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Beat Break: T-Minus Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

The Canadian hitmaker talks J. Cole's "Kevin's Heart," Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools," Drake's "The Motto" and more.

Between Murda Beatz, Nineteen85, WondaGurl, Sevn Thomas and the sample samaritan Frank Dukes, the otherwise chilly Greater Toronto Area is nothing short of a hotbed of hip-hop hitmakers. But in the late ’00s and early ’10s, T-Minus—along with Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib—was instrumental in putting T-Dot's production prowess on the map.

After co-producing Drake’s debut single “Replacement Girl” in 2007, the Ajax, Ontario native developed a distinctly synth-heavy, melody-driven sound that spawned hits for some of the biggest names in music, including Kendrick Lamar (“Swimming Pools”), Nicki Minaj (“Moment 4 Life”), Lil Wayne (“Rich As Fuck”), Ludacris (“How Low”) and even Justin Bieber (“Heartbreaker”).

T-Minus' biggest and busiest year came in 2011, when he cemented his then-budding career with bangers like DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One,” Lil Wayne’s “She Will” and Drake’s “The Motto” (along with four additional tracks on Take Care). Though a brief hiatus followed as he focused on himself and his family, T-Minus is slowly but surely scoring his way back to the top; in the last year and change, he’s reconnected with Drake (“Blem,” “Sacrifices”), produced 2 Chainz’s Mother’s Day paean “Proud” and helmed one of J. Cole’s history-making hits, “Kevin’s Heart.”

By the sounds of it, T-Minus isn't slowing down. He wouldn't divulge any specific collaborations that he's been working on, but rest assured, he'll "just let you wait and hear."

Here are the stories behind five of T-Minus’ biggest songs.

Nicki Minaj — “Moment 4 Life” ft. Drake (2010)

Co-produced by Kromatik

"‘Moment 4 Life’ was probably my second hit record that I had the honor of producing [after Ludacris’ ‘How Low’]. I was in the studio for one of the first times with one of my old friends and co-producers, his name is Nikhil Seetharam [aka Kromatik]. Amazing composer, he actually does a lot of stuff in film. Very melodic compositions.

"He just got on the keyboard and started playing this piano melody. The moment he started playing it, I don’t even think he realized what he was playing himself. But I told him to stop and I was like, ‘Let me try something with what you just played.’ I played back what he played and then I added a couple other notes and chords. I just took it from there and produced out the record, added the keys, added the drums, yada yada. 

"At the time, Boi-1da was asking me to send some tracks to Drake for his album, so I sent a couple beats to 1da to give to Drake. Drake liked a couple of the beats; one of them was the instrumental for ‘Moment 4 Life.’ And I think Drake was the one who gave the song to Nicki Minaj. I'm not entirely sure, but I think he wrote his verse first and then gave it to her. But Drake is the one who delivered it.

"I’ve never actually met Nicki Minaj in my life. I mean, I produced ‘Moment 4 Life,’ ‘Champion’ and ‘High School.’ But I’ve never actually met her which is crazy. It’s the beauty of the internet, I guess. [Laughs]

"Man, it was unreal because at that time I was maybe 19, 20 years old. I was pretty young. There weren’t many producers at the time who were killing it from where I was from in Canada. We had Boi-1da who was doing big things, 40 was doing big things. But it was amazing to be one of those producers in urban music that was making big moves. I was just fortunate to know the right people, to network in the right situations and have the skill and talent to produce what I did."

DJ Khaled — “I’m On One” ft. Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne (2011)

Co-produced by Kromatik & Noah “40” Shebib

"Again, it all started from me being in the studio with [Kromatik]. Me and him just sat down on a keyboard, came up with that melody line together and I built it from there. It took about 45 minutes, maybe an hour to build that track out and find the right sounds. The lead melody is actually a combination of two synth sounds. It’s a Nexus sound. I used to use Nexus heavily in a lot of my production. A lot of dance producers use it, which is why it’s such a heavy sound. It just worked.

"When I first made the track, it was pretty slow. I think I had it at like 65 BPM. It was dragging. I actually made it for [Take Care], but I guess Drake had other plans. It’s funny because that [original] beat was inspired by another Drake record that I heard years ago. I can’t even think of the name right now, but just the tempo of it and how it made me feel when I heard it.

