Valee and Top$ide hear the pockets you don’t

The duo nerds out on Cash Money albums, DJ drops and their excellent collab tape CAR TOONS.

Valee and Top$ide. Art by Tyler Farmer.

Valee has always prioritized a lifestyle of blunts sparking and subwoofers rattling Honda Civics. Before becoming your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, his life wasn’t that different from what it is now. For example, he still loves customizing cars. In his 20s, while he was deep at work on his car blasting Bankroll Fresh, Valee got inspired to make music himself. 

The hits are still gas: on a pure rapping level, some of the most compelling of the last decade. Stamped by Kanye, swag stolen by your faves. Ever since leaving G.O.O.D. Music in 2019, he’s been highly prolific, toying with elevator jazz rap, bangin’ CHASETHEMONEY drums and even a pack of Harry Fraud beats. Through it all, his automotive obsession bleeds through his music more than ever. Last year, Valee linked with Detroit producer Top$ide to make a mixtape titled CAR TOONS all about the things they fuck with: Cartoon Network, cars, and good raps.

Top$ide’s beats recall ‘90s down south records, the kind that you crank with the windows down, A/C blasting. Sneering melodies, snappin’ snares, head-bashing bass, and most of all, that undeniable bounce. He seems to gravitate to rappers with shifty flows and a deep reverence for the craft, like Rx Papi, Los and Nutty and the rapper who gave him his first ever production credit, Veeze. When “Itself” came out in 2019, Top$ide was still toiling away at a Ford assembly plant. “I just knew I didn’t want to retire in the plant,” he says. “It was more for me to do in life.”

Throughout our Zoom call, it was obvious that Valee and Top$ide’s natural synergy extended well beyond the music. We had the chance to talk CAR TOONS, New Orleans rap tapes, finding the perfect pocket, and more.


Anthony Malone: What would you say is the difference between experiencing music in your car versus in your headphones?

Valee: Oh yeah, in the car it’s different. But it’s a tricky one. Because, with me, I record pretty much like 99% of my music, and so I also got the habit of recording everything in my headphones. I engineer myself in my headphones and everything and I never played nothing out loud. So when I do hear something in the car after I made it, it be like a second surprise for me. Because for one, I get to see how good of a job I did mastering it and bouncing it out and then I get that experience of hearing it in the car.

Top$ide: What kind of headphones do you use?

Valee: What I got…these Skullcandy headphones, but they actually not my favorite pair of Skullcandy headphones. My favorite pair of Skullcandy’s I left in New York on accident.

Top$ide: Them yo favorite type of headphones out of all of them?

Valee: I mean, yeah. I don’t switch my stuff up a lot because I’m not picky or nothing like that. But these? They play bass. You’re not supposed to record with headphones that play bass, they’re supposed to be flat, but these play bass. They got duct tape on them but they work. I could get some Beats. [But] these like my favorite joints. And then they got a mode on them that actually sound like a Box Chevy bass, too much damn bass, but it helps me record better sometimes. Everything else is brand new. Brand new computer. I use the Apollo , I use an Aston microphone. But the headphones, I like these because they play bass.

Growing up, what kind of songs would you hear on the radio, in the car or just in passing?

Valee: Cash Money. I played a lot of Cash Money, a lot of Big Tymers. Man that was pretty much—oh! Ludacris. This was when Ludacris was out. He had a couple albums or something like that. I would play him. This was around that time. But I think this is all because before I had a car, I had car speakers in my room. So I had the speakers that everybody put in their trunks and everything like that, I had all this stuff in my room hooked up. So it made me play music.

So you had box subwoofers and shit. 

Valee: I had subwoofers, all that shit. The 12’s and [4×12’s]. I had all this stuff in my room with a converter. This was when RadioShack was open. So I bought the converter, you know, I mean, I had all that shit working in my room. And my friend across the street got me into playing music, so I was playing nothing but Cash Money.

Topi$de: What’s your favorite Cash Money album?

