EY: Behind His Hits With Meek Mill, Drake and Childish Gambino
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
EY is quietly becoming one of hip-hop’s hottest producers; his credits include Meek Mill’s “24/7 (featuring Ella Mai),” Drake’s “Omerta” and Childish Gambino’s “‘Algorhythm.” He discussed all three songs with us, as well as what it takes to make it as a producer.
Tell me about working with Meek Mill and Ella Mai on “24/7.”
It was definitely a fun experience. It was me and my friend OZ, who produced that record and my other guy, Austin [Powerz] who’s the producer. I was at the crib just trying to get a few ideas together. I was going through some samples on YouTube and just downloading samples.
And I come across the Beyonce “Me, Myself and I” song, which has been playing in my house for years. I’ve got younger sister, Auntie’s and cousins that love that song. So I thought to myself, “Has anybody sampled this yet? How has nobody sampled this song?” Like it’s such a classic.
I just downloaded it, put it into free loops and just started chopping it up and trying to just catch, I don’t know, just the vibe of it or whatever. And I learned the chords a little bit of the original song. [Then] I put the chords over the sample up and started slowly, progressively added in drums. Then I sent a video to my boy OZ of the idea I had. And he’s like, “Yo, this is hard. Send it. Let’s work on it right now.” So I sent OZ a zip.
And he sent a video back of the [song with the] bounce that he kind of added to it, and spent he sped up a little bit more and then from there it just kind of took on a life of its own. So, that’s kind of like a quick breakdown of how we made the beat. It was pretty dope.
So, you were working on this, specifically, with Meek Mill in mind.
It was definitely with Meek in mind. I’d heard he’d been working on a project and I thought I wanna send something over. I wanted to just send something over that was melodic but just had old school feel. So I was looking for samples. So when I was looking for samples, I found the Beyonce joint. It was dope to hear what they had done [on the track].
So when you’re writing a song for someone like Meek, obviously there’s a budget. But it may not be easy to clear a Beyonce sample. Am I right about that?
I would think so, yes. But again, cause I was just in that place, I was just creating, [so] that didn’t really hit me until later. I wondered what the clearance situation would be.
But it managed to go through and yeah, it worked and it became a dope song. So, you know, that’s kind of what you want at the end of it, no matter what happens in terms of business, to come out with a dope record. But yeah, initially you would think, it would be a tough [sample] to clear.
I imagine someone at management would feel like, “Hey, I wanted you to write me a song, but you just put in a really expensive, impossibly difficult to clear sample!”
It wasn’t even like Meek was asking for a specific type of record to get sent over. I’d been sending stuff and ideas and just dope vibes for a little while anyway. And that was one that they gravitated towards because I guess the feel of the record and it was chopped and there were sections of the beat where the sample just sat alone on its own. So it was really nostalgic, I feel like. So, yeah, it came together really amazing.
When you send it to him and his team says, “Okay, we’ll take this,” then it’s out of your hands. Did you know Ella Mai was gonna be on the track?
Once it was sent over and I was told, “Yo, this is fire.” I didn’t hear anything of it until it came out. But when it came out that we were definitely happy. I didn’t know that Ella Mai was on it until the day before [it was released]. A friend of mine, Nija [Charles], she wrote on that song. She wrote Ella Mai’s hook, and she let me know. So yeah, I only heard the record when it came out. It was super fire. Super happy about came out and Meek killed it, of course.
So it drops on radio, and that’s when you hear the finished version of the thing that you started a few months earlier.
Yeah. About a year and a half. So it was dope. Just the whole experience of going from the idea that was created and me leaving it alone for a day or two and coming back and then collaborating with a friend of mine and then going back and forth again and then to hear the song come out a year later was like, “Yo!”
I tell my friends now. I was that beat was a year old and the world got to hear it as a whole new thing with Meek and Ella Mai. It was incredible. It still is.
Talk about working on “Omerta” for Drake.
That was fun as well. That was really fun. Again, same type of vibe. Did the beat, sent it over to my friend OZ who has got a relationship with Drake. And OZ hit me, “Yo! This is being used!” Obviously, I wasn’t sure when or how it was going to come out at first, but then I think a day or two days before it came out, we’re told is coming out and it came out and I couldn’t be more happy. To be fair, just the sample, the way it sounds, the drums, everything kind of came together, amazingly so. Yeah, that was a really wicked experience as well.
Drake, for about 10 years now, has been arguably the biggest star in hip hop, or at least one of them, and really one of the biggest stars in any kind of music at all. What does it mean for you as a songwriter just to get a track underneath him and get him to put that out?
