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.
In a city famous for its musical heritage, Key Wane is carving out his own place in Detroit’s rich history. Inspired by hometown heroes like J Dilla and Black Milk, the 26-year-old producer (and quietly talented songwriter) is responsible for Platinum-selling and GRAMMY-winning records for the likes of Drake, Beyoncé, Meek Mill, Jazmine Sullivan and Jhené Aiko.
But there’s one name, in particular, that's synonymous with Key Wane: Big Sean. After meeting in eighth grade through Key's older brother and cousin, the two have formed a fraternal—and incredibly fruitful—partnership that runs deeper than rap. Sean’s early deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music gave Key a platform not afforded to most young producers, but his work spoke (and continues to speak) for itself.
Sean isn’t the only one who’s finally famous, either. “It shocks me daily,” Key says while reflecting on his high profile status. “I go out in public and n*ggas be like, ‘Key Wane! You did my favorite song!’” Even with such a glittering résumé, however, Wane isn’t about to rest on his laurels. “I feel like I still have a lot of work to do,” he admits.
Here are the stories behind five of Key Wane’s biggest songs.
Meek Mill — “Amen” ft. Drake (2012)
Co-produced by Jahlil Beats
“It’s a pretty great record because it’s my first actually released single. It changed my life. I was in my mom’s basement when I made it, I think I was going through records and I heard a song by The Doobie Brothers called ‘Minute By Minute,’ and the very beginning of the song is like [*sings melody*]. So I was like, ‘damn, what if I just remade that whole shit and add some of my own shit to it?’
"That was cool because I was broke as hell. I went to New York and I ran into Meek Mill. It was probably like a week before my school semester started, so I’m just standing in Times Square before I get on the Greyhound back to Detroit, and I ran into Meek. He was just like, ‘man, I fuck with your music. My favorite song from you is “Memories” from Sean.’ I was like, ‘damn, that’s crazy. What’s your email? I want to send you some stuff.’ He was like, ‘I’m working on my album tonight, you should stay.’ But I ain’t have no money to stay, so I just sent him a bunch of beats. And one of those beats was ‘Amen.’ It came out to be a really big song for everybody involved.
"Sean had it first, though. He was like, ‘this is dope,’ but he was picking other beats from me that were crazier.”
Drake — “All Me” ft. Big Sean & 2 Chainz (2013)
Co-produced by Noah "40" Shebib
Sample: Abbey Lincoln "My Man"
“I made that in my mom’s basement, too. This is when I was in college, damn near just graduated. After ‘Amen’ came out, Drake reached out to me in my DMs on Twitter and said we should work, he really loves the moment that ‘Amen’ captured. We just started working: me sending him songs, communicating back and forth. He wanted me to come out to Toronto a lot but I was in school and I couldn’t really leave class because I was trying to graduate and some of my teachers were bitches! But I would send him shit through the email.
"So I went to LA when we were working on Hall of Fame and I sent Drake the ‘All Me’ beat. He hit me back like, ‘yeah, this is crazy. Me and 2 Chainz in the studio snapping on this!’ I text Drake like, ‘man, you gotta throw Sean on there.’ He was like, ‘yeah, tell Sean send the verse over.’
"I wrote part of the hook, too. Drake hit me up like, ‘I wanna put the song out but it’s not going anywhere.’ Like, it’s nothing but verses and they don’t have a hook. So I asked him, ‘mind if I write a hook?’ I was in the car and I just thought of it quickly, grabbed my laptop, put the iPod headphones in the computer and recorded it instantly. I was like, ‘I got everythang, I got everythang / I can’t not complain, I cannot / I don’t know how much I ever really made, I forgot.’ I sent that to him and he was like, ‘oh shit, man! This is crazy.’ I changed the beat up a little bit on the hook and it ended up coming out weeks later. It was one of the first songs I produced and co-wrote.
"I found the sample in a studio in Detroit called Collective Studios. That’s the craziest sound library I’ve ever experienced. It took me at least a year to chop that sample up because I didn’t know how to do it. It took me randomly one day to chop it up and it worked. That was a truly big record for me, man. I didn’t think a song I’d be working on in my momma’s basement would be Platinum, huge. I got the plaque on my wall. It’s wild looking at it.”
