From West Africa to the West Indies, the sounds that preserve the history of these regions remain an undeniable influence in pop music. Whether it's Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You," or most recently Drake's "Signs," pop artists continue to look to the rhythms sewn within Afrobeats and Dancehall to cook up that feel-good hit. With the summer season underway, the dance-floor ready vibes continue to pour from some of our favorite musicians, especially when those stateside link up with the rising pioneers of the aforementioned genres.
The pairing of North American artists and singers setting trends from Africa or the Caribbean makes for a pleasing clash of two different cultures as we've seen with Drake and Wizkid ("Come Closer"), Wale, DaVido and Olamide's ("Fine Girl"), Kranium and Tory Lanez ("We Can") and most recently, R. Kelly remixed DaVido's smash hit "If" which is currently in the Top 50 on the Billboard charts. The vibrant song is accompanied by a captivating visual, one that continues to paint the picture of DaVido's musically-influenced background.
Just as important as the artists who amplify these sounds are the instrumentalists who provide the beats that connect U.S. listeners to regions overseas. To commemorate Black Music Month, seven producers who've worked with Jason Derulo, Kranium, French Montana, Drake, Wizkid, Wale, and Omarion discuss how they promote the sounds of Afrobeats and Dancehall, and the genres' future.
Nineteen85 Extends His Sound From Toronto To South Africa
The man behind the body-rolling beats of dvsn is also responsible for igniting the movement of your feet once Drake's "Madiba Riddim" hits your earbuds. Nineteen85 set aside the slow-tempo jams to produce an instrumental that blares images of the African continent, adding to a list of songs that'll soundtrack summer 2017.
Via email, Nineteen85 reveals how the aforementioned song's title came to be, and how being raised on gospel music helps listeners reach a higher plateau through his productions.
VIBE: What music was played in your household growing up and how'd that impact your production?
Nineteen85: To be honest, my parents only really played gospel music in the house. Traditional gospel, southern gospel, country gospel...anything that you could hear in church. I think you can hear that influence a lot with my dvsn stuff.
Who are some of your influences in terms of artists or producers, and how do you implement their teachings in your instrumentals today?
I'm a huge, huge Quincy Jones fan, always loved Timbaland, Pharrell, Kanye, Just Blaze, Sting, Nina Simone, Biggie, Lauryn Hill, Jay, Nas, Nirvana, Hans Zimmer, RHCP, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer... there's way too many.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a producer?
I was in a couple bands growing up and I would write the different parts for everyone to play so it took me a couple years to realize that I was already producing before I knew what to call it.
Given that your native city of Toronto serves as a melting pot of various cultures, how do you interpret the music that comes along with the diverse demographic into your work?
My work is really a reflection of the city and the different backgrounds that we grow up being exposed to.
How'd the name of the song come to be?
I named it Madiba because the music reminded me of South Africa and "Madiba" was Nelson Mandela's tribal name. I guess Drake liked the name of the beat and used that for the song title, too.
In an interview with Billboard, you said you were trying to create an "I-don't-care-who's-looking" vibe on Drake's "One Dance." What vibe were you trying to create on "Madiba Riddim?"
It's funny because I've always thought I'm way better at slow music (I guess I was wrong). So anytime I make something over a certain tempo I feel like it has to make you want to enjoy dancing or there's no point.
DJ Black Coffee recently said that by Drake tapping into other genres, he's uniting people. How does your work seek to unite your listeners to cultures across the globe?
I'm always looking for ways to cross genres, but with good taste.
Did you work with Black Coffee in any capacity throughout this project? Were you aware of him beforehand?
The internet is a blessing, we haven't connected on a bigger level but I'm sure we will soon.
Do you have a favorite riddim that you continuously hear referenced on other songs? What makes a riddim everlasting?
I don't think I have a favourite, it's just whatever feels great at the time. And that's always changing.
Do you think artists or other producers do a disservice to West Indian or Afrobeat rhythms when they blend certain sounds derived from those regions with pop elements? Like making the true essence of West Indian or West African music palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing?
Music is music, it's a language. If an artist is genuinely embracing a culture or a style to tell their story the audience will know.
Through your productions, how do you help artists connect to West Indian or West African culture?
I think I'd had to ask someone else, I'm never sure what people connect to other than 'feel'. If it feels right, they'll react.
How Sarz Weaves A Rhythmic Thread From Africa To The U.S.A.
Hailing from Nigeria, the sounds of Fela Kuti hit Sarz “subconsciously” once his professional career as a producer kicked off, despite the fact that his father continuously played the iconic artist and other Afrobeat musicians’ songs throughout their home. “[My father] used to play Afrobeat and it was really boring to me at that time because all I wanted to do was play with my brothers and sisters, but he would always tell me to listen to Fela,” he said. Now, he’s implementing the lessons he’s gained from his country’s pioneers in his productions today.
Here, Sarz looks to the future of evolved genre, now referred to as Afrobeats, and the game-changing role artists like Wizkid and DaVido play within the genre.
VIBE: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a producer?
Sarz: I was 16 or 17. A friend of mine was in a rap group and he was a producer as well. He introduced me to music production because he saw my interests were in music. I also grew up listening to hip-hop music so I liked Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Pharrell, and Rodney Jerkins. Listening to those guys, I could memorize their beats and when I’m doing something else, I just find myself humming the beat exactly how they were. My friend said if I could do that maybe I should try music production. I tried it and I loved it. I didn’t think I would see myself doing anything else other than music production because it doesn’t feel like work to me. I just love creating music.
I came across an article that says there’s a major difference between Afrobeat and Afrobeats. Can you explain that difference?
Afrobeat is a genre of music from West Africa that has funk influences and African Highlife that originated from Nigeria and Ghana. Fela brought it into popularity. Afrobeats or Afropop is just a fusion of African music in general and the pop culture. That’s the difference between both of them. Proper Afrobeat sounds way different from Afrobeats or Afropop. I rather call it Afropop than Afrobeats because Afropop is pretty much pop culture and African music.
You've been in this industry for decades. Describe how Afrobeats has evolved?
It has evolved because we’ve been able to change the sound or make the music travel. We’ve made it bigger than what it already is from Nigeria and elsewhere. I think more people are introduced to Afrobeats as it is, but when it started it was a small movement in Africa and it was something Africans enjoyed. Personally, I’ve always made music that crosses over, music that I feel like anyone can listen to even if you’re a lover of Afrobeats or not. Anyone can listen and catch a vibe to it. For me, I’ve always tried to push the envelope even more anytime I make music. That helped the sound in general. When you do stuff like that and you get new fans and you see more people outside your demographic appreciate the music, it makes your competition want to sound maybe like you or do stuff you’re doing because they also want more people to tune into their stuff. That shaped the sound and how people perceive it and the perception of Afrobeats in general. Right now, it’s a strong movement. Big international artists are on that sound, they all want that African sound. They want to collaborate with African artists. The movement is strong now and I think it can get stronger in a couple of years.
Walk me through the process of "Come Closer?" How long did it take to produce the beat and what were some of your inspirations during that time?
I’ve been working with Wizkid for the longest time so we have a really good working relationship and chemistry as well. I know what he’ll like without him being there, and I pretty much make a lot of my stuff in my spare time, in my own shrine [laughs]. He wasn’t there when I created the beat, but it was one of those beats that I was trying to do something that I haven’t done before. At the same time, I knew he would like it. When it was halfway done, I sent it to him and he said, ‘Wow, this is dope.’ Then he recorded ideas on there and he sent it back to me so I could finish it up. At that point, there was no Drake on the record and I didn’t know if anyone was going to be on it. A few weeks later, I was in the studio with him in L.A. and he played the same song. I was already tired of listening to it because I created it and edited it a thousand times trying to finish it up. I know where the song starts and ends. There were only two verses and I didn’t expect a third verse from Drake. It was playing at the studio and I wasn’t really paying attention [laughs].
What was your immediate reaction when you learned Drake was featured on "Come Closer?" Especially since he has a gravitational pull towards sounds that were originated in certain countries in Africa?
