For S1, big-time beats come naturally

Posted 11:14pm on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

Every now and then, life gets a little surreal for Larry Griffin Jr.

A lot of it has to do with his day job: He's best known in the music world as producer Symbolyc One (or, more often, simply S1), with an enviable roster of collaborators, including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce and 50 Cent.

In the past five years, he has won a Grammy, helped create a single that's sold more than a million copies and signed to deals with not one but two of hip-hop's biggest names: West and Jay-Z.

"It's pretty crazy," the 36-year-old Griffin admits, as he settles into a leather chair at a Grand Prairie Starbucks. "At this point, I don't think about it; it's just a natural thing. But sometimes, I do get those moments when I sit back ... and I'm like, 'Dang, I really did this for this person.' Anybody that's producing, or doing any type of thing where you're pursuing something, you have a certain place in your mind where you want to reach and you don't know when you'll get there or if you'll get there.

"It's amazing. It's a blessing."

The polite, unassuming Waco native (who makes his home in Arlington) didn't immediately take the music industry by storm, but rather dedicated himself to networking and maintaining a clear vision of himself and his art. "Everything's built on relationships," he says, and needs only to point to his own career trajectory as proof.

Griffin was collaborating with Chicago rapper Rhymefest, who wanted to buy four beats from the producer, but only had enough left in his recording budget to pay for two.

S1 accepted payment for the two beats, and simply gave Rhymefest (real name: Che Smith) the other two, endearing himself to the rapper and earning some good karma. Fast-forward a few months, and Smith is in the studio with West, who was assembling what would become 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Smith told Griffin to send over some samples, which he played for West.

Two weeks passed, and then a fateful text message from Smith to Griffin: "Kanye is loving your stuff. He says he's about to change your life."

Hitting the big time

S1 eventually traveled to Hawaii and collaborated with West on the single Power, which features a crushing tribal beat against a sample of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. Fantasy would go on to win a Grammy for best rap album in 2012, earning Griffin the music industry's most prestigious honor.

"That was everything," Griffin says of the win. "For me to receive that for my first major work, it was pretty amazing."

There wasn't much time to rest on laurels, however, as S1 kept busy, contributing a track to West and Jay-Z's hotly anticipated Watch the Throne collaboration; helping Beyonce fashion Best Thing I Never Had, a million-selling track from her 2011 album 4; and helping 50 Cent prepare his new single, My Life, which features guest spots from Eminem and Maroon 5's Adam Levine. Griffin is also signed to West's production team, Very G.O.O.D. Beats, and has a co-publishing deal with Roc Nation, Jay-Z's entertainment company.

Apart from the A-list collaborators, S1 also keeps a hand in local music, working with his group Strange Fruit Project (its most recent album is 2011's A Dreamer's Journey); Erykah Badu and her backing band, the Cannabinoids; and his own stable of producers, including singer-songwriter Glen Reynolds, who appears on Push Thru, a single S1 recently produced for Talib Kweli.

"He consistently comes up with some of the most thoughtful, unique rap and R&B tracks," Reynolds says. "And for those of you who don't know about rap production, that's amazing.... For S1 to consistently create what he does, well, you'd have to imagine Babe Ruth hitting .500 with 60 homers a season. He puts up stratospheric Hall of Fame numbers like that."

Going West again

Given his eclectic assortment of collaborators, S1, who often puts in long hours at his home studio, Liquid Soul Lab, doesn't exactly have a set way of working.

"It depends on the individual, and it just depends on my personal relationship with the individual," Griffin says of working with stars. "I like being in the studio with an artist where we can really collaborate on things, and put our vision together and really craft it and have a specific direction. At the same time, I'm in my comfort zone in my own studio by myself."

The coming year will find S1, who is soon relocating to Mansfield to be nearer to family, continuing to log time in recording studios alone and with others. He'll occasionally fly off to Los Angeles and keep plugging away. Some stars he'd like to work with in the future include Rihanna, Maroon 5 and Drake.

On deck over the next 12 months is a new album from Lupe Fiasco (which may feature a track with Denton's Sarah Jaffe singing the hook) and West's follow-up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as well as a new Strange Fruit Project EP.

"We've still been making music together," Griffin says of Strange Fruit Project. "We never went anywhere."

There will doubtless continue to be moments where Larry Griffin Jr.'s life seems like it is happening to someone else, where he finds himself in a recording studio, being asked for his thoughts on a song by a global superstar.

Quietly and calmly, the producer will offer his thoughts with the conviction of a veteran.

After all, he knew, from his earliest days, that his life would never be dedicated to anything but music.

"I was the type of person -- I'm not arrogant or anything; that's not in my nature -- but I always knew that I was going to be doing this. I didn't know how or when, but I always knew there was something special about music.

"It's a gift God blessed me with. I always knew I'd break through."

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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