HNHH's new series "Behind The Beat" profiles unique producers that are looking to change the soundscape.
For our inaugural 2015 edition of Behind The Beat, we're giving you the full scoop on a producer who you probably heard in 2014, just without knowing it. He is one of three names credited on Drake's ESPY-ready Johnny Manziel tribute, "Draft Day," which placed #25 on our Hottest Songs of 2014. And that wasn't even the only beat he helped commission for the 6-God last year. On both tracks, his name may be overshadowed by Boi-1da, who has recently emerged as a type of mentor to SykSense out of Nashville, never a hip-hop town. But make no mistake, Boi-1da knows talent when he sees it, and SykSense has already showcased his skills on his own and apart from his Toronto OVO affiliate. He can produce sounds for rapper's of all regional styles and sounds, even dabbling into R&B territory with seamless transition à la his aforementioned biggest client. Here's a round-up of what he's done in his young career to keep you going while awaiting his bigger projects that are sure to grace us in the near future.
We might as well start with what you already know. Though Drizzy had as good a year as anyone, he did so by only releasing a few solo cuts. SykSense helped produce two of them-- the first we've already mentioned. Drake dropped "Draft Day" via the OVO blog on April Fools Day, but this was no joke. Anyone who gaffed at Drizzy for his much publicized sports fandom, including his friendship with Johnny Football, or anyone who thought he might be in over his head with hints of a Jay-Z tiff, was quickly silenced. The beat hits you right away with a very familiar sample: "Doo Wop" off The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was Syk who grabbed the sample in the first place and did something fresh, and reverential, with some almost untouchable source material. The rest of the beat became a collaboration with Atlanta producer Ducko McFli, who's produced for Migos and Rich Homie Quan. The two are now roommates in Nashville and produce together as The Fam. Syk is then responsible for the synths and some added vocals, and we won't say too much on Ducko lest we do a future piece on him, but it's clear this beat was a gem before it was sent to Boi-1da, who polished it off, and put in the OVO boss' hands. Syk has known Boi-1da since 2010, and it's promising, in 2014, he's finally introduced him to his biggest client, and the game's biggest star.
Next, in late October, Drake cemented his year of countless guest features by dropping three Soundcloud tracks that, apparently, hackers already had their hands on. It wasn't much for Drizzy to put em out, but they were enough to keep us going in an non-album year. "6 God" was the biggest of the bunch. Again, SykSense is responsible for the sample, this time taking the theme music from a 1995 Donkey Kong Super Nintendo game and turning it into a heart-racing 80s car chase soundtrack. Again, he's assisted by the inimitable Boi-1da, but if we've learned anything from these two releases it's that Syk has a knack for putting an incredibly catchy spin on source material from his childhood.
Before Drake released his Soundcloud hacks, we saw Syk's name on another track with Boi-1da-- one of the hottest songs off one of the year's hottest R&B albums, Tinashe's Aquarius. Also on "Cold Sweat" is Sango, who was the focus of the very first Behind The Beat instalment. My guess is Syk helped put in those bassy synths, which carry the track without ever getting in the way of Tinashe's whispering vocals, or the track's other elements. Subtlety is key for SykSense; he's not afraid to be understated with the bassline, which makes him an attractive choice for slow burners.
Syk also assisted his Boi again on "Love Me Til I Die," a bonus cut off Kelly Rowland's 2013 album Talk a Good Game. Pity it was only released on the Target deluxe edition, as this had more production value than most of the album's original tracks. Syk's synths take on a bouncy, vocoder-like quality that land somewhere between the 90s R&B he's clearly familiar with and the darker, bass-washed OVO adopted sound of late.
Working alongside Boi-1da, Syk has already proved himself a worthy collaborator, and in today's industry, the young producers making it are those who are willing to share beats with their competitors. His closest collaborator is obviously Ducko McFli, the guy he shares an apartment with. Now that "Draft Day" has put them on the map, they officially produce together as The Fam. Aside from their OVO connections, they've also attracted the attention of Mike WiLL, showing their Nashville residence hasn't appeared to isolate their sound in any way.
They were two of a few lucky young producers to appear on the Ear Drummers boss's latest mixtape, Ransom, released last month. The Fam assist Mike on "That Got Damn," which features three consecutive freestyles from fellow Ear Drummers Swae Lee, one-half of Rae Sremmurd, Jace, one-half of the Two-9 collective's Retro Su$h!, and unknown lady-MC Andrea, who's got some serious skills herself. The beat features a hollowed-out bassline that wobbles along at alien frequencies, and cinematic horns that pull you in immediately. It's perfectly ripe for any freestyling, basically carrying the young rappers solely with its own momentum.
The duo's other big mixtape feature of late was off A$AP Ferg's latest, Ferg Forever. The beat for "This Side" is equally, and fittingly, cinematic for the Trap Lord and YG's ode to their red-blooded mentors. A drawn-out string melody synchronizes with sputtering drums that mimic Fergenstein's frenetic jabbering. Though they only have a few tracks to their name, if you look at the names they've produced for thus far, they couldn't have asked for a better start. Expect to see a lot more of the young duo in 2015.
Most of the tracks we've listed so far are from last year, but Syk first got on a hit back in 2012, helping out DJ Drama, and, again, Boi-1da on "So Many Girls," which features Tyga, Wale, and Roscoe Dash. Rapping-wise it's nothing exceptional, and it's really the production that gives the song all its catchiness. We imagine Syk plays out these synths, which sound as though they're being sung-- to the point that the hook really writes itself. The drumwork is crazy underneath-- let's credit that to Boi-1da, but like most of the beats here that Syk contributes to, there's a breezy coolness that endures even when a wild array of disparate sounds are thrown into the mix.
SykSense also helped produce DJ Drama's latest single alongside Florida production duo The MeKanics. "Right Back" is an all ATL affair featuring Jeezy and Rich Gang young guns Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, which we premiered last September, and made its way into our Hottest Instrumentals of the year. The track is driven by a very simple bass melody, which is bouncy, clean, and carefully pitched under Syk's control. It carries the beat but never dominates the track, allowing the ebullient personalities of each of the three Atlanta trap stars to fully be heard.
Next, we go down to Houston for one of best tracks off of Travi$ Scott's Days Before Rodeo. Most of Rodeo featured unhinged drug-imbued bangers, but "Backyard" is one of the tape's most introspective cuts, thanks to some more brilliant sampling by Syk, who partners with producer O.Z (as well as Scott himself). He samples a live version of Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover," which, here, is barely recognizable. The result is a slowed piece of nostalgia that flutters somewhere in between g-funk and Houston chop n screw.
Last is finally a beat that is solely attributed to Syk himself. His latest feature is on the Chicago upstart Lil Herb's latest mixtape, Pistol P Project. From Houston to Chicago to Atlanta to Toronto, Syk's sound knows few regional barriers. There's a similarity that can be traced from song to song, though each beat stands on its own. Herb's "Real" is nostalgia-addled, featuring what sounds like child singing-- we'd love to know the sample here. It's also just as triumphant as most of Syk's other productions, despite the bloody-knuckled lyrical content. Syk has his mentors and connections, who will continue to help him rise up in the game, and now that his name is out there, we hope we'll see him on more of his own projects.
Stream all of the aforementioned tracks below, as well as Tory Lanez' "40 Days n 40 Nights," another Syk collab with the MeKanics, plus, we've included "Madness," another solo-produced cut commissioned for Sir Michael Rocks and Mac Miller.