I. The Sound of Humility
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” —H.E. Luccock
The music industry has sharks in the sea, crooks in the castle, and knives for every unsuspecting back. There are con artists who wear the masks of managers, dreams sold by finessers disguised as friends, and record labels as trustworthy as a talking snake offering a golden apple. This is the game, devious and unforgiving.
The only way to know what's happening behind the veil is to exchange horror stories, but on January 8, when I spent three hours watching Alabama clash with Georgia in the NCAA National Championship game alongside rapper, producer, and songwriter Childish Major, his day-to-day co-manager DaShawn, and their close friend and collaborator Groove, there was no talk of past beef, burnt bridges, or deals gone bad.
Instead of stories about their time spent in the belly of the beast, recounting nightmares before their dreams were realized, we talked about memorable collaborations, brotherhood, and the willingness to starve in a city full of artists who are equally hungry.
Long before Gucci Mane offered to sign him as a producer during the Brick Factory days (he says he only entertained the thought for a day), and before he produced Rocko’s 2013 wave-making and controversy-stirring single “U.O.E.N.O.,” Childish was signed to the Atlanta producer and DJ collective Hoodrich. There was one problem, though: he had no real management and survived only by making chicken tender subs as a Publix deli employee:
"I was still with my ex. I was living in Sandy Springs. I had been working there for a minute. I was down so bad I was thinking I’m going to work this job and become a manager. Still making music, but not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to work my ass off. I ended up getting my boss a promotion, he goes to another store, and I have to start over with somebody else. It was at that moment I said, 'Fuck this.' I was already signed to Hoodrich at the time, but I didn’t have a hit so I was still working a job. After I get off work, I would just go straight to the studio. It was me, FKi 1st, Spinz, and Alkebulan. Once I caught 'U.O.E.N.O,' I probably waited two weeks before saying, 'Fuck it, I'm going to figure this shit out.'"
II. Disturbing tha Peace
Childish Major had previously worked with Two-9, Rome Fortune, Spillage Village, and other blossoming talents in Atlanta’s underground scene, but “U.O.E.N.O.” escalated everything. First Pigeons & Planes named him a producer to get familiar with, then Billboard placed him in the top five producers shifting the sound in Atlanta's rap scene, and finally Complex hailed the work of the South Carolina transplant in their list of 25 new producers to watch for. Childish doesn't employ a tag on any of his beats―he's a student of the school of Timbo and The Neptunes―but that didn't stop his sound from being acknowledged. Quickly, his name was starting to travel. Everyone from Jeezy and J. Cole to Quentin Miller and SZA blessed his audio foundations. Success, however, didn't turn him into a mainstream darling.
In response to being asked about producers being shafted by major labels over beat placements, Childish recalled the time when, years ago, Atlantic Records offered him and a younger, less notable Metro Boomin $2,500, in total, to be split in half for a beat the two co-produced. “The placement was for Trey Songz," he said. "They wanted to put the record out online, but they called it a digital release to downplay the price.” Sound familiar?
Instead of taking the offer and securing a placement with the popular R&B singer, Childish took the advice of his current co-manager, Jeff Dixon, who convinced the young creative that agreeing to the deal presented by Atlantic would put him in a similar position in the future. Of course, it takes someone with a vision of tomorrow to turn down unworthy opportunities today. In addition to being one-half of Major’s management team, Dixon is well known for co-managing Ludacris with his brother Chaka Zulu and co-founding Disturbing tha Peace Records.
In fact, DTP's early team members represent some of the biggest movements currently bursting in Atlanta and overflowing into mainstream music media:
"Love Renaissance can be linked to DTP because Sean Famoso and Tunde Balogun started there. Courtney Stewart manages Khalid. Meezy co-manages 21 Savage. Paris “PK” Kirk is manager of label services for Tunecore. B.write is head of Eardrummers marking. Producers Ducko McFli, DJ Fu, and Syk Sense. As far as the new niggas, they all came out of the DTP studio."
III. Shadowboxing in Studios
In 2013, following SXSW, a then-21-year-old Childish Major was invited to DTP by Tunde Balogun for a session with a songwriter. There he met Jeff and Chaka Zulu, the three chatted, and a connection was made.
