New Interview: DJ Khalil Shares a Story Behind Eminem’s “Survival”



“My group The New Royales, we’re a writing and production team as well. At the time, we had already worked with Eminem and Slaughterhouse and we’d developed this sound that was like a combination of hip-hop and rock—I’m a huge Rick Rubin fan and that was a big influence. That beat was made around the same time as Recovery, we were just cranking it out at that point so we had so many ideas for him and he was really into the sound. Liz Rodrigues, who’s singing on the hook, she’s just incredible.


“So Erik and Liz, they would send me different ideas for Eminem. We would talk about what we were trying to do and then they would get together and write, then send guitar and vocals. ‘Survival’—and pretty much all of the Eminem placements—was already a concept. It was really just arranging it at that point.


“We wanted to do a stadium song because Eminem is a stadium artist, so we wanted to do something that was huge, reminiscent of Queen or whatever. It had to be a motivational record so I put these big, raw drums on it. The original beat is super distorted, it’s deafening. But we were really trying to make it edgy and raw.”


“They had held onto that beat for a while. Paul Rosenberg ended up cutting it and they used it for the new Call of Duty game. It got synced a lot, we got a lot of TV and film syncs off of it. It was just a moment. I remember he performed at Wembley Stadium which was a big deal, and that was either the first or second song and you could hear the whole crowd singing the lyrics and it was like, ‘wow!’ That’s what we were going for.


“He’s very particular about sounds. He wants it to sound how he hears it. Sometimes you get demoitis. It’s like with Dre, if you change anything, they’re gonna pick it up. You change the snare, they’ll be like, ‘what did you do to the snare? That’s not what you did on the original. You gotta take that out.’ They don’t want you to mess with that vibe at all. They want it exactly how they heard it the first time. I was going back and forth with him and his engineer just making sure it sounded how he heard it.


“There was a version with Travis Barker and he killed it, too. He’s so cool because he’d be like, ‘what do you think? How should I do this take?’ I’d be like, ‘man, just go crazy.’ I came home with like a billion drum tracks [laughs]. Maybe it didn’t work because [Eminem] was so used to hearing it how it was already recorded, but he murdered it, that was a legendary night. Just working with the best drummer in the game at that point. He’s a rock star and a hip-hop head on top of it. He understands hip-hop.


“Dre introduced me to Eminem right after they won the GRAMMY for ‘Crack a Bottle.’ He was in L.A., Dre was in the studio and he was like, ‘yo, Marshall’s here, he’s got some stuff he wants to play you, I want to introduce you.’ I ended up being in the room with Dre, Eminem and Scott Storch, and they’re listening to my music and Em’s writing to one of the joints. It was pretty incredible.