Music

Interview: Yung D3mz Talks Music Production, Ghana’s Influence, And Debut EP, “Girls Like You”

Nicholas Edem Coffie, known as Yung D3mz, is an emerging producer and artist from Tema, Ghana. His sound is vibrant with Jazz, Hip-Hop, and R&B influences melding together to form his unique Afro-Fusion sound. His duality as a producer and artist allows him to see things from varying perspectives, which translates through the songs he has produced for Ghanaian artists like Kwesi Arthur, Twitch 4EVA, and Kofi Mole—as well as his own music. In this candid interview, Yung D3mz details his journey as a charting producer, shares his take on Ghana's musical influence, discusses recognizing his potential as a recording artist, and gives a breakdown of his debut EP, "Girls Like You."

“When it comes to the sound, Ghana is never lacking. We never have been lacking,” says Yung D3mz. “We do have a long way to go and I think it’s just about industry stuff and we will get there, but for now we just have to make sure that the new school artists keep the flag raised up high. I think it’s working. We are beginning to see some changes.” The emerging producer and artist speaks highly of Ghana, but also recognizes the country’s areas of growth in the music industry. Ghana’s influence on Africa’s musical landscape is undeniable and Yung D3mz is committed to being an agent of change.

Yung D3mz was inspired by influential producers like Metro Boomin, Pharrell, and Kanye West. He got an early start in music production and dedicated his time to teaching himself how to produce records. He relied heavily on YouTube tutorials, sought advice from friends, spent time in the studio, and experimented with various digital audio workstations like FL Studio, GarageBand, and Ableton until he found his niche.

Over the years, Yung D3mz has acquired a plethora of knowledge and has grown tremendously in his craft. When asked about the misconceptions people have of music production, he explains that one misconception is “producers can’t make good artists.” He exclaimed that’s not true and that he thinks “producers are actually really good artists—amazing artists.” His duality as a producer and artist allows him to see things from varying perspectives, which translates through the songs he has produced for Ghanaian artists like Kwesi Arthur, Twitch 4EVA, and Kofi Mole to name a few—as well as his own music.

Yung D3mz teamed up with Ghanaian producers, Boye ‘The Genius’ and Uche B during quarantine to bring the world Girls Like You, an EP that debunks the idea that producers don’t make great artists. Not only that, but the EP is a depiction of the talent that Ghana has cultivated. Yung D3mz’s sound is vibrant with Jazz, Hip-Hop, and R&B influences melding together to form his unique Afro-Fusion sound. His multi-genre sound and intentionality for each song is proof that artists can create their own mold. He says, “I’ve lived in Ghana. I’ve lived in Uganda. I’ve lived in a couple of other countries as well. All those sounds directly influence the musician I am, so I work by my own rules or my own ideas. I try not to feed off too many people and it helps because I’m a very spontaneous artist.”

Read more as Yung D3mz details his journey as a charting producer, shares his take on Ghana’s musical influence, discusses recognizing his potential as a recording artist, and gives a breakdown of his debut EP, Girls Like You.

Photo courtesy of Yung D3mz
Yung D3mz. Photo: Nana Asomani

You grew up in Tema, Ghana. Tell me more about growing up there. 

Tema is one of the cities that’s really close to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. It’s on the coast, so it’s—I think it’s the biggest port. It has the biggest port in West Africa. It’s like a trading hub. A lot of shipments come in and out. Growing up I was used to seeing people going to work at the harbor, going to the beach, or seeing steam ships come. Seeing people wear those reflector jackets—that was really normal for me to see. I feel like we have a really beachy culture in Tema and its calm vibes. The city is not really hustle and bustle like Accra is. It’s a bit more chill. It has its own vibe, so yeah. Growing up I left Tema at some point, but it’s like one of those places like no matter where I’m at, I’ll regard this place as home. I still have a lot of family here and I don’t think I’ll be leaving anytime soon. Living in Tema was a major part of my growth as a person in general.

Would you say that music has always been a part of your childhood growing up?

I didn’t start playing music in my early years—like as a toddler or going to elementary school, but I definitely listened to a lot of music. That’s mostly because of my parents. My parents were the kind of people that have been around—lived in different countries, so they kind of carry a piece of wherever they go with them and one of those things was music. My dad was a huge CD collector. He had like a bunch of CDs in the house—he still does actually, they’re still downstairs and I just go listen to them. My first walkman—my dad got it for me—he loaded it with a bunch of R&B songs, gospel, all kinds of stuff. So, I got used to listening to music growing up.

I remember when we got our first laptop in the house and it had like the dial in internet thing—it didn’t have like the wifi and shit. My dad would download a bunch of music sometimes and I think I remember early on listening to Daft Punk and that’s when I started getting interested in music outside of Ghana a little bit more. I started to explore. Started getting into R&B, Usher, R. Kelly, and then I guess when I got into—when we left Ghana and I moved to Uganda, my school had a music program that we could take so I started to go for music class and shit. I got into playing guitar—I played a lot of instruments until I found what I liked and that’s when the proper love for music kind of kickstarted.

