After Sculpting Sounds for Kendrick, Kanye, and Drake, Boi-1da Is Set to have the Best Year Ever
It goes without saying that Boi-1da, born Matthew Samuels, is one of hip-hop’s most successful producers and one of the best things to ever happen to Canada. He’s the rare name who can generate as much interest in a track as the artist, and for over five years he's crafted a number of hits with rappers like Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and of course longtime collaborator Drake. One of his most important contributions—along with Noah ‘40’ Shebib—is pioneering the sound that people associate with Toronto. And while he's certainly grateful for these accomplishments, through conversation it's clear that he’s solely focused on continuing to make “moments” that listeners connect to, resisting the urge to rest on his laurels for even a second. With production credits on the new Kanye West song “Real Friends,” two Grammy nominations for Album of the Year nominee To Pimp A Butterfly, and Best Rap Song for “Energy,” he's already set to have an unparalleled 2016. That's not even to mention his work on Drake’s hotly anticipated Views From The 6.
Typically reserved, Boi-1da gave us the chance to talk about what it was like collaborating with Kanye West, hints on what to expect from Drake, and being one of the “Godfathers” of Toronto’s steadily rising music scene.
Noisey: You’ve accomplished a lot in the last year, but I think it's best if we start with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late which you produced a majority of. What did you and Drake have in mind when you started working on it?
Boi-1da: Me and Drake always work on stuff, but this time around I really wanted to get more involved. We were together hand in hand for most of it. I was on tour with them, the Drake and Lil Wayne tour. Then I just ended up getting more and more involved and ended up doing eight songs on the album. It was a great experience, great album.
I have to know, does “Energy” actually sample The O.C.?
That's literally me on the piano, that's not even a sample. I don't even know who came up with that. I don't watch The O.C.. I heard it's a good show but I didn’t sample anything. It's basically a simple progression on the piano.
What are some of the things that you’ve did for that album that you’re applying to Views from the 6?
Just bringing that same energy that I always bring. Those moments that everyone loves. The huge 100 bar “6PM in Toronto” moments, “Energy,” “10 Bands,” “Up All Night.” Those are the moments that I always come with and that's basically what I’m trying to bring to the table.
You don’t have a signature sound, but I think it’s fair to say when you and Drake work together the sounds are very sparse and cold at times—especially with IYRTITL—but still have those punchy drums that land on the ears immediately. What are the production changes you’re going to introduce with Views?
You know, just a new swing of things. Just thinking outside the box with my production. Trying to bring something interesting. I feel a lot of people in rap music are doing the same stuff, so with my production right now, I’m just basically trying to do something a little outside the box and to take it back to where I came from originally.
What excites you as a producer?
Great music. I’m a hip-hop head, it comes first for me. I love rap. I love music in general, but rap is my thing. and that’s what excites me really, that’s why I love working with Drake. He does everything across the board, but he’s also a rapper's rapper. People always forget and he kindly reminds people. I’m just a huge fan of rap.
How does it feel going from Drake to someone like Kanye? Specifically, for the track “Real Friends?”
Working with Kanye was dope, a dream come true. I’ve been a fan since College Dropout and even till now. The song is great, man and Kanye is on his stuff. Being with him in the studio he’s hilarious and a cool guy. Just really fun to work with.
You and 40 have been given the title of “Godfathers” of the current Toronto sound. What does that feel like?
Man, it’s really flattering. We came a long way. We took a lot of time figuring out how we were gonna approach music and bring something different to the table. It took a lot of brainpower, it took a lot of trial and error and you know, mad scientist stuff. I look up to 40 like crazy. He's a huge mentor and he's just so smart. There just so many technical things he knows that I don't really know. I kind of do everything off ear [and listening]. So it was definitely super flattering to hear him say that and to hear other people say that as well cause I worked hard and a long time.
Is it weird looking at it from where you originally began and your success now? You, T-Minus, Jordan Evans, all come from outside of Toronto yet pretty much crafted what the world sees as our sound?
When I was a teenager and I moved there—I was in the 8th grade when I moved from Scarborough to Ajax—and there was literally absolutely nothing to do. So you kind of had to find something to do. There was nobody I knew really and I was kind of the introverted kid. So I had to find something that was gonna occupy my time. A lot of those kids, Jordan [Evans], T-Minus, were in the same boat. It was winter here too so we just spent a lot of time inside working on our craft and it just so happened that things came out the way they turned out.
In a recent interview, Kardinal Offishall told us about giving you one of your first placements on an album. How did you break into the Toronto scene, especially with some of the backlash due in part because of where you lived?
