The night before our interview, Menace was involved in a minor car accident. Another driver had crashed right into his Audi A6 at a red light, crushing the entire driver’s side door. “I’m alive but shaken up,” he told me over the phone. “They ran right into me.”
Another night—another car, maybe—and such a collision could have been life-threatening, but the incident is merely a blip in what’s been a life-changing year and a half for the 23-year-old British producer. The fact that he was even driving a brand new Audi A6 at his age is incredible in itself.
In late 2015, Menace (real name Adnan Khan) was working at a phone repair shop in his hometown of Rochdale—a town 10 miles outside of Manchester and thousands of miles removed from any American hip-hop hotbed. Arriving home one day after a particularly shitty shift at work, Menace decompressed by making beats in his bedroom studio while watching The Dark Knight.
Shortly after, one of those beats was purchased through his website for the standard price of $200 (Menace claims he had made “about £20,000” — roughly $25,000 — selling beats by that point) by “just another customer.” A few weeks later, he started to notice the track gaining traction online: 30,000 views one day, 200,000 the next. “That’s when I knew, ‘this is gonna blow up,’” he remembers.
The song he’s referring to, of course, is Desiigner’s “Panda.”
If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re already familiar with “Panda,” so I won't bore you by retracing its chart-topping, quadruple-Platinum, GRAMMY-nominated, sampled-by-Kanye West success; we all know it was a big fucking deal. But while the song transformed Desiigner into an overnight celebrity (word to Twista) with a G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam deal (word to Kanye), Menace’s success has been noticeably quieter.
Since “Panda” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 last April, Menace has only added one production credit to his résumé: “Love 2 the Game” by buzzing London rapper and XL Recordings signee Nines. To have your breakout beat become arguably the biggest rap song of 2016 is extraordinary; to manage only a single placement over the next year seems even more astonishing, if not strange.
For Menace, this last year has been a crash course in the way the music industry works. “You’re not always giving beats to the artists—you have to know the middlemen. You have to get in with one of the team members and that’s when you can score a hit with them,” he says. “If I was in the middle of my career and did ‘Panda,’ I’ll be getting everything. But right now, it feels like I’m starting from scratch: making my connections, climbing the ladder.”
It’s not like “Panda” hasn’t helped Menace get in the same room as some important people, though. “I was in America a couple of weeks ago and was in the studio with ScHoolboy Q,” he reveals. “Once I got off the plane, I went straight to Interscope and there was Q just waiting. I was there with my laptop playing him stuff. He’s taken two of my beats for his album. Fingers crossed I get that because that will definitely be a big look for me. Then I can start building up my catalog of music.”
Among the numerous other artists, producers and songwriters who’ve reached out to Menace in the aftermath of “Panda” is Oliver El-Khatib, co-founder of OVO and Drake’s right-hand man. “One of the beats I sent them, they said, ‘please don’t give this beat to anyone else.’ It’s dancehall-type shit — for Drake or PND,” Menace tells me. But that’s also “the worst part,” he says: holding onto hot beats for artists without knowing whether they’ll ever use them. “It’s a waiting game,” he concedes. “You just have to be patient.”
Of all the potential collaborations Menace is hopeful about, there’s one name that’s noticeably absent: Desiigner. Menace has submitted beats for the Brooklyn rapper’s upcoming debut album, due out this summer, but says his hectic schedule and label situation makes it hard for them to collaborate—or even communicate. It’s been well over a year since “Panda” blew up and the pair has yet to meet in person.
“One thing he did wrong was he should have kept me after ‘Panda,’” Menace says. “You know, how Metro [Boomin] and Future developed and they both became famous because that formula worked, that chemistry worked. Same with [Young] Thug and London [On Da Track]. That formula worked with us, but he’s under G.O.O.D. Music so they’ve got their own producers and such. If they have their own producers, the money comes back to the same circle.”
