Cardo Talks Working With Playboi Carti, Being Underrated and Ending Gatekeeping: ‘I Gotta Set the World on Fire’

How can somebody be successful and underrated at the same time? That’s the space Cardo finds himself in. The Texas producer — by way of St. Paul, Minnesota — has diamond- (Drake’s “God’s Plan”) and platinum-certified (Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps”) records from the RIAA, and has produced countless songs with underground darlings and blog era legends, yet he still feels left out of the conversation when it comes to rap’s best producers.

“I’ve been left off these top five, top 10 lists, whatever, people fail to mention me,” he tells Billboard over Zoom, sounding equal parts perturbed and confused. He’s looking to change that narrative, though. Just four months into the new year, Cardo has had a stellar 2024 already, producing a handful of bangers for Playboi Carti and contributing to ScHoolboy Q’s impressive Blue Lips.

Cardo Got Wings isn’t planning on slowing down either. The producer born Ronald Nathan LaTour Jr. —whose childhood friends dubbed him Ricardo because he looks Puerto Rican — is working on a solo album. He’s using Dr. Dre’s solo debut as inspiration, saying, “The Chronic was a staple of how a producer can take charge of an entire project.”

There’s also a few “I’m the rapper, he’s the producer”-type of projects coming from him as well, a format that has become synonymous with his brand. We talk about all those things, plus much more below, in a condensed version of our conversation.

You look Puerto Rican for real, bro. 

I get that every f—in’ day, that’s how I got my name Ricardo. That’s how it happened. They used to call me and my brothers the Hoy Boys because we had curly hair and were lightskin. I kinda ran with the name and let my Latin fans down, though, because they thought I was Puerto Rican or Dominican. 

You and Carti have been locked in. You’ve produced the last couple singles. 

Yeah, the last four: “HOODBYAIR,” “EVILJORDAN,” “BACKR00MS,” and “KETAMINE.” That’s my little brother, man. Just being around him, the young one, you know, and gaining some kind of different kind of energy and inspiration from what he’s doing, seeing what levels he’s going on, it kind of gives me an idea of what levels I should just keep going. That’s how we’re creating all these fun records, breaking all these barriers that people made up. 

Why aren’t the songs on streaming? 

I guess testing the waters with social media [first].  

Some of the videos are wild. 

[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. But, man, it gives it contrast, it gives it a raw element, back into the artistry. Especially with all these videos being run-and-gun, and they don’t have nothing to it, just the song, you know? The video sometimes makes you love the song even. I feel like that’s what Carti is bringin’. That, plus making sure the visuals are definitely wicked and pushing the envelope because some of these rules are just made up. This is meant for you to do whatever the f—k you want to do and make the s—t that you want to make. And that’s where we at now, you know, so I respect him 100% for just being creative and being a true artist to himself first. 

When you made these beats for him, was it over email? Were you in the studio with him? 

No, it was really over FaceTime. Me and Carti been working on this project in particular over the last four years. Either I link up with him wherever he’s at, probably New York, or I’ll just send it straight to his phone — or send it to Fritz [Owens, Carti’s engineer] because Fritz [is] with him every day. Carti changes his number all the time too, so I won’t hear from him for a couple months, and then he’ll hit me and boom, –we get reignited, and I start sending files.  

You’ve watched Carti’s style evolve. Can you explain how that’s been since you’ve worked so closely with him?

I look at everything that he’s done, with guys like Pierre and everybody else. They all gave him a different sound, a different pocket. They all bring something different to the table. He doesn’t reach out to people because of this or that, he reaches out for a specific sound. Just by seeing his performances and listening to Whole Lotta Read, I’m like, “Man, this is what rap has been missing.” We’ve been missing this kind of energy. You know what I’m saying? Some may not agree with me because that’s not they type of music, but for a listener that listens to any genre of music, I feel like it was probably one of the most unique albums in rap.  

I’m not the biggest Whole Lotta Red fan, but I get the appeal and I see the influence, a lot of cats bitin’ that style. It’s a polarizing album; you either love it or hate it. 