To be honest, I’m really monotone. I hardly ever get excited [laughs], so it’s hard to explain how I felt. I was happy because it’s a big deal to have Drake on your record. I didn’t really feel any excitement, not because I wasn’t happy for that to happen, but that’s just my personality. I’m always calm.
Do you think artists like Drake, who’s this international pop star, when they put a stamp or utilize certain sounds that come from Afrobeats, do you think that throws the whole essence of Afrobeats into a mainstream lane?
Yes, of course. I talk to random people, white people, and they kind of know what Afrobeats is. They know Wizkid; they’re familiar with the sound now. This wasn’t the case two years ago so it’s a good feeling that you can make music from your heart, music how you feel it, and the whole world is in tune to it. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than that. It just shows music is a global language and it can bring everyone together and that’s what’s happening right now. I’m glad that I’m a part of the movement, a part of big things to happen and just really excited for what’s about to come, where this will be in two or five years. I’m excited for what’s about to happen for the future of Afrobeats music and music in general.
You recently produced "African Bad Gyal" with Wizkid and Chris Brown. The horns on there remind me of Major Lazer who are into worldly sounds. Walk me through the instruments that were used on “African Bad Gyal.”
Obviously, I listen to Major Lazer and they’re a big influence as well. But when I was making that I wasn’t necessarily thinking about making stuff that sounded like Major Lazer. It was just how I felt at that point in time. We made this record three years ago, a long time ago when I made this record with Wiz. But for some reason, it never got released until now. It was just one of those moments where I wanted to do something different from what was going on in Africa in general. Personally, I’ve always wanted to make music that can bring cultures together, that brings the world together. Everything I make I try to infuse elements from different regions with my own elements so that people from diverse cultures can listen to it and relate because it sounds familiar. That’s the kind of music I make. You can hear it from “Sweet Love,” “Come Closer,” from “African Bad Gyal,” I just know how to add different elements from the world together and just make it one.
What do you think about Wizkid's recognition in the mainstream arena and the doors that might be open for other West African artists looking to gain an even larger audience?
It’s beautiful because I feel like we’re in a time where any West African artist can put out a first single and it can be a global smash because there’s an avenue now compared to how it was years ago when no one really cared what was going on in the continent. It’s a big deal for the industry in general. I’m just excited and proud of this movement and the people that are making this happen now by creating sounds. What I’m most happy about is that I’m doing this how I know how to do it. I’m not changing my sound. I’m not trying to conform to what anyone is comfortable with. People appreciate that and it’s just beautiful. The limits are endless now for the people coming after this. It’s really amazing. This is just the beginning because once Wizkid’s album drops, it’s going to get bigger and the music is going to get even more recognized and that’s going to open so many doors. Not just for Wizkid alone, but for me, for all the African acts that are making music that needs to be heard out here. It’s amazing.
How has your production style evolved?
For me, I always stay in my element. Once I hear a new sound or wave that’s taking over the radio, or a new sound the kids are listening to these days, I listen to it as well and try to see what makes that sound trend. I take the elements I like from it and I’m able to mix up my own sound and style. I just put it out there. It sounds fresh but it sounds like me still and I think that’s the way I’ve been able to stay relevant over the years. Whatever I do, I try to use my element because that’s what makes me stay relevant, unique. I always try to keep my element in everything I do.
Do you think artists do a disservice to Afrobeats when they blend certain sounds with pop elements? Like making the true essence of Afrobeat palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing?
To be honest, whatever makes them happy. If that’s how they see the sound, that’s cool. I don’t think there are any rules to how a song should sound or if they want to water it down and that’s how it works for them, fine. If I make an Afrobeat record and I want to infuse trap or funk in it… because you never know you might create something new and start a new trend. I don’t really care about stuff like that. Whatever works for you is cool.
Why do you think sounds derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats are making a dynamic run on the charts and radio this year?
The world wants to dance and I don’t think any other genre of music has more rhythm than African or Caribbean music. I feel like those two are from the same place because on a grand scheme, we’re all Africans and we all love rhythmic music. We love drums and percussions because we like to dance and have a good time. It sounds nice [laughs] you can’t deny it. I can’t hear something that’s good and say just because it’s Afropop or Caribbean or Jamaican music I’m not going to dance to it. If it’s a vibe, it’s a vibe. The same way I listen to trap music and think some of them are really hard, I’ll vibe to it. If it’s stuff like that that’s topping the charts now, then that’s what people want.
Through productions similar to "Come Closer," how do you help artists connect to that region's sounds?
That’s a tough one because music is global and also with my style of music I infuse a lot of elements from everywhere. Not just West Africa, it’s anything that excites me. But there’s always an African element. You can tell from the drums because they are rhythmic. If you listen to a series of my productions they don’t sound alike but if you play them together you can see a themed thread connecting all of them. That’s my signature, and that signature is African. If you listen to African music a lot, you can tell where that style is from. The drums are really rhythmic. With a lot of genres of music, the drums are where you can tell where the music is from. If you listen to hip-hop music, you can tell from the drums that it’s hip-hop, you can tell from the drums if it’s funk or dance music.
Do you think the line between Afrobeats and music of the West Indies like Reggae, Dancehall, Soca, Calypso, Kompa, Zouk will blur even more? We can basically trace it all the way back to Africa.
Very true, because our sound is very similar. Africans, in general, listen to a lot of Jamaican music, or music from the West Indies like Reggae, Reggaeton, Soca. In return, they also listen to a lot of African music as well. The lines can be blurred and seen as one because at the end of the day we’re all one people.
What does the future of Afrobeats look like to you?
It can only get better from here. The time where a new talented kid from Nigeria can put out a song and it can become a global smash, it’s just around the corner. I can’t wait to see that happen for the rest of the world when a new act can just break out from Canada, or any region in Europe that can put out a song and before you know it, it’s a world smash. I feel like that can happen in Africa soon.
Sak Pase’s Haitian Background Will Forever Be Cemented In His Music
For Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph, mixing a piece of his Haitian heritage into his productions is a top priority. Taking cues from the legendary Jerry Wonda, Sak Pase’s Caribbean upbringing in South Florida allowed him to help listeners connect with not only Haiti's culture through Zouk or Kompa but the West Indies as a collective. “When you grow up in a house where culturally there’s just a foreign perspective that you see the world through, when it comes to manners or different kinds of foods or just how you deal with people, it’s from a worldview as opposed to a really domestic American point of view,” he said.
Read what Sak Pase had to say on producing Kranium's "We Can," amplifying Haiti's music, plus the everlasting influence of Dancehall and why it can be referred to as pop music.
VIBE: Who are some of your influences and how do you implement their teachings in your music productions?
Sak Pase: Jerry Wonda of The Fugees. Even today I call him Uncle Jerry. He’s probably the foundation of how I look at music because I don’t think people realize that a lot of what he was doing early on with The Fugees in terms of production was variations of what he grew up listening to in the house. A lot of the bass lines were hip-hop but they had Reggae influences. They also had Kompa influence as well. When I was young, I was listening to The Fugees like, 'This sounds like what I grew up listening to.’ It sounded so familiar. When I really started getting into production, I was making music that sounded like what I grew up listening to. Jerry Wonda played a huge part in how I produce. The first time I ever worked with Jerry, it was like the equivalent of the first day that Kobe might’ve played on the court with Jordan. You grow up with these influences and they make up a part of who you are. Jerry Wonda was probably one of the biggest foundations in me producing because he incorporates so much of the West Indies into his style of music. I grew up listening to Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Babyface, Supa Dups, who was one of the original members of Black Chiney, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, Dr. Dre...I know I’m probably missing a couple of people, but that’s the core foundation.
Being a Haitian-American, what elements from Kompa or Zouk do you try to place within your songs? Any examples?
