t want to try God anymore, so I went to church that new year, and left after. I had a black pair of jeans, 100 dollars, and a MOTIF6 when I moved to Atlanta. That’s how I ended up there.”
Welcome To Atlanta: Do You Sink, Or Do You Swim?
“My homeboy, Yes D, had a girlfriend at the time named T Gram, and he was living with her. She opened her arms to me. I don’t really like depending on people like that, so I started selling beats on Myspace. I would have beat auctions on Myspace where people started paying 75 dollars for a beat, 50 dollars for a beat… That was putting a little bit of money in my pocket. So my homeboy, in his high pitched voice was like, “Bitch, you need to start doing these beat battles!” He was like, “I ain’t gonna lie, bitch, you ain’t ready. They’re going to kill you. They’re going to slaughter you” With him telling me that, I sat in my room and made beats. I told God I wasn’t going to sell dope anymore, none of that shit. If this was what I was going to do, I was going put my chest in it and do it. That was part of our deal.
“I sat at the house and made beats all day. I was like, “There was no way I’m going back to Benton Harbor.” The city is so small that people know when you’re back in there. If you leave to go somewhere and come back, it’s like a failure. I started doing the beat battles and I started winning and winning. I ended up moving in with Kenny, and he started navigating me through the city with athletes and shit. Then I was in the studio with Chill Will. Everybody knows who Chill Will is in Atlanta; he was the black people’s president. That was the first artist in Atlanta I was fucking with. I thought I would be fucking with Gucci when I got to Atlanta, but it wasn’t like that. My boy wasn’t working at that studio anymore so I had to start from the bottom. We started moving my beats around and I finally got my first placement with Flo Rida on “American Superstar”. Me and Gator wrote the hook.”
Picking Up The Tempo
“Me and Waka [Flocka Flame] did so much shit, that Waka introduced me to Gucci. When I met Gucci, I didn’t even tell him that we had a song and that he was one of the reasons I made it to Atlanta. To this day, I never said that shit. But he wasn’t picking my beats like that. He would pick one or two, then he would tell them to see what Southside and Zaytoven had. They were taking over.
“2 Chainz was starting to get his feet wet. We made “Use Me”, and “Use Me” is what made Gucci fuck with me heavy. He was like, “I’m not gonna lie man, me and 2 Chainz just made a hit off of one of your beats. I was sleeping on you. I’m not going to sleep anymore”. From that day that nigga rapped on every beat I sent. He didn’t care if he didn’t like it, he rapped on every beat.
“After that, I moved into the Brick Factory and I started cranking out beats. Me and Future made this big ass catalog of songs. Metro started coming around; that’s when he moved from St. Louis. and he was a cool young nigga. Southside was coming around. This is when all of the producers would be around at the Brick Factory. It was me, TM88, Southside, Mike-WiLL… everybody was cooking up. It felt like, that’s what I came down here for. It was all coming together. Metro was like, “man peep these three young niggas, The Migos. We should fuck with them. I’m telling you, they’re going to be the next biggest thing.” But I never got a chance to meet them.
“So one day Gucci was like, “Man, I’m about to sign these three young niggas.” I came in the studio and saw the three of them sitting on the couch. Gucci said that they were Brick Squad now, so we had everybody in there now. We had Migos, Young Thug, Scooter… Everybody that was hot in Atlanta right now came through the Brick Squad. People didn’t know that they were making history like that, but everybody that was in the Brick Factory was going crazy. That’s how all of that started; with Guwop, and leaking out and hustling.”
Fresh Blood, Fresh Sounds
“Quavo hit me on Twitter and asked me to send some beats. I sent him some beats, but I made “Freak No More” for Gucci. Gucci never used that beat for some reason. So I sent Quavo that beat, and he hit me back and told me they had a banger on it. He played me “Freak No More” and told me to watch what it does. One thing about Atlanta niggas, in my ears, I’ll downplay my beats and be like, “Oh that’s cool”, negative. They will always be like, “Nah, you crazy! That’s hard! That’s hard!” So when “Freak No More” came out, I started realizing it was hard.
“At that time, Quavo and I worked a lot. That was when they had that deal with 300. For Yung Rich Nation, we did five of those songs in one day, the same night. I was like, “Just tell me what you want, and I’m going to remain myself off of that”. I’m not going to argue with you. I just want to bring your vision in right. It was really Quavo’s ears and how he wanted it on that album. I just let him use my fingers, but it was really his thoughts. That’s when I knew he was a musical genius.
“I would be playing the keys and he would be like, “Bro, you funky fingers too? You like Zay. You should start doing some shit like that”. I would be playing on the keys, and I would take his ideas and make it bigger to my capability. He would lay down a verse and a hook, then move to the next song.
“Street Nigga Sacrifice” was the last song we made that night too. We listened to that song like 6-7 times. I still play that thing to this day. When the album came out, I felt like that song was ahead of its time. It took people time to catch up to it in my eyes. That’s time capsule music. People have to go back to that and appreciate that.”
From One Set Of Keys To The Next
“I’ve been making beats since 1997. I’m a real musical person. My musical range stretches from A to Z. I come from an aggressive background so I know what that pain feels like. I think people fuck with my beats because you can feel the pain. When I first started, I had to learn all of these different beats because there was no way I was going back to where I started. So I had to learn all of that shit. I wasn’t making anything but hood beats, but Kenny helped me out by making me realize that I can’t be a one-track minded businessman when it comes to doing music. I learned to sit down and listen. I listen so I can understand music, and bring trap elements to that type of shit.
“In the midwest, we hear everything. I used to be the nigga that would close my eyes, go through some albums, pick one, and just listen to it. I’m also influenced by live musicians. I had this one crazy ass girl who knew how to play the violin. She was so hard, but she was crazy as fuck. She taught me a lot about orchestra music. I used to wonder how they were getting these big sounds in the orchestras. She taught me that simplicity is how you get that big sound. Before, I would be sitting at my keys trying to make 500 chords. She taught me that it could be 900 violins doing the same shit with different expressions.”
Results Of The Musical Mecca
“In Atlanta, they teach you how to marry your talent and not your work.
“Atlanta was next because of the way people think. You can tell they were raised differently than those in the midwest. In the midwest, it was hate for no reason. They’ll get in your ass in Atlanta too, but at the same time, if you ain’t on bullshit, people will fuck with you and want to see you good. Being in Atlanta changed the way I think as a man.
“If you’re from a small city, look up what Atlanta has done for the culture. People look at Atlanta as the mecca for how they do things, and how they’re together. It’s the same shit, just a different hood. I appreciate Atlanta, a whole lot. It changed my life.”
Peep Honorable C.N.O.T.E.’s new single The Pledge here, and stay tuned for his debut album.
By K. High