Beyoncé — “Partition” (2014)
Co-produced by Beyoncé, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Mike Dean, J-Roc & Boots
“I made that in my first apartment when I was in college. I had moved downtown when I was in my sophomore year. I don’t know what I was thinking, I was really just keeping Detroit in mind when I made it. Detroit got a sound.
"I had made that beat, put it in a folder, ran into a guy named Ricky Anderson [G.O.O.D. Music consultant and Kanye's cousin] who’s a really good guy out in LA. He was telling me he was working on Beyoncé’s album and I played him the ‘Partition’ beat. He was just like, ‘man, I feel like they’re gonna love this.’ So he put that in a folder for me and they contacted me in like a week, like, ‘yeah, we’re using this song.’ I was like, ‘shit!’
"Mike Dean was on there, too. I just know what I sent was the main portion of the beat with the [*hums melody*]. And the part of my drums and some of my 808 was included in the bundle. I know The-Dream, Timberlake were on there. It was crazy to be included in the situation with a bunch of greats, especially on a Beyoncé record. She’s the Queen.
"I got a couple emails about coming to fly to [Beyoncé] in New York, but again, like working with Drake, I couldn’t really come out to meet her because I had midterms. So I would just send her beats. My mom really wanted me to get that degree, so I didn’t fuck that up for her. [Beyoncé] came to Nashville and she gave me two tickets, so me and my girl went. She’s a cool person so I really appreciate her for that.
"I sent that beat to a few people and they turned it down! But for Beyoncé to use it is crazy. That’s another big song that changed my life. I’m happy that shit came out.”
Big Sean — “Play No Games” ft. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign (2014)
Co-produced by Jay John Henry
Sample: Guy "Piece of My Love"
“The homie Jay John Henry, he’s a really good producer from Detroit, he hit me up and sent me this idea that had the sample in there, the ‘Piece of My Love’ shit. And I was like, ‘damn, this'd be hard’—basically, he sent me a rough idea of the beat, but I switched it up completely and chopped the sample up different, formatted it very different, added some keys to it with some synthesizers, too. Laid the drums, sped it up.
"I did that shit when I was on the couch, living in the projects in Nashville. This was close to my graduation. This is before I moved into some crazy shit. So I sent it to Sean and Sean was like, ‘man, this shit hard! I’m about to use this on my album.’ They got Ty Dolla $ign involved. I was supposed to be in LA [for the video], but I was moving everything out of my last apartment. But everything worked out. Jay John a talented n*gga for sending me that shit. It’s all about teamwork, man.
"I love the ‘80s, I love the ‘90s. It just feels good. I just hope the world feels good in the process. I’m an old soul, so to bring shit like that to the forefront, like how I did with Jazmine Sullivan ‘Let It Burn,’ that was great. I fuck with what they were doing back in the day.”
TWENTY88 — “Déjà Vu” (2016)
Co-produced by Cam O'bi & Amaire Johnson
Sample: Xscape "Softest Place on Earth" (Sung by Cam O'bi)
“I was at Sean’s house during GRAMMY weekend. The ‘Let It Burn’ song I did for Jazmine Sullivan got nominated for Best R&B Song, so I took my mom to the GRAMMYs for that.
"We were working on TWENTY88 and I Decided. kinda at the same time. So we’re there for about two or three days. [Sean] was like, ‘Wane, what do you think you can do to this one shit?’ He played me a sample, which was somebody singing—Cam O’bi. I was listening to it and was like, ‘I definitely fuck with it.’ He was like, ‘wanna do some drums and keys to it?’ I’m like, ‘hell yeah!’
"I literally went in the other room and did some drums to it, played some keys around it, and played it for him. He was like, ‘man, this shit is crazy.’ He literally recorded the rest of it that same day. I went to the GRAMMYs with my mom the next day, came back a couple of days later, Sean had a good portion of the song done. He was like, ‘I’ma get Jhené on this.’ That was that. Amaire [Johnson] worked on it on the co-production side. It was a good teamwork effort on that record.
"It’s cool working with both. I’ve done some songs working with Jhené Aiko: ‘Eternal Sunshine,’ ‘Afternoon Dream,’ ‘Mirrors’—all fire. The talent that they both possess is really a crazy blessing. I just think it’s a vibe, melodically and musically, they relate. Certain songs I pick for Sean, within 10 seconds of hearing the beat he’ll be like, ‘I need this.’ It’s just a connection.”
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: HiiiGenius