Beat Break is a new series in which we interview our favorite producers about five of their biggest songs—what inspired the beat, how the collaboration came about and the impact the record has had on their career. Really, it’s just an excuse to get nerdy about production with some talented people.
For the inaugural edition of Beat Break, we chopped it up with one of the best new producers around, Syk Sense. The name may not ring as loud as, say, Mike WiLL or Metro Boomin (yet), but his work speaks for itself. Over the last few years, the Nashville, TN native has quietly built up an impressive resume, combining his speaker-slapping sound and ear for samples into songs for Drake, Travis Scott, Bryson Tiller, 6LACK, Khalid and many more.
Like any good come-up story, there are years of perseverance that precede those production credits, though. In 2010, after three failed attempts, Syk finally made it to the final of a local beat battle in his hometown of Nashville. He didn’t win, but he came away with an arguably better prize: a deal with Boi-1da, who was judging the battle. “He would let me know like, ‘bro, you can be the best. You just gotta keep going, ‘cause I hear something in your sound,’” he says.
Syk’s dedication, and Boi-1da’s faith in him, eventually paid off in 2014 when he co-produced Drake’s “Draft Day.” Since then, Syk has placed beats on major projects like Travis Scott’s Days Before Rodeo, Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and Bryson Tiller’s T R A P S O U L. In 2016, Syk scored his highest-charting single to date, thanks to Texas newcomer Khalid’s “Location,” which he produced with Tunji Ige and Smash David.
Looking ahead, Syk Sense says we can expect collaborations with Chris Brown and Bryson Tiller, as well as a possible song with—drum roll, please—Kendrick Lamar. “Me and my homie Axlfolie were making this beat out of Khalid’s voice and it just turned into a Kendrick vibe. We sent it off to him and he was like, ‘yo, I want this,’” Syk explains, but adds cautiously, “I don’t want to jinx it.” Neither do we.
Here are the stories behind five of Syk Sense’s biggest songs.
Drake - “Draft Day” (2014)
Co-produced by Boi-1da & Ducko McFli
“I had that Lauryn Hill song in my computer for a long time. I knew I wanted to sample that record, but it took me like two months to actually do it. I was scared. When you have something that you really fuck with, you don’t want to fuck it up. But man, I’m talking about as soon as I pulled it up, just this one day, I’m sitting in the studio with Ducko [McFli]—this is in Nashville—pull up the sample, take that little chop and just put effects on it and start chopping through it. It didn’t sound like anything at first, but then I put that bassline on there. It was my first take, I just hit three notes, I was like, ‘what the fuck?!’ I heard it instantly and I was like, ‘this shit is so hard!’ It sounded so beautiful but so dark at the same time."
“I couldn’t figure out exactly where I wanted to go with it after that, so Ducko got on it and started doing a couple things. All we had was the sample chops, the percussion and a bassline. So I sent this beat to Boi-1da and he put the drums on there. I remember there being another idea but I think that was from somebody else. 1da, when he sent me that shit back, essentially he put the hip-hop vibe on it. It took 1da’s genius to take it to that next level. And then, of course, he placed it to Drake."
“Bruh, me and Ducko were in the studio, late night, four o’clock in the morning, and I get a text from 1da and it has an audio clip in it. I hear the beat come on and I hear Drake say some shit and I’m like, ‘oh shit, wait a minute?’ And then he said, ‘draft day, Johnny Manziel.’ I said, ‘oh shit!’ It was just a little piece, but to hear Drake on something that we created, it was unreal. Everything stopped in the studio that night, man."
“The night that it came out, me and Ducko—I don’t even know if I should say this—we were on our way from Atlanta to Nashville, we were smoking, of course. Essentially we got pulled over by the police. I almost got taken to jail. As soon as we make it home to Nashville, ‘Draft Day’ just drops. It went from our worst situation to the best possible [situation]. Our Twitter was going so crazy we had to pull over before we got home, just to reply to everything."
“It changed my life and my career by opening a lot of doors for me. It made me realize how crazy and how big of an artist Drake is, just from how people would react to me for being a part of that record. I was honored, I’m still honored, just off that record. I ain’t got one dime off that record! But we got exactly what we wanted: the respect.”