You already answered my other question about you spending time in Uganda, but you’re back in Tema where you grew up. How did you get the name Yung D3mz? I’m really curious.

D3mz! Yo, like… my first name is Edem and when I was in high school and boarding school I used to experiment with making beats and my friends and I used to have this thing where we would gather and I’d get my laptop and speakers and I’d play beats. We would freestyle and shit. I think one time one of my friends, he was doing a little freestyle and he shortened my name to do a rhyme with so he said “D3mz” and everyone was like ayo, that actually goes you know! Since then everyone just started calling me D3mz, even teachers at some point. So I guess it just naturally kind of stuck when I started producing and taking it seriously. Once in a while people would add the Yung because you know, it’s like a rapper thing or a Hip-Hop thing. It kind of came together so when I started to produce for actual artists they would ask me what name do you want to put, I’d be like, I don’t know just put Yung D3mz for now and then we’ll see if it kicks off. I tried to change it and people were like nah, fuck that. You have to use Yung D3mz we’re used to that.

It came naturally for you though, so it’s like a natural flow. I always wonder how people come up with their names. Sometimes it’s not even that deep and it’s like it’s just a name, but sometimes artists put a lot into it. But yeah, I think it fits. So now, let’s discuss your journey as a music producer. When and how did you get started?

It’s like a long story, but to keep it pretty short: I downloaded I think Ableton when I was eleven because I wanted to learn how to make Electronic music, but it was too complicated so I deleted it like two hours later and I started to make beats on Garageband on my iPad. I just realized that my beats didn’t sound like what Pharrell or Kanye would do. It just lacked depth, so when I was in high school my friend who I used to be in a Jazz band with gave me an illegal copy of FL Studio. I was like, “what is this?” and he was like, “if you want to learn how to produce you should probably start with this.” I went on YouTube and watched a couple of tutorials. I wasn’t really sure, but when I saw that Metro Boomin was using FL Studio I was like okay, it’s definitely good. I started asking around, getting tips, experimenting, watching tutorials, going to the studio, sitting in with different artists and their sessions—I would never ask to play my beats. I would never ask yo, can you hop on this? Like, no… I just sat and watched as long as I could what other guys were doing and eventually I was like I think I can probably do this as well. I have the musical knowledge and I’ve seen some of the good people do it, so I’m pretty sure I’m good enough to start doing something.

Was this a lot easier for you to grasp in comparison to you trying to do electronic music?

Yeah! I think I was really young at the time, so everything seemed really complex. Growing up and playing with a band and stuff, it kind of just broke music down for me a little bit more and even after learning how to produce Hip-Hop I actually learned how to produce Electronic music as well and then I went on to learn how to play Afrobeats, Dancehall. I go wherever I feel like I might want to try. I think it was different for me learning EDM after learning Trap, but it’s all the same musical knowledge so it’s just like the difference in sound that I have to grasp.

Who do you look up to as an aspiring music producer? Or do you look up to anyone?

I don’t really shadow anyone per say, but I have people in different points in my development—I’ve always kept an eye on what they do or like their method of creativity. I have to say that one of the people that made me want to start producing was Metro Boomin because he used to do it when he was young as hell too, and I felt like if he could start young I could probably start young as well. Obviously Kanye West too because he’s a very genre bending producing and he’s innovative. He brought something that other people didn’t on many occasions. I love Pharrell, another amazing producer. Scott Storch…yeah.

There is a producer who I used to look up to, and actually we’ve met before and now we even work—his name is Kwame Yeboah. He’s sort of like a multi-genre, multi-talented—he’s basically like a music genius. He’s worked with Stevie Wonder, Solange—he’s currently working with Craig David on his next album. He’s like a Highlife producer, but he basically does other genres too. He’s one of the people I’ve looked up to for a very long time. He’s basically everything I want to be as a producer—just talented as shit, doing your thing. I mean, there are other Ghanaian producers I look up to, but he’s the one that fully embodies what I want to be in the future when I’m fifty and have like a big ass studio, just sitting there making music all day.

What are some misconceptions that people have of music production?

The one I always hear usually is you have to know how to play an instrument. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. When I started producing—I still don’t really know how to play piano and I guess it does help to know a little bit because it makes your work cut out. It kind of like helps with the flow of creativity and whatnot. It just helps you move quicker when you’re in the studio with an artist who’s musically inclined. It helps to translate things, but it’s not necessary though. I know a lot of people who don’t know how to read music—who don’t know how to play the piano, play the guitar, but they’re still good at what they do because I think they just listen enough.

Another misconception is that producers can’t make good artists—that’s not true! I think producers are actually really good artists—amazing artists. A lot of the producing involves you helping with songwriting and recording. I have met a lot of artists who know how to produce and some of them are actually famous today—aside from the obvious ones like Kanye and whatnot. Back on the continent of Africa, we have people like Tems. She produces like basically eighty percent of her catalog, so yeah it just shows that you can do both.

