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Spanish Ran, a Bronx native and multi-talented hip-hop producer, has become a staple in the underground scene with his ear for up-and-coming talent and distinctive, throwback production style. In a recent in-depth interview with The Harvard Crimson, he opened up about his journey, influences, and passion for music, as well as his experiences working as an A&R in the music industry and the challenges he has faced along the way.
Before fully immersing himself in music production, Spanish Ran worked as an intern at Def Jam with famed hip-hop photographer and executive Lenny Santiago.
“I started interning at Def Jam and then when Lenny S. left Def Jam, he was like, 'I'm going to Roc Nation, you can stay here or you can just come with me and you can be my right hand,'” Spanish Ran said. “I got my first opportunity by signing Rapsody.”
After signing Rapsody, Ran helped expedite the signing of Chicago rapper Vic Mensa. He also championed the Buffalo-based Griselda Records as a collective of up-and-coming talents to watch. The producer recalled first discovering Griselda rappers Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine and playing their track — “The Cow” — for Jay-Z in the Roc Nation office.
“I was playing ‘The Cow,’ crazy, blasting loud like, 'Listen to this Conway verse,'” Ran said. “Jay would walk by back and forth just looking around like, 'Who the fuck is that?'”
Spanish Ran's full time transition into production was driven by his experience with the record label system and a desire to participate in the conversation as an artist.
“It was based on frustration really,” Ran said. “I'm already in it. And I'm seeing and I'm hearing it. I'm like, ‘You know what, let me take a step back and really just focus on myself and bring something to the table myself.’"
This shift marked the beginning of his journey as a full-time producer, allowing him to focus on his craft and developing his unique sound.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Spanish Ran's early influences included legends like Wu-Tang Clan, Dr. Dre, and DJ Premier. As he grew older, his appreciation evolved to include artists like J Dilla, Madlib, and The Alchemist. According to Ran, The Alchemist in particular inspires him to remain relevant by consistently adapting to new sounds and working with younger artists.
"He got better in time,” Spanish Ran said. “Like he's always been good. But as his peers are starting to drift away, he evolved way more."
Ran’s first project, "Spanish Sauce," released with Sauce Heist in 2019, was a significant milestone in his career. Released on vinyl, it was a moment that humbled the producer as he recalled the project's creation in his home.
“We did this in the crib, in the house, like just a room and a mic and our focus,” the producer said. “No big studio, no nothing, I just know how shit's supposed to sound now and I did what I had to do with it.”
Seeing his work on vinyl and watching people from around the world spin his records was an awe-inspiring moment for the producer.
“Seeing people spinning it, or playing it, or reposting it from Switzerland to Sweden, and all these places that's not the Bronx, we can take this to the world now,” Ran said. “Music has always been universal, but when you do it in a room in the Bronx, and then you see the same work that you did getting played in a country that you haven't been to yet? It's humbling.”
The producer emphasizes the importance of consistency and dedication to his craft.
"I pretty much make beats every day like brushing my teeth," he said. His daily routine involves working in the morning, hitting the gym, and seeking inspiration from the latest releases, as well as staying connected to the music community through social media and word of mouth.
In the future, Spanish Ran plans to expand his reach within the East Coast underground while staying true to his roots. He's excited about his upcoming release with rapper Tree Mason, set to drop on April 20.
“I'm also working on two other albums by a guy by the name of WateRR from Chicago and another album with Al-Doe in July,” Ran said. “Those three are all different, but the work on it is crazy. I can't wait for people to really listen to it.”
As his career progresses, Spanish Ran aims to be a leading figure in the hip-hop community, both as a producer and as a mentor for up-and-coming artists. His passion for music and the culture is evident in the way he speaks about his work and his aspirations.
"I’m gonna make sure that I'm gonna be the best at it,” he said. “Because I'm not gonna just do this half-assed, I'm gonna make sure I’m gonna be one of the best."
—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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