Travis Scott - “Backyard” (2014)
Co-produced by OZ
“That was another one of my favorite songs. I’m talking about the actual live version I sampled. What put me onto it was essentially Kanye, back when “Spaceships” came out. I was like, ‘what is that?!’ It was my favorite song for a long time, I found the sample and I fell in love with the song. Then I found that live version. As soon as I heard the intro I was in love—period."
“I chopped up the sample into a bunch of different chops. Starting from when Marvin starts to talk. I manually chop all of my samples on this playlist, so this was one of those. Initially, I had a big puzzle of chops and I just pieced this puzzle of sound together. And I heard what I wanted one day because it took me a while to conquer this sample. But this one day, I put the chops together how we hear it now and was instantly inspired to play keys around it. This beat came about pretty fast once I started making it with that direction."
“Next came the hi-hats and percussion, and drums shortly after. I feel we put more into the hi-hats than any of the other drums. Also, I had the beat with a bit more swing initially and it sounded more hip-hop. The beat sat in my library for a while until I sent it to my bro OZ and he added a different swing to it with changing the snare and the swing of the kicks but keeping the original vibe. He also added a melody in the beat that sticks out and from then, I knew it was perfected! I knew whoever got on this beat that it would bring something out of them because it had so much soul in the instrumental already. I sent it to 1da and he loved it as well! He sent it to Travis and the rest is history."
“It ended up being on just the Days Before Rodeo, which was cool, just the same: we didn’t get any bread for it, but we got so much respect for that record. I wouldn’t even trade that for the money that we would’ve got.”
Drake - “Know Yourself” (2015)
Co-produced by Boi-1da, Vinylz & Allen Ritter
Sample: Network “Tinted Glass”
“I was in the studio and as soon as I heard [the sample], instantly I just had to kill it. With ‘Draft Day’ I was a little hesitant. But this one inspired me in such a way that there was people around [the studio], but I couldn’t even hear them. I was just focused on what I wanted out of that beat. It was a weird time signature at first—I took it from 4/5 to 4/4 or something like that. Once I got my chop, I put the bassline on top of that and the drums came later. I made this back in Atlanta, one of the homies was coming in the house where I was doing it, he didn’t say nothing, but I could see it on his face that it was some crazy shit."
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it at that point. I don’t even think it was done. So I sent it to 1da and I labeled it ‘Views 2,’ because I felt like it could have been some Drake shit. I was like, ‘fuck, let me take a shot.’ So I send it and nothing happened initially, but 1da hit me back like, ‘yo, Drake got on another one of your beats.’ At this point, we were still buzzing off of ‘6 God.’ ‘6 God’ essentially inspired ‘Know Yourself,’ because I was so hype off of that record and getting that with him. I was like, ‘I need more.’ 1da, Vinylz and Allen [Ritter] did the first part. [1da] sent me the record back with Drake on it on the second part. I didn’t even hear the first part until it came out, but I heard what Drake did and I was like, ‘this shit’s crazy!’ Essentially the second part is nothing without that beginning, the build up to me."
“That feeling is indescribable. Just how big [the song] is, but at the same time, I’m just little old me who just did this little beat. When I see how these crowds move, it’s just confirmation for me like, ‘fuck man, that’s amazing!’ I just like to sit back and look at it. I haven’t even been to a show to see it yet. I would probably start crying. I’ve seen ‘Draft Day’ live. I remember when [Drake] came to Atlanta, 1da got me and Ducko some tickets. That feeling of him opening with that shit on that Lil Wayne and Drake tour, it tripped me out.”
Bryson Tiller - “Rambo” (2015)
“Man, that’s my shit. I got a homie, his name is Chris King. Crazy shit went down with the credits with that record because I definitely let them know to add him, but they didn’t. It’s just how the game is—I got a couple like that that happened to me. [Chris] sent me the sample and as soon as I heard it I’m like, ‘this is fire, I love it.’ He had a beat on there, the beat was dope, I just didn’t know what to add to it so I just went at it from my perspective. With the drums, I was trying to channel some inspiration from 40. I fuck with 40 heavy, he’s one of my favorites. I think that stuff is timeless, dude."
