A Basement Tale: The Perfect Beat

We don’t know what he was smoking, but MAGNET’s Mitch Myers wrote this most salacious story under the tell-tale influence of Edgar Allen Poe.

It was the tail end of 1994 and noted hip-hop producer Amon Tillado was running out of cash. Tillado once ruled the airwaves, but he hadn’t produced a memorable record in years. He was desperate for a hit, but he’d burnt through his working relationships and had a shady reputation, notorious for skewed publishing deals and withheld royalties.

Like some other beat merchants, Kid Fortunate was peddling old vinyl at the big Roosevelt Hotel Record Convention on East 45th Street when he met the famous producer. After seeing him at the Roosevelt with other hip-hop heavyweights a couple more times, the Kid played some rare breakbeats for Tillado. One particular funk-soul riff captured Tillado’s imagination—and he knew it could be used for something big. The vintage beat was perfect, and Tillado said he was willing to pay good money for it, even promising Kid Fortunate an album credit if the beat was used. 

Despite Tillado’s generous offer and his hard sell, Kid Fortunate refused the deal, smugly insisting that he’d already promised The Perfect Beat to Prince Be of P.M. Dawn, who was still flush with cash from the triumph of “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.” Kid Fortunate was also dismissive of Tillado’s status as a producer, which displeased Tillado more than anything else. 

It was true that he hadn’t produced any hit songs for a long time, but Tillado was still a well-connected guy. Hell, he was the only person to attend Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid and the recording sessions for Dr. Dre’s debut solo album, The Chronic, that year—he liked to think he knew what was happening.

The DJ spurned his offer and insulted him, but Tillado showed no signs of taking umbrage. Rather, he kept on schmoozing Kid Fortunate that whole week, right up until New Year’s Eve. In that time, he learned that Fortunate had one soft spot—not only was the DJ an expert on old soul, funk and jazz recordings, but he also fancied himself a connoisseur of the finest marijuana.

It was late afternoon on December 31st and the two had somehow bumped into each other in Midtown. After discussing their respective plans for that evening—Fortunate to spin records back in the East Village, Tillado attending an elite soiree on the Upper West Side—Tillado offered to give the Kid some really high-grade smoke, some “Willie Nelson shit”—his Most Salacious weed—to usher in the New Year.

Intrigued, Kid Fortunate agreed to a quick trip over to Tillado’s three-story brownstone on West 58th. A bachelor, Tillado occupied the entire building and had live-in help. Tillado mentioned that he’d given the butler and his wife the week off for the holidays. The Kid was sarcastic about him having a butler, but the producer acted as if he hadn’t noticed the slight.

Had all this occurred due to coincidence or careful planning? A fair question, as it was only after Tillado became fully satisfied that no one else knew Kid Fortunate was at his home—and the DJ had yet to play The Perfect Beat for P.M. Dawn—that he decided to punish the Kid for his impudence. 

Tillado insisted on giving Kid Fortunate a complete tour of the brownstone, where each level’s décor was done in a different color. Starting on the third floor’s amazing library (aptly dubbed the Green Room), Tillado pulled out a long glass pipe filled with some super sticky Sensimilla, which when ignited, gave Kid Fortunate an immense coughing fit. The Kid’s eyes immediately became watery and bloodshot, and he kept on wheezing until finally able to drink down some fruit juice.

Once Kid Fortunate had fairly recovered from the Sensimilla, Tillado led him down a narrow stairway onto the second floor, which was decorated in azure blue. They settled in Tillado’s blue-hued study, where the producer prepped a large Graffix bong with fresh ice and then loaded the bowl with some knee-buckling AK-47 that had been recently smuggled in from the Netherlands. 

Tillado noted Kid Fortunate’s wasteful habits as the young DJ torched the bong’s contents, inhaling it all in one massive hit before exploding into another series of horrifying coughs. Tillado chided the Kid, gently suggesting he go home and rest before the evening, and perhaps the Most Salacious weed might be too much for him to handle. 

Dismissing the producer’s warning, Kid Fortunate asserted the cough was no big deal and he was ready to sample all the weed Tillado had to offer, especially the Most Salacious. Still, the Kid was unsteady and wasted to the point of fatigue. He showed little interest in Tillado’s showbiz anecdotes and was oblivious to the memorabilia scattered throughout the grand blue room. 

Forging ahead at the Kid’s insistence, they stumbled downstairs and came out onto the magnificent main floor, which was bathed in a dark ruby red. They sank into a massive couch in the front room as Tillado brandished a bag of pungent, clustered buds (replete with fine red hairs matching the room’s décor) he called Master Kush. Tillado twisted the buds into a huge conical joint and handed it to his guest.

Kid Fortunate thought he was ready for the Kush, but he was mistaken. After just one toke, he was overwhelmed by another coughing fit. With more liquids and Tillado providing throat lozenges, the Kid finally collected himself and added to his bravado by insisting they sample the Most Salacious before it was too late. He emphasized he was expecting some salacious buds to take home with him too, as Tillado promised.

Tillado reminded Kid Fortunate that the smoke didn’t seem to be going down very easily that day, and offered him a rain check on their burning adventure should he prefer. But Fortunate was adamant, and urged his host to produce the Most Salacious weed before his time ran out. “As you wish,” said Tillado. “There’s not much further to go.”