Valee: Man, I like so much stuff. I remember the Juvie, 500 Degreez, all that stuff. And I like Mannie Fresh. Mannie Fresh actually put out one album but it was like 32 songs or something like that, and a lot of people don’t know that. It was called The Mind of Mannie Fresh. I liked that.

Top$ide: Dog, what? I heard you say that before. What do you like on that album besides when Wayne was coming in on that bitch? [I know] “Real Big” on there.

Valee: When you’re young, you’re not knowing if you listen to music for the lyrics or for the beats or for both. So I was really fascinated with the fact that he was making these beats. Back then, Mannie Fresh was probably like the Metro Boomin or something like that. Every beat gonna be rockin’. Man I played so much stuff, but I played whatever sounded good. Whoever made beats the best I would play that. But for a nice little run, it was Cash Money.

What were your favorite No Limit records? 

Valee: My favorite No Limit records were the ones with the tanks in the videos. I definitely played more Cash Money because Cash Money was the only people showcasing cars. No Limit ‘nem wasn’t showing you no cars. 

No Limit had all the girls.

Valee: Yea, they had the girls but they weren’t really showing you no different color cars and really showing you that when you grow up, you can customize shit. They wasn’t showing you like that. No Limit was showing you all black vehicles, limos.

Top$ide: My favorite No Limit album was Da Last Don by Master P. That was the one where he was, like, about to say he was retiring but he really wasn’t retiring. Favorite Cash Money album, it’s out of 400 Degreez and BG – Chopper City [in the Ghetto].

Valee: 400 Degreez was hard. 

Top$ide: Too hard. Valee, did you know Mannie Fresh wasn’t really making all the beats by himself though?

Valee: Nah, I didn’t know that. But I know he had a lot to do with a lot of them.

Top$ide: Yeah, he was making them but he had, like, keyboard players, all types of people. Like Quincy Jones kinda. He was a composer.

Valee: I liked his percussion. You know, the hi hats and snares. Whatever he was doing on the computer. He was going crazy though. They had they run. He was the first Southside.

Top$ide: You know Jazze Pha was over there for a minute?

Valee: Yeah, I think so because he was on a couple joints. Anybody that was on a couple joints over there had to be signed in some kind of way or with them. Didn’t they have Teena Marie?

Top$ide: Yup, for a minute. But that was like newer Cash Money though. But she has a few songs with them though, if you go look. Because I be looking for all type of shit to sample and she got some cold ass songs with them.

Valee, for a short period, before you really got into the music, you were finding your sound for a bit on songs like “Bad Bitch,” “Fuck yo Lean,” and “Vtl.” What was that like finding that identity during that era?

Valee: It was decent. I would do what I call the voice bending. There’s a couple tracks I got where I would do the voice bending, slightly, barely singing, and then that raspy voice, slowed down rapping. But the crazy thing is that it had a lot to do with the place I stayed at. I stayed in a really nice loft. I was like the youngest person in the building. And they would complain. One day I’m recording in my headphones—it’s a Friday—and then Monday I get an email saying, “Friday, around this time, we received complaints of yelling and loud arguments from your unit.” But I was in my headphones. And around that time I was rapping quietly so I’m like, “Oh, it’s real sensitive around here.” So a lot of that rapping I’ve always recorded quietly probably because of my neighbors. And then that’s how a lot of records end up coming out where it’s like, I’m not really whispering, but just talking on the mic like everybody right next to me. That comes from people tattle-taling. 

 You would think it’d be less intentional.

Valee: Yeah. So every time I had to record, I’m making sure that I’m not loud, or really realizing that to record, I don’t have to be that loud. And then again, my levels are probably different than what they should be for people to record. Because when I record myself, I cut every beat down like negative seven or eight and then I cut the mic up. So as I’m listening to it or recording, the beat is always lower than me so I really don’t have to be that loud. And then I end up bouncing out all this work when my voice is quiet.

