One should never turn down an invitation to NYC’s Electric Lady Studios, the legendary music recording facility built by Jimi Hendrix—where in the last few years David Bowie’s Blackstar and Frank Ocean’s Blonde were mixed, adding to a long list of iconic works to pass through its doors. Our opportunity came by way of D’USSÉ cognac—who invited a group of journalists and bartenders, as well as Grammy award-winning producer 9th Wonder and the brand’s National Portfolio Ambassador Chris Hopkins for a remixing session. Within, 9th Wonder guided everyone on the elements of a track, sampling and putting it all together. Hopkins took 9th’s insight and applied it to cocktail making.
9th Wonder, aka Patrick Denard Douthit, might not be a household name but you’ve certainly listened to his music. The producer has developed tracks for Jay Z, Erykah Badu, Destiny’s Child, Drake, Mary J. Blige (with whom he won a Grammy for work on her album The Breakthrough) and more. In addition, he’s an Adjunct Professor at Duke University and a college lecturer around the US. 9th Wonder worked on Jay-Z’s now iconic Black Album, and selected the track “Encore” from it for our remixing experience. For our session, he made clear that simplicity and inspiration are key.
“This is called Maschine,” he explained, walking us through the controller we would work with. 9th Wonder then took out the Kanye West-produced “Encore” beat and isolated the vocal track. After selecting drums and a bass line, he begins “the only thing that is basically missing, for the most part…is the samples from older stuff. It can also be something brand new or something from another country,” he qualifies. 9th Wonder sifted through his music and selected “On My Mind from” by Astrud Gilberto, sliding the track from his laptop into Maschine. The Gilberto music was loungey and slow—but his drum beat option was fast.
“Usually every beat you have in life goes 1, 2, 3, 4. I don’t care who’s rapping on it or who’s singing. It is 1, 2, 3, 4, whether it’s fast or slow.” The trick, he notes, is to listen, play the beat and instrumental parts and count. Anyone can do this. 9th Wonder then guided the beat with the music track—uniting them both. As for vocals, the process is much the same: listen, coincide timing, record. Of course this is an abbreviated version of a highly nuanced process, but by bringing it down to the basics, it’s approachable by just about everyone. A substantial amount of work is dedicated toward finding the perfect sample. “In my computer I have a ton of original samples,” he adds. These are songs that were already used to make new music or will be. Frequently, he looks back to one specific decade and this was the most important piece of advice we took away: “The thing about the ’70s is that there was endless amounts of music. Everything now, there is a lot of music, but not a lot of quality.” 9th Wonder spends a lot of time in the studio listening to music from the ’70s and seeking that spark that will become something new. Listening is fundamental.
For the cocktail section, another sense was tapped. To best understand what was being constructed, we have to start with the base spirit. The D’USSÉ cognac brand launched back in 2014. Cognac is clearly in a boom right now, with many prestigious houses reaching for a new audience successfully. D’USSÉ positions itself as a modern cognac. It doesn’t have hundreds of years behind it—though France’s Chateau de Cognac, where it is produced, does. Here, three different grape eau de vies are aged at two different levels—literally two different levels in a storage house—for a minimum of four and a half years. These diverse flavors are blended to deliver a smooth, full-body cognac with supple spice.
“Cocktails are a very personal thing,” Hopkins shares with us. “When we put menus out as part of our bar development programs we know that these reflect our values. A cocktail menu starts with a blank canvas. Menu composition requires that you take care of your base spirits, then we fill in the blanks.” Cognac has long factored into cocktails, and while Hopkins touched upon that, he also chose an interesting route: take classic cocktails that traditionally employ different base spirits and switch it out with D’USSÉ. It worked in both Mint Julep and Mojito form, but it was the Mai Tai that really struck our fancy. But in swapping rum for cognac, Orange Curacao became a replacement for orange juice. Each ingredient substitution triggered a domino effect in order to build the best cocktail possible while holding true to the original’s core identity.
2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac
0.5 oz Orange Curacao
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz Giffard Orgeat
Shake vigorously and strain into glass full of ice.
Images courtesy of Ben Lozovsky for The D’USSÉ Re-Mixer Series