I think the last misconception is that you have to start early. Nah, I don’t think that’s true. I learned how to produce in like two or three years. To be considered like a pro producer I learned everything in like three years. So, you could literally start whenever you want if you want to do it. If you have a very big drive for it then go for it, why not? It’s not that hard.

I think that put a lot into perspective for the people who are interested in it—who might feel like my time has passed or I’m too young—whatever the case may be. And you’re like nah, just like three years [laughing].

Oh yeah, there’s one more I just remembered. It’s that producing is not the same as beat making in a sense that a beat maker you just kind of make beats now based off styles that are already preexisting and you just kind of send them out to people. You don’t really have much of an input. You might not even be considered the final producer of the song—you just made the beat. The producer oversees all the processes: songwriting, recording, when the song goes into post production. Sometimes, even how the song is released. The producer might be in charge of that. So, the producer’s job doesn’t stop at I made the beat then I’m going to bounce. No, like you might even call a guitarist, saxophonist, oh I think we may need to shift this line over here—that’s producing.

Some of our favorite artists are the people they are today because of the way they put themselves on the song. They put their voice on the song with soul, not just like okay, I’m recording. You have to do it in a way that makes people believe that you are the one who is singing, rapping, or doing spoken word.

That leads right into my next question. As a producer I think you have a lot of influence when it comes to the arrangement of songs, like how you were saying—the producer is involved in so many different aspects as well as how the song is experienced by the listener. So, a lot of influence there! What do you feel are some must-haves to a great song and then, what is your creative process like?

I think looking through what are regarded as some of the greatest songs in terms of from an artistic perspective—the things they usually do have—and I also consider that to be true as well—the song should always be easy to listen to whether it’s Metal or R&B. Once it hits your ears, even if you don’t necessarily like it, it’s listenable. Also, I think every good song should have at least some rawness to it and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the lyrics because I know people do hire songwriters and stuff—but I mean in the way it’s performed. Some of our favorite artists are the people they are today because of the way they put themselves on the song. They put their voice on the song with soul, not just like okay, I’m recording. You have to do it in a way that makes people believe that you are the one who is singing, rapping, or doing spoken word. And I think also, arrangement is really important. I think the most essential part of a song—the most listens are the first thirty seconds. So, you if you know the people you’re putting a song out for—you know the style you’re working in, you would center your arrangement around that and make sure that it adds up. The arrangement is something that could either make or break a song. Every good song should have really dope mixing and mastering.

You just dropped some gems! I’m not even a music producer and I’m like yes! And then on to your creative process—what’s your creative process like?

My creative process. It differs. When I’m alone and I’m at home in the home studio, I’m producing in this space it’s more of like… I try not to force it, you know? Because I’m at home and it should be as natural as possible. For me, when I’m working or when I decide to start working for the day sometimes I wake up inspired by something or I heard a song previously the other day and decide to try and find a vibe that I can catch from it to make something else. But most of the time when I open my software I just start to play around with drums—and I have like 20GB worth of drum sounds. I like to be spoiled for choices because it allows me to just go anywhere. I could start making a boom bap beat and it could end up like R&B or something different—just because I’m using different things, different sounds, I’m trying out new things and I don’t necessarily need to have an idea in my head. I just kind of go with the flow and see where it takes me. Oftentimes, I find that that’s what makes the best beats because I’m not restricted. I’m not boxed by a specific sound or bounce or genre. I just do what’s in my head—what I actually know as music.

When I’m in the studio, that’s a different thing. When I’m working with an artist or I’m recording myself I come with ideas. With studio time you’re trying to make a lot of good songs while you can—while you have that session going on. So, sometimes I do make these little pre-made beats before I go so I play them for people. If they like it we develop them and I’m not somebody who stresses on finishing a beat there and then. I feel like it’s a process. When I started producing, obviously I wanted to brag to people that I made like seven or eight beats in a day, but now it’s more like what is the best approach for me to make this song nice for both of us—the artist and producer. I make sure that I leave the beat kind of bare. I do what I can and the artist does what they can—or even when I’m producing myself I do what I can and then I lay the vocals. When it kind of takes shape lyrically that’s when I add the rest of the stuff and I build the song around the artist.

I think conversation is a big part of my creative process because I like to talk to the people I work with before we work—at least twenty minutes before we start working. Just chill, if you want to smoke have a smoke, have a drink, let’s talk, what’s going on in your life, you know? It always finds a way of going back into the music. I’m inspired by different things. I’m inspired by color. The way I make music is because of color. If I wake up and I’m feeling reddy, you know… red vibes I’ll probably do a song in C Major or something. That’ just how it is—it depends on my mood. I feel like my process usually depends on my mood, but it’s mostly just go with the flow.

I like that you don’t force it and I also think you have a very artistic take on how you approach music. You just said that you’re inspired by color, but it could also be something else. I think that’s really unique and the last thing on this topic—whenever you’re working with an artist, as a producer how do you ensure that you stay true to who they are with their sound and whatnot?

