In his new memoir, “Pray. Focus. Plan. Execute,” Dallas music producer and Waco native Symbolyc One (Larry Griffin Jr.) details a career built much like his Grammy-winning beats: attention to detail, discipline, flexibility and having a bottle on hand to capture lightning.
That lightning in a bottle — those collective creative moments that have translated into hit songs and albums — have earned S1 three Grammy Awards as a contributing producer, the most recent coming last month when gospel star Kirk Franklin won a Best Gospel Album Grammy for his “Long Live Love,” on which S1 had produced the song “Strong God.”
In addition to the music industry awards, there’s the A-flight hip-hop, rap, pop and gospel creatives with whom S1 has collaborated with over the last two decades: people like Kanye West, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Drake, 50 Cent, Eminem, Lecrae, Madonna, Rhymefest, Erykah Badu, Gladys Knight and even more.
Songs like “Power,” “Best Thing I Never Had,” “Bad Guy” and more have S1 beats driving them.
Not bad for a Waco native, Robinson High School and McLennan Community College graduate who returns to his hometown this week for several days of appearances. He talks with MCC students at 3 p.m. Thursday in Room 145 of the Ball Performing Arts Center, followed by a book signing Saturday morning at Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits and an interview, led by his son Vohn, at Saturday night’s debut of the Waco hip-hop documentary, “Blood, Sweat and Beats.”
The 43-year-old producer sees his book and Waco appearances as part of giving back, sharing his experiences to help others, just as advice and a helping hand from others have helped him.
The path that started at Robinson High and Zion Hill Baptist Church in making music and beats with his cousin Kevin Gaither and friends on early synthesizers, keyboards and drum machines advanced step by step from Waco to Dallas, starting with his first group Symbolyc Elementz with Gaither, then Third Eye Militia in Waco with Gaither, Anthony Stafford and Ramon Vigil.
Three years after going professional in 1996, S1 created the hip-hop/soul trio Strange Fruit Project with Gaither, performing as Myth, and Anthony Ligawa as MyOne, a group that caught the ear of Dallas musicians, including Erykah Badu, and a widening circle of producers, rappers and performers as rap and hip-hop caught fire in the 1990s.
As he read about the rising stars in his field and met many of them, S1 came to realize “just hearing other people’s stories ... they were no different from me,” he said in a recent phone interview.
While some would see music as a stepping stone to celebrity and fandom, S1 said it was always about creating music and doing it as long as he could.
In “Pray. Focus. Plan. Execute” he follows his ladder up, with a “Reflective Moment” ending each chapter with perspective or lesson learned. A constant in his memoir is hard work with months, if not years, passing before the work was rewarded with career advancement. “It really is a constant grind,” he said.
Even as his reputation, his knack for winning beats, favors, friendships and answered prayers opened doors to work with some of the leading stars of rap, hip-hop and soul music, he found a similar focus at the top. At studios in luxurious settings in Hawaii and London, S1 found a demanding pressure for musical quality from the likes of Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Madonna and their production teams.
It’s no surprise, he noted. “You don’t get to a certain level without self-control, sacrifice, hard work and loving what we’re doing,” he said. And it’s no surprise that S1’s daily work routine involves hours in perfecting beats outside of those he pitches and sells to others as well as through sale of his beat kits to up-and-coming producers. “I never wanted to be put in a box,” he said.
Another theme that comes through is the gratitude for his wife Theresa Lewis-Griffin, who provided encouragement, business advice and support throughout, even during a low point in their marriage, which S1 said forced his renewed attention to their relationship and family.
There’s praise for his parents, Charolette and Larry Griffin Sr., who now live within a short walk of him in Dallas; sister Schondra; and his sons, Deiondre and Vohn, the latter in the music industry himself in Dallas.
While his schedule is hectic between creating music and helping record it, S1 finds time to keep in regular contact with his early friends, Stafford in Dallas and Gaither, Vigil and Roger Floyd (Buttafinga) in Waco.
God has been good to him, he said, giving him what has produced happiness. “My prayer was to always do what I love every day and being able to take care of my family. God blessed me with much more than that,” he said.