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Beat Break: Sevn Thomas Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs - DJBooth

Beat Break: Sevn Thomas Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

The producer with the bounce opens up about producing for Drake, Rihanna, Travis Scott and more.
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From pioneers like Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib to prodigies like WondaGurl and FrancisGotHeat, Toronto is a hotbed of hip-hop production. Sevn Thomas is quietly carving out his own space in the city’s storied scene.

A producer who prides himself on his bounce (“I feel like my attention to that detail alone is one of the things that sets me apart from other producers,” he says over a phone call), the 26-year-old Toronto native has worked with enviable names like Drake (“Pop Style”), PARTYNEXTDOOR (“Don’t Run”), Travis Scott (“Green & Purple”), GoldLink (“Pray Everyday”) and Kehlani (“Get Like”).

A Jamaican-Canadian whose uncle is dancehall artist Rappa Robert, Sevn even sprinkled his Caribbean flavor on a little song called “Work” by Rihanna and Drake. You might have heard it.

Despite his glittering résumé, Sevn isn’t resting on his laurels. With “a lot of huge records with some of the biggest artists in the world” on deck and plans to develop artists and producers like his mentor Boi-1da has, expect to hear Sevn Thomas’ name—and music—a lot more in 2018. “It’s all about me taking the next step to becoming the superproducer-artist that I always knew I could be,” he says.

Here are the stories behind five of Sevn Thomas’ biggest songs.

Drake — “10 Bands” (2015)

Co-produced by Boi-1da

“That was late 2014, I believe. Me and [Boi-]1da were in LA working on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly a lot around that period. Kendrick is my favorite rapper, period—probably top three all time, so I was ecstatic. He heard everything [we sent] and me and 1da probably thought that we had like 30 records on Kendrick’s album.

“I think ['10 Bands'] was around the beginning of 1da and Frank Dukes’ working relationship. I guess Frank had sent him a pack and he was just fucking around with samples. I can remember hearing that sample and being like, ‘Yo, this sounds like evil Christmas.’ [1da] chopped it, found a four-bar loop and threw it in [Fruity Loops].

“I started fucking around with it and found the bounce—the kick, the 808, the hi-hat. Actually, that track kind of shifted shit a little bit. I feel like a lot of records came after that one, a lot of people were fucking with the bounce. That’s why I love working with 1da because every time we approach something together, shit just happens.

“So we just switched seats over and over. He would start fucking around with it and then he’d be like, ‘You wanna try something?’ And I’d jump on and do my thing. Back and forth, back and forth.

“1da sends everything to The Boy ’cause Drake is obviously the number one priority. He fucked with that one and I remember going to Miami maybe a month or two later and he sent me a voice clip of what Drake did to it. I was like, ‘Fuck! Here we go, shit’s about to change.’ We figured Drake would know what to do with it best, so I’m glad that it ended up being Drake.

“I knew that [‘10 Bands’] was hot enough to make the album. I had a feeling. I was actually in LA for a beat battle back in 2015, it was like Toronto versus LA. I was on the Santa Monica pier with my little brother who had just gotten out of prison, and one of my other friends who was from LA. We were smoking and my brother called me frantically, I thought something bad had happened. He was like, ‘Yo! I seen on iTunes the Drake album dropped. "10 Bands" is track three!’

“I just remember feeling so overwhelmed emotionally. It was like everything that I ever worked for was finally coming to fruition. There’s been frustrating times, trying times, where I felt like quitting. I literally was about to quit and figure out my career, maybe go back to school or something like that. That moment changed my life right there. Shout out 1da, shout out Drake; I’m eternally grateful.”

Rihanna — “Work” ft. Drake (2016)

Co-produced by Boi-1da, Allen Ritter, Noah “40” Shebib & Kuk Harrell

Sample: Richie Stephens & Mikey 2000 “Sail Away (Riddim)”

“Like I said, whenever me and 1da work, we always do a whole bunch of shit. This time, Allen Ritter was involved. He’s one of my favorite producers, period. That guy is super talented. We were camping out at Drake’s crib and just vibing. We weren’t really working toward anything, we were just making music.