It’s kind of like a two-sided question because at one point in time you want to make sure that you’re not moving away from their sound and you’re kind of just making sure you’re on track because—I do listen to the people that I work worth just to do a little bit of homework to see where they’re at or where they’ve come from sound wise. So when I drop in the studio and play them a couple of beats they’re like okay, this nigga knows what he’s about. But at the same time people come to me because they know what I’m capable of doing, so sometimes they just let me steer. So, it depends.

Obviously if I walk into the studio with somebody like Amaarae, for example. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Amaarae before, she’s a dope artist from Ghana. She’s into Fusion music. She put out one of the—probably the best album from our country this year. She’s like a Fusion artist and if I’m going to the studio with her, I know the kind of music she usually makes is centered around R&B, but I also know she kind of likes Trap and she likes making Trap and people don’t know this as much as I do because I know her, so I know what she likes. So, if I’m going to drop in the studio with her I’m going to play her a couple stuff that she fucks with—that she’s used to. Then I’m going to play her some shit that’s a bit different. And I’m also going to play some shit that’s also like the two of them mashed together—something like that. I’m very deliberate. Some people tell me I want something different and I’ll make something different and some people will be like you already know my style.

And I think naturally the industry in Ghana doesn’t really have a structure—like at all. We don’t have a music industry structure so it’s a bit hard navigating the conversation of payments, royalties for producers. It’s something that is kind of—it’s a very foreign topic for a lot of producers over here.

But it’s cool though because you’ve already established like, you know—people respect you, clearly if they’re coming to work with you. But it’s like they respect you enough to allow you to lead and trust you throughout that process. I think that’s major! That’s super major because I could only imagine being an artist and I’m putting this in your hands, but for you that’s power. That’s influence. So, what was the most difficult thing for you when you first hit the scene as a producer?

Honestly, I’m one of those people who can comfortably say that I haven’t had it too hard because I started when I was like nineteen and I’m twenty-one and I have like connections to people that you’d need at least seven to ten years to build. But, I do recognize there were challenges. One of them is that I’m really young. You know, people don’t expect much from me. So when you walk into certain rooms you really have to work extra hard to prove yourself. I do believe that I’m on the same level as some of the biggest producers in my environment, but because I’m young it’s like—you know, you have to work twice as hard to put yourself out there. But, it ends up being a good thing when you do it right because it’s like, oh okay… he’s young and he’s doing this much? That’s good.

And I think naturally the industry in Ghana doesn’t really have a structure—like at all. We don’t have a music industry structure so it’s a bit hard navigating the conversation of payments, royalties for producers. It’s something that is kind of—it’s a very foreign topic for a lot of producers over here. And for me—I’m somebody who’s has had the privilege of acquiring knowledge on that subject of royalties and splits and sync and all that shit. So, I do bring it up when I work with people. Now, that’s the issue—they don’t have the structures for all that. They don’t have publishing setup. They’re not assigned to any royalties system, so it’s like—I think that that aspect, the financial aspect of the job is kind of what discourages a lot of producers from reaching their biggest potential because it’s like you’re kind of just stuck to that guy in the back who makes the beats. Whereas, you’re literally responsible for hits. There’s a song charting and you’re fifty percent of that song, so that’s probably like the biggest challenge I’ve faced.

But luckily when I turned twenty, I met a group of creatives who I’ve been working with and we’ve been doing the job pretty well. We make sure that everyone’s credited and paid. We’re kind of just lifting each other up—lifting producers up, engineers, the music video directors. It’s getting better but I think the biggest struggle—which, naturally as artists from Ghana we all share is there is no industry. So, it’s kind of like there are no rules to it, really. So, yeah. It’s tough sometimes.

I find that really interesting. It’s like a common theme whenever I talk to creatives—specifically musicians abroad. Nigeria. Ghana. They’ve said that—like how the music industry is really not structured. Especially in comparison to the states. I always wonder how artists are maneuvering through that, but you kind of brought up how you’re a part of this creative community so it’s kind of like y’all have to be there for each other in a sense.

Yeah. Yeah. And it wasn’t always like that. If you look back in the history of Ghana, we had artist that were charting on billboards that were making money from royalties. The digital age kind of really changed things and we weren’t able to catch up quick enough, so because we weren’t able to catch up we’re lagging behind. We’re now learning about music distribution. We’re now learning about publishing. We’re now catching up. I mean, people already did know—this isn’t new.

I remember reading an article about this Ghanaian pianist called Kiki Gyan and they said he used to chill with The Beatles, Stevie Wonder—he was basically almost an A-lister as well, so it’s not a foreign concept that we have artists that are making stacks from their music. But, I guess that it kind of got lost in translation when technology came into play—this whole streaming thing. And Ghana, we do have internet issues. We do have problems with people not being able to access that technology, so it becomes a different conversation. But, like I said before my creative community—we’re all really young. People who are basically my age to like thirty—that are enlightened by the knowledge of a music industry structure. So, we’re kind of all just together working, hoping when we reach the level of the “gate keeper” in Ghana, we can start to change things to make it easier, especially for the producers. I’ve seen too many stories where producers in Ghana just kind of died broke, down bad, or just didn’t reap the benefits of the hits they produced.

