Music

Interview: Nigerian Producer, Tha Beatsmith Details Musical Journey And Dynamic Collab On EP, “Vanity”

Tha Beatsmith is a Nigerian self-taught music producer whose sound is well-seasoned with a meld of genres and influences. In this interview, he details his music production journey and the dynamic collaboration with Nigerian musician, Ogranya for their joint EP, "Vanity."

“I’m originally from Nigeria, but I live out here in the US. I guess I’m about to become an ‘American’,” Adedotun Wale-Adeduro joked. The Lagos, Nigeria-born producer is currently living in North America’s ‘Black Mecca’ that is Atlanta, Georgia. Before to entering the world of music production, Adedotun, also known as Tha Beatsmith had rap dreams that soon faded when he “realized that I wasn’t going to be no Lil Wayne, T-Pain, or Akon.”

Yet Tha Beatsmith still felt this love for music drawing him in. He gave music production a try when he was introduced to Fruity Loops, a popular music production software. With no understanding of where he was headed or what he was doing, Tha Beatsmith took learning into his own hands, experimenting with drums and structure. “You go through your periods of trying to figure out exactly what you’re doing. For a while, I was doing rubbish trying to figure out what my sound was,” he said. He goes on to explain that “I didn’t and still don’t really like Dancehall or Reggae, so I didn’t make any of that. I pretty much made—I don’t know what genre you consider it—but it’s a mix of Hip-Hop, R&B, some weird stuff, whatever. I think I knew that early on.”

With his polished skills and music production seemingly second nature, Tha Beatsmith joined forces with eclectic Nigerian musician, Ogranya to create Vanity (2019), an EP that was brought to fruition through WhatsApp and emails and whose success is still permeating the sound waves. Read more about Tha Beatsmith’s journey as a self-taught music producer and his dynamic collaboration on Vanity.

Photo courtesy of Tha Beatsmith

I didn’t know that you were based in the states. What took you to Georgia if you don’t mind sharing?

Followed my heart. My wife is from here, but she’s Nigerian as well. We made the decision that I was going to move here. That’s why I said I followed my heart. I literally did follow love here.

Followed love to the states! Now you have a family. Tell me a little bit about your childhood and some of your interests.

Growing up, my dad was crazy about the arts. I think he used to do theatre and play productions. I think at a certain point he wanted my sibling and me to go learn music. For some reason, I wasn’t into music school, so I think I only did that for about a summer or a year. And then when I got into high school I picked that back up. When I became a teen my voice started to change. I wasn’t a singer, but I would do vocational stuff with the group and be the baritone person, which was kind of expected because I had the bass voice. Towards the end of high school—we call it secondary school—my classmates and I had a group where we would organize parties, but primarily sing and rap. I did that for a while after high school, but I realized that I wasn’t going to be no Lil Wayne, T-Pain, or Akon. I did still have the passion for music and all that good stuff.

Funny story, there used to be this website where you could download these instrumentals and so I used to do a lot of covers, or try—I wasn’t that good—but just for the sake of learning how to get a beat and write your own version to it. After that, I had a friend who, like everybody else, used Fruity Loops. He had eventually given me the software to install, so obviously I installed it. It was a cracked version, as expected. For some odd reason, he refused to show me how to work it out or how to go about making things. So I experimented with drums, adding structure and all that good stuff. I think YouTube started to blow up, but I didn’t go to YouTube to learn. So that was sort of my introduction to producing. Like everyone else, you go through your periods of trying to figure out exactly what you’re doing. For a while, I was doing rubbish trying to figure out what my sound was.

One of the things I realized quickly based on my general interest in music is—I guess being from Nigeria—I had no interest in typical Nigerian Afrobeats stuff, which is probably what you’d expect. I didn’t and still don’t really like Dancehall or Reggae, so I didn’t make any of that. I pretty much made—I don’t know what genre you consider it, but it’s a mix of Hip-Hop, R&B, some weird stuff, whatever. I think I knew that early on.

Who are some of your influences musically because you said your father was into the arts and music?

I don’t know that I had musical influences. Everybody listened to Destiny’s Child, Wyclef, Timbaland, or Scott Storch. I don’t necessarily think I was like, I want to be like this person. But I liked interesting and mood music. I feel like I probably got more into what you would call my influence when I actually started making music. I think it’s when I was like, oh wait this is what’s more me. I started listening to more indie bands. I don’t make indie music or play the guitar, but I started to connect more to that. I feel like that’s probably where more of my inspiration comes from.

Whenever you began your journey into production, were there any individuals where you were like, I really like their work, or I want to figure out how they’re doing this.