In Kompa and Zouk, there’s a lot of melody. The melody is almost like the lead singer in the music. Whenever I make music I try to find the melody that’ll sing throughout the whole song. I try to find the special moment that’ll resonate with whoever is listening to it. If you’re sitting at a bus stop and a car pulls up and the radio is too low for you to know exactly what you’re listening to but loud enough where you can remember it, whatever that melody or lyric or moment is, that’s what you have to create. You have to create for the listener who might only get 15 seconds to hear pieces of the music and you have to try to figure out a way to make something stick. Melody is the most important thing to me, whatever the hook is.
Do you think music deriving from Haiti will ever crack through to mainstream music or has it already but the average listener might not have picked up on it?
Kompa and Zouk are distant cousins of African rhythms and music. With that being said, I feel like we’ve already heard elements of Zouk and Kompa in today’s music. When you hear Nico and Vinz, if you listen to the bass line, that’s a bass line that I grew up listening to. When you hear a lot of what you hear in Afrobeats, Kompa and Zouk are just variations of those same underlying progressions or different bass movements. It just all comes from the same place. When I think of Zouk or Kompa, I don’t look at it as only Haitian music. I think what defines it as Haitian music is the Creole on top of it, but in my opinion it all comes from Africa anyway. That’s where it started from so when I hear Nico and Vinz, or some of the things that Wizkid is doing, or when you hear on Wyclef’s album, the fact that he actually put Kompa on his album [The Carnival], that album sold millions of records, so it’s already made its way into pop culture. There are a lot of writers and producers who are Haitian and so by default it’s already happened.
When you have Jerry Wonda produce records for Whitney Houston or Shakira or Justin Bieber, or like myself producing records for Rihanna or JAY-Z, or you have all of these different artists who are part of the Haitian Diaspora, Haiti has already become a part of pop culture. Within the past two or three years, the people or culture or just the flag in general has been popularized in pop music now. When you think about Fetty Wap walking around with a Haitian flag, or Lil Wayne with Haitian flags, or Young Thug saying he’s from Little Haiti, those are just cues of the Haitian Diaspora being a part of pop culture.
Walk me through the process of Kranium's "We Can."
It’s crazy because about three or four years ago, this A&R at Atlantic -- her name is Latoya Lee -- she sent me an email saying, ‘What do you think about this artist?’ At the time, he just had the “Nobody Has To Know” record and it didn’t even pop yet. I said, ‘I think he’s really dope,’ and then fast forward three years later, last year February I believe, he came out to L.A. and we spent some time in the studio. We had been working in the studio with Emily Warren, Jason Evigan, these guys are writing huge pop records. Emily wrote The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” Jason Evigan has been connected with Jason Derulo. These really big pop writers. We were in the studio the start of February and the writing process is just a continuous process. You never actually stop writing the song.
In February, we did some sessions with Emily and the guys that I mentioned. I think it was in maybe March or April, a couple of months later I was in the studio again and a friend of mine, a producer name DJ Marley Waters who produced [Tinashe's] “2 On,” I hit him up and said, ‘Come by the studio, I’m with Kranium,’ and we just started collaborating and throwing out ideas. He had some ideas that he was working on and I had some ideas that I was working on and we just figured out a way to fuse the two worlds together. On the spot, Kranium just started writing the song. Initially, we didn’t think anybody liked the song because none of the label people paid attention to it. About six weeks later, right around Coachella time, I get a call that Craig Kallman loved the “We Can” record. The rest is pretty much history. They got really excited about it and they were starting to look for a feature. We tried to get different people on it. We were really close to getting Nicki Minaj on it but things happen and it didn’t come to fruition. We were trying to get a bunch of different people to see who was going to bite on it, and we thought we had Nicki locked in but it fell through. Then Kranium got in the studio with Tory Lanez and he wrote to it and it just came out really dope.
In terms of the song’s sound, what were some of the elements that you sought to bring into it?
If you listen to the bass line in “We Can,” the movement is, like if you’re ever in a Dancehall club, the bottoming is what makes the entire song. The bass and the drums and how it moves is how you get the women to move. It sets the vibe and atmosphere. When you think about the core of what the song started with is the bass line. In Dancehall, your bass has to move the right way, it has to be mixed the right way because you have these big sound systems and it fits in a really small club. What you’re going to hear most of the night is the bass. As the DJ, you have to make sure whatever songs you’re mixing in and out of has the bass set to mood of the moment. We started with the bass and then the structure is what was the mainstream. We made sure we brought in certain instruments. We arpeggiated a piano so it made it sound pleasant, it gave it a youthful sound and not a traditional Dancehall four-bar, eight-bar loop. We needed to make sure that we created a lot of dynamic in the song. You have these different pianos, arpeggiators, we used delays, swells to make you feel like you’re going from one part of the song to another part of the song and once he recorded everything, it took another two months of us going back and forth to make sure that it felt like a song as opposed to just a loop. Then I went to a Dancehall club to test it against everything else that was going on. I remember the DJ named DJ Courtesy in L.A., I went to one of his nights and he played it. He was mixing in and out of [Rihanna's] “Work” and the Tory Lanez record [“Luv”] and a couple of other songs. Then he said this song is a hit song because it married well with everything else in the mix.
Dancehall is the rebellious little brother of Reggae music. You have Bob Marley who is the older brother, he’s super chill, calm. He probably drinks coffee and tea in the morning. Dancehall is the little brother who has Hennessy in the morning and he’s ready to turn up at 10 o’clock in the morning. 'I’m ready to have fun. I’m in your face, I say what I want. I disrupt the environment.' To me, Dancehall sounds like aggression and fun at the same time.
Do you have a favorite track that you produced where you showcased your Caribbean knowledge?
Dups and I did this really dope record for Rihanna’s last album but it didn’t fall through. It’s so hard, it sounds like a pure Dancehall record for women and it was called “Lock And Key.” That was one song. I have songs that have never come out that I feel are really hard Dancehall songs. They just haven’t come out yet.
This would’ve been for ANTI?
Yes it was supposed to be for the ANTI album.
I remember you guys worked on “Man Down” for her Loud album.
That’s a favorite of mine because even when we made that song the goal was to not…at the time she was doing a lot of dance music and she had just come out of having a huge hit with “What’s My Name” and “Rude Boy.” Those are West Indian-tinged songs and when we were working on the Loud album, you walk through the studio halls and you hear a lot of dance music and I said, ‘I’m not going to make dance music. I just wanted to make something that an arena full of people would immediately feel different. They would feel a change in the atmosphere.’ Regardless of where you’re at, if you put on a Reggae song, it would change everybody’s mood immediately just because it feels so good. I wanted to do the complete opposite of what everybody else was doing for her at the time. Some of her biggest songs, at the time, weren’t necessarily West Indian-influenced music so I just wanted to do something that would be a mainstay in the West Indian culture well beyond whatever huge number one pop song she has for the moment.
After “Man Down” when you hear songs like “Work” and she had a couple of other songs on the follow-up album after Loud [Talk That Talk], people were reminded that this is a Bajan girl and this is what West Indian music sounds like. This is what West Indian culture sounds like. She had this moment where she was introducing the world to this West Indian sound and she put it on the biggest platform possible because she’s such an icon. When you hear “Work,” Rihanna is the only person who could’ve done that song. I think Nicki [Minaj] could’ve done it, and she’s Trini as well. There isn’t a bigger platform for a West Indian artist or West Indian-styled music that’s bigger than Rihanna at the time. Then when you have Drake come in and do “Controlla,” it just reminds people that a lot of the music that people love has a West Indian DNA in it. Drake isn’t Jamaican but Boi1da is Jamaican, so a lot of these West Indian influences find their way into pop music. Whether it be Dancehall or Reggae or Afrobeats, it’s really prevalent in pop music because of Major Lazer, because of Rihanna, because of Kranium, Justin Bieber and even French Montana’s new song. At the core, these are West Indian-influenced styles of music or Afrobeat style of music. It’s all one in the same.
When do you think the lines can get blurred where someone might feel Dancehall or Caribbean or Afrobeats music is being taken advantage of by an artist who wants to make a profit?