Bro, it’s incredible. It means everything, doesn’t it? Like, he is the top artist of our generation and will be for a very long time. So for me, it’s amazing. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to get a song with Drake for a minute. It is crazy. I hear it in the shops like I’ll be in a store out here. JD [Sports], I know you guys don’t have it in the U.S. It’s like Footlocker. And I heard the song. And I was still like, “Yo, what? This is crazy!” Like, I still can’t believe it to this day.
For a long time, his [production] guy was “40” [Noah “40” Shebib]. It seems like he’s got really high standards for who he works with, because at first he worked with that guy almost all the time. You guys must have felt like, “We’ve really got to come with something good for this guy.”
It’s not like he was asking me to send over music. I’ve been sending music through my friend OZ who has that relationship. Drake still works with 40, I think everything does go through 40 anyway to some degree.
40;’s a legend. A lot of what’s going on in the game right now because of 40, I believe.
Do you get to meet Meek, do you get to meet Drake after you do these tracks?
I’ve met Drake before, but it was before “Omerta.”. And I haven’t met Meek. I’m pretty sure that’ll come one day if we work again and I’ll just be in L.A.
As a songwriter, when someone that big decides to cut your song, there’s a lot riding on it, especially when you’re young, right? When you started out, that could be the difference between paying rent and not, and I correct?
At this point, no. Coming up as a producer/writer, you have to work through those phases. Right. So, yes, there was a time where I was equating every session I did and every beat I sent. I wanted to monetize that situation ASAP because I had things I had to take care of. It was a phase of that. But I haven’t been in that phase for a minute.
But I guess you kind of build your way up. You work through those phases and you build you out through that and, you know, figure out how to handle things and manage things. And sort your priorities and, you know, you get into working music, ’cause you’re working on music. You’re not trying to rely on that wholeheartedly and think, “Oh, my God, this song is gonna come out because I’ve got a pay rent next month.” I mean, again, that’s a phase, though. Some people go through those phases. Some people don’t. Luckily, again, it’s just the grind. And again, like you go through that to hopefully make out if you stick out long enough.
I’m not sure if the music industry is the first place you come into, if you’re just trying to get rent paid. Like, the priority has to be, what is your passion? You wanna make music. Okay, cool. Then you kind of have to make it a priority. It’s like a leap. So I understand the fear and all of the other stuff that comes of it. But I feel like the ones that do get through that barrier are the ones that kind of take that job up and, you know, do what they gotta do.
Let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s “Algorhythm.” I really dig that song; it has like this sort of ominous tone to it.
That song is incredible. I love that song. That was my friend Kurtis [McKenzie]… he sent me a few samples, and I opened the samples up and I said, “I’m gonna create freely. I’m going to like go round the samples he’s created, try a drum pattern and just tried to create something that doesn’t kind of sit in a certain genre. And then I sent it to Kurtis and he loved it. Curtis sent a beat to DJ Dahi who has been one of our favorite producers for a minute. And it’s a blessing. I call him a friend now. And then me, Dahi and Kurtis got in a group text and we start discussing, I guess, ideas, what we could do. And then Dahi just elevated the whole song from just a beat to just a whole different level, played some keys on it. It just went in like just on production, on even the vocals. It took it to another level. And the reason I’m saying that is because that song in particular, showed me the difference between sitting there and making beats and having a vision and sitting there with the artist and trying to guide that vision as well. And that’s what that taught me.
And me and Dahi had many moments that we spoke about that. That moment was quite recent as well. It was in L.A. in January, and that was the main thing for me, just being able to create, sitting with the artist, [who was] guiding the full vision of the song.
So this was different than your other experiences because Donald Glover was there, where Drake and Meek Mill were not.
I was sending the beats over. Those relationships weren’t direct relationships for me. But the Gambino one was more… We were there at the studio and were working. And he would say what he liked and what you thought the vibe was and Dahi executive produced the whole album. So he was actually the one that was Frank Gambino a lot. But, yeah, it was a great vibe. It was amazing.
Have you been in situations where you’re at a club, you’re at a party, you’re at a restaurant, you’re in a store, and suddenly a song you worked on is being played on the P.A. and you see people digging it and they have no idea they’re standing right next to the guy who co-wrote it?
Of course. Yeah. That happens all the time. Like the example I just gave you in the store when I was out here. It’s dope! I personally enjoy not being known to that level. As a producer, it’s dope: I try to see people’s reactions, to see if they’re singing along or if they are enjoying it or if they’re bobbing their heads. I’ve been to shows and concerts and I’m just standing there like, “Yo, this is fire.” But the only thing I can think of is why my synth sounds so loud. So, yeah. It’s cool.
And so you’re not a guy is going to try and turn this around and make your own records and stuff like that.
Maybe. No, I wouldn’t say I never do it. I might. Just right now where I’m at this moment. I don’t think that’s what I want to do right now. But I’m not opposed to it.