[Laughs.] It’s like a punk, alternative [album]. That’s what I like about it most, it’s a grunge-ass rap album that makes you go wild; in the gym, driving, whatever. That album done gave me a few speeding tickets. I’m originally from the Midwest, I’m from the Twin Cities. We’re surrounded by everything. So, by listening to DJ Paul, Juicy J and DJ Zirk and everybody else down to Squeaky, everybody, seeing their production and trying to make something as triumphant as that…Lil Jon, too. I always have that sound in me some way, somehow, some inspiration. So that’s where it comes from too.

It’s not like I just did this. I’ve been a fan of these other producers I look at as my peers. That’s how this sound happens. And I could do some completely different s—t with Larry June, and come back around and do some s—t with Drake. You know? And then Travis Scott. I’m a marksman at this point. 

How do you prefer to work? Because you work with certain cats a lot, so I’m always curious, especially in this new era, if most of the work is done over email, FaceTime, in the studio, etc. 

I do prefer being hands-on in the session, just because you kind of get more of a vibe of what the artist is trying to do, versus via Zoom, Discord or whatever. The energy don’t even fill the room. That’s how you know that energy is a real thing. It’s always best to be in the same room, especially if you have personalities. It’s best to just get that and bring the best out of it and you make magic because now n—as are more open. You get to break the ice and work more comfortably with each other. It can be awkward when you finally link up [after] you’re just sending things over email or the phone. 

What are the benefits of locking in and making an entire project with a rapper? 

I blame Dr. Dre, I blame DJ Quik. I look up to the greats. Again, The Legendary Traxster, how he did Adrenaline Rush with Twista, how Quik did Street Gospel with Suga Free. The Chronic was a staple of how a producer can take charge of an entire project. They know how to build a story, they know how to build a concept, and they know what works with different rappers. Doing projects with other producers sometimes throws the balance off. That’s like going on a roller coaster ride and it goes off the rails. You’re forcing it talking about all killas, no fillers and it sounds like all fillers, no killas. 

Are you making an album with anybody else that we should know about? 

Doing this project with this kid named Nasaan out of Detroit. He’s probably one of the rawest kids coming up out of there right now. I’m also doing some s—t with Wizz Havin, Lil Shimmy, and have been trying to do this project with Luh Tyler this past year. There’s a lot of things — Nutso Thugn out of Atlanta. My objective is to provide new sounds, new artists. There’s too many gatekeepers. 

What don’t you like about gatekeepers? 

I think it’s lame for artists and producers to have to get approval. The craft should be respected. I hate to be the one that has to come in wrecking s—t, because we ain’t gonna tolerate that s—t no more. You know we ain’t gonna let that slide with a million other motherf—ers coming up that’s still trying to get to the top, that’s trying to provide for their families or just simply have finances. It’s gotta be people like myself that try to help these kids as they try to get somewhere with this music whether it be a producer or a composer or whatever. You gotta practice what you preach. 

I wanted to talk about your versatility. Do you feel like you’re underrated? 

I feel like I am. People are going to [mimics a crowd of hecklers], man, that’s cool. I feel [I am] on a different level. I do feel like I’m underrated. I’ve been left off these Top five, Top 10 lists, whatever, people fail to mention me. Knowing that I laid a lot of groundwork in this industry for over the last 14, going on 15 years, I deserve a little bit of credit for providing lanes in this s—t too because we came from a whole blogging era where we weren’t getting paid a f—in’ dime. We had to really fight to get paid.

So, for us to have the integrity and the ambition to even keep going, that should tell you a lot about people like myself, Boi1da, Southside, anybody that came from that era. They’ll tell you what this s—t means—[there’s] more of a purpose. It’s not just for myself, it’s for my kids, too—to show them you can keep going and going as long as you don’t stop. Just keep f—in’ going. 