What people have to remember is by definition some pop music is just popular music. That’s by definition, that’s what it is. People don’t realize that in the 90s like '97, '98, '99, black or urban music was killing the Billboard charts. It was pop music. Nelly was a huge pop star and he didn’t sound like Taylor Swift. It was just a guy rapping. DMX had several number one albums within one year. In order to do that you have to be popular amongst the listeners. When you have a certain kind of energy that everybody wants to be a part of, it now becomes pop music. Outside of America, the whole world is listening to this kind of style of music. Major Lazer are huge fans of Dancehall music. When you have somebody like Diplo admittedly said, ‘I grew up on Black Chiney,’ which is one of the most renowned sound systems in the world, and you have this white kid who said, ‘I grew up listening to Black Chiney,’ and when he’s playing festivals or making a record he uses what he grew up on as his source of influence. Of course it’s going to become pop music.
I do think the issue is that it’s okay to have Justin Bieber or Ed Sheeran make the music that moves them. Fifteen years ago, we had Beenie Man, Patra, Shabba Ranks, you had these fixtures within pop culture that said for every Patra or Shabba Ranks you have, I can’t think of anybody back then, but you have Justin Bieber. If you have a Justin Bieber song like “Sorry” that influences these West Indian vibes, you should have a Kranium. For every Ed Sheeran you should have a counterpart to it because then it makes the culture feel like it’s balanced. When Sean Paul came in the 2000s when it was a West Indian or Caribbean invasion, you had Sean Paul with Beyonce. You had Elephant Man with the Ying Yang Twins or Lil Jon. It didn’t feel like the culture was being exploited because you had the actual fixtures in Dancehall on the biggest platform as well. Now when you look at it, it should just be more than just Kranium. It shouldn’t just be one guy.
I think it’s amazing what Drake, Kranium, and Tory Lanez have done because what they’re attempting to do is make sure that when you hear Dancehall you understand that this person didn’t create it, it’s cultural, it’s not a fad, it’s not, ‘This is what’s cool right now.’ You can put a face to it and that’s the problem that people have. There aren’t as many faces that look like where it came from. I don’t think it’s a problem about it being popular because Bob Marley is one of the biggest artists of all time. No one has a problem with the different bands, Ska bands or different Reggae bands that play the music or perform the music. They don’t have a problem with that. Bob Marley was one of the greatest. He’s the face of Reggae music. Because there isn’t necessarily a face of Dancehall music, you can assume that it doesn’t have a real origin. If you start listening to Dancehall music, your reference point might be Justin Bieber and say, ‘He started that sound.’ As long as you have the faces to give a reference point as to where it comes from, I don’t think there’s a problem for Dancehall to be one of the biggest forms of pop music.
When you think about Reggae, that’s popular music. People all around the world love Reggae. Stylistically we want that to happen because then people might go backwards and do their research. I overheard this conversation in the studio and they were telling me that Omarion loves Dancehall music. He knows about the Dancehall artists. Another day I was in the studio with an artist from Arizona and one of his favorite artists is Vybz Kartel. Making Dancehall music popular is what drives that discovery. The other day I saw Chris Brown on a Konshens song. You need something to be celebrated or popularized in order for people to want to discover it. As long as we have the faces that reflect it at the core of where it comes from, Dancehall music should be welcomed as a new form of pop music. The more people who use it and exploit it, I think the bigger it’ll become. I think you’ll see an interest in more Dancehall artists because Kranium isn’t the only one. He’s such an exceptional melody and lyric writer. I think he has the opportunity to become one of the faces of Dancehall music for pop culture.
Do you think artists do a disservice to the West Indian rhythms when they blend certain sounds with pop elements? Like making the true essence of West Indian music palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing?
I don’t think it’s a disservice. A lot of it starts with your integrity. If you wake up as a creative person and you say, ‘I’m going to look on Billboard and I’m going to make a Dancehall song, or West Indian or Afrobeat style song’ for the purpose of making money, that’s not only when you’re doing the style of music a disservice, but you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re looking to make money off of it. You don’t care whether or not it sounds good and that’s when it gets sloppy. I hear all of the bad “Controlla” songs, all of the bad “One Dance” songs and the rhythm isn’t right. Your drums don’t knock a certain way. The movement isn’t authentic. When people do that and their goal was to make money off of it, I think that’s when it’s not cool. That’s like saying I’m going to donate to a charity not because I actually want to but because I want to take the picture so I get a thousand likes on Instagram. You cheapen the spirit of donating and charity.
When you do things that are money-motivated, you’re cheapening not only yourself, but that’s when you cheapen the music, the value of what it is. Music is meant to give everybody a really good feeling. If you say to yourself, ‘I love how ‘One Dance’ feels and I want to do something that feels as good,’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As creative people you should be inspired to do things and your goal should not necessarily be to just plagiarize a certain style of music, but to take bits and pieces from it and then you add you into it and it becomes new and original or it just becomes a new piece of art. I don’t believe there aren’t too many things that are new, overtime they evolve and change hands and people influence them. Someone takes what they did and their influences and it evolves and it’s constantly evolving. You get to a point where it becomes something new because of how many evolutions it has taken.
Why do you think sounds derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats is making a dynamic run on the charts and radio this year?
Because of how it feels and you have to think that the continent of Africa, a continent has a style of music. When you have that many people that move on a certain rhythm, certain beat, that has a certain life to a certain kind of music, when people go and visit these different places, they become fans of the music. For example, you might have someone who visits Italy and they love this Italian restaurant. They go back to New York and they say, ‘I want to bring this Italian restaurant here.’ They go and they make this Italian restaurant and somebody from Vancouver comes to this restaurant and they say, ‘I want an Italian restaurant in Vancouver.’ Then they go to Vancouver and they create an Italian restaurant. It all started from being such a fan of this one restaurant in Italy and you take bits and pieces of what you love from it and you bring it to New York. Someone visits New York and then it goes to Vancouver. I just feel like it was the only thing left for Afrobeats to do because of its influence. So much of the music has come from Africa anyway. Culturally, when you think about dancing, a lot of the choreography that dancers are doing now are just African dances. It only makes sense that the African dances that we see in pop culture have the music that inspired it to be a part of pop culture as well. The music feels good.
When you think about Reggae music, I can’t imagine that they ever thought that Reggae music was going to be a thing everywhere in the world from this little island in the Caribbean. If that can happen with Reggae music, then when you have the African culture, in itself, already has a huge influence and footprint globally, it influences the world in so many different ways. It only makes sense that Afrobeat is the next wave of music to come in and shift pop culture. It already started doing it. The same way there was a huge Dancehall invasion and Reggaeton invasion, I think the next real big invasion is Afrobeats. When you have pop artists like Drake, Rihanna, and French Montana, it has to happen because they have the platform and they are performing at these different places in the world. They’re like, ‘I really like how this feels, I want to do that on my next album.’ Then you have a record that’s growing like “Unforgettable” and then you’ll have another artist who’ll hear that song and say, ‘I want to do a song like that.’ It goes back to that reference about the Italian restaurant. People keep sampling it and they want to be a part of it and that’s what helps grow and spread the culture and popularity of it.
Through your productions, how do you help artists connect to Caribbean culture?
I’m Haitian so a lot of what I do naturally is just a reflection of how I grew up, how we look at the world. Growing up in a West Indian household, I have a worldview on everything. I was writing with this one songwriter, her name is Harlow, we were just writing a song and trying to come up with melodies and I was playing her Beres Hammond, Gregory Isaacs, Zouk music, P-Square. I was playing her these things that are very natural and familiar to me. For her, it’s almost revolutionary. She was amazed at the brilliance that existed in these styles of music. Just by me being me, my interests and the things that moved me will create…it’s an intriguing moment for someone who didn’t grow up the way I grew up, who’s not where I’m from, whose parents are not where my parents are from. It’s intriguing to them because it’s like, ‘why did you do that,' or ‘why did you hear that melody,’ or ‘where did that melody come from,’ or ‘what inspired that melody?’ That’s how I share my music.