How does your knowledge about recording yourself fold into your relationships with producers when you work with them on these collaborations?

Valee: I don’t work with many different producers, but I make sure I do the best job I can on whatever beats they give me. I really look at everything different. I actually feel like if I don’t do a good job, the beats stop coming to me or something like that. So it makes me dig in my hat a little bit and figure out how to do the best job with someone on they production. And then I stay loyal to the producers, too. That’s another reason I’m not all over the place working with a whole lot of producers. I don’t go reaching my hand out trying to work with any and everybody. But if people reach out to me, you know, I feel like I’m supposed to do my best job on whatever I get from them.

Top$ide, you somewhat recently started making beats, and you’ve become one of the most sought-out producers in Detroit. What initially made you wanna start producing?

Top$ide: I always had a passion for music. I always liked music. Around 2019, I was working in the [plant] and I really wasn’t feeling the job. I really didn’t really want to work there no more. I was listening to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks trying to figure out something different to do instead of [working at] the plant for the rest of my life. I knew Veeze from around the neighborhood and he was starting to rap. So I’m like, maybe this would be a good opportunity to start kind of making beats. So we kind of came up at the same time. He was around a lot of other rappers so my beats started spreading around and that’s pretty much how I’m here.

I feel like your beats are pretty outside of the Detroit sound. Did that initially attract people, like Veeze’s peers, or were people not fucking with it at first?

Top$ide: Soon as I started, it sort of took off. I think I made the “Itself” beat real fast. That was my first placement with Veeze. After that took off, everybody wanted beats.

Growing up, were your parents into music at all? 

Top$ide: My whole family. And I did a lot of traveling. So when I was younger, my dad stayed in Atlanta and my mom stayed in Louisiana. So I was back and forth there. And then I got to the fifth grade and my dad moved to Detroit. So then I was flying from Detroit to Louisiana back and forth. So I’m getting all the game from everywhere. Listening to all types of different music. Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, everything. I got family everywhere. So before the internet I was on all types of genres of music. I mean it was all rap and R&B, but different coasts.

Valee, Tell me about linking up with Kanye in 2017. What was that like and how did it come about?

Valee: I know other people was around Ye before I met him. I know Young Chop probably played my music for him somewhere. And when we linked up, I mean, it was good. It was decent. I definitely appreciate it.

Was there anything that you took away from working with Kanye? Anything that you learned that you still use today while making music?

Valee: I know one day we linked up and it was all of us in this room. I think A$AP Rocky was there. I know it was a few people there. But he had Pro Tools, it was open, and then the mic was on a wire. So if there’s something that they’re recording, they’ll just loop to beat like three or four times and then just pass the mic around. You just get ideas out and it’s all recording, and then later on they’ll go through it. So I do like that. I like that method of recording. That’s the big one.

Top$ide: You still making beats?

Valee: Yeah, I had, but I quit making beats. Not quit, but I fell back from making beats. You know what happened, Top? I got so into making beats, I could not make a song. I think it had went on for like seven months, I couldn’t make a song to save my life. I couldn’t rap. So I’m like, damn, maybe I’m getting too into making beats. I quit making beats. Two weeks later, I made a song that was nice. I’m like, Damn why couldn’t I…like, you know, it’s weird to describe it but I couldn’t rap for shit. I couldn’t do nothing. That was like two and a half years ago. Maybe two years ago.

Top$ide: How long you take to make a beat?

Valee: You can make some in like four minutes, seven minutes or seventeen minutes, you know? 

Top$ide: Did you make the “Loading” beat? 

Valee: Yeah. And I made that accidentally in like nine minutes. 

Top$ide: That beat crazy.

Valee: Man, I kept playing with that loop, and at the last minute I hit something and the loop did something. I’m like, damn, that’s it, save. But at first, that beat wasn’t about to be it.

Top$ide: That beat…whoever heard that song will never forget that song. That beat is you going crazy.