I feel like I’m in my LeBron phase right now. I’m 39, but I’m still out here working the court, I’m still in the starting five, I’m still running up and down that bitch for the next 30-45 minutes, trying to put every point up on the board. I’ve been in the gym every damn day, every year, just waiting for the opportunity to show the world exactly what I’ve been doing. So, yeah, I feel like I’m underrated in a lot of aspects.  

People fail to realize we’ve really paved a way for a lot of things to take place. At the same time the record reflects that, it proves itself. And then it came to a point where people started asking who the f—k is Cardo? Alright, cool. That’s the campaign. Who the F—k Is Cardo? Just Google me, baby. I’m at a point in my career where I’ve done enough and you’re not going to disrespect me. You’re gonna respect me for the s—t I’ve done in this industry. I’ve never been no rude fella or nothing like that, but my respect is gonna be given. That’s for damn sure. That’s why I’m acting crazy now. It’s the madman on the loose. I gotta set the world on fire.

On your Joker s—t, working with Carti. You got to put some face paint on. 

Man, what? I always feel like I’m a villain. I’m Bane right now. I just bought a mask; I’m waiting for it to come in the mail. [Starts talking like Tom Hardy’s Bane.] “You think you can see the darkness? Ohh”. 

I’ve been practicing, bro. I’m just waiting to take the stage like Kanye and just take the mic and get my Bane on real quick. 

How many tracks do you have on Wiz Khalifa’s Kush & Orange Juice 2? 

I just found out about that. I ain’t know nothing about that. Tell Wiz to holla at me though, man. [Laughs.] I was shocked by it, too. You can’t top Kush & Orange Juice, that’s just my opinion. 

When I mentioned you were underrated, I wanted to talk about your versatility. You have so many different sounds. You can go crazy with Playboi and you can do records with Drake, then you can smooth it out with some West Coast s—t with Larry June and some Midwest s—t with Payroll Giovanni. It sounds like some Midwest Chicago…Texas sound, Do or Die, West Coast bounce… 

Got the mob music mixed with the The Legendary Traxster, Chi-Bangin’ sound. You a knower. A lot of people don’t know that, man. The Midwest sound, that bounce, that Rich the Factor, that [57th Street] Rogue Dog Villains, all the way to that Psycho Drama s—t. I was always inspired by The Legendary Traxster, he’s still one of the GOATs. He actually produced on “Carnival.” That’s somebody I always looked up to, that’s like my big bro. The Alchemist hit me the other day saying, “Whatever you do, do not stop going f—in’ crazy!” I’m running on what my OGs are telling me to do. 

You gotta listen to him too because he’s a workhorse. I don’t know if he sleeps. He floods the streets for multiple eras. 

He’s been doing this s—t for over 20-plus years, man. He’s seen everything. 

He’s not afraid to work with lesser knows acts. You’re similar in that regard.  

He pushes the envelope. That’s what I’m saying. I look up to him. If anyone breaks artists that people may not know of on the underground tip, it’s Alan. I see he’s doing a tape with Slump God and I’m like, “What the hell is going on? [Laughs.] I don’t even know what to expect, because Slump God is one of the most abstract artists with his flow and his character. I just want to see how he’s gonna sound on Alan’s production rapping the way he raps. I know it’s gonna be fire, I just want to know what it’s gonna sound like.  

You’re on the ScHoolboy album which I think is going to be one of the best rap albums of the year. So I wanted to know your experience. Did it feel special as you were working on it with him

Hell yeah. Off top, ’cause just based off me and Q’s relationship, that’s my brother from another. We can be real with each other when we’re in the studio. “This s—t wack that, get out here with that.” It’s not like we’re in there making whatever like we’re a yes man operation. This was the last four years. He was working on [Blue Lips] right before CrasH Talk dropped. So, we were already in, we just didn’t know where it was going to go to, like the concept or any of that, we were just making music.

And during that time period, we still had a fresh wound because we had just lost Mac [Miller] a year before. It was like a healing process; we were making music like it was the remedy to it all. Because we both went through it; that was our brother. 

