Interview: Producer Sonaro Talks Fabolous’ ‘Cuffin’ Season,’ ‘Loso’s Way II’ & A Posthumous Stack Bundles Album

When Sonaro lost his brother Stack Bundles back in 2007, two options were on the table: retreat to what he called a “dark corner,” or allow the pain to propel him toward his beatmaking ambitions. Choosing the latter, the now-resident producer for Fabolous (“Body Ya,” “Leaving You,” “Cuffin’ Season”) has transformed his familial relationship with the Brooklyn rapper into a banger-making working one. Looking to share the best of what’s to come in Fab’s career, Sonaro is also eyeing the release of the album his brother never got to make. — Iyana Robertson

What’s going on, what’s up?
I’m fine, I’m fine. Just running around the city getting no sleep. [laughs]

I mean, that’s what happens when you start blowing up, right?
[Laughs] I wouldn’t say I’m blowing up. Still down to Earth; I’m humble.

Let’s get a little background on you first before we get to anything else. I know you started out with the Desert Storm era. Talk a little bit about that.
Pretty much, my brother Stack Bundles, he was a part of Desert Storm. Fab is my family too, so I kind of had the best of both worlds with the situation. Being in the same room as both of them and learning so much, and being around Duro, learning how to mix, it was just inspiring. Especially the things that Stack was going through as far as him trying to get production together, which made me want to learn how to make beats. Because you know, back in the day, producers went for the gusto – whoever they wanted to give their records to that they were gonna get a check for, they pretty much went with. They wasn’t trying to root for the underdog. That’s what gave me the ambition to start producing.

And what was the big break for you?
Believe it or not, the first beat that I ever made – a lot of people don’t get lucky with placing their first record – it was with Lil’ Kim, “Thang On Me” with Maino. And then the second beat that I ever made was “Cold Rockin It” with Stack, Jim Jones and Max B.

Those are dope first placements.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Just being close around that circle, it was a given. But I did work hard for it.

Was producing something you’d always wanted to do, or did you just kind of fall into it?
I always analyzed the structure of making beats. I was into writing hooks; I was an in-house writer for Needlz. He really gave me the bigger push because his sound was so different and just so dope that I was in love with every type of sound that he tweaked. So as I was writing hooks for him, I was pretty much paying attention to how he was making his beats. I think sometimes I still have his old sound. If you listen to “Body Ya,” it was like almost the same sound that he did with Fabolous’ “Think Y’all Know” off Street Dreams, and 50’s ‘Piggy Bank.” Those sounds inspired me. And it was way different from hearing a Dr. Dre or Timbaland. Even though those are my idols, Needlz really pushed me. And I let him know all the time.

The late Stack Bundles was your brother. That must have been hard losing him.
It was very hard. I was in a dark corner for a long time. Before I went into that dark corner, I stopped producing; I really didn’t have the right equipment to actually produce. But once I started analyzing my situation, where I have this advantage of getting to certain artists, I just put more time into it, and that’s when I came up with “Body Ya.”

Would you say that losing you brother kind of pushed you forward?
Yeah, a lot. The labels were interested in putting a Stack album out, and then they wasn’t. Now I feel like if I’m successful at what I’m doing, then Stack can have an album. Stack can have a movie like I wanna do. So I feel like if I give up, then Stack is not gonna have nothing.

So you’re still working on Stack’s album?

Wow. How many songs do you have?
Stack has a lot of songs, but I can’t really give you the actual number that has been started yet because I’m trying to bring in other producers also.

Are you heading it up, executive producing it?
Yeah, pretty much. I’m gonna have the most records though. [laughs]

So you’re working with stuff that he recorded, and kind of tweaking them to create the album that never dropped.
Yeah, we have a lot of recordings. Stack worked hard. And it would make no sense to let it all go to waste. It’s like the labels feel like it’s nothing there, but I’m gonna work hard enough to show them that it was something there, and it wasn’t on their dollar, it was on my dollar.

And it’s still in the beginning stages?
Very much still in the beginning stages. I’m still trying to establish myself and get where I need to get.

Okay. So Fabolous is your family as well. How did that relationship go from a familial one to a working one? Are there difficulties separating the two?
It’s really not difficult. I pretty much listen, because he knows more than I could ever think I know. I pay attention to everything he says as far as what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. I guess it get difficult when it’s time to get down to the paperwork, splits and all that, but you got managers that handle the dirty work. And at the end of the day, the business is nothing personal. I just hope that never in our careers will we bump heads on business. I owe Fab a lot and I owe Stack a lot. I never got a chance to say thank you to my brother before he left, but I tell Fab thank you all the time.