I feel like everybody always liked Timbaland’s switch—the bounce, the groove, but I feel like I was lazy earlier. I like Swizz Beats. His beats are simple. There’s not too much going on. It’s a drum pattern, some chords, some bass, and the whole song is an eight or sixteen bar loop and then he switches it up, but it sounds really good. It doesn’t get boring, right? And so, in some way, shape, or form I was like I really like that. Timbaland, Swizz Beats, what else would I say? I think I did like R&B—this was like Dark Child and the guy who also made Cassie‘s album, I can’t remember his name—those R&B folks! Something about how they sounded cool and R&B, but they had those 808’s because 808’s weren’t really a thing back then, but they had the bounce and the fun.

You liked the simplicity of it all.

Yes, but then there’s still something intricate about it. While I can appreciate complex arrangements and people that put a billion instruments or a billion things to find a way to make it cool and find space for it all, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to that. I like the simple things where like two months down or one year you’re like ‘oh my gosh, I can hear this instrument today.’

I just love that you brought up names like Pussycat Dolls and Cassie, listened to indie bands even though you didn’t play guitar—you were listening to everybody. You just appreciated everything.

What I did listen to a lot, which might sound weird, is Nigerian music. [laughing] I didn’t listen, but I heard it because you go out whether you’re on the street or clubs. Wherever you go—parties, birthdays, school things, you hear that kind of stuff every day.

You said that you don’t really make any typical Afrobeats

I do now occasionally because it’s interesting. It goes back to what I said earlier about the bounce, right? And so, I feel like African music and Caribbean music—the percussions, the bounce of whatever it all is—gives you that vibe. Now I do mix a little bit of this or that, or it’s a regular R&B beat, but it has a little bit of this and that.

It’s all seasoned in there.

Pretty much! Some stuff is out, some stuff will probably never make it out, but I go into the alternative weird music or stuff that I like—I feel like what I make is a reflection of my interests. A little bit of everything. I always say it’s centered around mood and it puts you in a vibe.

You have all these different things that make your sound what it is. So whenever you’re working on a project, what helps you creatively? What’s your creative process like?

There’s boredom, and then there’s also speaking to someone who I’m about to work with on a project, potentially about to work with, or someone I find and I’m excited about as well. Whichever way that happens. The boredom is when I’m home or I’m working and it’s my lunch hour. I have a whole setup here in my space. Work is half of my desk and music is the other half. I take a break and I look at the music side of my desk, and I’m like let me see if I can make something. Or, somebody says, ‘hey, I’m trying to make a couple of songs’ and I feel like I just get fired up over the idea of making something. I could make ten ideas and maybe five or three of them I think are nice. That sort of is my process, it starts with conversation or collaborative projects. For beats I start myself, it starts with sometimes an ‘oh, I’m bored’ and need some sound. You look up plugins. You look up drum loops or something that sounds interesting. A let’s see where we can go from here type of thing.

What is it like as a creative balancing your nine-to-five with your creative projects?

I think it depends on the stage and phase. I feel like it’s easy. I’m not an engineer so I don’t spend hours trying to figure out the mix or the balance. That’s not my space. So, I’m primarily interested in the creative aspect of it. Not to say I don’t get involved, but my involvement is this is a reference track and what we think we want it to sound like, you send it over to the engineer, you listen, and provide feedback. But from a creative perspective, I think it’s kind of easy because during the eight-to-five or nine-to-five you’re working on work, and after I can easily transition into music. Sometimes I spend three or four hours trying to make different stuff, one piece of music, or a beat. Some days I take a break during my lunch hour and work on a couple of ideas.

Because you’re a creative, you have to remind yourself, ‘I still have something to offer. I’m not typing code, right? It’s not the same. I have to have something to give.’ Some days there’s nothing to give for whatever reason. You make stuff, but it sounds—you know. There are days where you think it’s trash, but people like it or put it on their project. I think it’s part of the creative process. That’s sort of the process in general.

What are some digital audio workstations (DAW) that you use, or do you just use one?

I use one. I’m lazy. I primarily use FL [Studio]. I’m a Windows person, so you know—Windows all day. At some point, I did try to use Studio 1 for recording because I liked the workflow. I tried Reaper as well and stopped. I’ve thought about getting into Ableton, but I have so much going on personally. There’s work, there’s music. I feel like I don’t have six months to go learn a skill.

If you do graphic design or video editing it’s like, ‘alright I know this program. I can work with it.’ Is it like that with DAWs?

Yes. No. I feel like for the basics you can make a beat, but there’s a part where the nuances—the tricks, the shortcuts—are where you have to learn the different tools, and ultimately, when you get past that there’s creating your workflow. Whenever I start a project this is where I’m going to go, this is the template. The DAW doesn’t necessarily make you; sometimes it’s about what you have to offer. What can you do with what you have? If you don’t like the sound you have, go buy better plugins. Use whatever DAW you have, you still get the same result.