I think y’all are definitely on the right track—you and the people that you create with. Because like you said, when you’re in the position to be the gate keeper, all the knowledge you’ve acquired, you’re able to share that with everybody else. So, I think it’ll definitely ease up for y’all. So now, you’ve collaborated with a few artists—I would consider them big names or familiar names—from Kwesi Arthur, Twitch 4EVA, Kofi Mole to name a few. I feel like in your position the average individual might get sidetracked, might get a little starstruck, but I don’t think that’s happened to you. How has it been for you in terms of making valuable connections. Because you did say that you’ve been able to make connections that would take people seven plus years to make, so how has that process been for you?

For me, I realized early on that if you want to set yourself apart you have to be exceptionally good. Everyone’s looking for a good producer or songwriter or artist to work with. So, I took time to learn first and when I started to put out productions with some of my guys from high school people started to kind of listen and watch and ask questions about who is this kid?

I used to make it a habit to pull up to the studios with artists I worked with. That’s something that a lot of producers kind of shy away from. They send the beats and they just kind of stay home, but I used to go to the studio with my guy. So, one day the manager of Kwesi Arthur was in the studio and I didn’t know who he was at all. He was dressed in basketball clothing and passed by the studio to say hi to a friend and he was listening to beats I was playing and he just told me to pull up to the studio whenever I can. I think it was more of a matter of circumstance, but I was very deliberate knowing that if I learn how to produce well first, surely people are going to pull up to me like, yo can you produce for me?

So, I pulled up to the studio and Kwesi Arthur was there. Twitch was around, a couple of other producers and Tema were there and they just told me that we like your stuff so you should come around to our studio more often and come learn, come grow. For me, it wasn’t an opportunity to start making big hits. It was an opportunity for me to better myself as a producer so I could start making those big hits. So, spending time with them—Kwesi basically took me in. He told me to come to the studio every day, come work, come learn. And I did that, exactly that for a couple of months. Then, that’s when it actually started to come out because I formed a bond with them and I think that’s one thing that people miss is if you want to be considered part of a circle of people who are doing a really crazy thing, they have to fuck with you. Not just on the level as a creative, but perhaps on a friendly basis as well. These guys are basically like my brothers. We spend a lot of time together, so naturally we make music together and I guess they also are interested in pushing me out as a producer. It’s kind of like a common interest thing.

It’s great to get to work with people who can be considered famous. Somebody like Kwesi Arthur can’t leave his house without like a hoodie on, that’s how famous he is in Ghana. It’s a big deal but, I still don’t let it get to my head because we have a long way to go together as creatives. We’re trying to push it past just being in Ghana. We want to go everywhere. I guess I’m used to seeing famous people around a lot now. So, for me it’s bigger than just being in a room full of guys with verified signs. For me it’s about actually making bangers and putting them out. Crossing the border.

I think you made an important point about how you used that as an opportunity to learn, to soak up knowledge. You didn’t go in like oh, I’m about to make some hits! You really had to put that aside and just focus on what can I gain from this experience authentically? I feel like that put you in a position to be able to form more than just a music relationship and actually—like you said, you look at them as brothers so it worked out in your favor because you were willing to learn. You weren’t trying to move a step ahead of the process. You’re much more than a producer, you also record. You’re an amazing artist as a whole. I think that’s pretty cool. I would say you’re definitely a creative individual. At what point did you decide to go from producing to recording?

I experimented with it right before I left high school, but I never took it seriously. It was kind of just like a side thing and I would put these little short clips of songs on SoundCloud just as a joke sometimes. But, when I was working with Twitch 4EVA—that’s when my producer side really came out. That’s when “Dr. Dre” really came out. We’d be in the studio. I’d be helping him sometimes with a word or two, just help with the lyrics over there and eventually it upgraded from helping with the lyrics to helping with the harmonies and melodies. I’d give suggestions like nah, nah, how about you try this instead.

And then one time we’re in the studio together—all the guy—and Twitch is recording and I give him an idea for a harmony and we sing it together and everyone’s like aye, you actually have a good voice you should do something with it and I’m like really? So, I decided to experiment with a couple of demos at home and it didn’t sound too bad so I decided to take them to the studio and I played for the guys and they were shook. They were like when did you do this? Then, I realized like okay maybe I might have something. So, I scrapped all those demos and started again. I wanted to do it better because it was cool for them that the producer could sing, but I wasn’t an artist yet. So, I went back in the studio. I started to ask a couple of singers for help on techniques. Tried to better my voice a bit. Tried to listen to people who kind of have similar vocal ranges, see what they do that I’m not doing.

So, maybe after like a year or so of practicing—being comfortable with my voice in the booth—I started to record proper, actual full songs with everything that a full song should have. I started to write. I used to have this little notebook that anytime I had lyrical ideas I would just write them down. I recorded a couple of demos, sent them to some of the big music connects that I know around me, sent them to a couple of artist managers, A&R’s—I was really just trying to get songwriting jobs and all of them told me that you don’t need to be a songwriter for anyone else because you’re pretty much your own artist. Like, this is a full song.

