Virgin Records France
The beat tag, “It’s Kel-P Vibes!” — crooned sultryly at the start of some of Afrobeats’ best tracks — is a signal that you’re in for a good time. Kel-P is the 27-year-old Lagos-based producer behind much of the Grammy-nominated Burna Boy African giant as well as Wizkid’s “Ginger” and as he says A rolling stoneupcoming projects from heavyweights like Davido, Wande Coal and Adekunle Gold.
Kel-P is among the up-and-coming Nigerian producers (including Pheelz and Young John) who are jumping behind the boards and also pursuing a career as a featured artist. Kel-P dropped his first EP as a vocalist, Bully Season Vol.1, last month, filled with tropical odes to women designed to get them on the dance floor. “I always wanted to be an artist. The question is what made me start producing,” Kel-P tells Zoom.
It happened almost by accident. In 2017, Sartz, the producer of recent hit Mona Lisa, took Kel-P under his wing. They meet when Kel-P comes to his studio as part of a seven-piece band in which he sings. When Sarz relayed to them that at least one of them had to make the beats they were performing on, Kel-P took on the task and found something he excelled at. He told Nigeria The Guardian that he is one of the worst vocalists in his ensemble. “I fell in love with the craft as a producer because I felt like I was in front of my band this time,” he says on our call.
Kel-P now combines his longtime passion for performance and his newer skill set as a high-level beatsmith. He’s on Zoom from Houston, where he’s working with a music director to fine-tune the live performances he plans to launch at festivals in April. It appears on the new one Creed III soundtrack executive produced by J. Cole’s Dreamville as an artist and producer. “If I don’t come up with the right song, the world will die [say], “I think Kel-P should continue to produce. This singing is not for him,” he says. But instead, he discovered that he was also able to attract people as an artist. “And when they go find out who I am and they’re like, ‘Oh, so he’s done all these records for all these guys in the past!'” That’s how I wanted it to be. I was looking for that huge surprise factor.
Kel-P talks to A rolling stone about his path, techniques and new sound.
So when you became Sarz’s apprentice, basically, what was your process of learning how to produce?
I started using Fruity Loops [now known as FL Studio], and I watched. All he showed me was the basics. When I learned the basics, every time I work with artists, if I don’t understand something, I always ask questions. I’m always in front of him staring at the computer every time he’s working. And I always worked out. He was always telling us ‘do this’, ‘do that’, ‘come back, play our beats’. [him]” and all that. I wasn’t the only one he trained. There were four or five of us.
After 2018 I decided to find my way. I’m like, ‘You know what? I know a few things, but the rest of the things I don’t know, Sartz won’t teach me. It’s all practice. I just have to keep working out and watch some YouTube videos and stuff like that. So I learned everything so quickly in the process. I learn very fast.
One of the things I love most about your production is that it’s so textured. It almost sounds like you can get a group of people together and tell them what to play. Did you play instruments before you even started learning to produce?
Just the piano, but it’s not like me i play I play. I just have an idea. The truth is, I don’t even like playing an instrument because playing an instrument as a producer to me just puts you in a box of trying to just play simple chords. Yes, simplicity is good, but I like to play [chords] using my software because it makes me try different notes, try different things because it’s computerized. It’s not live where you can just play whatever comes to your mind – however you feel. With software, you have to keep trying things and working with your ears. So I always worked with my ears.
When I make recordings for artists, I picture them in my head how they would perform the recording on stage. It’s like I’m making the record now and seeing Burna Boy perform on stage. So I try to make the beat different so that the fans on stage can feel it.
How did you get together with Burna Boy?
It was just a phone call. I just got a phone call from a friend of mine that I used to work with and when I picked up the call it was Burna Boy speaking. I thought he was the one because Burna Boy was using his phone.
He was in the studio with Burna Boy and Burna Boy had recorded one of my beats and he was like, “Who did that? Who is the producer? I want to see the guy who made that beat.”
He decided to call me. When I picked up the call, I was like, “Yo bro, what’s good?” And the next thing I heard on the phone, “Oh, it’s Burna Boy. Where you at?” I’m like and I said, “Burna Boy Ye?” Said, “Yeah.” And then he said, “Yeah, stop by some place.”