I originally came across you, Tha Beatsmith, because of Ogranya and the EP, Vanity. It was like a two-in-one, so that was amazing! I was already familiar with him as an artist, so I was really paying attention like, who is this other guy? Who helped him create this project? Vanity was really beautiful, so I’m eager to know first off, how did you and Ogranya meet and how did this project come about?

This was a couple of years ago. This was before Spotify and Apple Music became really big. There was SoundCloud and I stumbled on his page and was like this is really dope, who is this person? At that point, he went by the name Jable before he switched to Ogranya. I listened to his music, thought it was interesting, so I was like, alright, cool and that was it. I think I listened again maybe a couple of weeks after and was like, oh, this is really good. I was talking to a friend of mine like, ‘I found such and such on SoundCloud. Really like the music. Would like to work with so and so person.’ And he goes, ‘oh, that’s my best mate.’ I was trying to collaborate on a project I was working on at the time and I didn’t get the feedback I wanted. He was open to it, but he wasn’t open to it. But then creative people have their processes, so I wasn’t mad or anything. Fast forward maybe a year, I feel like he had that moment I had two or three weeks after and listened again. He listened and was like we should actually do something.

This was maybe 2018, we started to work on stuff. He got a ton of beats I made—fifty, something like that—he picked out the stuff that he liked, and when he started to record, wrote a bunch of songs and made a tracklist. This was late 2019, I think. He was like, this song is going to be called Vanity. He had rough takes that he had recorded with his phone. Fast forward to 2020, we started to put finishing touches around it. Figured out the tracklist, what songs were actually going to make it. Some of the beats were made in 2018 and 2019 and we added a few new tracks. He did his writing thing, figured out structure, how we wanted to move the song. The friend who introduced us is a mix engineer, so he pretty much mixed the whole project. All three of us had a WhatsApp group where we gave feedback on the song, what we needed to do from a creative perspective and an engineering perspective. That’s how it started to come together—figured out the tracklist, the album art—from a bunch of beats narrowed down to this.

When you presented all these beats, was there a specific goal for the sound of the project, or was it just based on the ones that you all liked and it’s what was created?

I make beats in seasons—I’ll explain. In this season I’m in—well, I’m in a dry spell right now—the beats would sort of sound—I don’t want to say similar, but there’s a line. There’s probably a line within everything I make, but in different sections it’s “this is this” and then you go to the next couple of batches and it’s “this is that.” When I sent the beats, I didn’t necessarily say, “this is the idea I have.” It was just like, “Hey, this is something I made that I think you might connect with.” Everything I like to make is mood-based. Some of it is really introspective, some of it might be a little bit more bouncy or alternative. I have a little Afrobeats in there, but everything has a mid-tempo chill vibe. With those beats, he had some songs he had written before and we found based on the twenty or thirty beats he had, I like these ten and then pretty much did his thing. To be honest, most of it was all him. He has a great process, which takes time, but good things take time, right? Figured out how I wanted to structure the songs and some ideas he had before, then he expounded into a song and fit them into the beats he liked.

Were you, Ogranya, and the engineer all in different places while collaborating on this project?

Yeah, one hundred percent. Before I left Nigeria in 2019, we had one or two sessions, but it wasn’t necessarily a production—well, it was more of a play beats type of session to see what works. I think that’s where “Can You See Her” came from, in that session. That was our last session, but everything else happened through WhatsApp and emails.

That is so amazing. I really love to see producers and artists collaborate on a project. It’s cool because you get to see both of their creative styles and differences fused together. The artist gets to shine, but this is also an opportunity for you, the producer to shine, too. So, I love, love projects like that!

If I had a chance, I would probably make like ten a year.

Ten a year?

I mean that’s a bit much. Probably like one every three months. I would definitely do one every three months if I could.

You two work really well together. I’m sure y’all will work more together. Have you released or do you plan on releasing any solo tapes? I know some producers may put out a mix, or a beat tape.

I think I was going to do that, eventually. I’ve got beats for days like everybody else does—nothing special—that don’t have a home. I’m torn between going to find a home or do I just—I feel like sometimes you hoard stuff. I think that’s what’s happening, to be honest.

You’re holding on to them! Let us experience them! We want to hear them.

I think I’m going to put out—yeah, definitely a beat tape and I’ve also got another project coming. It’s not a producer project, but it’s me and a bunch of different artists.

I was just about to ask you if you have worked or plan to work with other artists.

I have actually. There are two artists I did a decent amount of work with before. There’s a girl called Deena Ade I worked with a couple of songs on her last two projects. You should check it out! And then there’s a project by someone I collaborate with a lot—who I’m also working on a project with, her name is Paula B. I produced her whole tape, it’s called Huma. If you haven’t listened to it, please go listen. I think Huma is great music. I think it’s my second project end-to-end and it happened all virtually as well. I was in Nigeria and she was in the US. Strangely enough, there’s a lot of additional productions from people in Nigeria—never met them. Everything happened virtually as well.

