The producer D.A. Doman has enjoyed two very different paths to success in 2018. In the streaming era, splashy rap hits often arrive fully formed at the top of the Hot 100. In contrast, Tyga’s “Taste,” featuring Offset, inched up the charts after it was released in May. The single never got the kind of viral attention that boosted Drake’s “In My Feelings,” but radio programmers were willing to support it, thanks to Doman’s production: a car-speaker-friendly-bass-line, an ear-worm vocal sample. In September, “Taste” became Tyga’s biggest airwaves hit as a lead artist, reaching Number One at the format known as Rhythmic — which pulls from pop, rap, R&B, dance and Latin music. From there, it has made the jump to the Top 40.
Doman used a very similar rhythmic template on Kodak Black’s “Zeze,” featuring Offset and Travis Scott, but also added in a festive spurt of steel drums. If “Taste” was a slow burn, “Zeze” was an immediate eruption: A snippet of the beat, shared on Instagram, sent Black’s followers into a frenzy, and when the rapper released the official version of the track, it quickly became the most-streamed song in the country, earning 47 million listens. That was good for a Number Two debut on the Hot 100; if radio programmers pitch in and the streams stay strong, “Zeze” could well reach Number One next week.
“Now everybody’s hitting my phone in the industry,” Doman says. It’s a sudden change for a producer whose career “definitely wasn’t a quick thing, more of a slow and steady rise.” Rolling Stone spoke with Doman about his early forays into production and his transition from the album-cuts guy to the singles guy “everybody wants.”
How did you initially get into production?
I started really young in Chicago. I started playing drums in sixth grade. I just always loved the music behind the rapping. When I’d hear Dr.Dre joints, Timbaland joints, I was just kind of focused on the music, and didn’t pay as much attention to the rapping and singing. I saved up my money, and I got a Roland MC-505 Groove Box. That was the first time I worked on beats, and I dubbed it into a cassette. When I got into high school I sold that and bought an MPC, and after I got sampling a little bit, I was like, “Oh man, this is what I wanna do with the rest of my life.”
That’s always something I’ve loved about Hip Hop production. You can really do whatever you want, as long as it’s hot. It’s not like a lot of other genres where it’s like, kinda strict guidelines what instruments you can use. Like in rock, it’s kind of expected that there’s a guitar somewhere in the mix. In hip-hop, it’s really just drums, people expect you to have drums. In terms of everything else, it’s wide open.
How did you turn production into a career?
When I was in high school I was selling beats for, like, $50 to people at the high school. I moved to Evanston for high school, a suburb directly next to Chicago. My senior year, I did this album that was featuring all the best rappers and singers at the high school. It was like, my senior project, and it worked out really well. I sold those CDs along with the people who were on the album. They sold CDs too. So, we made a little bit of money off it, and at the same time I was selling beats to a few people at the high school for 50 bucks and that price was like super cheap.
As I got a little bit older — I was 18 or 19 years — I drove with one of my best friends, he was like my manager quote, un-quote at the time, we drove in the winter to Staten Island, and we worked on this Ghostface Killah side project with this artist Trife. I dunno if that was considered on a major label, but that was my first placement with a more well known artist.
Then, also around that time I was working with Bump J who was really popping in Chicago, who got a deal with Atlantic. I would go over to his condo. That was when I was in college. For, like, the first year and a half, I would go over to his condo and play him beats, or I did some stuff with him. That was kind of the earliest stuff I was doing.
It was a slow and steady climb. It was never like smooth sailing. I never just walked into a boatload of placements in a year. When I was younger, I don’t remember exactly, 21, 22, I had a non-exclusive co-publishing deal with J.R.Rotem. I did a bunch of drums for him, and we had a number one in UK, with JLS, “Everybody in love.” That was another one of my real early placements. Things started taking off more when, more recently, like in the last couple of years. I had that Chris Brown single “Privacy” that did pretty well, that went platinum, that was like his second single off his Heartbreak on a Full Moon album. I also did two other joints on that album. Then things started to also take off even more with the “Taste” joint with Tyga.
Long before that you did “Do My Dance” with Tyga — how did that one come about?
My wife now was my girlfriend at the time when that joint happened, and I wrote that hook, and I had my wife actually rap the hook. Then I added on to the second half of those and pitched my voice down, and I sent that to Tyga over email, and he immediately sent back and he was like, “This is a smash.” He put it out super soon afterwards. He got 2 Chainz on it. I was only proud about that record because I wrote the hook on that, and also ’cause that song went gold with no radio push. It wasn’t even on an album. That was always like a fan favorite, so many people still hit me up about that song. They say like, “Man, every time that song comes on at the party, it goes crazy.”
How did you originally connect with Tyga?