One of the best songwriters in my opinion are Verse Simmonds and Rock City. These guys are from the Virgin Islands and when you hear them do pop music they’re literally regurgitating everything that they grew up listening to and they’re just taking bits and pieces of it. To an American listener, they’re like, ‘This is so new to me,’ but we’re sitting like this feels like some old Inner Circle song, some old Beres Hammond song. To me, Beres Hammond and Gregory Isaacs are some of the coldest songwriters ever, but someone who didn’t grow up in the Caribbean, they wouldn’t know that. Every time we write a song, we try to utilize or incorporate something that is familiar to us. We take what’s going on now and we melt them together and you have a song that connects with people on a global scale. Just by being yourself, if you grow up the way we do, just naturally you influence people or you’re sharing your culture with people.
What does the future of Dancehall look like to you?
The purists are going to keep getting more upset. I think because of how music is consumed now, it’s becoming less about genres and terms and definitions. We’re moving to a space where it’s about music. You hear something you like and people copy it and are influenced by it until you lose the…it’ll be less about people saying, ‘That’s Dancehall music.’ It’ll just be more about people saying, ‘I like that song’ or ‘that’s pop music.’ I think because music is becoming so blurred and the lines are disappearing, that’s a matter of how people consume music. The lines within music are being erased because of how it's being consumed. Trap music is pop music now. In a minute it’s going to be less about it being trap music and more about it being a style of music.
The purists are going to be upset but the style of Dancehall or West Indian music is only going to get bigger because the more pop stars you have doing what they like to hear or feel like Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber, it’s going to get bigger and bigger. It’s not going to be looked at as necessarily Dancehall. I think the people who know what Dancehall is and grew up listening to it, we’re able to pick it out. But I’ve walked into rooms where people don’t know Dancehall from Red Rat or Beenie. They know Dancehall as Drake. It’s like, ‘Whatever Drake does is Dancehall.’ Music is just so big now and everyone has access to all different kinds of music. If Spotify doesn’t say this is a Dancehall playlist from 1994, then if it just winds up on someone’s playlist, they’re not going to look at it as this is an original Dancehall song. They’ll say, ‘This song sounds like Drake,’ or ‘No, Drake got this from Beenie.’ They’ll say, ‘Who’s Beenie Man?’ If Beenie is not on that playlist then you’re just going to think it’s Drake or whoever just came out. I think what would help is if we had more faces. Dancehall or West Indian music just needs more faces.
Fifteen years ago you had Sean Paul, Wayne Wonder, Foxy Brown doing these West Indian-style songs. You had Shaggy who was selling 10 to 12 million records, Snow, you had all of these different artists and it felt like you can watch a segment on BET and it would be the Dancehall hour. You would have 20 different artists playing on BET. When people can’t make the connection visually then it’s going to be up to their imagination. We don’t have video programming the way we used to so how are we supposed to see that Buju Banton is a thing or Patra or Lady Saw, how are they going to see it? We don’t even have videos anymore. That’s why I feel that the lines are going to continue to be grayed and blurred and eventually erased because you don’t see the people making the music. You just hear the people making the music and people don’t really know who the songs are by anymore. There are songs that you love that you have no idea who the artist is. You just know that you love the song. That’s what’s going to continue to happen in music. Until we get more Kranium moments…it’s very evident that “Work” sounded like something foreign that people knew this has to be something from where she’s from because this doesn’t sound like “Umbrella” or “Diamonds.” This sounds like something different. We just need more references.
PartyNextDoor is doing a great job at influencing pop culture, utilizing his cultural upbringing. It’s so crazy because Kranium and Party did this one song last year that I wish would come out but it’s so dope. It’s a song that the West Indian community would love because it’s so crazy, but we just need more wins. The Dancehall community needs more Kraniums winning because then the labels won’t be afraid to sign more Kraniums or afraid to put out more songs that might not fit their format or their formulas. If they just let the songs fly, I think we can have more Dancehall music. When that West Indian invasion happened you had VP Records, which essentially was a conduit. We had a vehicle for Dancehall music to come out. You had Sean Pauls, Beenies, I Wayne, Wayne Wonder. You had all of these guys because VP Records was invested into this culture. We don’t have that, it doesn’t exist anymore. When you have a song like Kranium and PartyNextDoor that’s so crazy, but culturally the music landscape is like, ‘How do we break this song?’ Back then these huge Sean Paul records you didn’t have to break because they existed in the world for three, four years. They were super organic. That’s the thing about Dancehall. There’s no formula for it. Vybz Kartel is one of the biggest Dancehall artists in the world and he’s been in jail for how long? There isn’t a marketing scheme, there isn’t a, 'Let’s get this feature with that person to make it work.' He puts out music. With Dancehall, you have to put out the music and let people fall in love with it the way you’re supposed to fall in love with music.
Marcè Reazon Speaks On The Rewards Of Stepping Outside The Box
Marcè Reazon grew up listening to the influential creations of Timbaland, Pharrell, and Kanye West -- three producers whose names aren’t synonymous with Afrobeats – but like his predecessors, Reazon pushed the boundaries of sound and stepped outside of his comfort zone to take a musical trip to West Africa. Once he linked up with Wale for his fifth studio album, SHINE, Reazon felt it was time to test his knowledge and create a song that the award-winning artist's Nigerian background would be proud of.
Read how “Fine Girl” came to be and the legendary sample that Reazon didn’t know he utilized until the song was complete.
VIBE: Who were some of your influences and how do you implement their teachings in your productions today?
Marcè Reazon: I’m still to this day a huge Pharrell fan. I love Pharrell’s production. He is simply amazing, a genius to me musically. It would be cliche at this point for me to say, ‘Kanye was inspiring to me,’ but Pharrell was definitely a game-changer because when he entered the scene it was a different sound. When I do my music I try to do something different. “Fine Girl” in my opinion doesn’t sound different. It’s one of the first Afrobeats I’ve ever done. It was a step out of my element when I made it because it’s just something I’ve never done before.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a producer?
When I first started making music back in 2010, I connected with a guy named Anthony Kilhoffer. He is one of Kanye’s engineers. He’s one of the guys who found Travis Scott. This guy is amazing, he’s awesome. Ant and I connected through social media. It was MySpace at the time but we just started building from there. He actually got me into producing because he said, ‘Engineering is boring, you don’t want to be an engineer.’ That’s what I wanted to do. My dad was an engineer so I said, ‘Yeah, I want to be an engineer.’ But he said, ‘You don’t want to be an engineer, you want to be a producer. That’s where it’s at.’ One of the first records I co-produced with him was Kid Cudi’s “Maniac” record. It was with him and Mike Dean. I mainly worked with Ant a lot and I met Mike Dean later on in life, maybe a year after that. That’s when I realized I wanted to be a producer because at the time I just loved making music. They taught me how to use all the software that I needed to learn and the studio equipment and I just built off that.
You mentioned earlier that “Fine Girl” was your first time experimenting with Afrobeats. How did you educate yourself on that genre to create an authentic Afrobeats instrumental?
There’s this one record that I was listening to. It’s by Ayo Jay [“Your Number”]. That record to me is so dope. I had it on repeat for maybe two or three weeks straight [laughs]. I said, ‘I have to make something that feels good like that.’ After listening to that record, that was my first experience listening to an actual Afrobeats type record, but then I started listening to more DaVido, Diamond Platnumz, Eddy Kenzo, Akayo, WizKid, and obviously Drake had some influence in it as well because he’s doing some Afrobeats stuff and I would listen to all these different artists. To me, it just felt good and that’s one of the things when I played it for a lot of people, not even “Fine Girl” with Wale or anybody on it, it was just the beat by itself. When I played it for people they thought it was dope. It was definitely outside of your normal, dark trap-esque record. When I played it for Wale and his people and they really liked it. He said, ‘I have to have this record.’
Walk me through the process of "Fine Girl." What was the brainstorming session like, how’d the concept of the beat come about?
