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“Told myself I would drop the album all at once,” J. Cole tweeted on May 6. “Sometimes you gotta say fuck it tho.” Ten hours later, Cole dropped “Interlude,” a single from his highly-anticipated project The Off-Season.
According to co-producers T-Minus and Tommy Parker, the song came together just as quickly as Cole’s decision to release it as a single.
“I think it was a couple of weeks ago,” T-Minus tells Complex, revealing the timeline for the creation of the song. T-Minus is a veteran producer who has worked with Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, and recently produced Cole’s 2019 and 2020 singles “Lion King on Ice,” and “Middle Child.” He adds, “Not a lot of songs in the music industry come out like this, because a lot of times, when a producer and artist come together, the beat can actually take three to six months for it to get in the right hands. In this situation, it was really fast.”
“Interlude” is centered around a soulful loop, which many fans assumed was a sample from an old James Brown record. In reality, though, Tommy, who has previously worked with artists like Justin Bieber and Janet Jackson, created the loop from scratch. “When I did the sample, I was listening to a lot of James Brown, and a lot of Sam Cooke, and different artists,” he explains. “I just liked to time travel in the samples and give it to great producers like T-Minus to see what they can do to it. And what they did to it is incredible.”
“Interlude” serves as an early taste of what J. Cole has described it as “The Fall-Off Era,” which will begin with the release of The Off-Season on May 14. Both T-Minus and Tommy predict the project will be a top contender for album of the year. T-Minus, who has been working with Cole consistently for the past four years, even goes so far as to say Cole delivers some of the best bars of his career.
Ahead of the album’s debut, Complex hopped on a three-way call with T-Minus and Tommy Parker to talk about the making of “Interlude” and what to expect on The Off-Season. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How did you each first start working with J. Cole?
T-Minus: I’ve been working with J. Cole for almost four years now. And we’ve got a pretty good working relationship as far as production and creating tracks and songs. So I’ve been on board with him for quite some time.
Tommy Parker: I recently started with a management group [The Revels Group] and they got me connected to T-Minus and that’s how I got connected to the project. That actually was my first time working with J. Cole and T-Minus.
So you two didn’t know each other prior to this experience?
T-Minus: No, that’s pretty much it. We just connected through his management. And actually, today was the first time we really got to connect one-on-one. The record, it happened so fast.
How did Cole reach out about doing “Interlude?”
T- Minus: I’ve been working on this project since pretty much the beginning. So I’ve been on board with Cole for quite some time. We’ve been cooking up, even during COVID. So this record was another record that we created within that time period.
What’s the story behind how the track came together? What were each of your contributions?
T- Minus: I got a pack of tracks, which are essentially samples. They’re just ideas of music and stuff like that. So I got a pack from [Tommy’s] management team and I went through it one day. It was like 10 tracks, and I was like, “Holy shit dude, these samples are amazing.” I reached out to Cole and I told him, “I got this new track from this guy named Tommy Parker.” And me and Cole jumped on a call and went through a bunch of samples, then we landed on that one for “Interlude.”
When J. Cole heard the sample, he went crazy. He was in love with it. So we just got straight to work. After we heard that loop, I started building the drums out and within maybe 20 minutes, I’d say, the beat was practically ready to go. I did all the programming and built the beat out. Cole had some creative ideas for how the track should go. And I forwarded it off to him, and he dealt with the rest of it.
You mentioned Cole’s creative ideas. What was his vision for the record?
T- Minus: Well, Cole is very much a producer, so he likes to direct where the music is going as far as arrangement, or the bounce, or the feeling that he wants to have. So he gave me a bunch of ideas and pointers for what he wanted to do. I kind of thought of it as me going off of the intuition for how the track would feel, and him giving his two cents on how he felt. Usually, I’m pretty great when it comes to the programming and then getting on the board and actually building up the track out of my sound collection. What people know me for, is I’m really involved in the creation and production of the track. So he had a lot of direction, I built it out, and that was it. It was a really quick process.
Tommy, how did you create the sample?
Tommy: When I did the sample, I was listening to a lot of James Brown, and a lot of Sam Cooke, and different artists. I just liked to time travel in the samples and give it to great producers like T-Minus to see what they can do to it. And what they did to it is incredible. To be honest, it just came from a place of my own struggle in my life. That’s how I release certain feelings and stuff in my life. It happened so fast. I’m a big fan of J. Cole and T-Minus, and I’m just in awe right now. You can pinch me because I’m dreaming; that’s how crazy this is for me.
T- Minus: This is the first track that me and Tommy have ever worked on. And I just started hearing this stuff recently. Me and Cole, we went through a ton of his ideas; we were all floored by the creativity and Tommy’s ability to create these eras in time, too. So we were just excited to even hear more ideas if there were any. It’s crazy that he can create this.
Cole mentioned in his documentary that he’s been sitting on a lot of songs for years, but you mentioned how quickly this track came together. What was the timeline for creating “Interlude?”