“That was one of the beats that I forgot about. It wasn’t something that I was thinking about like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a smash.’ But what I remember from the process is switching seats and everybody vibing on one thing. At that point, I had already started to make dancehall records ’cause I think a few weeks before that, I made the ‘Get Like’ beat for Kehlani.

“Meanwhile, 1da was on the same wave. We were just going back to our upbringing as Jamaican-Canadians and really being influenced by the music. 1da was obviously the captain of that production, but each of us came in and put our flavor and style on it. It was organic; I can’t even describe that one.

“1da ended up sending it to PARTY[NEXTDOOR] and PARTY wrote a fucking smash. I remember six or seven months later at a session with 1da in Toronto, he played the PARTY reference track and was like, ‘Rihanna likes it.’ I was like, ‘Oh, this is for Rihanna? Aw man, it’s outta here!’ I feel like every time I think about an artist I really want to work with, somehow it manifests. I was like, ‘I fucking knew this was going to happen.’

“I used to have my remarks about [the dancehall trend in pop music] but I’ve learned to accept it and love it because a part of the whole struggle with dancehall is the recognition. I’m just glad that it’s being appreciated. At the same time, I feel like a lot of artists could be getting their just due. Dancehall producers should be celebrated and integrated a little bit more into what the fuck is going on right now, but it’s a beautiful thing nonetheless. I can’t hate.”

Drake — “Pop Style” ft. Kanye West & JAY-Z (The Throne) (2016)

Co-produced by Boi-1da, Noah “40” Shebib, Allen Ritter & Frank Dukes

Sample: Frank Dukes “Dark Massage”

“Shout out Frank Dukes, man. Great guy. He revolutionized the producer collaboration. Him and 1da really set a blueprint down. Frank Dukes sent me a folder of shit and I was just going through it one night—this was a few days before Christmas. I was in the front room of my house and it was cold as fuck. It was one of those days where you have to pour hot water on the car door handle just to open it. I was having work done in my basement so I couldn’t turn the heat on.

“So I had my little home studio set up and was going through the samples, and I heard that [*hums melody*]. That shit was crazy. I really gravitate towards darker sounding shit. It reminds me of Havoc from Mobb Deep, he’s top 10 in my book. So I chopped it up, I picked out other sections that I really liked, found the tempo and the bounce.

“I worked on that beat for probably like an hour. Once I got the skeleton down, I was doing all the other intricate parts in between. My brother was upstairs and had work the next day so he was texting me like, ‘Yo, turn that down a little bit. That shit sounds fire, by the way.’ I finished it at like four in the morning, sent it to 1da and maybe a couple days later he’s like, ‘Yo, Drake bodied that shit. It’s fucking outta here.’

“He played me a demo and I was like, ‘Yep, this shit bout to go.’ I had no fucking clue that Kanye or Jay were getting on it so that was my Christmas present. When I found out I was like, ‘Holy shit! This shit bout to change my life again.’ I guess Drake sent it to [Kanye] and Jay was around and he told Jay to get on it because it could be a moment: Drake Featuring The Throne.

“I couldn’t even describe it, I just felt really fucking lucky. Me and my brother were in the same front room, it was still cold as fuck, and they sent the record back. We were just looking at each other tearing up. That was a moment for me as well.

“I feel like [‘Pop Style’] is a timestamp in hip-hop. We’re going to look back 10 years from now and be like, ‘Yo, remember when Kanye was on stage ranting for 30 minutes about Jay and talking about "Pop Style"?’ The fact that Jay didn’t even give a full verse either. I feel like it’s a moment in history and I’m grateful to be a part of that.”

PARTYNEXTDOOR — “Don’t Run” (2016)

Co-produced by Bizness Boi & L8 Show (aka Larry Sanders)

Sample: Christian X Alabaster “Smile”

“I was in LA maybe two years ago and I just watched the Dope movie premiere. A homie of mine, Mario—he’s Bryson Tiller and Khalid’s stylist—he was working at the DOPE store at the time. He introduced me to Larry Sanders, the former NBA player, and it was so ironic that maybe a week prior to meeting him, I had just read his story on Complex. I didn’t know that he was such an intellectual and introspective and artistic person. His story reminded me of Dave Chappelle, the way he walked away from basketball.

