By Murissa Barrington
It’s been a few years since local producer Hagler first stepped onto the music scene in Toronto but his impact on it has already been solidified in history.
Marvin Thomas, better known as Hagler, started out in the East End of the city with just a desktop computer and a desire to make beats worthy of rapping to. Over time he’s built his sound from the ground up, pulling inspiration from real life experiences to lay the groundwork for his best beats.
By 2013, he landed his first major production credit when he co-produced the song “Furthest Thing” alongside Noah “40” Shebib for Drake’s Nothing Was The Same album. Since then, he’s gone on to work with everyone including Tory Lanez and Vince Staples, to A$AP Ferg, Young M.A. and more.
With production credits for unforgettable tracks like Drake’s “Trophies” and “Teenage Fever” under his belt, along with some multi-platinum certifications, it’s clear that Hagler is well on his way to forming a page-turning career.
We caught up with the rising beat-maker to learn more about how he first got started.
MNFSTO: How did you first get your started producing or when did you first show an interest in making music?
Hagler: “Well, I would have to take you all the way back to my early teens and it stems from me actually aspiring to be an artist. Just rapping with the homies and all that on some block stuff. And at the time, we couldn’t find any beats that we could obviously use or stuff that we liked so it just kind of stemmed from that situation. I had no idea what I was doing.
Then in high school, there was a music course that had a computer lab with Reason on it, which is a DAW station (digital audio workstation) where you can produce music and stuff like that and record in it. So that kind of elevated everything too.”
MNFSTO: You were also a part of The Remix Project. What were some of the most important things that you learned from the program?
H: “Networking and learning to separate business and personal feelings because you’re dealing with so many different personalities. So I think that’s something I really took away from there and to know…that nothing is given to you. You’ve got to put that work in. There’s always someone as talented or more talented, or has that much more drive than you and may not even be that talented. But if you’re there and you slip up or not there, you can lose that [opportunity] just that fast. Then you’re playing catch-up after that.”
MNFSTO: When you were starting to get more serious about producing, what were some of the producers that you looked up to?
H: “Definitely Quincy Jones, Timbaland, Pharell, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze and Swizz Beatz to name a few.”
MNFSTO: One of the first major records that you produced was “Furthest Thing” on Nothing Was The Same. How did that record originally come to life?
H: “It was a crazy one. I was in the studio. I think I was just like mixing something or just working on stuff at Remix at the time and then 40 called me and was like,
“Yo, you did it. Congratulations I’m so happy,” and I’m like, “what are you talking about?” And he was like, “Yo, you did it. You’re on the album!” And I was like, “Cha man… sure, yeah right.” Then he said, “No seriously. It’s happening. It might be a single,” and I was like, “It’s about f**king time.”
“Because I had been working for so long and what people don’t know is that I got brought in on the tail end of Take Care to work on one of the records. I think it was “Hate Sleeping Alone” or something. But what I did to it, it changed the whole vibe and then they were like, “it’s too last minute and Drake would probably have to rewrite this record.” So I knew how it felt to know I was right there and I missed. But then to finally get something it was like okay, we’re here now.”
MNFSTO: Do you feel like having that feeling of almost tasting it just gave you the extra energy that you needed to push yourself for the second album?
H: “1000 percent. Cause I’ve seen everything happen. Like the evolution of seeing how [Drake] was working on his project. Even before [him] getting the Lil Wayne situation at Cash Money and Young Money. I [saw] everyone taking off and what was happening. Then 40 taking off and then other people like, Boi 1da etcetera and it just kept going and going and going. And it’s like everyone is right there so obviously [it was] motivational and inspirational. That definitely fueled me.”
MNFSTO: In your Genius interview you were talking about the “Teenage Fever” beat and how your nephew had gotten into a fatal car accident and that you were drawing from some of that energy when you were making that particular record. How often would you say that you draw inspiration from real-life events when you’re making music?
H: “I’d say all the time. If I’m not feeling it, I’m probably not going to even try to dabble in anything. I might try to do something if I’m not feeling it. But it’s probably not going to happen.
I’d say that’s how I actually produce. I draw from my life experiences, and my emotions, whatever I’m going through…I try to just channel it and harness it and see where it goes, because I don’t plan to make a “Teenage Fever” today or that day. It just happens. And what people don’t know is that “Teenage Fever” had gone through so many different versions before I was like, “Okay yeah, this is it.” It’s just unfortunate- it’s bittersweet because it took something tragic like that to draw from and to pull that out of me, you know?”
MNFSTO: Sometimes the most painful of events will bring out the most beautiful art because it’s coming from such a raw place.
H: “It’s crazy because one of my family members was like, “You immortalized your nephew.” And I was like yo, I didn’t even think about it like that. I was just creating. Just going through it.”
MNFSTO: Being from Toronto or being from the East side of the city, do you feel like any of that background influences the way that you make your music or the way that it sounds?
H: “Oh yeah for sure. I would say that’s basically my drums. Everyone always tells me, “Your drums are crazy,” and I come from a rough area so I feel like I still have that instilled in me and that background is what I put into my production. It’s something that I still tap into.”
It kind of gives an edge to it.
“Mad edge. It doesn’t get no realer than that. Trust me.”
MNFSTO: At this point now you likely have upcoming local producers that are now looking up to you. What advice would you have for those who are just starting out?
H: “Honestly, it’s super humbling anytime I hear that cause I don’t know… I don’t even think about stuff like that…I just try being as regular as possible. So when it comes to props I’m just like, “okay.” But honestly all I can tell anybody aspiring to get into this field or be a producer, is just be yourself and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do this or whatever. It might be cliche but its the truth. Whether it’s your parents… [for example] funny story: My mom would still tell me to go get a trade after I got placement on Drake’s [album]. You’ve got to take control of your life at the end of the day.
So just be unique and try to push things sonically and you never know. Don’t follow the trends, try to set the trend and that’s what I could really leave with them.”
MNFSTO: Lastly, what’s next for you? What are your plans going forward?
H: “Just more work, man. Just work, work, work. I honestly I don’t plan nothing. I’m just walking with God right now to be honest. Like, everything is lining up. He knows my story and what it is and what I’ve been through and what I continue to go through. And I just stay positive and all I can honestly say is just work to be honest. There’s obviously stuff coming down the pike and stuff but I know I’d love to do more and get better. I don’t even think I scratched the surface yet.”
You can learn more about the producer here.