I like the power of 2021—this whole era that we’re in. Everything is virtual. You don’t have to be in the same room anymore, same country, city—none of that.

Everybody in their personal space. Do what you like on your own time, but let’s get the end result. I do have some projects that never made it out as well, for whatever reason. I do intend to work with a couple more people this year.

What are some successes that you’ve experienced thus far and on the flip side, what are some moments of adversity that you’ve faced?

As far as the Vanity project goes, I think having about 100K listeners for the first project is a success. And I haven’t done anything about it. There’s no PR, I don’t have a great Instagram, I haven’t run any ads. I guess right project at the right time. The artist—also piggybacking off of the work that he’s done. I think that all works.

I guess frustrations is music that never makes it out for whatever reason. Especially stuff that people might have paid for. Sometimes you get to work with people and there’s good content, but it’s the label, it’s the management. That’s one part of my frustrations. Another part is sometimes you don’t get feedback from artists how you want it. Feedback in terms of response, I guess. When collaborating with other artists, sometimes you have to let them find—the right producer and the right artist at the wrong time doesn’t work, right? It’s getting to that point where you’re both on the same page. I also understand that to be timing. With Ogranya we struck up a conversation, but it didn’t happen immediately.

The songs that didn’t make it out. That sounds like a whole concept for a project or something. That’s funny.

A couple of years ago, this is why I liked the idea of mixtapes. This was before streaming services came into the picture. Think about it, Lil Wayne, for example. The albums that never made Carter IICarter IIICarter IVCarter V—you’ve got Da Drought. The same goes for most artists, but I feel like we don’t get that anymore. You just get albums. You get six or ten songs for some artists. Some artists like Jhene Aiko might still give you eighteen or twenty songs and that’s it. Also, as a creative person, I understand sometimes you don’t want to put your—not everything needs to make it out, but I feel like sometimes there are good songs that—not necessarily about the producers, but about the fans—about good music. Ultimately, there’s something for everybody. I think mixtapes are an opportunity to get to listen to that.

What advice do you have for aspiring producers? I want to be a producer, but I just don’t know what to do! Whoever is green. There may be people who are still trying to figure it out.

I say for myself because I’m still learning and I’m not where I want to get to. But, I think one of the important things is being skilled and competent. For some people, it might take six months. For others, it might take a year or two—whatever the timeline is, understand when you’re ready. And then there’s being open to collaboration. I’ll use myself as an example. If you have someone who is passionate about the music and is creative, be open to working with anyone for whatever terms, especially when you’re up-and-coming. Every opportunity you get means you get to improve—you get to learn something else. Unless you’re working with people who want the same trap beats, then yeah, you’re going to be in a box. But, if you work with different artists—today you’re making trap beats, for example. Tomorrow you’re making some type of R&B, or tomorrow you’re making some sort of Jazz or ballad. Collaborating in the early stages is like basketball practice for an athlete. Every game you get to play, or every beat you get to make is an opportunity to learn and grow so embrace that as much as you can. Eventually, things will fall in place and it will make sense to you. Something important in today’s time is also knowing even when you’re collaborating with people for free, or whatever terms you decide, you also want to make sure that you protect yourself legally. Whatever you have to do for publishing or splits, just make sure you do that as best you can. To be honest, any music can make it onto Spotify today. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get all the plays, but it might be good and a year from now your music is in an ad or it starts to pick up. Far from all that, the creative part is learning as much as you can and collaborating as much as you can.

Now I want to go produce! [laughing]

Open up your computer. You can get a free trial for anything. Fruity Loops, Reason—everything. Everybody’s got a free trial. And I think one thing I like about today—doesn’t necessarily mean it’s affordable for everybody, but I like the fact that a couple of years ago you needed $200-$300 to buy the software there and then. Everybody’s got this—I kind of hate it, but I kind of understand it—you can pay $10 a month forever and get the software and all the new features. It’s easier for people to start to produce and get good software and get good plugins. You can definitely do that!

What does it mean to be Black and Gifted to you?

I think everybody’s gifted in some way, shape, or form. Not to sound like I’m giving away trophies for participation. I’d say to be Black and Gifted means you’ve understood exactly what is that’s your gift. It could be furniture-making, it could be music, it could be a nine-to-five solving complex business problems. Whatever it is, I think it’s understanding that and coming into your own, and excelling at it, and making a way for other people. You don’t just make a way for yourself, but you also have to pull somebody up. Ultimately, being Black and Gifted is when your knowledge and skills come into it. Being super good at what you are good at.

Stay connected with Tha Beatsmith via Instagram.

LISTEN: VANITY, EP

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