“Before I left, Jeff tells me to take down his number and offered for me to hit him up if I ever needed any advice or anything," Childish recalls. "Funny enough, I [started] blowing him up asking him all kinds of questions. From there he said I could use the backroom whenever I wanted.”
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Now 26 years old, Childish has spent the last five years in DTP's backroom studio, turning the space into his own personal dojo. He learned to record and engineer, needing no assistance to make music. At all hours of the night, you could find him there, making music and—in the process—finding himself.
Jeff and Chaka gave him access and keys to the studio, but more importantly, they provided priceless insight:
“There’s a lot of questions artists don’t ask themselves. Taking my first couple of songs ever recorded over to the office side of the building, playing them, and getting asked: ‘What type of space is your music going to live in? What are you molding this after?’ There’s a lot of artists who don’t know where they want to go. They don’t know where they want their music to live. After having those questions asked it was [time] for Deshawn and me to figure out.”
IV. Aim High
This past December, Childish Major released his debut album, Woo$Ah. The album cover, shot and edited by Gage McRae and Justin Dunnigan, is one of my favorites from 2017. The image of his head split open grabs the eyes and makes you wonder, a feeling encouraged by good, original art.
The music found on Woo$Ah is mostly mellow, but full of venting lyricism and dulcet production. It’s soft, but true to its title―stress is a common denominator intertwining each song. The weight of relationships crumbling, financial shortcomings, and life’s pressures burdening shoulder blades.
The project stands tall at eight tracks, but two entire projects were made and scrapped in the process of finalizing what would be the third version of the same album. The first project was called Humility City, named after Childish's company. Then it was Apples Don’t Fall. The only tracks that made it on to all three projects were “I Like You” and “Happy Birthday.”
Both Lorine Chia and Dreamville MC J.I.D were set to feature on the original version (Humility City), with the intro and outro narrated by Big K.R.I.T.―think Common on the first Man on the Moon, T.I. on Travis Scott’s Rodeo, or Big Rube on various OutKast albums. Two iterations later, however, Woo$Ah boasts features from Isaiah Rashad and SZA, 6LACK and DRAM, and the excellent Hero The Band. Even with such a talented cast, Childish utilizes everyone as assistants to his vibes, like background muses.
Building an album around the concept of stress is a relatable subject. Even someone who has seen varying degrees of success in music has days where it all becomes too much. When asked about his lyrical approach, the young artist provided an answer that displayed an innate sense of awareness for his audience and the desire to connect with listeners who are more grounded in reality:
"There’s four records that I feel like define me: “Damn,” “Window Seat,” “Madd Hatter,” and “Woo$Ah.” All are essentially the same type of records. Vent songs with different beats. Coming up in the production world and the songwriting world, I know a lot of songwriters who want to be an artist. I think the problem is… The reason it doesn’t work out for a lot of them is they think since they’re able to give so and so a hit, that they can give themselves a hit. It's less about that, and more about people connecting to you personally. I felt like that’s my approach. It needs to be my approach. To be personal."
Four years after his hit song with Rocko, Childish Major is seamlessly transitioning from behind the boards and into the vocal booth. Patience has been a virtue he’s practiced since entering the backroom studio. When he speaks of improving, it’s with a sense of excitement. The ambition to progress has driven him this far and the results prove it has paid off.
This is a South Carolina hip-hop fan who earned a placement on HBO's Insecure for a song J. Cole produced for him, who remembers downloading Cole’s Warm Up mixtape from Datpiff like it was yesterday. From being a fan of Little Brother to bringing Big Pooh out at his first-ever concert in Raleigh, North Carolina, to opening for Big K.R.I.T. and speaking to 9th Wonder afterward―this is what kids dream of when they think about a career in hip-hop.
When he moved from South Carolina to Atlanta, Childish Major had music connections but no family to fall back on. That’s what makes his story one worth telling; his success has been a product of patience and personal growth. We often hear about the foul side of an artist's rise, the pitfalls and the dirty deals and the broken promises, but Childish is an example of all that can go right. Be good to people, be good to your team, work damn hard, and don't forget to woosah.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Major, aka @Yoh31