T-Minus: Honestly, it wasn’t that long. I think it was a couple of weeks ago. I would say it is a pretty new one that I’ve created. I mean, not a lot of songs in the music industry come out like this, because a lot of times, when a producer and artist come together, the beat can actually take three to six months for it to get in the right hands. Then there’s another six-month wait before the song comes out. In this situation, it was really fast.
Is there anything else that stands out about this song to you?
T- Minus: I find the cool part about the whole record is that people know Cole for jumping on a lot of beats and samples. And in this case, it’s literally a track completely made by Tommy, that sounds like it was created in that time period—in that old era. People are probably all over the internet looking for that sample, like, “Oh, what did J. Cole use?” And then if they find it, and view all the credits; they’re probably thinking, me, Tommy, and Cole just created drums and chopped up the sample and made this beat, not knowing that Tommy is actually the original creator of the sample. It’s kind of cool, because it’s the era that we’re in now. Anything could be created from any time period, and it can sound authentic to that era. It’s really cool.
The song has received a lot of positive reviews from fans. Have you all been paying attention to the response?
T- Minus: I’m extremely excited and thankful. This has been a long time in the works for me. But honestly, I’m not really on social media that much to see all of their reactions. Like Cole, I’m very much tapped in with my family and what’s going on in the real world. It’s just cool to hear from friends about what’s going on, or how excited people are. So I’m just paying attention from the sideline, but I’m grinding. I’m working, because all that matters to me is doing the next one.
T-Minus, you’ve worked with Cole for years now. How would you describe his creative mindset right now? How is “The Fall Off” era different compared to eras in the past?
T- Minus: To be honest, I can’t even speak on that. I’d rather [Cole] speak on it. But I mean, as far as creativity goes, Cole is tapped into every aspect of the creation of the record. He writes all of his own music, writes all of the songs. He produces, he mixes; he’s super involved. And at times, he goes through these eras of being focused on some things more than others. But all around, he’s just that guy who’s very grounded when it comes to the creation of the entire record, which is dope because when I create with him, he’s very much directing where he wants the record to go. In most cases, when I work with an artist, I have to do a lot more of the directing.
“After hearing ‘Interlude,’ I was telling Cole, ‘Bro, it’s crazy. It feels like you’re hitting a prime. These are some of the best bars and writing I’ve heard from you ever in your career.’” – T-Minus
Tommy, you’ve worked with several big artists in the past. How does working with Cole compare to your past collaborations?
Tommy: You know, this is beyond exciting. I don’t think I have released a first single with an artist. I think I had a second single before, but this is my first, first single and it’s a dream come true. You know, I’ve been working in this industry for years. I’ve had ups and downs and this is like the ultimate record for me. This is the big beginning.
Do either of you have other records on The Off-Season?
T- Minus: Definitely. Me and Cole got a few on the project. You’ll see when it drops.
Can you share any details on what we can expect?
T- Minus: I can’t. That’s not my place. That’s for the big man. I’ll leave it to him.
And Tommy, what about you? Do you have any other songs on the album?
Tommy: I don’t know.
What are each of your predictions for The Off-Season? Do you suspect this will be an album of the year contender?
T- Minus: Hell yeah. After hearing “Interlude,” I was telling him, “Bro, it’s crazy. It feels like you’re hitting a prime. These are some of the best bars and writing I’ve heard from you ever in your career.” Just his delivery and everything is going. Even from a production perspective, I’m really loving what he’s doing. So I mean, expect The Off-Season to be full of fire.
Tommy: And I cannot wait to hear it myself. I’ve been listening to “Interlude” since it came out. And I’m a part of it, but it’s been on repeat. So I can’t wait until this album comes out.
What is your favorite memory from creating “Interlude?”
T-Minus: My favorite moment was Cole’s reaction when he heard Tommy’s loop. It was insane. I knew from when I’d seen Cole’s reaction, which was him going off, that he loved what he heard. I could tell he was extremely inspired by that. I’m all about the creative process in the room. Once it’s out, I leave everything alone. I leave it alone, because it’s for the fans to soak up and appreciate that. For me, being in the studio, cooking it up, or working a line and setting tracks, are the moments that I value the most in the whole aspect of the record.
Tommy: The highlight for me was getting a text message from T-Minus that said, “You made The Off-Season.” That was everything. It just happened so fast. And then there’s another part where he told us it’s going to be a single. And then it drops and it’s his single. It’s like, oh my gosh, this is mind-blowing for me. I’m very thankful for everything.
T- Minus: And like I said earlier, the music industry doesn’t work that fast. So for that to happen so quickly… I mean from Tommy’s perspective, he was probably like what the fuck? I mean, even from mine, I was like, what the hell is this? The record was awesome. I even heard it in a preview on the documentary that Cole just dropped.
What’s next for each of you? What are you looking forward to this year?
T- Minus: It’s a couple of things. One, I’m still rocking out with Cole on the music, and we’re still cooking. So I’m definitely looking forward to what he has to bring. And then, it also brought me this new relationship with another producer. I love the collaborative process. So I’m excited for what [Tommy’s] creating, too. There’s so much for us all to be excited for in this moment.
Tommy: I totally agree. I’m just excited. I’m ready for the ride. That’s where I’m at.