"I sent the beat out to Drake and his response was, ‘Yo, speed it up for me.’ I sped it up and sent it back, and his response again was, ‘Speed it up a little more.’ So I sent it back and he was like, ‘That’s perfect.’

"He held onto the track for a bit and nothing came from it. Long story short, Khaled went to Drake to get a record for his project [We the Best Forever]. Drake pretty much recorded and did his entire section—the hook and verse—in about an hour, if I’m not mistaken. He bodied that shit. He just knew what to do. That’s the thing with Drake: when he’s on a hot streak, he can just go. He’s a hitmaker.

"Man, I can’t even remember [when I found out Rick Ross and Lil Wayne were also on the song]. It was maybe a month or two before [it was released]. But it was crazy to know that they were all on one song. And it was crazy to see the success of it. I have to credit the artists on that, too, because Drake was on top of his game at the time, so I think him being on the record as well probably attracted a lot of attention.

"That’s definitely one of the most memorable records for me. It's actually one of my favorite records that I’ve ever produced. Definitely in the top three, I’d have to say. Just hearing your music in the club and having people get excited about it, it’s like you’re a part of something special, like you’re part of that person’s life in some way. And it all started in my little basement, so it’s really an honor."

Drake — “The Motto” ft. Lil Wayne & Tyga (2011)

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"When ‘The Motto’ was first in creation, it was actually nearing the end of Take Care. The album was pretty much wrapped, but Drake still didn’t want to stop recording. I remember him hitting me up one time when I was at home and he was like, ‘Yo, I need something that’s uptempo, something that’s simple, something that can hit in the club.’ I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but that’s pretty much what he asked for.

"So I got on my computer quick and worked up this beat. It took me about 30 minutes and I sent it over to him. Actually, he took the track and he asked me to take out some sounds ’cause it was a little overproduced. I took a couple sounds out and sent it back to him and he was like, ‘Dope. Perfect.’ The simplicity of ['The Motto'], it kinda felt like some Bay Area music. Maybe it was a subconscious thing because, at the time, that sound was definitely on the rise. With the production being as simple as it was—the 808 claps, the 808 bass—it just worked.

"He ended up going to Vegas maybe a couple days later to celebrate his birthday and he had already recorded the song. I was surprised because it was only like two, three days later and, you know, he killed that shit. And it was out maybe a week later. One of the quickest releases on a record I’ve ever done. A lot of times if I make a beat and send it to the artist, it might come out three, six months later. Sometimes a beat doesn’t get sold four, five years from now.

"Travis Scott’s ‘Wonderful,’ I made that in 2012—in a Tinashe session, funnily enough. ‘Somethin Tells Me’ by Bryson Tiller, I made that track in 2013. ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ by Big Sean, I made that track maybe three or four years before it came out. That was actually a track I was building for Take Care. It’s kind of amazing to know that I can create something that’s still relevant four, five years later.

"Mine and Drake’s history really stems from the relationship that he has with Boi-1da. When Boi-1da was producing for Drake, even back in 2007, 2008, I had come in to co-produce ‘Replacement Girl’ and that was the first time that I met Drake. Fortunately, it wasn’t the last time. We’d send tracks to each other back and forth for a couple years, and then we ended up reconnecting for Take Care in 2010, so it was a blessing that everything kinda came full circle.

"With Take Care, it was a lot of sending out tracks but also meeting up in the studio and listening back to songs, really just getting in [Drake's] head about what he’s looking for. Drake himself is very much a producer; he knows what he wants, he doesn’t need to be directed. A lot of times he’ll say, ‘I’m looking for something in this range, I’m looking for something that feels like this.’ It’s just been dope to be around and be a part of that."

Kendrick Lamar — “Swimming Pools (Drank)” (2012)

“A lot of people don’t know this but that record started off as a demo for Trey Songz. It's such a long story, but I had made a beat for Trey Songz and it ended up getting placed on another record. So they wanted a replacement beat. I put together a new beat that might fit what they were looking for and I sent it to them. They were reluctant. They were like, ‘Nah, this is not exactly what we’re looking for.’ I said, ‘Alright. Cool!’

