Hip-Hop Producer The Architect Builds a New Golden Era

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A DJ turns a knob on a controller at a party.
Half of the influential duo Homeliss Derilex, The Architect is enjoying a career renaissance.  (Nicola Antonazzo)

“I love the technology of now,” says Gary “The Architect” Herd as he bounces around a bank of computers and studio equipment. Fellow music producer The Big Head Scientist rolls a blunt on a couch nearby. The modest East Oakland room is a home away from homeHerd travels here regularly from Stockton, where he lives with his family. 

“Older heads are used to a format, y’know, some type of label, some type of [A&R] there to organize it and make it all work,” Herd reflects. “But these days don’t work like that. You gotta love this shit to really do it. Facts.”

Herd’s catalog dates to the early ’90s, when he and Everett “Grand the Visitor” Aknowledge formed Homeliss Derilex in Milpitas. Decades later, he’s still hustling beats. Vinyl copies of recent albums by cult stars like Tha God Fahim, Planet Asia and Mach-Hommynearly all self-released by the artistsdecorate the studio walls. Each bears The Architect’s signature sound: a blend of cryptic, dreamlike sampled loops, sometimes augmented by keyboards and other live instruments that he plays himself. He calls it “the new golden era,” a nod to how the sound evokes a hallowed period before the deaths of 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. The irony is that now, in his middle age, The Architect is arguably better known than ever.

“The weird thing about Homeliss Derilex is that…I didn’t walk down the street and reap the benefits of what [we] did,” says Herd. Since the duo was mostly studio-bound, their appeal was largely confined to local scenesters. They didn’t play many concerts or tour to build a larger audience. Highlights of their sporadic output include a 1996 12-inch single for then-rising San Jose label Stones Throw Records, “Cash Money,” and a 2004 CD, Raise It Up.

Subsequent projects like Herd’s collaborations with San Jose rapper Shaya “Encore” Bekele, particularly Encore’s highly underrated 2000 album Self-Preservation, only drew modest attention. By the end of the aughts, Herd began to withdraw from the music scene. “Napster was happening, all the streaming, everything was in disarray,” he says. “Records aren’t being pressed. Labels are going under. It was too much.”


It wasn’t until acts like Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn’s Griselda crew became an indie phenomenon in the mid-2010s with that “new golden era frequency” that Herd felt energized again. “I wanted to be a part of that,” he says.

A-Plus, one-fourth of vaunted Oakland rap group Souls of Mischief, has known the Architect since the ’90s. “I might have met him at [veteran rapper-singer] Mystic’s houseshe’s an old friend of mine,” he recalls. Herd has frequently connected with Souls of Mischief’s Hieroglyphics crew: In the early aughts, Herd and his Executive Lounge crew (which included rappers Encore, Grand the Visitor, Dave Dub, Persevere, Turbin and Holokaust) and Hiero shared adjoining studio spaces in a San Francisco warehouse. In recent years, he has served as one of Souls’ DJs, going on tour with them in Europe. In 2020, A-Plus and Herd released four projects, including Chamber Games and Blvck Switzerlvnd

“Hats off to Arc. He actually took a long time off from the music industry, so that could have helped him as well,” A-Plus adds. “It’s a small club of people who were making music in the ’90s and who still have the passion to do it now.”

Today, Homeliss Derilex’s early work is highly coveted. A self-titled 1993 cassette tape trades for hundreds of dollars, and their studio sessions are frequently reissued on compilations. Thanks to streaming, a new generation of listeners has discovered excellent West Coast raps like “Survivin’ the Game.” “I went overseas [on tour with Souls of Mischief], there were all kinds of [fans] for Homeliss Derelix,” he says. (The duo stopped working together years ago, but they’ve discussed “getting back in the lab.”) 

Herd releases several projects a year through his Bandcamp page as well as labels like Dutch imprint De Rap Winkel Records. He’s usually billed alongside the rappers he works with, building a brand akin to famed underground producers like The Alchemist and Kenny Beats. He even briefly went viral with Trill Life Mathematiks, a 2018 album with Nowaah the Flood that features a photograph by award-winning photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark of five South Dallas kids. (Nowaah is based in Dallas.) Days after its release, Nas and Kanye West used the same photo for the former’s Nasir, leading to suspicions over the coincidence. “I don’t know, somehow we ended up with the same cover,” he says charitably. “We benefited [because of the controversy]. It was a good look.”

Herd’s recent success gives lie to the myth that rap music is largely a young man’s sport. A-Plus points out that 47-year-old Nas recently hit number 3 on the Billboard albums chart with King’s Disease II, proof that the genre now teems with flourishing musicians in their 40s and 50s.

“I don’t look at it like an opening. I look at it like it’s the first time happening. Hip-hop is a very young music,” says A-Plus, referring to how the rap industry only dates back a mere 40 years. “In other genres, your age isn’t necessarily your qualification. Of course, hip-hop is fueled by young, creative energy. But young energy isn’t the only creative energy. And we’re just getting around to where hip-hop is maturing.” 

The Architect. (Nicola Antonazzo)

Meanwhile, the Bay Area in which Herd emerged–the era where kids from Sacramento to San Jose descended on Telegraph Avenue near UC Berkeley and San Francisco’s Haight Street’s shopping corridor, busting impromptu freestyles and hawking self-produced cassette tapes–doesn’t exist anymore. “The price of rent has gone up. The attitudes, the vibes…you had a lot of dot-com things,” he says. 

Herd has deep Bay roots. His late father, Gary “DJ Ebonite” Herd was a DJ who spun at local clubs like the French Quarter in Sunnyvale. But when asked if he ever wants to move back, Herd says no. “Stockton isn’t necessarily safe. But it’s a lot more space,” he reasons.

The production game has changed dramatically, too. Herd remembers having to physically mail ADAT tapes with beats to rappers through the post office and paying for studio time to complete tracks. “You had to have three or four Gs to get in the game and buy a sampler!” he marvels. “If you need a thousand records for a year’s worth of work, even if those joints were a dollar a piece you spent a thousand. We were kids back then, so [finding that much money] was a hefty task.”

Today, he says, “with the internet man, we have the whole world at our fingertips.” Herd works with rappers around the country who are mining that “new golden era” frequency, connecting with Tha God Fahim and others through direct messages on Instagram and Skype. And while he stays up on new Bay Area acts like Larry June and works with younger local rappers like Cochise, he recognizes that the scene is no longer tethered to nightclubs, house parties and park barbecues. “I’ve got dudes hitting me up in Mozambique. I’m putting out music with people in the Netherlands,” he says.


Most of all, he evinces little nostalgia. “I appreciate 2 Chainz, Migos, Future, Westside Gunn. It’s Black music,” he says. “We’re living an experience, and this is how it’s expressed. … This is our culture.”