What was the first song you did with Fab, and what was that like?
“Body Ya” on There Is No Competition 2. It really didn’t dawn on me, ‘cause it was the first record. But when TINC3 came, it was on BET and Swag Champ and that opened up some ears and some attention. Then when Soul Tape came and I did “Leaving You,” people started getting onto it like ‘Oh, this is his producer.’ And then when Soul Tape 2 came and I did ‘Want You Back,’ we became a duo. And it’s crazy, ‘cause with Soul Tape 3, I was in the studio, and he was playing all these records. At that time, I only had ‘Playa’ [on the mixtape]. And I introduced ‘Situationships’ to him that night, which he pretty much came up with the idea and the name. We started on that, then I went home and I was like ‘Damn, I’m about to go home and do something strange.’ And that’s when I came up with ‘Cuffin’ Season.’

I heard the story behind “Cuffin’ Season” was that Fab changed his numbers or something like that. Give me the story.
Oh yeah. I can’t give you the full details [laughs]. But what happened was, after that night when we did ‘Playa’ and ‘Situationships,’ two days later, I texted him because I was supposed to have a vocalist go up to the studio for ‘Situationships,’ but he went with Mack Wilds instead. I was texting and calling; both phones were off. I was like ‘Damn, how the hell you change numbers over night? That shit is crazy.’ Then I was watching a movie, and that Bobby Vinton sample popped up, and I started cutting and mixing, listening to the lyrics. And as I put everything together and started coming up with a hook, the whole number-change had me like ‘Tell these hoes I’ll be back around June. Better yet I’ll change my number for whole winter. Damn it’s so cold in the fuckin’ winter.’ [laughs] You know what I’m saying?

You were like “whoever he changed that number on must be upset.”
[Laughs] Yeah. It played it’s part. I don’t even think he understands how I put that together. Probably after he saw an interview.

And you never told him that that’s where you got the idea?
No, I never really explained it to him. It was crazy because all those ideas came in one bag and I just picked it up and went with it.

You were also on set for the “Cuffin’ Season” video, right? Any funny behind-the-scenes stories?
Yeah I got one [laughs]. When I did my scene, they had this smoke machine behind me, and I had a stuffy nose that day. The first two shots was cool, but once the director said ‘cut’ on one of the shots, it felt like dude had the smoke machine over my head. And I was like, gasping for air. I almost died [laughs]. I had to stand up! It was mad funny, everybody was at the set laughing at me. I was looking like a rookie for real.

[Laughs] Okay, now I have a serious question for you: where is Loso’s Way II?
[Laughs] Loso’s Way II is in the building, but it hasn’t gotten on the elevator yet.

Is it done?
I think he’s at a point where he knows what he wants it to sound like, but I don’t if he knows that the music will change the level he’s at right now. Like, for me, and I told him this, I’m trying to build the biggest sound for him. And I want it to be different; something you’ve never heard out of him.

So you’re working on Loso’s Way II as well.
Yeah. I’m visioning a record with Estelle – I’m not saying she’s on the album – but like a record with somebody like that. Or with Bono; just something that you’ve never heard him on. Just something different that’s gonna change my life and his life at the same time. I don’t want to sound selfish, but I would like to share that success with him. Like that big record with Jay [or someone else].

Has it not dropped yet because he doesn’t think it’s big enough, or career-changing enough?
I wouldn’t say it’s not big enough or career-changing enough, he’s just being smart about what he wants for an album. For instance, you hear these mixtape that we put out; they’re so dope. Like some people think Soul Tape 3 should’ve been an album. So if Soul Tape 3 should’ve been an album, then the album should be more than that. So I would say we’re just being more careful about what we’re putting together.

And is there a time frame?
Honestly, it’s gonna be the summer. I don’t have a date, but i know it’s not going no further than this summer. Because he likes putting out music in the summertime; he gets amped and he loved moving around in the summer promoting the album. So I know he’s going for this summer.

You’re still learning and building your working relationship with Fab. But who else has a hand in your development right now?
Lloyd Banks, Timbaland’s camp, Lenny S. has an artist out in Philly that he wants me to work with. I work with Nipsey Hussle and Red Cafe. I actually got presented a situation to work on Diddy’s album; I already sent in seven joints for that. I’m really trying to get into some R&B and pop as well. Because a lot of people don’t know that side of me yet.

What other projects do you have coming out? I heard you were working on a documentary, what’s it called?
It’s called Road To Victory Lap. It’s about the everyday struggle that a producer goes through. Playing all this music and not getting placed; it’s like a day-in-the-life. I don’t know if anybody is gonna learn anything from it, because this is my first time doing a documentary. I’m pretty much giving you an introduction of who I am and what I’ve done. A lot of people probably just know me for ‘Cuffin’ Season,’ they don’t know that I did other records with Lloyd Banks and other artists. I hope it gives up-and-coming producers some type of ambition, because at the beginning stage when I was producing, I was sending Fab stuff and everything that I was sending then, paid off now.

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