The drums sounded a lot different than what they do now. The drums were really simple. It was this simple kick at first and I just liked the feel of it. I started messing around with a few samples. I didn’t intentionally do this, but apparently what I played it out, it melodically sounded similar to New Edition [“Can You Stand The Rain”] and I didn’t realize that until I got a call from my management team. They said, ‘This is like an interpolation.’ I started playing with this loop that I played on the piano and I thought it was dope. It grew from there. I sat on the record for a good month before I actually played it for anybody but it started with a simple drum loop and then I started adding more things here and there, congas and other percussions. The original version of “Fine Girl” doesn’t sound too different. It’s actually bigger than what it is. It’s more scaled back now, but there are some synthesizers that bring it all out. We didn’t use any of that. We kept it simple the way it was with the filter, the drums, piano, and the bass. The 808 came like two or three weeks later when I made the record. If I’m really feeling a record I‘ll sit on it for a few weeks before I actually send it out to people because I’m married to it in a way.
Yes, I stumbled upon the website WhoSampled and it also said that "Fine Girl" sampled New Edition's "Can You Stand The Rain."
I promise you, it was not intentional. It wasn’t like I heard “Can You Stand The Rain” and this is what I want to do. I was playing with the piano and then the last part I played that as well and that’s what it happened to be. That last part sounds more like it then the first part or the second half of the loop.
Also, when the song dropped once Wale’s SHINE album was released, a few people said the recurring chords sounded slightly similar to Big Sean's "My Last."
I heard that too, afterward, and I said, ‘Actually no,’ but it makes sense. “Can You Stand The Rain” is a very popular record and that melody is a very catchy melody. Maybe in the back of my mind, subconsciously, it just hit me like that but in the foreground, I wasn’t thinking of that record at all when I did it -- the New Edition record, not the Big Sean one, it wasn’t even in my mind when I did it.
Do you think artists do a disservice to the West Indian or West African rhythms when they blend certain island sounds with pop elements? Like making the true essence of those regions' music palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing?
Yes, I can see where people would think that. In my opinion, I would think it’s an evolution of the sound. For example, Mexican music uses a lot of trumpets in the base of the music. I think I’m using the wrong example here, but when you have a certain sound that has a base that’s been used for generations upon generations, of course, those sounds over time are going to become evolved. People are going to use certain elements of those sounds to keep it on the level of... but just to advance it in a way to make it their own and try to own it. I think what happens over time, those who try to own it becomes a trend. People like that kind of music so then they build upon it and they keep evolving the sound. I’m trying to give you a good example but I can’t really think of one. I was going to use Mariachi music because it uses a lot of guitars and trumpets. No matter what type of Mariachi music you’re listening to, or at least all of the songs that I’ve listened to that were Mariachi bands, they use certain elements. But over time if someone came up on the scene and said, ‘I want to do a song and I want to use the Mariachi elements,’ they would use trumpets and guitars to try to keep it there at its base but also expand upon it.
I guess with Afrobeats the drums probably help to give it that authentic sound. I understand with different cultures there are specific instruments that will always make that genre’s music distinguishable to that area’s culture.
Exactly, I’m not the best with words. The way you said it is perfect [Laughs].
Why do you think sounds derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats are making a dynamic run on the charts and radio this season?
Because it feels good. In my opinion, it has always been that way. Maybe we’re just seeing it more because it’s being more commercialized. No disrespect to anybody, but with Drake’s “One Dance,” people wouldn’t be on the Afropop, Afrobeats type of record if he didn’t push it over the top a little bit with that record. WizKid is actually well known throughout the industry. DaVido as well. Those are the two well-known guys in that realm of music. They’ve been doing this for years. Internationally, I’m sure that it has been a thing for a long time, but here in the States, it’s probably chart-topping now because it’s being more commercialized.
During a talk with my co-workers, I said that sometimes it might take a mainstream artist to not necessarily usher in a new wave, but maybe open a new sound to their listeners and show that it was around for decades.
I worked with Wale on his Album About Nothing and just from working with him throughout the years that I’ve known him, he has records with Wizkid and DaVido. I don’t know what it is on the other side, I don’t know if Drake has these kinds of records with these guys as well, but [Wale] has those records. I’m not saying that he was on the wave before everybody else, but potentially, right? We don’t know. Maybe we’re just not hearing it, in my opinion.
Knowing that Wale is Nigerian, how do you help the artist or even the listener connect to the artist's country's history through your productions?
That’s a good question. I think by keeping the elements of the music close to the original roots of the sound, sonically, instrument-wise. I have to commend Wale. I remember when he first came to me with the record. He said, ‘I love this beat. This is dope. I got an idea.” He said, ‘I want to put DaVido and Olamide on the record.’ When he told me that he wanted to do that I thought it would be dope and different. For him personally, I knew the record was going to connect with him because he’s from Nigeria and he has that background and now that he’s got them on it, it’s not only going to connect with his fans that are here in the states, but also his fans that are in Nigeria because he does go back to Nigeria. Also for DaVido’s fans, I think it was a great move and it’s going to connect with a lot of people that aren’t aware of who they are and the music. I think DaVido has like two records that are on the charts at the moment.
Like you said, Wizkid, Davido, and even Tiwa Savage are getting their footing stateside given the look from the Wales, Drakes and RocNations, even other artists like French Montana, artists who are bridging the gap with that sound.
“If” is the name of the record that’s chart-topping right now and “Fall” too. DaVido is killing it. I’ve been trying to stay in contact with him because after doing “Fine Girl,” I did a bunch more Afrobeats, Afropop records because I was trying to get a sound that Wale wanted and I just kept doing beats. It’s funny because “Fine Girl” is the first one that I made out of all of the beats, but I only played “Fine Girl” for Wale and he said he loved it. It was crazy.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel like music is universal. You can take music to any country, to any planet and I’m pretty sure that people would understand what feels good, right? There’s a crowd for everything. There are certain people that may not like “Fine Girl” and I really hope they give it a try because it’s a really good record, it feels good. Everyone that I know that listens to it, they love it.
C.P DUBB Highlights The Masterminds Behind French Montana's “Unforgettable”
Since high school, C.P DUBB knew he wanted to be a part of the music industry in any capacity. With an early dream of becoming a rapper, he later realized that beats are just as important as the lyrics that lay atop. So, he decided to place his pen down and begin his journey as a producer, creating instrumentals for Tyga, Big Sean, Casey Veggies, YG and more. Throughout his tenure as a beatsmith, he established connections that allowed other rising producers to get their shine. Here enter Jaegen and 1Mind, the main producers behind French Montana’s chart-topper “Unforgettable.” Through DUBB's relationships within the industry, he was able to get the beat into the hands of those who’ve made it a certified hit.
Here's how “Unforgettable” changed hands to become a contender for song of the summer.
VIBE: What role did you play with the song “Unforgettable,” walk me through the brainstorming session?
C.P DUBB: It was a crazy process. The sound came from Jaegen out there with Ramriddlz. I had the chance and the blessing to go ahead with my boy Jeffery Exclusive. He introduced me to Ramriddlz when he came to L.A. It was a rare occasion for him to come to L.A. with his management and we cooked up a record on the first day we met. It was called “Run Top” and he came by for a day, wrote his lyrics, and gave him the beat with the homie DJ Wes. When he did that, we saw that we had something. At the time, he was in cahoots with Drake because he did “Sweeterman” and that was the sound that was going on in Toronto. Jaegen ended up coming into town and at the time I was just finishing up a record for Chris Brown’s Royalty. Jaegen was taking over the game in Toronto, but at the time he didn’t have placements commercially. He did have Ramriddlz who was doing pretty well. He saw things were picking up for me and I told him to come onboard and we can make some things happen, along with another producer named 1Mind. They ended up giving me a batch of beats. Sometimes, I would go ahead and add a 1, 2 to some of the beats they'd send me and then I’d submit them.