This was around 6:00 in the morning. I think they went to the club and after the club they went to the studio. I went straight to the address where he was. We went straight to a hotel and in two weeks we did 13 songs. In two months we made 33 songs. We only have a few and the rest are on my hard drive. I met him in August and by September 2018, the following month, we already released the first song, ‘Gbona’.
I never knew I was even making an album for Burna Boy. I just thought he was doing a production camp at the hotel and there were a lot of producers. There were a lot of producers coming back and forth, but I didn’t leave the hotel. I was there. I didn’t come back home. After two months I returned home.
You always wanted to be an artist though. You learned to produce by accident. What made this the right time to drop your own music?
I had to drop a project much earlier, in 2020. But it was a production project, something where the producer involves a lot of artists. back and forth things happened on the business side, ups and downs. This whole situation made me… I was like, “You know what? I can do this thing myself. Let me travel to different countries eavesdropping on manufacturers. Go find my sound as an artist and find out.”
When I did all that, I just felt something – “Okay, I guess this is the right time to put a face behind the Kel-P name.”
When you set out to find your own sound, what did you find? What do you think it’s shaping up to be?
“One More Night” is a mix of Afrobeats, R&B and Dancehall. When I discovered my own sound, the first thing I asked myself was, “Okay, what should I call it [it]? Because I know people will ask me these questions so many times. I said to myself I’m just going to call my own sound Afro-Dancehall because every song of mine has it [that] influence.
The great thing about “One More Night” is that it samples Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s “Dilemma” without relying too much on nostalgia for a punch. It still feels very new and personal. Was that a goal?
I was just somewhere I went to get food and they played the record [“Dilemma”] by accident and the record just hit me. I knew that record, of course. I grew up when the record came out. I was a child. Shout out to KDAGREAT. When I hit him and said, “Brother, we have to take a sample [“Dilemma”], he sent me some in two days with the sample in it. I’m like, “This is too perfect.” I heard the part and went straight to the studio. We worked on a few things, went back and forth and changed a few things. My whole idea when I recorded the song was just to make women dance.
I decide to attack the beat with such a cadence that’s spacious at the beginning, and a universal melody, a universal chorus, a universal hook, that this song could penetrate London, America, Germany, or wherever.
I decided to approach the recording that way, and when I recorded the song, I recorded the song from top to bottom, just melodies. There was no text in it. After that, I think I FaceTimed a couple of my girlfriends, five of them. I played it for them and they heard it. They’re like, “Oh, it’s fire.” The creative process of this song was not difficult. It was pretty easy because that’s what we do bro. The only thing heard about this song is just a clean sample.
When did you make the song? How long ago?
I made the song two years ago. was, I said to myself, “I want to be ahead of my time.” I want to make records two years ago, three years ago and hear it two years later and the world will believe I made this song yesterday because it sounds fresh. I respect myself at that level because I’m like, “Nobody’s been able to create anything like this in the last two years.” Every time someone drops an album within those two whole years, I go listen to it from top to bottom. If I find an element that sounds like my song, I go back to the drawing board and change a few things.
When you say someone, are you specifically looking at African or dancehall artists?
No, nobody in the world.
One last thing before we go down, what did you name your EP?
bully season, actually one of my managers came up with the name one day. I did a record for Skip Marley and they posted on my page because they are into my Instagram. [For] caption, they wrote something, blah, blah, blah, “Da Bully.” And a friend of mine from Jamaica, a producer, messaged me on WhatsApp and said, “Da Bully. I love that name.”
Then I told my manager who posted this on my page, “Okay bro, keep using Da Bully thing. Makes sense,” in general, [because of] everything I’ve been through in my career, my life, my work ethic. Like I said earlier, I was supposed to drop a project in 2020, but because of this back and forth, I just woke up one day and said, “Shit, I’m doing shit.”
I just felt that God really wanted me to do this and I just felt that God would actually be angry if He gave me this talent and I didn’t use it properly. I was hiding all the time. I don’t even go to interviews. I don’t even take pictures. I post just myself working in the studio. I don’t post myself doing anything else at all. I don’t show people anything. I only show them the music. I was hiding because I was working on myself, on confidence, developing.