That was a long time ago — his road manager on Myspace. That’s originally how it happened. This is around the time, it’s crazy, that Lil’ Wayne was the number one artist in the world. And he still is like right up there, you saw what Carter V did. But Tyga — I produced this joint that my guy Jim Lavigne wrote the hook on called “Lay You Down.” I sent that to Tyga, and he just flipped out over it. And he said, “I’m gonna get Wayne on this.” A week or two later, he had Wayne on it. Then that went on his album. I’ve been sending him stuff, getting in the studio with him since.
I’ve always gotten a lot of placements. I’ve just always been able to get people to fuck with my music and people have always liked my stuff. It’s just that I haven’t really started making these hits until the past couple years, you know what I mean?
Is it just a stroke of luck that suddenly someone decides you’re the guy to produce the single, or do you think something changed about your production?
I think it’s really just my ear is developed and my ear’s gotten better. Something I’ve always tried to stress when I was in making beats all these years is just always trying to improve myself, my composition, my playing, working with other musicians, working with the artists. I feel like things just really started clicking over the past couple years and I’ve just started making much hotter stuff. And then also, obviously, the artist has really done their thing over the beats.
When did you make “Taste?”
That was earlier this year. I sent that to Tyga, and if I recall correctly, he finished the song pretty quickly. It was maybe like a week or so. He sent it back to me, and it was when me and my wife were in a car back in Chicago — we live in L.A. now, but we were back in Chicago visiting family. He sent me just a super rough, unmixed version, and we heard it in the car and both instantly knew.
What is the vocal little flip in there?
I don’t like to talk too much about where I get my samples from, but it’s a cool thing for sure. It definitely made the record take off. It’s kind of like “Zeze” also — if you can just have a great element in your beat that people can really fuck with and listen to a million times, that makes the beat that much better. “Taste” had that. “Zeze” had that. I’ve got this joint coming up with Quavo that I’m really excited about; I think it’s the same thing. That’s what a lot of people are coming to me for right now.
Did you mess with the pitch on the sample?
I don’t want to give away too — a lot of people like to copy things. That’s something I saw coming up listening to Dre and Timbaland: When you have a sound, a lot of people try to jack it. It ruins the creativity of it when everyone starts copying you.
The same thing that happened to Mustard. You know it’s really happened for almost everyone — it’s the same thing with Mike Will Made It, he had that filter sound and then everybody started doing it. Mustard had that West Coast sound and then everybody started copying it. I’m just trying to keep going with my sound as long as I can.
So you made “Taste” and sent it to Tyga straight away, or you shopped it around?
No. I think one or two other A&Rs heard that joint. They didn’t jump on it though. It’s funny because actually another Tyga record, “Switch,” that did pretty well, a few A&Rs liked that beat more than the “Taste” beat. It’s so hard to tell that stuff. Nobody’s 100% on calling things, you know? Now Ghazi who runs Empire was saying “Taste” is actually projected to go five times platinum by January which is nuts.
I’m really fortunate, because I feel like everybody online has been saying the “Taste” beat and also now the “Zeze” beat are two of the dopest beats of the year. The “Zeze” thing was kind of unheard of, where it’s a beat that’s so big without the song.
“Zeze” is funny — I feel like conventional music industry wisdom would tell you not to put a record full of steel drums out in October.
Yeah. I don’t remember who I was talking to about that, but I think that all that type of stuff, none of that matters. “Oh, it sounds like a summer record.” It’s like, “yeah, I guess, but it just doesn’t matter because the song’s super hot, you know?”
When I finished the beat, I thought to myself, “man, this would be perfect for Kodak.” Honestly, I didn’t send the “Zeze” beat to anyone else. The steel pan just had that Florida Caribbean vibe to it.
A lot of people think this stuff is planned out, but as far as I know, it wasn’t at all. It was just like Kodak was in the studio having a good time. Everybody was really fucking with the beat, and they just put it up on Instagram. The response was just ridiculous. People just ripped the audio off the Instagram clip. Obviously everybody loved Kodak’s dance too. That was also a great part of it. Kodak has so much charisma and so much swag.
But people really just ripped the audio off that one minute long Instagram clip, and people were playing it in their cars, at their parties in some of the most hopping clubs in New York, L.A., London. I just got tagged in stuff from all around the world. Then obviously, the actual record came out, and it blew up huge. It debuted at Number Two on the Hot 100.
Everybody has been like, “I’ve never seen an instrumental before the song came out blow up like this.” Obviously there have been countless amazing hip hop instrumentals that are super classic, but the difference is that those got famous after the song with them came out. This is something that the song hadn’t even been released yet. Nobody even knew what the song sounded like. And the beat just blew up with no lyrics on it.
Those steel drums are sampled too?
I can’t give it away, man! It’s more interesting when people don’t give away how they do everything. It keeps more of a mystique around it. It’s a lot like Beyonce. Beyonce is not on Instagram Live every day. Don’t get me wrong, some people that works really well for, and it’s super dope, but it also works well for some people to keep more secrecy around themselves. That’s how I like doing things in my production.