On a quiet street in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley lives an artist who makes a living by making noise. Fueled by cannabis and unwavering ambition, Calvin Valentine is a producer, rapper, singer, and multi-instrumentalist from Eugene, Oregon, a lush, liberal town home to a cornucopia of pot grows.
After graduating from high school, Valentine spent the next three years touring with Medium Troy, playing drums and keys, and eventually felt the the pull of a larger city. So at the age of 21, he relocated to Portland, where he created music with his group TxE, and found himself after five years feeling content with the idea of staying in Portland forever. Scared by this complacency, he moved out of his comfort zone and headed south to the West Coast creative mecca that is Los Angeles, on a mission to grow as a musician and to seize bigger opportunities. He says Los Angeles’ good weed and weather were just a bonus.
From his home studio in the valley where he’s lived since his 2014 move, Valentine has produced an incredible body of work, including Ryan Beatty's breakout hit album Boy In Jeans, which catapulted the young artist into the spotlight; Illa J’s albums titled Home and John Yancey, which highlighted Illa’s individuality, amplified his unique talents, and reminded listeners that he’s more than J Dilla’s younger brother; and Valentine's own solo projects Plush Seats and Keep Summer Safe. He has also produced tracks for legends like Bun B, Juicy J, and De La Soul.
The well-seasoned artist could easily sit back and rest on his laurels, but the 31-year-old won't stop. Valentine continues to push forward, unveiling layers of his artistic abilities as he grows, and leaving a literal trail of smoke behind him. Driven by his passion for making beautiful noise, and by cannabis-sparked creativity, Valentine is gearing up for another solo project called Napkins, set to release on June 7th.
Civilized spoke with Valentine about what strains help with creativity and productivity, how to craft the perfect bong hit, and what it was like to successfully transform his passion into a booming business.
You’re from Oregon, one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. Your hometown of Eugene is known for having lots of grows and producing high quality cannabis, so tell me about your relationship with weed growing up.
My relationship with weed started at a young age, probably too young. I remember being aware of weed from a really young age but my first time seeing people I knew smoking pot was when I was in sixth grade. I went with some of the older kids to hang out and they brought out a penis pipe — a pipe that looked like a penis, and you packed the bowl where the balls were. At that time I thought weed was like heroin or something, and the penis pipe didn't help so I left and walked home. A few years later (still far too young to be smoking) I tried weed with my friend — the first [strain of] weed I smoked was Trinity. It brought my group of friends closer together as we would smoke and bond over music and movies. I was already a musician and weed was the perfect marriage to my creative process.
You shared a picture on your Instagram stories of you taking bong hits via Facetime with your dad. Tell me about that: What does your family think of your cannabis consumption? When did your parents find out you tried weed?
Starting to smoke at a young age meant that I made a lot of mistakes. My parents found out I smoked weed around the time I started smoking weed because my friends and I were not too bright and would smoke before and after school in the woods right behind our school. So eventually we started getting busted. My mom hated the fact I smoked weed for a very long time. She was mainly worried that it would lead to other drugs, or a lack of productivity and motivation. My mom thought I was depressed and at one point was wondering why I spent most of my time locked in my room making beats and not going to the prom or other school events. But I was so focused on music [that] nothing else mattered. She made me go to a therapist for one session and the therapist said, "You're not depressed, you're just a stoner." She's come around to it now that time has passed and she's seen the success of my career and my journey as a man. She's really the best. I don't know what I would do if my kid started smoking weed at 13. I probably would have had the same fears. My father kept his pot smoking hidden from me until I turned 18. I remember the first time we smoked together we went on a camping trip with some of my cousins and he gave me the talk: "You're a man now and you're going to see your father smoke weed." Now we facetime and smoke on occasion, but our relationship is much deeper than our shared love of the ganja.
There’s a track called “Bong Mayer” on your 2016 project titled Eugene. Are hits from the bong your favorite way of smoking? I know you like to put it in the freezer — how do you get the perfect bong hit? Walk me through it.
Bong hits are easily my favorite way of smoking. For me, it's the best high, the best way to taste the weed and a perfect way to make your stash last longer. It's funny because when I would smoke with most people using bongs, they would "plug it with a nugget" — just packing a fat bowl, hitting a bit of it, and passing it around. I always hated that [laughs], I just wanted to load my own perfect bong hit and smoke it to myself. When I first smoked a bong hit with my dad, he expressed that's how he smoked. I knew at that moment I was his son [laughs].
Any hoot, I'm known for smoking the bong out the freezer. My process is simple: You clean your bong, pour out all the water, wipe it down with a cloth or paper towel, and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes to an hour. After it's frosty you pour some cold water in it through the down stem and get to smoking. Bongs get a bad rap cause people don't keep them clean or don't change the water enough. So putting it in the freezer before you smoke also helps you make sure you're changing the water multiple times a day. Happy pipe, happy life.
Sounds amazing. So, a bit ago you tweeted, “Just wrote and recorded three songs in four hours. Weed is tight.” Does cannabis help with your productivity? What strains do you smoke for productivity? And do you like being sober for certain tasks?
That tweet was actually in reference to my new album Napkins, which comes out June 7 on Mello Music. I had this really great Gorilla Glue [strain of cannabis] last summer that put me in such a good zone that I made a 10-track album in three days. Weed definitely helps with my productivity — I'm the opposite stoner. I'll sit around all day being lazy and as soon as I smoke, I want to make music or do something productive with my time. I can make music when I'm not high, as well, and when I'm having to track out songs and render out beats, it's not as much fun to be stoned because that work is tedious and boring. Strains that I really enjoy making music on are Xplosion, Green Crack, OG Kush, Gorilla Glue, Trinity, and Platinum Girl Scout Cookies.