It just so happened that I reached out to Swae Lee. I had a successful clothing line called Vintage Bleach and I dropped off some T-shirts to him. As I did so, he didn’t know that I made beats. It went hand in hand. We started smoking and having a great time. Then I started playing these beats for myself, my friends, and my colleagues. He went ahead and started freestyling to certain beats. He actually freestyled to one called “Timeless” that we have out with A Boogie. About a month later, he FaceTimed me and said, ‘I think we got one.’ He sent me the record prematurely. It was just him at one point. Around November, out the blue, after we were getting everything scheduled away with him releasing it, we heard the record with French Montana. It wasn’t mastered, or anything like it is now, but as they saw that New York was eating it up, they said this could be a thing for him. We got the stuff together, the paperwork right, and now it is what it is. They re-mastered it, got it out correctly. We went gold within a month, going on platinum. It’s looking like we’re going to get to three or four times platinum if everything goes right.
What do you think about its success?
I love it. It’s getting to the point where I’m not numb to it but it’s due time. I felt a little bit of it when I did “Make It Nasty” for Tyga, but then as time went on, I saw that this was a successful record internationally. I’ve endured what it is to have a hit, but this right here is on another level. I didn’t know we could go gold in Sweden. Of course, I knew we could go different places, but seeing Sweden, Uganda going up with the dances, seeing these numbers, I think we have about 80 million views on YouTube within a month, seeing the charts go up. I think he’s about to be in the Top 10 for Billboard, and we’re in the Top 20 now. To see that is a blessing. I love this part of the game because that’s when a lot of the friends I had during these six years of doing music start to come back around. I’m able to bless them with hits. That’s what keeps the momentum going. Once you’re rolling, there’s a lot of support in the music game to continue to make everybody happy.
Sound wise, what do you think are some of the elements that played into making it a hit?
Definitely, the Dancehall vibe and it has a Reggae splash in there. It just has that good feeling that we know drives us. It takes us back to the Africa vibes where the drums are hitting and that four-on-the-floor is driving that record. We heard it with “One Dance” a little bit, but this one here with the lyrics going, Swae Lee singing how he is, and the tempo of the record gives you that good summer feeling. I don’t think it would’ve worked back in November. Now it’s actually a good time. We dropped it in April and it’s still feeling like it is. It even has a Latin swing to it too. It’s a little bit of everything that brings everybody together and makes you want to dance. I think that’s the sound we’re trying to get now. Ramriddlz had that sound this time last summer. A lot of these beats are beats from back then, a year ago. It’s now just getting its shine and that’s why it’s doing what it’s doing now.
You’ve worked with a lot of Cali artists like E-40, Tyga, and since the West Coast has a distinct sound, how’d you break that mold to utilize sounds that are reminiscent of Afrobeats or Dancehall on “Unforgettable?”
With those sounds there, I knew that even when I was doing sounds for the West Coast, I never had a West Coast sound. When DJ Mustard had his run, I definitely knew that was a trend and people were hungry for that so you would be stupid not to incorporate it in your beats, but even then as you can hear on “Make It Nasty” it was different. I always tried to make a sound but also incorporate what’s going on right now into it. Even when “Make It Nasty” occurred, I couldn’t even make another one because it was so unique at the time. Every time I made a record, it wouldn’t have the West Coast elements in it. That’s why when I was introduced to Ramriddlz and Jaegen, they had the sound. What I did was link with them and the certain beats they gave me, we would collaborate on, give my splash to it, the West Coast to it. It’s not even a West Coast element. I would help with whatever was already made. Even “Unforgettable,” they brought it to me almost as complete as can be. I just gave it a 1, 2 to it and we made the record happen. I like to stay to where I’m not in a box so it wouldn’t sound West Coast so that it could be able to be an international situation like it is now.
During its production stage, what were some of your influences?
It was more of an organic process. When I listened to that sound, I got the sound from Jaegen. He had that going with Ramriddlz and that Reggae sound for a cool minute. I would listen to their music because it was more of a new age vibe to what I was brought up to. It was more of a new age vibe of what’s Dancehall now. Like how Mustard did with the West Coast sound, they would refer to a Dr. Dre sound back in the day, but he obviously made a new type of sound today. But when it comes down to the Dancehall back then, it’s incorporated into what’s now and that’s what made “Unforgettable” what it is today.
Why do you think Afrobeats or Dancehall is having this shining moment now?
I was confused because I thought it was going out for a minute. When “One Dance” and “Controlla” came out, those were the things that were coming and going quickly, but for “Unforgettable” to have its success like it is now, it shows me that they still want it. It’s definitely getting a big shine. Wizkid has been doing it for a cool minute. Behind the scenes, he was the original person that was on “Unforgettable.” That was the initial idea, for Rae Sremmurd and him to be on there. Things just happened the way it did. I actually ran across a blog that had that version out somewhere. He was supposed to originally be on that record. But it’s getting the shine that it’s supposed to get and I know that it is because my phone is now ringing for that sound. It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s a lot of singles coming out that you’re going to hear from us in the near future with that sound that’s regulating at the moment.
Why do you think sounds that are derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats are making a dynamic run now?
It’s a time and place. Last year I was at Coachella and “One Dance” came about and it felt good because it was bright and hot outside. It gives you that feeling that you want to dance, turn up and people are getting to the point where Trap is all the way icy right now. Migos, Future have it going up, but when you’re in a club, you get in your mode when it comes down to the Afrobeats and the Dancehall. It’s that time where people are starting to feel good, people want to start dancing. People want to feel something and I think that gives you that feeling. It even makes the artist have to talk about a good feeling. They get to talk about love, a good time in their life, something unforgettable. That’s why I think it’s taking a place at this time. Next summer it might be another record that sounds like “Unforgettable” just because it’s that the time and place for having a great time in life.
Do you think artists might do a disservice to Afrobeats or Dancehall when they blend those sounds with pop elements?
I think it helps what’s going on with it because people seem to like certain elements from Dancehall but they don’t understand it. Because they might come from a whole other genre, if they continuously listen to EDM, it might be easier on their ears to hear the EDM version of that record. It actually not only helps the record get across but when they start doing research on the actual song, it might make them like that genre. They might actually go look into it and see why everybody is liking that record. As far as watering it down, some things might need to be watered down in order to see what’s really going on.
How do you help the artist or listener connect to that region’s sound?
As a producer, I’m not always hands-on. I can give the beat to that person, and pray that they know what to do. You might get a record or you send it to somebody and it might not be what you thought it was supposed to be but that’s why artists are artists. You might give it to somebody and expect it to be a certain way but the world might even love it when you thought it was supposed to be the way that you wanted it. When it comes down to the artist making that work, it’s really just in their hands and how they feel. Sometimes you might not like what they did on a record, but it’s their art. I can’t control it too much, but in the beat itself, we try to give it that bounce that we can give. We try to give it that melody that sticks in your head, not just the lyrics. By the time the artist is in the pocket, it’s nothing but a hit after that point. It helps the artist sit in that pocket and it becomes a thing where you can’t do any wrong on the record.
What do you think the future of Afrobeats or Dancehall looks like?
I think it’s going to do its thing in the commercial world, but it’s also going to give another bump to the essence of where it came from. It’s going to give the people that actually do Dancehall night and day a drive to make more music as such. I think they have certain people in the Dancehall world that were longing for their sounds to be heard. It does help them get an ear to their world. None of these artists are Dancehall artists. It opened up the doors for them to be accepted into another world. It makes you want to look into Wizkid and he might blow up overnight. It might open up the doors for different Dancehall artists to get their shine the same exact way and open it for other artists that have influence in this music to make more music towards that. I feel like it’s going to open up the door for different people that have been doing it for a while and give them some influence to do what they do.
Ricky Reed And His Plan To Tell Melodic Stories Solely Through Drums
For Ricky Reed, Dancehall in the early 90s served as his passageway to West Indian culture and the historical lineage that connects each island through sound. From there, his palette required more satiable melodies that continued to open his ears to instrumentals that began to blare off the coastline of West Africa. “When I discovered West African music when I was in school, I was just drawn to the energy, the soul and how drums in that music really tell a story,” he said. “How a drum pattern with no chord, no melody, and no lyric can be almost emotional.”
