Rob Knox and Justin Timberlake are production partners. Timberlake and T.I. have had success collaborating in the last three years, which is furthered in the tribute song “Dead and Gone” from T.I.’s Paper Trail.
Knox, who has done tracks for Chris Brown and Britney Spears also, spoke to HipHopDX Wednesday about the creation of the heartfelt rap and R&B ballad. “Justin and I produced it together. We went in and discussed the whole situation before we got to the studio. We were on the phone for maybe 30 minutes, close to an hour, just talking about what we wanted to do with T.I. Everybody expected the ‘My Love,’ the ‘Ayo Technology,’ the party, fun, girl type of record.”
He continued, “We were like, this guy’s going through a lot with his whole court case situation and his best friend dyin’, and everything in the world kind of crumbling in front of him in a way. We [agreed that] it would be real cool and unexpected to give people something a little more heartfelt – not the club, party, typical record that everybody wanted. We even had a feeling that T.I. was gonna mention that, but we already had a plan for him.”
Although the song’s theme was planned ahead, the arrangement happened organically. “We went in, did the track. Justin played his part on it, made it even more heartfelt, and then he just sat there and came up with his hook. That’s pretty much it. We knew what we were gonna do, we just didn’t know how we were gonna do it.”
Knox also spoke about the decision to keep the signature T.I. “Hey” ad-libs amidst such an emotionally charged record. “Even though it’s a heartfelt record and something kinda deep, we wanted it to be uplifting. The whole point of the song is to say [T.I.’s] past is dead and gone. He’s not gonna travel whatever stupid road people think he’s gonna travel on. He’s gonna do right by his life. He’s gonna take care of his family.” The choice also mirrored T.I.’s unique attitude at the time of recording. “We saw that in T.I.’s energy in the studio. We knew it wasn’t gonna be a sad song, it was gonna be heartfelt. Justin threw [the ad-libs] in there. It makes the record feel good, like the light of day is coming.”
As for the producer following J.R. Rotem and Steve Morales from Pop into Hip Hop, he said, “I just want as many big hit records in every genre. That’s as simple as it gets.” Despite shifting through genre, Knox added, “The only one thing common thing I have in all my records is my drums. They just hit hard, man. That’s it. I don’t approach records to put my trademark in there. I don’t like doing that.”
Knox revealed to HipHopDX.com that a Paper Trail re-release is coming, with a second song from the trio, billed as the first international single. The producer also says he and Justin intend on working with Ciara and Ludacris in 2009.