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Dun Deal's 'Stoner' logic

Meet the producer behind Young Thug's hit

Producer Dun Deal still recalls the initial hesitation toward "Stoner." During a wistful electric guitar solo at his first verse, rising Atlanta rapper Young Thug's drugged-out warbling — "I feel like Fabo," he repeats — becomes listless, as if he's slumping in his seat. When fire-alarm horns blast in they have a Pavlovian effect on Thug. He snaps to attention, barks through verses and yelps "¡Ándale!" like Speedy Gonzales.

"Stoner" would first appear in October 2013. It also pops up in DJ Spinz's label compilation HPG 3, though Dun Deal pitched it for plenty of other mixtapes, too. "I presented it to other people," Dun Deal says in a phone interview. "They were like, 'Is there a beat pattern to this?' 'I don't understand what he's saying.' Blah, blah, blah. 'This song is never gonna blow up.'"

At the top of 2014, Wale and Jadakiss dropped their own "Stoner" remixes. And on Feb. 10, the song debuted at No. 22 on Billboard's Rap Airplay chart. It currently holds the No. 13 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list. It's not only the first chart hit for the rapper, but for producer Dun Deal as well. And even in Atlanta, a city whose current pop-rap regularly borrows from Lil' Wayne's hallucinatory logic, "Stoner" feels like a radio anomaly.

Born David Cunningham in the New York City borough of Queens, Dun Deal signed to Ruff Ryders as one MC of hip-hop group Outrageous once he moved from Perry, Ga., to Atlanta in 2000. Outrageous never released music, so Dun Deal spent his record contract advance on an MPC, workstation, and several keyboards. He assisted with music for Tyler Perry's plays. Then, starting in 2005, he broke into production via the youth rap community: Rich Kidz, Travis Porter, and at the time, Young Thug.

Before "Stoner," Dun Deal scored a minor hit with Migos' panting rap cut "Hannah Montana." After its chart debut, though, his schedule filled up with sessions for plenty of rappers (Juicy J, Kevin Gates, Que) and a few R&B stars (Usher, Trey Songz, August Alsina) too. He will also produce a new Young Thug mixtape, HiTunes, and feature other frequent collaborators on his own mixtape, B.A.S.S.(Beneath a Silver Sky), out later this month.

Dun Deal works daily at a Scottsdale studio, less than a mile east of Your DeKalb Farmers Market. Like other Atlanta-area producers, he works primarily in hip-hop but sees himself breaking into other genres. Like Future, Dun Deal listens to Coldplay — his favorite Coldplay album is A Rush of Blood to the Head. When he's stuck, he listens to Bach and Beethoven. Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, the initially divisive ode to founding EDM, reminded him of OutKast's The Love Below.

Dun Deal says that both albums required repeated listens for him to appreciate them, which is also true of his longtime collaborators. "I've known Young Thug, and I've known Ca$h Out, and I've known Future for all this time," he says. "They've had their talents since I met them, but it took a few years for them to get on because people just don't see it at first. People need time to see it."