Below, Reed speaks on the importance of drums in his productions, the process of creating Jason Derulo’s “Swalla,” and the Bam Bam Riddim that one could say influenced the beat.
VIBE: Walk me through the process of Jason Derulo's "Swalla?" What was the brainstorming session like?
Ricky Reed: The creation of “Swalla” was a spur of the moment process with years and years of a little preparation leading up to it. To explain that – I know it’s a kind of weird thing to say – I’ve been listening to Dancehall music, Afrobeat music, like the really old stuff like Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and people like that for years and years, 10 or 15 years now. I’ve studied Ghanaian music when I was in college, very typical like take African drumming class when I was in college, but I fell in love with it and I was soon exploring everything that I could musically that was coming out of West Africa. This is well before I had a career in pop music or was doing anything pop music related. When I met Jason, of course, we had “Talk Dirty,” “Wiggle,” we did a tour together, we became friends so we speak a really common musical language. I understand him and what he’s looking for pretty quickly. He hit me up one day like, ‘Can you get in tonight?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what’s going on? Do you want me to work on these things in advance?’ He said, ‘I’m looking for some Dancehall stuff,’ and he explained to me his vision, something that sounds like it has a classic feel. My vision was almost like a 80s, early 90s Dancehall feel, one of those classic records. He said, ‘That’s perfect, let’s get it going,’ and I had worked on the beat for about an hour and a half before he got there and it was pretty similar then to what it is now. It’s a great bass and drum groove. Then he, myself, Jacob Kasher and LunchMoney Lewis started working on the vocals.
That’s interesting that you said you guys wanted a classic Dancehall sound, like the early 90s, because when I was listening to it, I think the recurring bass line reminds me of Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote.” I know that’s a popular riddim that Pitbull, French Montana and Omarion have sampled. What were some of the production’s influences in terms of digging back in the crates to early Dancehall?
“Murder She Wrote” might as well be its own genre of music; it’s an influential song. I’ve been jamming on a lot of that music lately, also working on the new Bomba Estéreo record, a Colombian band that I work with. They introduced me to a ton of great music. El General, he wasn’t somebody that I was listening to then but I’ve been listening to him now, like “Tu Pum Pum,” songs like that. For me, a lot of it really goes back to the music that I’ve been listening to for 10 years prior, which is less Caribbean and more West African specific. I like everything in the Fela Kuti universe. I’ve spent 10 years digging through that music and I'm still crazy about it.
Given that the melody features two artists from the West Indies, Jason being from Haiti and Nicki Minaj hailing from Trinidad, how do you help artists connect to their native rhythms through your productions?
To make something that is worthy of a Jason Derulo, a Nicki Minaj vocal, a Ty Dolla $ign vocal, just to make an instrumental at all that’s worthy of any of these artists getting on the record is a huge blessing and a completely humbling experience as a producer. To make something that they feel has enough character and authenticity to actually reference where they come from is mind-boggling. It’s so cool and special. Obviously, I myself am not from the West Indies, but I’m a fan of a lot of the same kind of music that Derulo is and I’m a fan of a lot of the same records that Nicki is. We come from different places but we all grow up idolizing the same musicians, the same sounds, and genres. We can come together and connect on something like this that’s very international, a modern experience and a very modern record.
You've worked with Jason stemming back to "Wiggle" and "Talk Dirty." Have you guys ever had a conversation about fusing genres like Zouk or Kompa from Haiti into his music?
We've had a couple of conversations about that stuff. When we were on tour, I think it was 2014, we had a lot of ideas about that and I think he even made some demos that never saw the light of day that are sort of in that world. He would tell me about slang from Haiti or drum rhythms, and for me being a musician is really just the means of meeting people and hearing people’s stories and finding out where they come from, what they like or don’t like. With Jason Derulo or Nicki Minaj just as much as 21 Pilots who are from Columbus, Ohio, I love to hear people’s stories and hear what drives them. For me to work with someone like Jason and hear all this stuff about Haiti and musical influences is just so cool and I try to work it into my art and the music that I’m making as much as possible too.
Do you think artists or producers do a disservice to Dancehall/Reggae or Afrobeats rhythms when they blend certain sounds with pop elements? Like making the true essence of Afrobeats palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing?
I think that you definitely have situations where people will take a little dash of an authentic sound, put it in a pop song, and of course, it’s less authentic than somebody who’s been in that scene, in that community and has been making the records for years and years. There’s no doubt about it. It is nice when somebody like a more mainstream artist brings awareness to a genre and people start going and becoming fans of that music. Drake is obviously a good example of somebody who has shone a spotlight on a lot of Caribbean and West African music. As far as the people who are around me that wouldn’t have otherwise found a lot of that music, it’s like, ‘Who are these producers? Who is this Wizkid guy?’ It is cool when pop music helps to feature these artists from these different worlds. That’s a silver lining.
Why do you think sounds derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats is making a dynamic run on the charts and radio this year?
That’s hard to say to be honest. I know that when I discovered West African music when I was in school I was just drawn to the energy, the soul and how drums in that music really tell a story. How a drum pattern with no chord, no melody, and no lyric can be emotional. That was what hooked me into it when I first discovered a lot of this music. I don’t know why it’s having such a surge in popularity in pop right now, but obviously, if you listened to it, it’s incredible.
What does the future of Dancehall or Afrobeats look like to you?
I’m definitely not the authority to answer that question. I hope that it sticks around in pop music because I think that it’s great and it gives this entirely other texture and perspective to pop music, specifically American pop music that is very necessary. I’m not the one to answer about what the future of it is, but I hope that it stays in our mainstream because it’s just so great.
Smash David Aims To Be At The Forefront Of Music’s Evolution
The evolution of music is a constant cycle, one that produces a new wave of dance-floor ready tunes each year, according to Smash David. As a means of bridging the gap between the older and younger generations, David supports the mixture of pop elements when it concerns Afrobeat or Dancehall riddims.
Via email, Smash David shares the process of implementing that mindset on Omarion’s highly underrated “Distance” song.
VIBE: What music was played in your house growing up and how does that impact your production?
Smash David: Mainly Gospel and Country music. My family is very musically inclined. Music was always in my household, whether it was listening to music on the radio, watching my dad play guitar, or listening to my mom sing. Music was always around me and that was a major influence on the way I produce today.
Who are some of your influences and how do you implement their teachings in your productions today?
My main influence in beat production was Ryan Leslie. I grew up watching his production videos MDL. My latest influence has been Metro Boomin.
Walk me through the process of Omarion's "Distance." What was the brainstorming session like for that song and what were some of the melody's inspirations?
At the time I was creating "Distance," Drake had just dropped Views I believe, and "One Dance" was a big influence on this track. I wanted to make something on the same vibe. With the help of producers like Rekless on a few edits, and Nick Fouryn on the co-production towards the end of the song where it amps up.
In an interview with Noisey, Omarion said "Distance" helped him to connect to his African heritage. How'd you assist in that experience through your production?
I would say that the rhythmic afrobeat helped him connect with his roots.
Omarion also said that "Distance" is "a clash of culture and sound." Would you classify the song under Dancehall or Afrobeats, or is that when the lines become blurred in terms of genre?
I just call it Rhythmic. Some people call it Afro, others Dancehall, and others just call it tropical beats.
Do you think artists or producers do a disservice to the West Indian or West African rhythms when they blend certain sounds originated in those regions with pop elements? Like making the true essence of West Indian or West African music palpable for consumers who might find it to be overbearing or don't understand the rhythmic patterns?
Music is always evolving. I feel that mixing traditional or rhythmic sounds from other regions and combining it with pop elements brings a new kind of sound that can appeal to both younger and older generations.
Why do you think sounds derived from Dancehall or Afrobeats are making a dynamic run on the charts and radio this year?
It's a new wave that everybody loves.
Do you think those genres' mainstream success happens in cycles?
Music recycles always.
What does the future of Dancehall and Afrobeats look like to you?
Very promising! I have plenty more to come.