Leading Kid Fortunate down into the basement, Tillado explained how the space had been a wine cellar, but he was busy converting it into his own home studio. To the Kid’s tired eyes, the room was unimpressive. The dank area was only half-constructed with one wall exposed. There were drop-cloths covering a bank of audio equipment, building materials stacked on some furniture, and the unfinished ceiling sported a bland white primer.

That’s when the Kid’s attitude caught up with him. He’d been clutching his saddlebag of vintage vinyl that he planned to spin at the East Village party, including the old soul album with The Perfect Beat. Noticing a turntable amid the equipment, he momentarily forgot about the Most Salacious weed and decided to taunt his host with the coveted track. As he cued up the record—label obscured—Fortunate again claimed he’d promised the breakbeat to P.M. Dawn, but wasn’t likely to meet Prince Be in person until after the New Year.

In his stoned condition, Kid Fortunate thought Tillado would double his previous offer for the recording, but the producer merely smiled and bid him to sit at the mixing console to fiddle with the breakbeat. This was an offer the Kid could not refuse. In just a matter of moments, he’d isolated The Perfect Beat, slowed it down and added a hint of an echo, making the rhythm even more elemental and seductive.

Eyes closed, Kid Fortunate was absolutely rhapsodic. He was immersed in the music and about to press his host for the Most Salacious when Tillado came up from behind and yanked a sheet of plastic over his face, holding him down and suffocating the DJ while his precious beat looped over and over. The Kid struggled wildly but was unable to escape Tillado’s deadly grasp. Tillado wryly noted how Fortunate’s fading heartbeat had synced up with The Perfect Beat for one brief moment before his life ended.

Tillado then wrapped the Kid’s body in sheets of plastic and insulation. He wrapped and he wrapped and he wrapped until he could wrap no more. Finally, he rolled Kid Fortunate’s sealed corpse into the studio’s unfinished wall. “The ultimate soundproofing,” he thought to himself. 

After making an appearance at the Upper West Side soiree, Tillado returned home, where he spent the next three weeks alone working on the completion of his studio. Soon he had covered the walls with acoustic tiles he’d bought that were supposedly taken from the actual Sun Studio in Memphis. By February, he was finished with the studio build-out, and no one he knew had even once mentioned the name Kid Fortunate. 

It seemed that the city had forgotten Kid Fortunate ever existed. The Kid’s friends were concerned when he hadn’t shown up on New Year’s Eve, but they figured he must have gone home for the holidays and would turn up again eventually. There was a bit of a fuss when Fortunate’s landlady put his belongings out on the street a few weeks later, but the locals on East 11th Street grabbed up everything of value before a single night fell.

In the springtime, Tillado was ready for work. Arranging a gig at his home studio with an unknown rapper was no trouble, and after securing generous publishing royalties and additional points for producing, Tillado dropped a sampled loop of The Perfect Beat—exactly the way Kid Fortunate had mixed it—right onto the album’s most commercial track. 

To say the track became successful would be an understatement. Tillado’s instincts had been right about The Perfect Beat and the record stayed high on the charts for six months. Accolades and money came in from every direction. The ubiquitous beat was quickly licensed for a car commercial. Other DJs sampled Tillado’s track for their own records, and the original soul album from whence the beat came shot up in value before being reissued on CD.

By winter, Tillado was wealthier then ever and back in demand. He had numerous production gigs lined up and formed his own record label in the interim. Everyone was saying that Tillado, the rapper and their smash track were sure bets for multiple Grammys. So it was with audacious confidence that Tillado decided to celebrate his good fortune by throwing a party, at his home, on New Year’s Eve.

All sorts of characters came to the bash—the rapper and his crew, industry honchos, beautiful young people, film actors, sports stars, friends from the hood and all of Tillado’s attorneys. They were partying on every floor of the brownstone, but the main action was down in the basement studio. People were jammed in the playback room, drinking Cristal, snorting cocaine and smoking huge blunts. As midnight loomed closer, Tillado turned the music off for the traditional New Year’s countdown. The clock struck 12, and there was much revelry all around. 

Of course, Tillado had prepared his own special party favor for the midnight hour. As a treat, he lit up an entire joint of the Most Salacious, all for himself. Puffing extravagantly, he heard music come back on and became angry, demanding to know who was messing around with his studio sound system.

Tillado then recognized he was hearing The Perfect Beat. At first, he thought it was just another remix of his hit track that someone had slipped onto the stereo, but it was Kid Fortunate’s original mix—echoing, elemental and stripped bare—looping over and over, reverberating in his ears. 

The volume control on the sound system, however, had remained off and untouched. Tillado began to shout and swear, insisting that someone must stop the pulsing beat immediately. Everyone in the room stared at him. Nobody else was hearing anything at all, and they assumed that Tillado was just stoned and clowning around. 

Then Tillado really started smashing up the place, vainly trying to destroy the source of the haunting breakbeat that was looping inside his head. The party broke up in a hurry after he destroyed the mixing console with an axe and began breaking into his basement studio’s elaborately tiled walls. 

And they say that Amon Tillado was still raving, drooling and muttering about The Perfect Beat when the authorities finally showed up a little while later to take him away.

Apologies to E.A. Poe