"A few months passed and I ended up meeting Kendrick Lamar. This is some time after the Section.80 album dropped. A good friend of mine, Manny Smith, had signed him to Interscope, so he wanted me to get in the studio with [Kendrick]. I played him a couple tracks. ‘Swimming Pools’ was one of them and he took it. He went back and he came up with everything, the whole ‘Po' up, drank’—all those ideas.

"It’s crazy, man. Some people just have that creative intuition to take a record in a direction based on how the track is making them feel. Honestly, I tried to make something that was a little bit sexy and exciting, but he saw a different vision for that. It’s amazing to see someone else’s vision on your music.

"[The breakdown at the end] was actually something I did as a response to his record. They just asked me to do a switch up so I thought it would be dope to take it another direction. A lot of people hardly ever hear that version because the single version is usually the one that’s out.

"Being a part of Kendrick Lamar's rise in the beginning is an honor, man. Honestly, I love being a part of an artist's debut. Especially because if you take a guy who’s already established, a lot of times, they’re going to sell the record no matter how dope the track is. But if you can help break a newer artist by giving them a dope track, and they do the right thing and it’s a hit, then you’re a part of something really special. It’s more than just hype; it’s good music."

J. Cole — “Kevin’s Heart” (2018)

Co-produced by Mark Pelli

"I’ve been sending J. Cole music over the past year or so. It kinda just happened through the texting game; it's more of a direct way to get the music to the artists. I was just talking with him about working, sending him beats and he just so happened to go on vacation for about two to three weeks.

"I didn’t know he was on vacation but I was sending him beats anyway. During that time, he was recording KOD. So pretty much, I sent him that one track at the right time and he grabbed it and was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna use this for my project.’ I had no clue that he was working on KOD. It just worked out perfectly.

"It was a blessing to be a part of it because he wasn’t working on other people’s tracks. Like I said, he was on vacation, he wasn’t in the studio with anybody in particular. He was just creating his own tracks, making his own beats. So that’s why I’m one of the only other producers on the project.

"I made the beat sometime back in October of 2017. I was in the studio with another co-writer, co-producer named Mark Pelli. Dope guitarist, he works with the band MAGIC! as well. He started playing the guitar and he came up with this really cool loop and he kept playing it. I mean, it was almost instant. He didn’t even have to think about it.

"I turned on the record button and I recorded him playing this progression for about five, 10 minutes. From there, I took his guitar and I turned it into this almost video game-ish effect. I did that, laid down the drum foundation, laid down the bass, added a couple sounds here and there. The beat was done in probably an hour and a half, maybe two hours tops. After that, I just took the track and I bounced it. I thought it would be dope for Cole. I sent it to him and he just snapped. It was crazy how it all unfolded. It was such a natural flow.

"I don’t even know what that [wailing sound] is. I’m pretty sure it’s a synth. What I like to do is put a lot of effects on my sounds and make them kinda warped. It’s a signature style of mine. What a lot of people know me for is using lead synths in my tracks, so it just felt right to throw that in there and add some extra flavor and extra texture to the track.

"I met with Cole a few months after I sent him the track. He played me the record and he told me he wanted to get Kevin Hart in the video. He had this huge vision for the song. [The album] didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me when it came out, only because it was already planned. But what was a surprise was the release date. I had no clue he was dropping this project when he did. I ended up reaching out to him and was like, ‘Yo, your project’s already done?’ He was like, ‘Yeah man, it’s all wrapped up.’ I’m like, ‘Crazy! You still using that track?’ He’s like, ‘Of course! That’s a classic.’

"Man, I love the video. The message is so relatable. And seeing Kevin Hart supporting the record is dope in itself. I love the video, I love the story, I love how they captured Kevin in his environment during a situation like what he went through.

"I like to give credit where credit’s due, and I have to say, Cole is a creative genius. I have to give him all the credit for getting the record to where it’s at. I’m fortunate enough and blessed enough to be a part of the record. It feels amazing to be back on the charts."



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