For someone so young, Key Wane sure has a hell of a lot of production credits to his name. Originally affiliated with Big Sean, the 23-year-old—who graduated from Tennessee State University in December of 2012—has worked on tracks for Tyga, Roscoe Dash, Meek Mill and Drake with the likes of Lil Wayne, French Montana, Wale, 2 Chainz, Jhené Aiko and Busta Rhymes all rapping over his beats. He’s got placements on two of the biggest upcoming albums of the year—Sean’s Hall Of Fame and Drake’s Nothing Was The Same—and his piano-based production style is in higher demand than ever.
It was at the age of 11 or 12 that he first started playing the piano, initially teaching himself single-note melodies before his mom heard him and got involved. “She ordered me this Yamaha keyboard out of a JC Penney catalog,” he recalled in a phone conversation with XXL while at the gym. ”It got mailed to the house, and I just started making beats on it. Then I started taking piano lessons, and the stuff I learned from my piano lessons, I would combine that with beats, and it really was just something that I loved to do, man. I really didn’t go out a lot ’cause I was always coming up with stuff.”
Soon after, he met Sean, who was friends with his older brother and cousin in Detroit, and started sending him beats. The encouragement and advice he got pushed him forward, and music classes in both high school and college developed his piano chops to the level where Sean began taking serious notice. “I started getting better in music, I started sending him everything, and he finally found some good records—’Memories’ and ‘Almost Wrote You A Love Song’—and we just kept going from there,” Wane said.
While he was in college, he’d fly out to L.A. to hit the studio with Sean, working on his latest mixtape, Detroit, or tracks from Hall of Fame, and while in school he’d make beats and remix tracks, sometimes even in the classroom, where he remixed Sean’s No I.D.-helmed “I Do It” while waiting for his professor to show up. “I may record four eight-bar piano loops all day, and I do nothing with them, they’re just sitting around,” he said. “So all I had to do [for that remix] was put the pieces of the puzzle together. My teacher was late that day, we [had to wait in] class for 30 minutes, so I put my headphones on and turnt up real quick. I sent it in, and the remix got picked.” [Laughs]
Now with Sean set to drop Hall Of Fame on August 20, Wane has continued his work with his longtime collaborator, recently getting behind the boards for “Beware,” featuring Lil Wayne and Jhené Aiko. “I made ‘Beware’ the same time I made ‘Amen’ for Meek Mill; I made both of those records in the same day,” he said. “I came home from Christmas break and just started making tracks—I don’t know how many beats I made that day, like four or five. And ‘Beware’ was one of the ones I was really rocking with. I came up with an idea for the hook of it, Sean switched up the hook a little different, and then at that point we had a song. Then Jhené Aiko got on it, and he told me Wayne was on it—it was crazy.”
He’s worked on other songs as well for the album, but he’s tight-lipped about most of them, only letting out that a track called “World Ablaze” was going to, well, set the radio on fire. And with more work on the way—he also mentioned he’d be sending ideas back and forth with Salaam Remi, among others—and a whole lot more free time after finishing his degree, he’s got plenty of time to get in the studio. “I can’t wait for the rest of the stuff I’ve been working on to come out so people can hear the other ideas and things I’ve been working on lately,” he said. “[I'm] just continuing to work, learn more and just be a better me, musically.” —Dan Rys (@danrys)