Speaking of making music, you produced the entirety of Ryan Beatty’s first studio album, Boy In Jeans. You saw Ryan’s potential and produced a project that really showcased his talent and led to him getting signed, touring, and blowing up in general. What role did cannabis play in the creation of Boy In Jeans?
Creating that album with Ryan was a really special experience, and I'm really grateful that he and I were able to connect and make something that resonated with so many people. Weed played a big roll in the creation of the album for me, but not for Ryan — he didn't smoke at all while we made the album. Our days would start with him coming to my home studio [where] I would be playing some vinyl, and we would talk about what was going on in his life and just get to know each other better. After that, I would take the bong out the freezer, smoke a few bong rips, and we would get to work. A lot of the songs were made by me playing some chords on one of my synths or going through guitar loops my buddies had sent me. We would find a nice progression, loop it up, and he would start writing and I would start building the beat. Once we got the foundation together, he would record the song over usually just bare bones type of beats, melody, drums, maybe bass. After he finished the writing and recording, he would leave. I would take a break, come back, get super stony, and go in on the production side of things, adding more synths, live drums, bass, and switch ups wherever I felt the instrumental needed to go to best suit his vocals. As with all the albums I fully produce, I recorded a bong hit on one of the songs on Boy In Jeans... a little easter egg for my stoners to find.
Wait, so every album you’ve fully produced has a bong hit hidden within it?
[Laughs], yup, every album I’ve fully produced has a bong hit or multiple bong hits on it. Some you can hear clearly, others are tucked into synths or percussion, all recorded from the same bong that I’ve had since I was 16.
Wow, that’s amazing. Do you enjoy developing talent, helping them find their voice and their sound?
I love producing full projects for artists. I really enjoy the process of getting into that person's world and helping them realize their vision and seeing it through musically. I've been doing that my whole career and hope to continue that and make that part of my journey into the mainstream world. Recently I've been doing a lot more one-off sessions, meeting an artist for the first time, making a track, and the next day doing the same thing with a different artist. This has been fun as well to meet all these different people, hear their stories, and see their process. But producing a whole album, helping put together the sequencing, song titles, and all that is still my favorite thing to do.
You tweeted about the creation of the making of Illa J’s John Yancey project: “We didn’t smoke any weed while making John Yancey...I was just getting over a flu/cold and Illa was taking a break getting his voice ready for tour...but I was eating ganja food and taking tincture so I was stoney joney.” How did that change the vibe of the project? Is there an audible difference?
For me, it didn't change the process of the album because I was stoned out of my mind that whole time [laughs], probably more so than if I were just smoking bong hits. That ganja food and tincture had me on another wavelength, which I fully enjoyed. We took our time with that album, even though we made it in six days. We only allowed ourselves to work on two songs a day, which gave us time to write the best hooks we could and really make sure each song got the proper attention. John has an incredible range with his singing, and I've never really noticed a difference of when he's smoking and recording as far as the quality of his vocals [goes]. He could probably speak on that.
Let’s talk business. You run everything yourself and you’ve made a lot of huge things happen. Where did you learn your business skills? Do you have a manager or foresee yourself getting one in the future? How have you navigated contracts, deals, royalties, etc?
I've learned to navigate through this industry off trial and error, listening to those who've come before me, and staying educated and up to date on what's going on in music industry. Growing up in Eugene, there were no mentors or "OGs" or really anyone who could show me the ropes on how to pursue this as a career. My friend Nick and I were pressing up our own CDs in eighth grade and selling them at school, doing shows at house parties, eighth-grade graduation, wherever we could be seen. That same hustle is still in me and when I lived in Portland, I didn't meet any "manager" that I thought had the same hustle as me or cared about my success as much as I did — nor did I find anyone who believed in me enough to take time out of what they were doing to push my career forward. I think the thing that has kept me going is that I'm not afraid to ask for what I want or to put myself out there to reach out to an artist. If I would have never gone up to Ryan and asked if he wanted to work, we wouldn't have made that album. I could have easily seen him perform that cover and say, "that guy was awesome," and just have gone home. It's just part of my nature to keep pushing forward and to keep reaching for my goals. As far as contracts and all that, I've always made sure to have an entertainment lawyer look over all the deals. I now have a manager, and just signed an admin deal with Kobalt, so they handle collecting my royalties and publishing. It feels good to have a team behind me, but it still all comes down to how much work I put in. I still have to create opportunities for myself and keep making moves.
What are you working on now? What’s influencing it? What does it sound like?
I've been working on a bunch of different stuff, making samples for other producers to flip, doing sessions with artists, working on a few albums for people. It's all on the hush hush at this moment, but I've already made 60+ songs this year with various artists, so best believe I'm working and new music is on the way. I've got a solo album coming out on Mello Music called "Napkins" [and] it's my favorite solo album I've done. I feel that the sound, lyrics and vibe represent who I am. This album feels like I'm just having a conversation with my best friends, smoking weed, and listening to old vinyl. My sound is ever-changing and evolving, but it's always going to be rooted in expressing my soul, heart, and mind through soundscapes. Not focusing on making the next hit, but focusing on making timeless music.
All photos courtesy of Emily Berkey