My manager told me to switch from being just a producer to being an artist and a producer as well and I guess that was a good idea. I’m enjoying it right now and I also like producing for myself. That’s like a new side of me that I discovered recently. Just having a blast.

Do you find any parallels between being a producer and being an artist?

With production things are very technical at times. Even though we do make beats, basically off any idea we get there’s still a technical aspect to it and that’s something I know in my head. But with being an artist, if someone sends you a beat or something you will now have to vibe to it, get lyrics—it’s a bit of a slightly different process than making beats and I guess the worst part of having a block is when you’re blocked as producer and you’re also blocked as an artist. I have days where I can’t produce for myself—it just won’t happen. So, I do take breaks sometimes, but there is a difference though. I know a lot of artists who are producers but they don’t make their own beats. They know how to produce pretty well, but they just don’t make their own beats. It’s like, producing for yourself you really have to know yourself as an artist to know what you want to do and be able to produce the kind of music that you want to, so there’s that as well.

That’s interesting. That just shows that you have this dual aspect to you, but you do it so well. I think it comes with ease for you. Is your creative process any different as an artist?

I don’t think it’s too different. It’s the same thing. I wake up, maybe play a beat or two, or I get some beats from people that they send to my email and stuff and I just play them out loud and like I said, I go with the flow. I’m somebody who is used to freestyle culture because of high school and stuff. We’d just be saying dumb shit based on things that we see around the room and that’s just basically how I make music.

I remember like a few weeks ago—I usually make music alone, but a few weeks ago my manager and I headed to the studio with another producer and this is probably one of the first times he seen me working and for me, this is basically me in the studio: you play a beat, I’m probably holding a microphone or something and I’m fooling around. Whilst I’m fooling around the guys are laughing but the lyrics are in my head bouncing around. Sometimes I may write it down, sometimes I won’t—it depends on the mood. I hear the song and I just go for it. I just say whatever comes to my mind and sometimes it’s just good enough to be the song.

At the same time, it really depends on my mood. I can’t record certain things if I’m not in a correct space. If I’m pissed off there’s some things I can do very well. I don’t like recording love songs when I’m pissed off—I come off too aggressive. So, it really depends on my mood. Some days I’m too blocked and I can’t think of anything so I just let the song breathe. But with beats—I don’t usually give up on beats. I could sit there for hours and try to figure this beat out, but with a song—I don’t know if it’s because you’re singing that makes a difference, but when I’m stuck on a song I just press pause. I go take a break and I come back. I don’t take long to work on songs though.

Glad to hear that you say you take breaks because even as a creative—I’m not a music creative, just an artist, so creative blocks are real. They are so real but it’s so important to step away sometimes and just breathe.

Yeah, exactly! And I do like there to be an ambiance when I’m working. Especially when I’m recording with people around me. I don’t want to record and people are just sitting there. I want us to be vibing! For me, that’s my creative process. I want there to be a vibe. If there’s no vibe I’m not going to work.

I’m just trying to do everything and it’s a blessing and a curse, but it’s more a blessing because you never know where I’m going to go. You never know where we’re going to reach with the sound. You get to dictate what you do.

There has to be good vibes all around. I feel it for sure. I’m a huge fan of Afrobeats and sonically you stand out to me. You have a great fusion of sounds and that’s why I feel like you stand out, which lets me know that you’re not afraid to step outside of the mold. What’s the importance of setting your own standard?

Setting your own standard is something that just prevents you from being boxed in. You set the rules so you can literally change what you do at any point in time. For me, personally I did struggle with trying to look at what other young artists were doing early on when I was recording my demo, which is why I said I scrapped all the early demos that I did because it just sounded like replicated sounds. So, for me I decided to do what I know how to do best just from the head—straight from the head off the dome—and it helped more because it made me realize that I’ve been exposed to a lot of cultures.

I’ve lived in Ghana. I’ve lived in Uganda. I’ve been to a couple of other countries as well. All those sounds directly influence the musician I am, so I work by my own rules or my own ideas. I try not to feed off too many people and it helps because I’m a very spontaneous artist. Me and my manager have a hard time selecting songs for projects because one day I’m making your generic typical Afro-Pop sound and literally two days later I’m trying to mix Disco with Afrobeats. I’m just trying to do everything and it’s a blessing and a curse, but it’s more a blessing because you never know where I’m going to go. You never know where we’re going to reach with the sound. You get to dictate what you do.

Earlier we talked about how Ghana is kind of late to the party in terms of royalties and the digital aspect of music—where do you think Ghana stands in the Afrobeats world and I guess in the music world in general?

Ghana is probably one of the biggest reasons that the current sound is the way it is today. And even Nigerians will tell you that. It even goes back in history. I know people always use the story of Fela taking visits to Africa before he made the genre Afrobeats, that’s like a completely different sound altogether. Afrobeats is kind of like an umbrella term that people give to the general African popular music. Ghana has been very influential.

