In his unassuming t-shirt digging in the crates with an iPod permanently tucked in his pocket, it's easy to assume that producer Khari "NEEDLZ" Cain is just your average guy harboring a guiltless obsession for vintage records. However, after you listen to his musical arsenal and take a look at his A-List clientele, it is clear that his unique sound has the hardiness of a veteran tastemaker.
Needlz challenges musical boundaries by carving out his own identity in today's highly competitive market. His list of production credits resembles a musical collage of Hip Hop and R&B, morphing soulful textures to fit seamlessly with any artist he works with. His distinctive club-savvy style is malleable enough to transcend genres, labels, and categories, and has posed as the musical platform for a slew of industry heavyweights including 50 Cent, The Game, Fabolous, Lloyd Banks, Talib Kweli, Ludacris, Young Buck, and Meagan Rochelle.
The Lansing, Michigan native developed a love for music at an early age from his father, a jazz buff who kept John Coltrane and Charles Mingus in constant rotation. He absorbed Hip Hop sounds of the early '90's from artists like The Roots, WuTang, Mobb Deep, Snoop, Nas, Jay-Z, B.I.G and A Tribe Called Quest. "Everybody had their own style and feel when they came out," he says of the era. "Coming from the Midwest, I listened to everything from house to bass music, to East and West coast. Albums that really inspired me were Nas' Illmatic, Souls of Mischief's 93' Till Infinity, Snoop's Doggystyle and The Roots Illadelph Halflife. I miss that feeling albums like that gave me."
Inspired to leave his own mark on the musical scene, Needlz began deejaying. He packed up to attend Florida A&M University, where he became a permanent fixture at parties and local clubs. With a firm understanding of how to make crowds gravitate to the dance floor, Needlz fueled his passion to get behind the boards and make the hits. "I deejayed until the end of '99 and picked up producing as a hobby," he explains. "I was in my room in college one day listening to the second Wu album, and it just hit me. I wasn't really feeling school or the thought of working in corporate America, so from that day on I spent all of my energy on getting to New York to pursue a job working in the industry."
Needlz moved to New York to pursue a graduate degree in Music Business at NYU. He utilized an internship at Bad Boy Entertainment as a testing ground for his production talent, and caught the ear of former A&R executive Folayan Knight. Impressed by the infectious personality of Needlz' tracks, Knight began to manage the young producer and helped usher his music into the industry spotlight. Needlz gained acclaim for the infectious single "Think Ya'll Know" from Fabolous' 2003 mixtape album, More Street Dreams 2.
In 2004, Needlz' signature high energy production brought him to the forefront of popular music with the debut single from Tennessee's G-Unit member Young Buck entitled "Let Me In". The vibrant track became an instant hit, helping to push Young Buck's album, Straight Outta Ca$hville, to Platinum status. "Let Me In" was also nominated for a 2004 Vibe Award for 'Street Anthem of the Year'.
2005 was a landmark year for Needlz, with two tracks on the Coach Carter Soundtrack, "Piggy Bank" and "God Gave Me Style" on 50 Cent's monster LP The Massacre, "Crack" for Cassidy's album, I'm A Hustler, and "Throw It Back" for Trina's The Glamorest Life LP. Needlz also landed the television theme music for both BET's Rap City: Tha Basement, and MTV's Sucker Free Sundays.
Upcoming releases from Needlz include tracks for Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Freeway, Shariifa, Eamon, Joe Budden, Lupe Fiasco, and Meagan Rochelle. Meagan Rochelle's single "Floating" feat. Joe Budden and written by Ne-Yo is getting radio play now as is sure to solidify his versatility in urban music. Needlz also has writing credits on Jeremih's recent hit "Oui", which he co-produced with Donut.
With an ever-growing arsenal of production skills and style, Needlz stays true to his own creative spirit. "When I sit down to make a beat, I always try to do something I haven't done before," he says. "I rarely use the same drums and sounds - at the end of the day I just make beats that I like. I'm just fortunate that people seem to like the same things I do."
With the establishment of his production company, Dry Rain Entertainment, and a growing musical palette of singles garnering strong radio support, Needlz is forging his way into an elite circle of beat crafters. "So many artists feel that they have to have one street record, a club anthem, and a few radio tracks to make an album successful," he attests. "I want to create music that inspires artists to push beyond the boundaries of current music. You can't create history just by replicating the past - you always have to keep pushing the needle forward."