“What’s crazy is, I sequenced it just like that. I exported it out, didn’t even feel like it was done. As a producer, I feel like none of my shit is to a certain extent. But I sent that to Bryson. I don’t even know why I sent that to him. He sent me back ‘Rambo.’ This was Mother’s Day. I’m on my way to Nashville, I hear this shit in the car, I’m like, ‘he’s crazy!’ We had ‘Let Em Know,’ we had ‘Ten Nine Fourteen’ at this point. ‘Rambo’ just put the icing on the cake. He got on the record essentially as I exported it. We didn’t even go back and change nothing. Having him on that shit, and how it came about so quick, I can’t even explain that, bro. I just didn’t believe that it went so far as The Weeknd getting on there."
“It tripped me out. Bryson didn’t even know. I’m in the bed about to go to sleep, I get a hit telling me The Weeknd got on ‘Rambo.’ I was up after that for real! I hit up Bryson like, ‘bruh, this is crazy!’ He’s like, ‘bro, I didn’t even know either.’ But that was a crazy experience, man.”
Khalid “Location” (2016)
Co-produced by Tunji Ige & Smash David
“Boy, this record is near and dear to me, too. To have something like that come out with a new artist and for it to touch so many people like that, I’ve never felt the love that I’m feeling from this record. Especially in my hometown, like I hear it on the radio all the time. They never played nothing of mine like that!"
“We were in Atlanta in my basement, just going through shit. Me and Khalid, we would sit together a lot and just go through melodies and he would tell me lyrics, and I would listen and try to put a melody to his lyrics. I’m going through a couple things and I’d carved out this ‘Location’ melody. It was sent to me by my homie Smash David, he had a beat on there. I was like, ‘I don’t like this beat, bro, but alright, let’s do the melody over.’"
“Khalid’s in the studio and he was like, ‘what’s that?’ That’s his favorite thing. When he hears a song he likes, he’s like, ‘what’s that?’ So I run [the melody] back and he’s like, ‘I got something for that.’ He sings the hook in its entirety. And I look at him like, ‘yo, what the fuck? That’s crazy. We’re doing that now.’ We went to a bigger studio the next day, I think, and laid down the hook. We just knew it felt really good."
“I went to El Paso, that’s where we finished it. We went to a studio called Beacon Hill Studios. ‘Location’ almost got forgotten. When we came into the session, a couple of weeks had passed and we’re thinking, ‘alright, let’s get some records out of this session.’ So we started new shit: ‘American Teen,’ ‘Hopeless,’ ‘Shot Down’ and a few others that nobody will probably ever hear. The session is damn near coming to a close. Khalid’s friends are in there, his mom is in there, we’re all just chilling. Khalid’s like, ‘yo, let’s work on that ‘Location’ joint.’ At this point, we’ve got melody and hook, so I’m like, ‘fuck I gotta make all this beat in front of all these people.’ I really like to be alone, I don’t like to work in front of people."
“So we get into it, and it’s just one of those moments where you zone out. Keep in mind, Tunji Ige is also in the session as well. Man, we created a vibe so crazy. Building on this beat, Khalid is starting to write the rest of the song, so he’s recording his verse as we’re putting a beat together, so essentially we’re going back and forth adding stuff, like in blocks. Alfredo, he’s one of the guys who actually produced on the record as well, he played the keys. We find the right sound for the keys and I’m like, ‘bruh, this shit’s crazy!’ We get the record down, we sent it off to get mixed and we put it out on SoundCloud. It is what it is today."
“It was completely organic. That build up, I’ve never been a part of nothing like that. And it almost didn’t happen, which is the crazy thing. This record could be the biggest record of my career—and to date, it is. It’s the highest on the charts of anything that I've done.
“If everything goes right, I should get co-exec on this album. I was there from day one. It’s crazy seeing this kid go from high school with essentially one song on SoundCloud and now he’s touring in Europe. I love that. I’m happy that I can help him, and have him help me, too. In his own right, he’s a genius. He writes all this stuff so quick. Say for instance I got three different beats, he can put one song and just change the melody of the record—or the key—to fit whatever beat. I saw that early in him.
“That’s how it came about. [My homie] Nick in my ear, ‘yo, check this guy out.’ Open the text. Man, it changed my whole life.”
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Jessica Marquez