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A Voltage to Music’s Power: Grammy-Award winning producer Torbitt Schwartz

By: Dr. Randy Whetstone, Jr.

Photos Provided by: Amy Touchette, Virginia Poundstone, and Torbitt Schwartz

Music has been described as a universal language, an invisible motion that is audible to the ear, comforting to the heart, and palpable to the soul bringing people from all walks of life together. Music isn’t just a profession, but it’s an art, a power, an emotional eruption of expression and creativity. This is how music is conveyed by Louisville-born Grammy-award winning producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist, Torbitt Schwartz, aka, “Little Shalimar”. I had the chance to chat with the Grammy-award winner who wrote two songs on Grammy-winner Killer Mike’s (winner of best Rap Album, Rap Song, and Rap Performance) album, “Michael”, as well as co-produced and co-written four of the “Run The Jewels” albums.

Share a little bit about your background, and how you got to where you are currently in your career?

“Sure. I’m Torbitt Schwartz, I was born in Louisville, Kentucky and moved to Brooklyn, New York when I was 10. I moved back to Louisville, Kentucky for the end of high school where I met Jaliel Bunton, who became my kind of “ace” down there… I’ve been a musician, producer, and I’ve spent a lot of time DJ’ing just to pay the bills, but that was never really where my heart was at. I was a touring musician for a bunch of years, and then I had a kid. I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. I’d always been the person in my band that produced the recordings, and I had done a fair amount of little production here and there, but I decided to really focus on production once I had a kid so that I’d be a little bit more in control of my schedule, and I’d be in town more often. That’s where I’m at.”

Was music always an interest of yours? At what age do you think your drive and spark began in the music industry?

“You know, I always loved music. I started becoming interested in it when we lived in an apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and my mom just said, ‘No, you can’t do that’. Then it was when I went back to Kentucky and when I met Jaleel and saw here’s this person that’s my age. I was like, ‘he’s actually doing it’. He can actually pick up the guitar and play and it sounds like music. So that was kind of a spark of like, ‘oh, maybe I can do this.”

Then I think for my 18th birthday, I got a guitar as a present and I went away to college. I went to the University of Vermont, where I was like, ‘oh this is not for me’. I hung out in my dorm room and practiced guitar. Then after that, after a few months, I started playing and people would be like, ‘Oh, wait, what?’ Blah, blah, blah, you know, but I would tell people, ‘Oh, yeah, I just started playing’. So, it came pretty natural and easy to me. So, in my late teens is when it really started happening. I started hearing music in my head all the time.”

You know, that’s fascinating because now we fast forward the clock some years later, and you’ve become a recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in the field (of music), a Grammy. Congratulations to you! Talk a little bit about that recognition and how it felt.

“Once we got nominated for it, I didn’t really think much about it. I mean, I was like, ‘okay, you know, I’m gonna go out there just for the business aspect of it’. So, I went out there to kind of just go to parties and do the professional thing. I ended up deciding not to go to the actual ceremony. I was watching it on live stream and as soon as we won, I was like, ‘damn, I played myself, I should have gone’.

“I mean, of course, that day for me, and our whole crew was particularly wild, though, because of events that followed the ceremony. That’s Mike getting arrested. You know that was a real emotional roller coaster. I went from drinking champagne with my brother… Celebratory, celebratory! I’m sending messages to Mike and his team, ‘congratulations, I love you so much’. So, it went from elation to then getting a text, ‘yo, Mike just got arrested’. I’m sitting there Googling it, you know, like, what’s going on? What’s going on? I didn’t find out until maybe 10 o’clock that it was all good. I met up with him afterwards.”

“Mike wanted to win this Grammy. Like, it mattered to him. So, to me, I’m like, even more than me winning a Grammy, I wanted Mike to win one, because I just know it was deeply important to him and he’s my brother.”

“In terms of the award itself and what that means, if I’m being honest it’s meaning to me (is) mostly a practical meaning. The number of superior musicians, producers, and songwriters that I know that have never gotten close to any kind of love from the Grammys is staggering. So, I’ve always known, it doesn’t really mean much outside of a professional (recognition).”

What it was like working with Killer Mike? Working with the crew and creating this masterpiece…. How was that experience?

“Um, that was an interesting one, you know. Mike called me in maybe December 2020. So, we’re like, deep in the pandemic, and I’m inside. Like, I’m fully inside because I got a kid. What my role would be wasn’t clear. You know, it could have been (anything) from my boy who comes and listens to some stuff and gives me their opinion to producing a record….“

“I went down there and waited to listen in Stankonia where I’d worked with Mike a few times before. Despite the fact that I had done stuff with Stankonia before, I hadn’t been down there with a whole room full of Atlanta producers. It was really eye opening and really beautiful to see how the community was really rallying behind Mike. Like everybody just wanted Mike to win. Everybody in Atlanta was like, ‘Yo, this dude Killer Mike, he’s a beast. He might be the best rapper here’. He wanted to make a record really specifically about his experience as a Black man in Atlanta. It was really interesting and inspiring to see just a team effort.”

What would you consider to be one fact about the music industry? A good fact and a bad fact? And why?

“I think this is a multi-tiered thing. I think that it’s inexpensive to make a record and I think compared to other art forms, you know, theater, unless you’re doing a one-person thing, you need a space to perform it. Film, forget it. TV, forget it. You can write a book, but you need someone to commit to sit down and read your book. You can get anybody to listen to your song if you can get in front of them. The kind of democratization of music by the internet and technology is fantastic. You know, with a $200 laptop and an idea, you can do it now. “

“I think a negative thing that I can say about the music industry is because anybody can do it, it’s very difficult to unionize. Someone else can just come along. So as a result, it’s very difficult for us to get a fair market share of the material that we create. The number of supremely talented musicians that I know who can’t make music because they can’t afford to make music because they don’t make enough money (to) make music is staggering. So, I think there’s got to be a way for us to hold the streaming companies accountable.”

What has been your biggest inspiration in the music industry and what’s the mark you want to leave behind in the field of music?

“My biggest inspiration still has to come down to Jimmy Hendrix. I was like, ‘oh, you can do that. A human being just did that, I want to do that. I want to make people feel the way that dude made people feel’. That’s the same legacy I want to leave. When I die, I want my son to be able to look and be like, ‘wow, my dad did some s***. My dad did some cool s***! He believed in the power of the soul and the ability of this abstract expression that is music to capture the volcanic power of the soul and translate that into something you can share. So, that’s what I want to do.”


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