Valee: I be chasing those days though. Like when I used to be able to make a beat and rap [on] it. Like “Shell”.

Top$ide: That’s the art. You gotta keep chasing that shit.

Valee: I be like, man, what did I eat that day? I’m tryna repeat that day.

How is your relationship with Kanye today?

Valee: Oh, it’s good. Ye reaches out. Sometimes he’ll want to get something done or say he’ll wanna make something timeless or make some magic. So a lot of times, he’ll make a lot of calls or put a lot of great people together in a room and try to get something nice made. Or rent out a few studios to try to get something nice made. So the relationship is still nice. Whenever he reaches out or is in town, I make sure to support and show up.

What’s the backstory behind your track with Z Money, “Two 16’s?”

Valee: “Two 16’s” was crazy. We made that song and shot the video all in the same night. We made the song in the studio, and that’s the first and the only song that got recorded in the studio. When I came out the booth, they played the song and everybody’s phone camera light was on, even the engineer. Like everybody, it was no phone wasted. And I’m like, Okay, this song is nice. Also, I think I started writing that a couple of days before, but it wasn’t for that song. It wasn’t supposed to be chopped up like that. I think I was writing to something else. I think it was another beat in that same folder that “Two 16’s” was on. It could have been for that beat but when I was writing it, it wasn’t supposed to sound like that. So when I went in the booth, I actually wasn’t thinking that anything I had was going to work. So I started reading it off where I was saying two sentences, chopped up, and I actually ain’t have nothing else to say, so I had to hurry up and write it out and freestyle it out. I had to figure it out.

I feel like when that came out, it just went viral.

Valee: Yeah. Because I was talking to labels and stuff like that and I pretty much sat down to see what everybody had to say. I still got everybody number in my phone or contact from when they reached out. But I know I had sat down with like 300 [Entertainment] and all these different people. And then I think like a week or two later that song came out and then everybody reached out again. That’s all I really remember. And it was over a verse.

Deep cut: Our interview with Z Money from three years ago.

Your collaboration “Make Em Say Ugh” was originally released almost four years ago. How did you guys initially link up and how did the pandemic affect both of you?

Top$ide: The pandemic really turned me up because I was super focused because we couldn’t really do nothing else. The way that song came about, I really wanted to start working with him as soon as I started making beats, but I never felt like my beats was good enough. But when I got a little confidence, I sent him some beats and we made “Make Em Say Ugh.” That was the first song we made, too.

Valee: See, it’s not a lot of people’s production that you can listen to and you can be like, damn, I got a reference. Or you don’t even know it’s a reference at the time but you hear an old pocket or you hear a familiar pocket and I’m like, damn, I gotta do that. And that shit don’t come up on nothing else. You feel me? Your beats—and I think some of CHASETHEMONEY’s beats and a couple of my brother’s beats—is like, man, y’all production help me hear pockets. “Make Em Say Ugh,” that Gucci song, what was that sample? And then I was trying to work three other references on your beats. I’m sitting up here writing shit, they like old pockets. It’s another Three 6 [Mafia] song that I still ain’t get a chance to do. I’m sitting up here, I’m hearing old hooks that could be remade because the beats so raw. They got this different kind of soul to them. And they don’t have a lot of shit going on in the beat though. Some people stuff be too loud.

What is it about each other’s styles that brought you guys together?

Top$ide: Like I said, he inspires you. Watching his interviews and hearing his music, it was just different. I knew that I was gonna have to come different in order to stand out. I didn’t like the beats that was coming out because they all sounded the same. So I wanted to bring something different to the game myself. By him being different, and I’m being different, but it’s not even like we trying.

Valee: When I got your beats, I felt like I had to do a good job. It’s no half steppin’ or nothing. You actually made me get new equipment. And I never had new equipment the whole time I been doing music. I got the damn Apollo because…remember I had hit you up like, alright, so we gonna do it again, I gotta get crazier. I gotta figure something out. I got some shit to say. And that’s why I always feel like no matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough.