Money can be an awkward and complicated matter when it comes to music, especially with such a big song like “Panda.” There’s a misconception floating around that Menace sold the beat for $200 and that’s the last dime he saw. Fuel was added to the fire of this alternative fact when Desiigner’s recent interview with The Breakfast Club produced headlines like “Desiigner Made $10 Million off the $200 ‘Panda’ Beat.” But as the selection of luxury sports cars on Menace’s Instagram suggests, that’s not the full story.
In April 2016, Menace signed a publishing deal with Tim Blacksmith’s Stellar Songs worth seven figures, an amount the producer believes had more to do with his future potential than the current success of “Panda.” The deal has allowed Menace to buy a house, move to a new city (he declined to say where, but confirmed it is “far from Manchester”) and focus on production full-time. “I don’t need to do a 9-to-5 job ever again,” he says with a nonchalance that betrays such a dream scenario.
Despite seeing the kind of money I—and any other writer who will ever interview him—can only dream of, Menace has yet to receive full compensation for his work on “Panda” due to legal disputes raised by both a collaborator and a reported rival of Desiigner.
“There was a situation with Future putting [an infringement] claim in because apparently, he said that ‘Panda’ sounded like ‘Fuck Up Some Commas.’ So we were just about to see the checks but there’s been a lot of delays so we won’t see anything until next year anyway,” he reveals. “Not only [Future], Mike Dean, Kanye West’s producer, he put a claim in as well saying that he did something to the beat and he never did. I don’t think we’ll see a check until probably next year. Right now, it’s just going through negotiations. The problem is that once someone puts a claim in, it just stops everything.”
Menace doesn’t think he’s the only one who’s waiting for a payday from The Life of Pablo. “I doubt Kanye’s paid anyone, to be honest,” he says. “Kanye’s a funny one when it comes to paying people money.”
Whether or not there are two sides to this story, as someone who grew up not far from Manchester, it’s hard to stress how surreal it is that someone from Rochdale is waiting on a check from Kanye fucking West. Menace describes the whole experience as “crazy” more than once during our conversation but never once suggests he’s intimidated by the task of breaking the hip-hop industry as a small-town kid from Northern England. “I realize that Americans don’t take a lot of British people seriously,” he says. “But when you’re in the studio, you just need to show them what you’re made of.”
Even with the possibilities that “Panda” and a lucrative publishing deal present, Menace doesn’t see himself following the traditional path of a hip-hop producer and making the move to New York or LA. Having found a comfortable balance between work and life, Menace intends to grow his name across the pond but keep his roots back home.
“I’m proud to be where I’m from,” he says. “The American way of life is totally different compared to the UK. I can’t see myself moving to America and forgetting who I am; it just won’t work. That’s why I do these visits—at least I’m there and getting the work done, seeing people, making relationships. When I come back, I’ll still be making beats, doing work with UK artists as well. One foot here, one foot over there.”
When reflecting on the last 18 months, Menace says, “it’s been productive, it’s been crazy and at times you don’t know where it’s going. I’ve met a lot of special people, but it never stops. It just carries on.” That's the only reminiscing Menace wants to do, though. “Even though 'Panda'’s been an amazing success for me, I don’t want to be known as just the 'Panda' producer. I don’t want to stay in 2016; I want to think about 2017 and the following years after that.
“Now I’m going for it: building the connections and aiming for another one," he continues. "It’ll happen eventually."
Editor's Note: After publishing our interview with Menace, a rep from Future's team e-mailedXXL, saying it's "not true" that Future put in a claim on "Panda."
In addition, Mike Dean released the following statement:
The kid lost the stems to the beat. It had some samples in the original from a film. I recreated some of the stems enough to patch up the beat and remove the samples. I was gonna recreate the whole beat then I found a way to keep it. Major labels don’t play with samples not being cleared The song would never have come out or cleared legal at Def Jam. If that’s nothing, then he’s right. He should have better file management skills if he works at an electronics repair shop. He should get facts straight before he speaks on my name. I let the claim go because I have better shit to do than fight with people over BS. Hope he enjoys the bread and appreciates what I did to help him make $$. That’s about it. Menace, put some respek on my name. And thank god Mike Dean removed your samples, youngin. Should throw me a few points from his pocket my way, but I am doing ok with or without the “Panda” bread.