The biggest artists in Africa all came to Ghana this Christmas and I think Wizkid and Burna Boy are still here recording music, shooting videos. The sound over here is very vibrant because it stems from our Highlife music. Our Highlife music is basically a very popular traditional—it’s not really traditional music. It’s a genre of music that stemmed, I’d say from the 60s, the 70s, maybe even earlier than that. Maybe even the 50s and it’s still something that we do. It’s largely influenced the sound across Africa. Highlife chords are used everywhere. You go to Tanzania, you go—basically anywhere. And even using pidgin in songs—it’s something that was influenced by Nigeria and Ghana. I think there was a point where Ghana was leading the conversation in African music. We were undisputedly like the leaders, but Nigerians came and got a bit of a head start when it comes to the music business and are currently. Yeah, without a doubt they are leading. They are doing the most, but when it comes to the sound Ghana is never lacking. We never have been lacking.

We’ve always had a sound that has changed the style. When Azonto came in around the early 2000s that sound really changed everything for African music—brought a whole new bounce to it. When Mr. Eazi first came out, he actually was working with Ghanaian producers. His whole sound was pretty much like Ghanaian Highlife music mixed with elements of Nigerian music. He’s one of the pioneers of the new sound, so you can’t talk about Afrobeats without talking about Ghana music. We do have a long way to go and I think it’s just about industry stuff and we will get there, but for now we just have to make sure that the new school artists keep the flag raised up high. I think it’s working. We are beginning to see some changes.

Photo courtesy of Yung D3mz
Photo courtesy of Yung D3mz

We’re going to shift into discussing your EP, Girls Like You. So, really—whatever you want to share, but I would love if you would do a track play-by-play.

So, Girls Like You—it was around the same time that my manager told me that I should try working with different producers. As much as you are talented you can’t do everything by yourself and because I’m a producer I do have a lot of producer friends. Boye ‘The Genius’ is one of them and Uche B is another one.

During the quarantine we just said aye, like yo—there was a bit of a lockdown here in Ghana when Corona first became an issue—the guys were like we should just make a tape and put it out. What’s the worse that’s going to happen and D3mz should be the artist! I’m like okay. We literally made the songs in the order that you see them on the DSPs.

“Electric” was the first song that we did. That song—I mean like I said Highlife and Hiplife are really popular genres in Ghana. “Electric” has very much a Highlifey sound. Not in terms of the chords, but I think the instruments and the composition and the lyrics that I use are very Highlifey. The boys weren’t too sure about making a tape yet, so I wanted to convince them and this is the song that I had to use. I had to make sure like if I want to kill this beat it has to be nice. So, Boye sent the beat over. I was feeling like I want to do this like a typical Ghanaian artist would. So, I just sprinkled in the pidgin—the pidgin English that we do speak over here. It’s like a common slang. You hear it in a lot of Highlife or Afrobeats songs. We kept the first song as “Electric” and I called it “Electric” because I said something about the vibes being electric and I didn’t want to name it what the hook was. I just felt like the song itself embodied the whole idea of electric vibes.

We went on to “Dangerous” which is one of my favorites. Now, with “Dangerous”—honestly, I called the song “Dangerous” because the beat was really dangerous. As soon as the beat came I was like yo, this is dangerous. I was like yo, I might actually keep that and use that for something. I did get the idea for this song from another song by an artist in Ghana—a Highlife artist. His name is Ofori Amponsah and he has a song called “Dangerous” and the hook of the song is these girls are dangerous, serious. It’s a different cadence, but when I heard the beat, I was like what if I did something that kind of had that old school Highlife-y vibe—that little Pop twist to it. Uche was feeling the idea so we just did it. And yeah, case closed. The whole tape in general didn’t take too long to make, so it was a bit of a blur making these songs. I did want to have something upbeat because Afrobeats is about dancing as well and most of the songs on the tape are really mellow—kind of slow, and I wanted one that at least people would hear and they’re like I want to dance to this. So yeah, we threw that in there as well and we moved on to the next song, “Anita.”

I told Boye and Uche that I want to do something different, so keep in mind that yeah you guys know my vibe already, you know what I like, but just give me something that nobody in Ghana has ever done before. Boye was like I got you something. So, he sent the beat in and I’m listening to it like yo, what is this! This is like Arabian music fused with African music. Like, what’s going on? This is something else! I’ve never heard this before! He honestly said, “if you body this song, we will finish the tape.” I’m like okay, bet, give me like three hours. I was already kind of familiar with the sound because Spotify has a playlist called Afro-Arab, which I kind of discovered not too long before I started recording “Anita.” It was basically like Arab people making their own rendition of Afrobeats and I took inspiration from that. I started diving into Arab music. I heard there was a Moroccan Trap culture. I just started listening to different sounds and I guess it had a big influence on me around that time because my melodies basically became like Arab. [laughing] For that song, I did what I could melodically and I wanted to show off with “Anita.” I wanted to let people know that I could do anything whether it’s Arab music or if it’s Afrobeats—we’ll still do it.

