CREATION WITHIN PHOTOGRAPHY
Stacey Reynolds flowed naturally from performer to producer.
When Leethal the Poet was ready to announce the final track off her album ...Well Damn
at a recent listening party, Stacey Reynolds left the room.
The producer and musician behind the new work, known as Volume Speaks, prefers not to be the center of attention. It’s an ironic fact about Reynolds, considering that Volume truly lives up to her name. She produced about 98 percent of Leethal's album, and its release was an accomplishment that followed Reynolds’ journey to becoming one of the most exciting female producers on the scene.
Her background as a musician — a saxophonist, primarily, though she’s skilled with other instruments as well — made her interest in producing come naturally. While attending Lindenwood University, Reynolds was inspired by watching her friends create beats and figured it couldn’t be that hard. She says her friend was a producer and taught her how to use Maschine, a brand of music-making software and line of hardware controllers.
“I had never thought about making beats or anything,” Reynolds says of her interest at the time. “It seemed pretty easy. I made beats on the piano, and I wanted to dig deeper into it.”
As a multi-skilled musician with expertise in saxophone, drums and bass guitar, as well as writing and rapping, she says producing and making beats ties all of her interests together.
As a beginner, Reynolds quickly picked up skills, even though she didn’t have the proper equipment. Soon enough, she was performing at the Grove’s monthly beat battle Fresh Produce, quickly making a name for herself.
Fresh Produce is a night made for producers. It’s the one night of the month that the local creative scene looks forward to watching talented beatmakers from around the city as well as out of town go head to head. It’s also an opportunity for artists to network and take note of who they need to make connections with.
Volume Speaks is one of the few women most respected in that realm. When she stepped on stage in January as a wildcard competitor, the audience already knew to expect some of the toughest and best sounds. The beats she showcased were a testament to the amount of hours Reynolds puts into them. She has an endless Rolodex of sound — beats she’s made for other people and others she’s made simply because she enjoys the process. It’s the passion Reynolds carries, in addition to her considerable talent, that sets her apart from the competition, male or female.
All the time spent cranking out beat after beat resulted in the opportunity for Reynolds to produce the vast majority of Leethal the Poet’s new album. ...Well Damn
marks the first time she’s made music entirely for one project, something she’d been looking forward to since the beginning of her journey.
“It was very emotional, but it was also a learning experience,” she says. “Everything that was wrapped up in that album and release party was a collection of feels and experiences. Not just from Leethal, but for me as well. When I can’t say it, I put it in my beats, and you can really feel it.”
Alongside Reynolds in the world of talented female beatmakers is fellow producer and engineer Lexxiiibeatz. Alexis Calhoun is another well-recognized and respected producer in the hip-hop creative space here in St. Louis, and one who contributed to Leethal’s album as well. Her journey to becoming a producer seems to have been fate, and a little unlikely.
“I was on Instagram one night, and I saw some dude making a beat on his phone,” she says. “I went to the comments to see what it was, and he was using something called GarageBand.”
From there, Calhoun says she downloaded the app and started making beats on her phone as well. It ignited a desire to learn and do more. That led her to enrolling at the now-defunct Ex’Treme Institute by Nelly at Vatterott College, graduating and becoming “an official producer and engineer.”
While most people know Lexxiiibeatz for her beats, working with Leethal the Poet gave her an opportunity to flex her engineering skills. Most recognized at Fresh Produce, Calhoun has created a legion of attendees that follow and respect her style.
When Lexxiiibeatz performs at Fresh Produce, the murmurs of “she ’bout to kill it” circle through the room, as Calhoun’s beats crescendo into what the crowd knows will be a drop that will advance her to the next round. And in her experience, it usually has. In one battle, Calhoun advanced to the semifinals, which was no surprise given her production work’s skill, variance and complexity. It’s funny, because she says she has a hard time describing exactly what her style or sound is. She does, however, draw plenty of inspiration from her love of gaming, and the music in some of her favorite games from her childhood.
“I would describe my sound as a video game sound,” she says. “Some of it comes from the stuff I grew up listening to, and some of it comes from me being a gamer girl, too.”
Her aptitude for creating a unique sound has taken Calhoun outside St. Louis, namely Atlanta, where she was able to showcase her work in last year’s AC3 Festival. It was an opportunity that came as a surprise for the producer and engineer, who says she never thought she’d get the chance to travel and play her music for ears outside her city.
“Men expect me to be doing girl stuff, whatever that is,” she says. “What is girl stuff? This is girl stuff to me, because I am a girl, and I’m doing this.”
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