Studio Session: “Look Alive” Producer Tay Keith Is the New Sound of Memphis Trap Music
With the success of a new generation of rappers that includes Blac Youngsta, BlocBoy JB, Key Glock and Moneybagg Yo, it's safe to say there's a renaissance going on down in Memphis. Soundtracking much of this new wave is Tay Keith, the 21-year-old Middle Tennessee State University senior responsible for producing "Look Alive," BlocBoy's biggest hit to date that serves as evidence that the Drake stimulus plan continues to pays dividends. Keith was on campus in his school's library when he found out the song debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"I was like, 'Damn, it's finna go down,'" the Memphis native tells XXL of the moment he learned the track landed on the chart. "I knew then that it was a life-changing moment."
While "Look Alive" brought Keith unseen levels of visibility, the producer had been heating up the streets long before Drizzy came into the picture. Before that track dropped, he'd already worked with different generations of Grind City talent, producing for the likes of Juicy J ("Broke Niggaz"), Moneybagg Yo and Yo Gotti ("Gang Gang") and Key Glock ("Russian Cream"). The latter has accumulated more than 5 million listens on YouTube and SoundCloud combined. The recently released "Rover 2.0," which is a 21 Savage-assisted remix of BlocBoy's "Rover," has racked up more than 4 million plays in under a week. "I'm just happy I got to show everybody I can consistent," Keith says of the track's success.
While enjoying time off from college for spring break, Tay Keith phoned XXL to speak about balancing music-making with school, the new sound of Memphis and his musical kinship with BlocBoy JB.
XXL: When did you realize that you wanted to become a producer?
Tay Keith: Basically when I put some beats on YouTube and started getting views. That kinda motivated me to keep going. I used to put like, "Yo Gotti type beats," "Future type beats" on YouTube. And uhh, I started getting paid off YouTube. Like YouTube started giving me Google AdSense checks. It was like 100-and-something dollars a month. It was cool.
What does a beat from Tay Keith sound like? What's your trademark?
Well, for one, you gon' hear my signature tag, "Tay Keith fuck these niggas up." That's my signature tag that everybody know. Then, my hi-hats and my 808s. That's what sets me apart from every other producer.
What is it about those elements that make your beats stand out?
It got that bounce to it, so every time you hear it it's gon' make your head bob, know what I'm saying?
Did you get that sound from Memphis, or any particular producer...
You know Memphis got that bounce in general, from the artists that set the ground for Memphis like [Three 6 Mafia], DJ Squeeky and Drumma Boy. They music had that bounce to it, you know, like that rattle-in-the-trunk type of sound. So I just feel like I made my wave, but I kept my origins with it and stayed true to Memphis culture while making my beats at the same time.
How did Drake end up on "Look Alive"?
Basically I had made a beat pack, and he was fuckin' with 'em. That was the one he picked to make the song.
How long did it take you to make that beat?
Twenty, 30 minutes. That was one of the quickest ones.
Is that how long it usually takes you?
Yup, 'bout 30 minutes. That was one of the easiest beats.
Did you know the song was going to be as big as it became?
Hell nah, I ain't know it was gonna be that big. It shocked me when it hit the Billboards, because, you know, that was my first Billboard placement on the Hot 100 chart.
How did you learn it was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart?
DJ Akademiks had posted it, I said, "Damn, let me go see it for myself." Then that's when all the articles had started dropping about it. I was like, "Damn, that shit made the Billboard."
Do you have any production on Drake's new album?
I can't even say.
How many tracks do you and 21 have in the stash?
[Laughs] I can't say.
You can't say because you don't want to or it's top-secret?
How long have you been recording with BlocBoy?
Like five or six years.
You guys have obviously been recording a long time. What's the secret to your chemistry?
We homeboys before anything. Most people when they rap usually have their homies in the studio who rap with 'em, but they homies don't usually be producers. I'm a producer so I don't just have no close friends who rap. He just was one of my close friends who rap, so I just feel like we just stayed at it so long it ended up working in our favor.
Are you and BlocBoy going to drop a Metro Boomin-21 Savage-like joint project?
I ain't gon' say [project], but we for sure working on something. We got so many songs together.
So it could happen—you guys have enough songs to put a project out?
Yeah, for sure. A couple projects.
Outside of Drake and BlocBoy, who are some other artists you've been working with this year?
I've been working with Wiz Khalifa, Jeezy and 21 Savage. But right now I'm more into building my relationship with a lot of artists. Some of the artists I've been working with it's been just work, you know what I'm saying? But in the industry I feel like the relationship is stronger than the work sometimes.
Who do you want to work with in the future?
I wanna work with the Migos, [Young] Thug and Future.
If you had a day to make a song with any rapper-producer duo, which would it be?
Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh.
Why those two?
They sound so different. It's so original. I done already worked with Juicy J and Three 6 Mafia—that would've been my first choice. I feel like bringing that old Wayne and Mannie Fresh sound back.
Have you produced for Weezy?
Not yet. He one of the greatest rappers to ever live and I hate that they sleeping on him now. He shaped a generation so much with his music.
What is the Memphis culture?
That bounce to the beat. You know how a lot of the new music is the rhythm and the sounds of the 808s is different—it got a whole bunch of different sounds and shit. But Memphis got that original knock do it. You know, that sound that just make your head bop.
Usually, that "bounce" is something people associate with New Orleans. Would you say there's a parallel between Nola and Memphis?
I definitely feel like it's a connection somewhere down the line between New Orleans and Memphis with the sound.
Maybe that's why you like Mannie Fresh so much.
Yeah. A lot of people [have] taken that wave also with his beats. People kinda use that original Mannie Fresh sound in a lot of the new music that's coming out too. Like the fast-tempo type of sound. Also with like original producers from Memphis, like, the Three 6 kinda wave with Juicy J and DJ Paul, 'cause you know they made they own beats too.
IHow do you balance being a producer and a full-time student.
Basically, the way I got my classes set-up, I only have classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Fridays I don't have no classes, so that leaves me three days for the weekend. Half the time I be DJing parties, half the time I be out of town putting in work.
Does that get stressful?
Nah, not really. It's all about my work ethic, and I just feel like I got used to doing it, because the goal of music was like a primary thing for me. I was DJing for this party promotion called 1st Flight Entertainment, having to DJ on the weekends and then also going to school in the same week. So I just figured out how to balance that, then make beats on the side too.
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