And then down to “Confident.” So, “Confident” is my favorite song on the tape. The reason why is because it’s R&B. It was influenced by R&B. I grew up listening to a lot of R&B. I grew up listening to Jazz. I played a bit of Jazz in the band that I was in in school and it was natural for me to write to “Confident.” It was just something that I was used to—a familiar sound. R&B is something that I listen to basically every day and also, it’s a sound that we’re starting to get acquainted with over here in Africa. They call it Afro-R&B. There’re artists like Fireboy, Wizkid who are kind of into that soundscape—Burna Boy. Burna Boy is probably one of my biggest influences, so I just kind of channeled everything I know about Afro-R&B into the song.

Also, considering the tape was called Girls Like You, I did want to have a song that was really brutally honest about someone and honest about how I feel about girls. It was around the time where we had a lot of things going on social media. We had a lot of cases of abuse—sexual abuse coming up on social media between Nigeria and Ghana at the time and women being abused. We all became a bit more socially aware because of how it was being put out on social media and I just naturally called it “Confident” because it was really from the heart. I finished the song and I just made sure that the hook had to say something about being confident in your own skin, in your own self. That as a woman—especially being a Black woman—there are a lot of odds that are stacked against you in this world, but your confidence is always endearing—it’s admirable. That was basically the whole point of it.

The last song was “Virgil.” I felt like I wanted to try something different like a different genre. I didn’t want to African music for the last song, so Uche sent me a trap beat and he was like, go off. I kind of freestyled most of it. I really don’t know. I said let me see what I can do and I recorded different parts a little bit at a time. It came together nicely. I wasn’t too happy about the song, but people do like it. I have especially a lot of fans from Nigeria hitting me up saying they love the song—in the U.S. as well, so I guess it’s really cool. I called the song “Virgil” because you know Virgil Abloh’s from Ghana and the song was about dripping and fashion. It’s a culture that’s really popular around my circle of friends. So, yeah Virgil Abloh being from Ghana I just had to pay homage because he’s like the king of drip where I’m from. I do respect other creatives in the different genres and different mediums that they work in whether you’re a painter or fashion designer. If you’re from Ghana you’re kind of raising the flag. I’ll pay some respect so I just called it “Virgil” based off that. There wasn’t anything sentimental about the song to be honest. It was just like a vibe.

People did tell me that they want to see me drop more trap songs after this. It was kind of like an experiment, so yeah that was the whole Girls Like You. And we called it Girls Like You because we felt like every song had a different personality—like I was speaking to a different person. Different girls could relate because we had something for the R&B lovers and something for the Trap lovers. We had something for the people who like to dance. We got something for the late night drives. We had something for you know, breaking your back as well. We just said Girls Like You. We’re doing it for all of you.

I’m putting myself out there now a bit more because I’m the voice behind these songs and people have to see that person as well, so I’m learning a lot of things.

I think it was a really cohesive project, so whenever I listened to it—well, one, I remember saving it but I hadn’t listened to it yet and I don’t know, one day I was like oh shit I haven’t listened to this, let me listen to it. So, I actually listened and I was like aw, hell let me find this dude on Instagram. Let me find this artist because it’s a beautiful project and I just hope that he will connect because I just want to know more about him and I just want to know more about the project. So, that was my take on it. It really hit. Whenever I listen to music I like to experience and feel the music and it did just that for me, so kudos. Very good job! As you reflect on your 2020, what are some of your key takeaways?

I learned a lot about being an artist. That’s one thing that made me realize that there are differences with being a producer and an artist. I’m putting myself out there now a bit more because I’m the voice behind these songs and people have to see that person as well, so I’m learning a lot of things. We dropped this tape with not a lot of big plans. We didn’t even promo it to be honest. We just kind of put it out and people gravitated towards it.

We charted in Ghana for a couple of weeks, so it was good to see that. Now, I kind of have a fair idea of what I want to do with my career and myself. It just showed me the things that I have to do and the things I don’t have to do. One thing I don’t have to do is change my sound because of what other people are doing. I think we’re on the right track because we’re not doing too bad. This is some pretty good music, but in terms of the approach of marketing and stuff, we now have the information we need to put me out there properly as an artist. We’re kind of just working on that right now.

I learned a lot. It’s not easy being an artist in the Corona period as well, too because it’s like you don’t get to play shows. You don’t get to perform. I haven’t performed any of these songs so it’s a bit tricky but we’re finding ways to navigate it. But yeah, I learned a lot from this project. It taught me a lot about collaborating with people and about working with distributors, being independent. It’s different being a producer for a song and being the artist.

My final question—I promise it’s my last question. [laughing] How can we stay connected with you?

My social media handles. I’m not really much of an Instagram person. I really do spend most of my time on Twitter. My music is everywhere. Like, all platforms—Google Play, Apple Music. You search my name you’ll find some shit that you really fuck with. It’s out there for you to go listen to. Twitter’s probably the way you can reach me, but I’m on Instagram too.

LISTEN: EP, “Girls Like You”

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