Between BlocBoy JB's "Look Alive and Drake's "Nonstop," Tay Keith has already made a lasting impression.
By now, you probably recognize the name Tay Keith. If you don't recall the sound of his tag at the onset of Drake's "Nonstop," you may very well fare better in recognizing some of his work, including Lil Yachty, Offset, and Cardi B's "Who Want The Smoke" and BlocBoy JB & Drake's ubiquitous "Look Alive." In fact, the Memphis producer has been in the middle of a prolific run, and has currently found his demand rising at a record pace. It's no wonder, given his efficacy at crafting minimalist, yet deeply infectious bangers.
I had the pleasure of chopping it up with Tay Keith, who hit up our New York office for an installment of Behind The Beat. Currently coming off lacing one of Scorpion's most noteworthy cuts, it's clear that Tay Keith is only getting started. Rest assured, the young producer's best work has yet to come.
HNHH: What’s up Tay Keith, how you doing man?
Tay Keith: I’m good man, how are you?
Not too bad, how are you enjoying New York?
It’s cool. I can’t deal with the traffic though. There’s a lot of traffic.
I can imagine. So, first off, congratulations on all your recent success. I’ve been a fan since I first heard your music with BlocBoy, now it seems like you’re in the middle of blowing up.
I appreciate that.
How does it feel to see your contribution to Drake’s Scorpion being one of the album’s biggest successes?
It feels good. I didn’t expect it to be that big. I expected it to just be one of the songs on the album. I think it would go to be the number two song on the album. It’s amazing.
You must have known it was a banger when you made it, though.
I knew it had the bounce to it, it’s that Memphis sound. But for it to be on the mainstream level, you just realize how good a sound Memphis has. You know, it’s kinda like a sound that hasn’t been put on the mainstream platform yet.
Can you walk me through the story of “Nonstop?” From laying it down, to hearing the finished product.
When I made the beat, I made it for Drake specifically. I had sent him a bunch of packs of beats, and that was the one that he wanted.
It’s looking like you’re shaping up to be one of his go-to guys right now.
Let’s talk about your beat-making schedule. Are you grinding out as many beats as you can, or are you more of a perfectionist with it?
When I make a beat, I don’t make it just to make it. I make it for a specific artist. I might make ten beats for Moneybagg Yo, or ten beats for Drake, or BlocBoy, and make them directly for them. That way I can run with them on a consistent level. When you hear my beats, that’s the sound I use with that particular artist.
It’s not just, I’m going to make a beat today and send it out to somebody. It’s more like, okay, this person needs a beat, so I’m going to work on the pack that I worked on specifically for them, you know what I’m saying.
BlocBoy JB & Drake - "Look Alive"
For sure. I like that approach. Shows that you have a greater sense of vision. As far as the music itself, I noticed that in your melodies and chord progressions, you seem to favor the minor key, spooky vibe.
It’s interesting you mention that.
I’m a big fan of the “dark banger,” as it were. Where’d that element of your sound come from?
Minor key music just catches my ear more. I kinda stick with it. It works!
Do you have any musical influences who have come to shape your sound today?
The Memphis legends, like DJ Paul, DJ Squeeky. Mannie Fresh. Dr. Dre. Timbaland. The fact they had their own sound motivated me to stick with my own sound. If any artist want this type of beat, they can’t go to any producer, they gotta go to the original. Anyone can take the sound and make it similar, but if it’s not the original, it’s just copying. I feel like every producer should have their own sound, for an artist to want to work directly with them.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Dr. Dre. He feels like a bit of an odd man out, being a West Coast legend, but he has put in work with that minor key production sound. What is it about Dre that inspires you?
The thing about Dre, it’s more about his movements and the things that he did that motivated me, more than the music. Of course he had good music, but it was more the position he had with his artists. The fact that he just leveled up, as far as the Beats By Dre, or starting a record label.
It’s safe to say that you're an ambitious man. Big things planned for the future?
Definitely. I have a producer label started already. I just signed my first producer, Denaro Love.
When you find yourself working with other artists, what are some of the values you want to instill in them?
The same work ethic I have. One of the main things I learned while working with artists like BlocBoy, Black Youngsta, and Moneybagg Yo, was consistency. Not just consistent with a way of making the music, but a consistent sound. That’s what sets you apart from other producers.
