Long known as an off-camera voice on the immensely popular Joe Budden Podcast, Parks Vallely has sustained a respectable career in music as a producer, engineer and mixer. And while most fans recognize him on the street or corner deli by his speaking voice, he’s also a two-time Grammy nominee, notching a nod for his work on Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous” record, which is up for album of the year at the 65th Grammy Awards this Sunday.
Parks worked on the song “Tough Love,” which features Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo, collaborating with producers D’Mile and DJ Cassidy on the 52-year-old singer’s 2022 album, which is also up for best R&B album at the ceremony.
As it was described to Parks, his mixing on the song garnered high praise from the singer to the tune of excited expletives. Having been a part of the sessions that helped shape albums like Kanye West’s “Graduation” and Drake’s “Scorpion” (the latter with longtime collaborator DJ Premier), Parks’ stature as a go-to engineer and producer continues to grow in concert with his evolving presence on Budden’s longtime podcast.
Variety caught up with Parks to discuss his Grammy nomination and life as a podcast star.
How did you react when you learned you were nominated for a Grammy?
Well, it’s funny. We were on the pod recording when the nominations came out and we were just kind of going through everything. And I saw Mary there. I was like, “Oh, holy shit, I think I’m Grammy-nominated.” I think it’s live on air, me finding out. So I was very excited about that. I didn’t really know if I was gonna go or not, I don’t think I really had intentions to, but all my friends and my wife were like, “You should go.”
What was your contribution specifically on the Mary J. Blige album?
Mixing. She sent me all the stuff and all the vocals and she and D’Mile went back in and added more, and we all went back and forth until we got the mixes right. The way it was described to me was, when they went in the studio, she was, like, “Who the f–k mixed these vocals?” and everyone was like, “Oh, you know, my guy Parks.” And she was like, “I sound incredible!”
She works with all the biggest [mixers] — she’s got Serban [Ghenea] who’s a monster, Manny Marroquin, anybody that she wants. Me ending up on this project alone… I’m patting myself on the back because she could have went to anybody.
You were previously nominated for your work on “Scorpion.” What was working with Drake like?
We spent hours and hours — days, I think — in the studio, fine tuning, building things back and forth and it made the cut in the last minute. I think we were still turning in stuff like the day before the album came out.
What would you consider your first big break as an engineer-mixer?
As far as commercial worldwide releases, my first real credits were in 2009. I was interning at a studio in Chicago. I was kind of young and dumb and naive and didn’t realize how important it was to fight for credits when I was first starting out. … I was an assistant engineer on a couple song on Kanye West’s “Graduation” and Lupe Fiasco’s first two albums. I was happy to be there as an unpaid or low-paid intern or paid in favors, and I didn’t really think to beg for credits, and I should have. … I don’t regret it at all. In hindsight, I wish I would have known that I could ask for credit, and probably got it. But again, I was kind of naive and happy to be there.
Being behind the scenes typically, do you feel like more of a public figure now because of the podcast?
It’s fairly inescapable. In the beginning, it was, “What’s that?” And now it’s like I’m more known for the podcast than engineering, which is funny and it’s cool. I’ve had people ask how much to play [a song] on the podcast and stuff like that. I don’t do that. [Laughs]
But you’ve mostly been off-camera on the YouTube version of the podcast, correct?
Sometimes I’m on-camera, sometimes I’m off. Mostly I have been off, but since we moved to a new space in September, I’ve been on a little bit. … It started off as, I wasn’t even really on the show — I was just chiming in, and we were in my house, so it worked. And then it kind of became a funny thing, like, “where’s this weird voice coming from?” That being said, I do think there’s a lot of benefits to being on-camera. Obviously more visibility people can put a face to the name. I like both. I’m cool with either. I’m not really an attention-seeking kind of person, but I do realize the value in being seen.
What do people say when they figure out that you’re the voice from Joe Budden?
Topics we should cover, songs we should play, the full gamut. And then there’s just people who are straight-up fans. I was just at the bodega getting a sandwich and a girl came up and I thought she was just trying to pass by me, so I made room for her. But she goes, “Hey, you’re Parks from the podcast, right?” And we chopped it up for a second, it’s pretty interesting. … I get Uber sometimes and they recognize me, and they want to basically podcast with me for my whole ride home. The podcast fandom is very different from music fandom in a good way. People just feel like they’re our friends, legitimately, which is awesome, whereas music fandom can be a little bit more about “celebrity” — like a mythical figure kind of thing.