Top$ide: You definitely came and it was definitely fire, fasho. I was making beats and I always felt like, nah, this ain’t as hard as I can go. So I see what you saying.

Valee: I understand you on that too. But the beats is crazy and it make me unsatisfied quickly after I’m done making something. It makes me unsatisfied. Where I be happy about it and like, damn, that’s raw, I really liked that. But two hours later, I’m like, alright, when you send me something else, I’ma have something to say. It’s crazy. It kind of just keeps me going.

Top$ide: After “Make Em Say Ugh” came out, everybody was like…when people say, “This is the collab we ain’t know we needed” or people are saying, “You need to work with Valee” and it happens, that’s how you know shit is for real. 

It took me a minute to even realize half the references on CAR TOONS. I’m staring at the cover like, oh, you’ve got cartoon characters on the cover. You got songs that make car references and you got bass loud enough to take out your car speakers at the same time. Was all that intentional?

Top$ide: It’s not even no back story, that’s just how it came out. I think Valee came up with the title. Did you come up with the title? I don’t know. I don’t even remember. I know it wasn’t nothing that was super planned out.

Valee: I think you came up with the title and sent me the art. But I think I kept sending him songs and all my ass was talking about is car this, car that, my car tunes. Then boom, CAR TOONS. I sent him back straight fire emojis. I’m like, “Shit, God damn, I’m ready.”

That couldn’t work out any better. Top, were you watching mad cartoons at the time or what? How did you come up with the title?

Top$ide: You know what’s crazy, my kids just really put me on to Big City Greens and cartoons. Now I be thinking all the cartoons kind of weak, that ain’t like back in the day. But that’s really a good cartoon, fasho. I was watching cartoons around that time. That’s pretty funny too. My favorite song on CAR TOONS is “Hol’ On.” “Banana” is crazy too but “Hol’ On,” it’s just that pocket like you said. It’s hard to get into them pockets too.

Valee: That song probably got the perfect pocket for the beat out of all the songs, like you said. Probably make it just perfect.

Top$ide: It’s just like “Make Em Say Ugh.” It’s kind of like that pocket. That’s probably why that’s my favorite. It’s definitely the hardest pocket.

Valee: Yeah, it’s like a cousin to that. Imma work on that pocket some more and see what’s going on.

Top, on CAR TOONS, you dabble in a variety of sounds. Can you tell me a bit about the creative process and expanding that range of the beats for this tape?

Top$ide: All the plugins I know, all the goats, finding new ones and finding crazy sounds in them. That be the thought, finding all the sounds that you like growing up. All the old keyboards.

I want to know more about having a host for your tape. What’s the importance of doing so, especially in 2024? 

Top$ide: It gives you that feeling back and them drops be hard. And it just gives you another way of putting out music. I feel like having a host on there is nostalgic and a different way than the traditional way. So why not?

Valee: It could trick your mind into thinking your ass is at a show. It’s all hyped up. No matter how raw the song is, when it comes on it’s like alright, stop what you doing and pay attention. All that.

When did you guys link up with Trap-A-Holics? You just sent the tape out to them or…

Top$ide: I just reached out from being a fan and him hosting some of my favorite tapes back in the day. DJs, they fasho important.

Valee: It’s almost like they certify your shit real quick. They sound good. You could listen to a song dry as hell, but the song sound great though. Or you could listen to it, you got your best shit on and you out somewhere and somebody talking shit over it and it’s the best time for you to listen to the song. Every time.

Valee, I feel like you upped the word play on CAR TOONS. How do you consistently challenge yourself as an MC? What keeps you on your toes?