Word, you worked with Mac a lot. 

That was the first artist I worked with. Before Wiz. A lot of people don’t know that. I reached out to him through MySpace. The first song we did was “Laundromat” back in ‘09. He had the “Mesmerized” beat first and everything. He used to brag about it all the time. Whenever me, him, and Wiz would be together he would say, [mimicking Mac Miller’s voice] “I had the “Mesmerized” beat first. [Laughs.] He’s greatly missed, but we feel his energy every day. He’s the guiding light. The boy was different, he was a robot. 

Q recently talked about passing on “Goosebumps.” How did you feel when he passed on that? 

That s—t was hilarious. He was…I wanna be real because this is my best friend, we talk to each other like this. I was like, “You crazy as f—k. N—a you passed this s—t up.” Every chance I get, I hold it over his head. That’s just what we do, we talk s—t to each other, that’s my brother. [Mimicking ScHoolboy Q’s voice] “Ah, I wasn’t trying to hear that s—t, I wasn’t tryin’ to do no pop s—t, cuz.” Aight, bet, whatever. We joke about it to this day. He did something to it, he just don’t want nobody to hear it. [Laughs.

That’s an incredible record. One of the best songs to see performed live. 

Me and Yung Exclusive having input in two of the biggest records in rap history with “Goosebumps” and “God’s Plan” is one of those things where you can sit back and reflect on everything that you’ve done and accomplished. This was all work at first and then all of it came to fruition and it pays for itself. People start checking for your work more. 

You’ve mentioned that you’re 39 now. With the success of “God’s plan” and “Goosebumps,” do you feel like you’ve gotten better since making those beats? 

That’s crazy that you asked me that. Nobody’s ever asked me them kind of questions. So, check this out: I started noticing I was getting better when I started making s—t with the greats like Travis, Dot, and Drake. I would listen to my beats and be like, “F—k, I’m really getting up there.” I’m learning how to make my drums sound clearer, I’m learning how to do this and do that, just on the simple side of things. I used to think it was about overdoing it, but I’ve learned that simplicity is sometimes the best. It’s about balancing things because I can go crazy and then I can go super simple on a beat.

Once I mastered those powers, I can give an artist whatever they need. I became a weapon. That’s why I became a villain. F—k the underrated s—t. I’m an anti-hero. This is the movie where you wanna see the villain win.  

That’s why you work with polarizing artists? Lil Yachty is another artist you’ve been working with recently. How has it been working with him? 
He’s not afraid. He doesn’t give a f—k about nobody’s opinion. He doesn’t care about what you think he’s doing and that’s what I respect about him. I was one of these people, when he came out with “Minnesota,” I thought he was disrespecting my hometown — like, “Who the f—k let this n—a put this s—t out?” And then me and him became cool. It ended up becoming one of those things [where] I seen him as an artist growing, I seen the potential in him, I seen his personality.

I’ve always looked at Yachty as a creator. I put him up there with Tyler almost. His creativity, vision, style, them n—as could both dress. That’s what I like about Boat. He provides a different space in hip-hop because he doesn’t care. Some like Pepsi, some like Coke. That’s how I look at it. 

You’ve done things with some R&B artists like Brent Faiyaz recently. Are you looking to get into making more R&B beats? 

Hell yeah, of course. Shout to my boy Justice over at LVRN. I’m trying to get in with Summer [Walker] soon.  

So once the villain era is over, we’re going to get Certified Lover Boy Cardo? 

You’re gonna get the smooth operator. That’s the next concept. I’m creating a universe and I’m trying to figure out these characters. For this album that I’m working on there’s a character called Madman Van Damme based on Jean-Claude Van Damme who’s one of my favorite actors. I’m gonna take ‘em to the Kumite and f—k ‘em up real quick. Even if I get powder in my eyes, I’m still gonna whoop everybody’s ass. [Laughs.] I’m trying to balance everything and at the same time unbalance things too if you catch my drift. I wanna disturb the peace. 

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