“[Larry and I] hung out maybe twice, we talked about spirituality and really connected. I felt like he was already like a big brother to me. He invited me over to his barbecue and Bizness Boi actually opened the door when I got there. I came too late and the food was all finished, but we filled our stomachs up with music.

“I walked into his little production room and there was this reverse sample loop he was fucking with. He put the headphones on my head and I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is cool.’ So I started to fuck around with it on FL 12, which I had never used before—and I’ve never used it ever again [laughs].

“I put that beat together in about 20 minutes and played it through the speakers, and we listened to that beat on loop for maybe three hours, just smoking, dancing and freestyling to it. Larry was breaking down some philosophical shit that I can’t even remember because I was so high. It just had this intergalactic vibe to it.

“Maybe a few months later I hear that PARTY had cut a record to it. Larry was playing in Milwaukee for a number of years and Bizness Boi and Prep Bijan are from Milwaukee. Prep ended up becoming PARTY’s personal engineer. Through that, I think one of them ended up playing it for PARTY and that’s when he recorded to it. 

“When I came back to LA, Larry played [PARTY’s version] for me in person and I’m like, ‘Yo, this is dope as hell.’ It was very unorthodox because I’ve never heard PARTY like that before, it was like a stream of consciousness of what he was feeling.

“I didn’t think it would make [PARTY’s] album because it was actually supposed to be a part of Views. There’s a version with Drake on it. I’ve never heard it personally but I know that it exists and it was supposed to be on his album. But PARTY ended up keeping it for himself and it was a beautiful thing. That’s still one of my favorite records that I’ve done.”

Travis Scott — “Green & Purple” ft. Playboi Carti (2017)

Co-produced by Tiggi

“That’s actually a collaboration between me and one of my friends, Tiggi—he’s from Tennessee and has worked with Isaiah Rashad and Khalid a lot, very dope producer. He sent me a batch of samples and I just heard that [*hums melody*] but it was at a different speed, different tempo.

“I was at Paramount [Studios] in LA and they brought in a batch of the freshest chocolate chip cookies in the fucking world. I was just playing around with the sample, flipping it back and forth, and I felt the bounce when I heard it. I wanted to do my best to capture that bounce. It’s very—I can’t even describe it, man. It just makes you move.

“My whole thing was, ‘Everything I’m hearing is very similar to each other and I want to make something that feels different.’ I thought of my friends that I really fuck with, like 1da and Vinylz. I wanted to make something where, when people hear it, they’re like, ‘That’s Sevn.’ I have a few more beats that are in that vein.

“I think 1da texted the beat to [Travis Scott]. You know, I’m still building myself in this game. People hear my name and can reference records, but it’s still a process for me to get in the face of many people. I’m so thankful to have someone like 1da who can hit people up directly. And shout out to iMessage, the fact that we can fucking text MP3s, man [laughs]. I’ve got a lot of placements that way.

“One day 1da texted me like, ‘Yo, send me your lawyer’s info. Travis cut that record, he wants to put it out tomorrow.’ I was like, ‘Okay!’ [laughs] A lot of my OGs hit me up after it dropped, like Frank Dukes. I know that I was doing something right and felt really pleased with the result.

“I just have one qualm with Travis, man: I wish that he would’ve mixed the vocal on that record ’cause I feel like that would have been a standout. I still think it’s dope, but the mixing doesn’t do it the justice that it deserves; I feel like it’s one of the best beats this year, stylistically.

“Travis, if you’re reading this, we need to get the fuck up, bro! Travis is one of my favorite artists because of his out-of-the-box thinking and I know that he’s very meticulous when it comes to picking beats and sounds, so I appreciate him for choosing that beat. We need to make more crazy shit happen.”

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