Valee: I really don’t know. Probably just living my normal life as normal as I can. Outside of music, I mess with my cars every day or I be having to build shit, you know? So I really just work on stuff every day. But then when it comes to recording, I just lock myself out, zone myself out. I just be in recording mode. But I don’t listen to a whole lot of music. I don’t listen to a whole lot of music at all. So that probably helped too. So when it’s time for me to record, I don’t have a whole bunch of other stuff I heard in my head. Or like, shit, when I did start out doing music, I used to damn near drive to Atlanta, no music, tweaking. I don’t know how but it’s possible because I do it sometimes. I’ll drive with no music. Especially back then because I’ll be going to Atlanta to go straight to the studio and damn near be up for two days until I’m coming back to Chicago. But it’s only to go work, I don’t want to do nothing else. I’m going straight to the studio. So I’ll ride all the way there or halfway there not listening to nothing.

Top$ide: You heard the snippet of that ICYTWAT and Valee?

Valee: Yeah. I want to do a tape now. That’s probably what’ll end up happening when we go out there. We gonna have to go to the studio and shit get made fast.

I love that you dive into the plugg world for “Speshu Effect” and “Dodgers.” Tell me a bit more about crafting that track with 10kDunkin.

Top$ide: Listening to ICYTWAT, that’s what’s crazy. He’s another person that inspired me to make beats. When I first heard that Playboi Carti song he did, I thought the melody was crazy. I didn’t know about chords back then, so it gave me the feeling of when the Neptunes used to use chords, but I never knew those chords which was making me feel like that. But ICYTWAT’s sound is what made me want to do plugg shit. That plugg shit will never die, I feel like.

10kDunkin is another person that’s doing shit differently. He’s rapping on R&B beats, like, how is he finding these beats? Like dude’s crazy, I’m just a fan of him. That’s hard. No one from Atlanta is doing that. He’s getting custom new beats, they’re not even samples.

10kDunkin and Tony Shhnow are doing a lot of things differently right now.

Top$ide: Tony Shhnow is hard, fasho. He’s another person keeping the culture alive by doing like mixtapes, plugg beats, the DJs… even on his new shit, he got Rube on there like on an old Outkast album. He’s another person that’s keeping the feeling alive of the shit you liked when you were younger.

Valee: Talking on the beat that got nothing to do with the artist or the beat, is like keeping every part of the beat alive while you listen to it. Or when they let the beat play and they’re talking shit, that shit? Yeah, people miss that.

Top$ide: 10kDunkin and Valee… when everybody seen that shit, they were like, oh my god. Everybody was happy about that shit. It’s just something that’s left that you know is going to be hard. 10k and Valee on a plugg type beat, they all go together and it makes sense.

Valee, what can we expect out of your upcoming tape with Evilgiane?

Valee: I don’t know, I was picking beats for a minute for that joint. But we got a nice amount done now. Like I said, I be trying to figure out the best way to approach each beat. It’s not just about rapping, I got to actually do the best job that I can. It may take me a minute or something, but I’m happy—we got some nice ones done. And also being an artist, you can’t say stuff you said before. I guess I’m trying to say more metaphors, so as you keep making more music, I’m making sure I have new stuff to say, new ways to make hooks and stuff like that. The beats are nice though, they’re nice tempo beats. Not too slow.

Anything else your fans can look forward to this year? 

Top$ide: You got to drop an R&B album.

Valee: I got to do an R&B joint? I’m going to need your help then. I’m open for it.

The No Bells exclusive, a Valee and Top$ide R&B tape.

Valee: We got a radio station here, V103, they play all the smooth shit, all the hits and dusties. So for a few years, I know I was saying I was going to put out some shit called V103. That bitch going to be playing on the hits and dusties station.

Top$ide: Our shit is 92.3. They be playing all the smooth shit. Hey, does Keith Sweat be on your shit around 7 or 8?

Valee: Yeah they get to playing the same old R&B everyday on a schedule.

Top$ide: On our shit, they play the same smooth shit but Keith Sweat be on like at or 7 or 8.

Valee: They’re trying to start something at 7 or 8.

 Top$ide: I was going to make some smooth shit, so yeah we can work on that in the future.