I’m sure you’re well aware of Rick Ross dropping the now-iconic “can all producers please get paid” mantra. Every day you hear horror stories about young producers getting stuck in lopsided deals. When you first started going into the game, how mindful were you of all the potential industry pitfalls?
Man, it only took me one time to get screwed over. Made me realize I had to be more cautious. Now, I can look back, and use it to give tips to young producers. When you email an artist beats, always send a copy of the email to yourself too. Kinda like proof that you sent them something. A short-term form of copywriting in a sense.
Do you feel like the industry doesn’t prepare artists enough about publishing, royalty rights -- the behind-the-scenes business side of things?
The industry doesn’t teach you that, cause they keep winning if you don’t know. You might think, if you don’t know it won’t hurt you, but it really will. You’re putting yourself in a position where someone can take advantage of you, or be able to take advantage of you. If I didn’t know nothing about my publishing, and I were to sign with somebody, they can just take everything that I created and run with it. All on the simple fact that I didn’t know what I was doing.
A lot of producers come in the game, head empty with it, not knowing what’s what. Labels take advantage of good talent.
Absolutely. On another, and perhaps more random note, I gotta ask - what was it like working with Blac Youngsta? Man has one of the most outlandish Instagram personalities in the game, but judging from his music, he seems like a real dude. How’d you guys link up?
I had been working with him before he had his major hit songs, he was still coming up. When we started working, we were developing our sound together. I was going through Atlanta, linking up with him, and while he was in studio, I’d be in the other room making beats. I’d play him what I got, and we just ran from there, from that point on. Whether the “Gang Gang” song with Moneybagg Yo, “Birthday,” or “Lil Bitch,” we found a specific sound that we developed together.
What about BlocBoy JB? He’s been killing it lately, and you laid down some of his biggest hits. I understand that you two came up together - did that have any affect on the dynamic?
Yeah, for sure! That’s why I recommend any producer and artist to build a chemistry together if they gon make music together. You can’t just get in a room together and force a vibe, not if you don’t understand each other. Since me and Bloc had that relationship built up already, it wasn’t nothing for us to make music. I’d be making a beat, and he’d be freestyling the whole time, so I know what direction to go with it. He knows what direction to rap on, cause he done freestyled the whole beat.
It seems like a lot of people are out there calling themselves “producers” after making a beat or two, but it sounds like you have an insight into the actual process. Playing the role in guiding the artist, helping them craft the best song.
A producer can send beats all day, after never meeting the artist, but it’s different when you have a personal artist together. You can develop something together, it’s more of a creative process.
No doubt. I remember reading something you once said about the differences between Memphis and Atlanta, where Atlanta had more unity and creativity going on. Do you still feel that way?
I mean, n****as got more unity now. A lot of people figure since me and BlocBoy made it in the industry, and we got the Drake stamp, as far as him bigging up the city through the music, it’s bringing people together, cause now they know they can get a shot at that too.
There’s more unity now in Memphis. You got sides that working with sides that wouldn’t work with each other before. It just shows that they been motivated by what me and BlocBoy has done.
Paving the way. What about the creativity part? What do you think makes Atlanta such a creative hub?
The artists they have is more mainstream, for one. I feel like if we had more mainstream artists in Memphis, there would be more creative vibes when it comes to music. I don’t know, I just feel like Atlanta has more creativity to it.
For example, you know TK Kravitz did that song with Jacquees? It was creative for those two to even do a song together. But in Memphis, you got Dolph and you got like, Gotti, and they not united. But everyone know that if they were to work together, it would be a creative idea, you know what I’m saying?
True enough. What’s the next step for you?
I got a mixtape I executive produced with Moneybagg Yo, called Bet On Me, set to drop later on in July. I’m working with a lot of mainstream artists now, I don’t wanna spill the beans yet. Look out for my producer, Denaro Love, out of Memphis.
Seeing as Tay Keith is going to be around for a while to come, you may as well familiarize yourself. Be sure to check him out on our "Behind The Beat" feature below, where he breaks down how he created Lil Yachty, Offset, and Cardi B's new banger "Who Want The Smoke."