Yeah, I remember going to the first Battle of The Beatmakers ever. I was this 17-year-old kid from Ajax that uses Fruity Loops, you know? I heard everybody kind of laughing under their breath. They laughed at the program and the fact that I’m from Ajax but, again, we don't have anything to do out there. All we did was music. That was really my breakthrough, being at Battle of the Beatmakers, cause I ended up meeting a lot of people through there. I ended up meeting a producer that I work with frequently named D-10 who ended up introducing me to Drake and Kardinal, Glenn Lewis, Ken Masters, a lot of people. I basically met so many people just through that one event and it kind of snowballed into everything.
Have you ever just made something and thought to yourself “Damn, I made something really good”?
I’d probably say that my favourite beats or favourite moments were probably “Over” or “Pound Cake.” Just cause when I heard the finished product for ["Over"] I was just like, it was just “yeah this is really special.” Especially for “Pound Cake”, there wasn't much to the beat; just a sample cut, some Rhodes, a kick and snare. But there was something about it that was angelic almost. I really enjoyed making those two beats. All my beats are my favourites, it’s like asking if you have a favourite kid. But those two are probably my favourite.
Was there anything that you produced last year that really stood out?
Last year, maybe “10 Bands” because it had a different kind of bounce to it. I was trying something new and it worked out. Drake heard it and he liked it. Also “Blacker the Berry” by Kendrick Lamar as well. That was really a strong beat that I knew somebody who really rapped needed to jump on. That was a great one.
Well, that track and To Pimp A Butterfly, in general, was one of the biggest albums of last year so let’s talk about how that came together because you’re one of the few people on that album that's not part of the immediate TDE camp.
I’ve known Kendrick for a while pretty much before everything started happening with him. My good friend named Manny Smith that works at Interscope kind of put me on Kendrick before he really even transcended to where he is now. I've always had a cool relationship with him but Manny [Smith] just put us together. We just did a bunch of tracks, I was in with Kendrick for maybe a week and it was just really fun to work with him. He’s a great guy and he has a lot of energy in the studio. That was a joint that I had from before but I ended up playing it for him and he really liked that one. He said he had an idea for it so he did his thing on that one.
Now for those who don't know what is the Kingsway Library?
The Kingsway Library is a sample library that a producer that I work closely with by the name of Frank Dukes created. It's basically a bunch of samples he put on the internet for purchase. Frank, he’s a producer as well but he thrives in making moments and samples. He ended up sending me one that was actually a part of the Kingsway Library. I didn’t specifically use the Kingsway Library but Frank had sent me one that I used for, what is it? “6PM in New York”? or “9PM in New York”? what is it? I don't know the name of my own song. [laughs] But yeah “6PM in New York” was a part of the Kingsway sample library that Frank had sent me. I was in the studio working with another producer named Sevn Thomas and we just kind of flipped that into what it is now and it worked out perfectly.
What part did Frank Dukes play in "0 to 100?"
“0 to 100” was from Frank just sending me something the start of what would end up as the beat. And as soon as I heard the beginning of it, I was just like “That’s what needs to be done.” That is actually a sample of that Frank Duke’s created. So it’s not actually a sample but it’s a composition that he made that I sampled. Sampling is expensive, man. I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang at the time and you can hear it. It’s very Wu-Tang influenced.
What are you looking to get done for the rest of the year?
I’m definitely looking forward to everybody hearing Views from the 6. Can't really say anything about it but just be on the lookout. A lot of great music and a lot of cool stuff that I'm involved with that's coming out this year.
So what do you want your legacy to be once everything is said and done?
When everything's said and done, I just want people to recognize me for my music. That’s really all I care about, I’m not trying to be anything else but a great producer. I’m not a rapper, I’m not an artist. My thing is just to make great music, to be a great person and to motivate and inspire people that are striving to do the same thing that I’m doing. When it’s all said and done, I just want people to recognize me for my music and just helping others.
Are there any other young Toronto producers that you’re looking at currently? Because I know developing younger talent is something that’s very important to you.
Yeah, there are so many young Toronto producers that are on the come up right now. A lot of them like MurdaBeatz, DZL, Wondagurl, she’s doing her thing too. Dax is dope too, he's from Durham as well. There are so many guys that I can't even keep up because every day there’s another dope producer from Toronto. We just have so many.
Jabbari and Boi-1da spent 20 minutes talking about cereal after this interview was completed. Follow him on Twitter