Tay Keith has worked with Future, Travis Scott, and even Beyoncé, not to mention nearly every major artist from his hometown of Memphis. But there’s one name he puts before anyone else. “Making beats for Drake was and still is my main priority,” says the 26-year-old producer. “He put me on and is why I’m here in the industry now, so he always gets all my new beats. He gotta hear them before I send them to anybody.”
Their connection is evident on Her Loss, the new joint album from Drake and 21 Savage, featuring three tracks produced by Tay Keith, including the standouts like the intro “Rich Flex” and “Broke Boys.” Her Loss is a phrase that resonates — it could be something you tell yourself or words you hear from parents after a tough break-up — and right now, those words have set the internet on fire. After the original release date was pushed back by a week due to the engineer, producer, and mastermind behind Drake’s low-fi sound Noah “40” Shebib catching COVID-19, the wait is over. Over 16 tracks, Drake and 21 Savage trade some of the best flows of this year over polished production with bars that don’t stray away from controversy.
The level of sonic detail in each song is always consistent on any Drake album, and he’s known to have a keen ear for talent. And Tay Keith is a natural fit for Drake’s style. Known for the trunk-rattling bass that he adapted from southern hip-hop royalty like Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG, Keith emerged in 2018 after tracks he’d made with fellow Memphis native BlocBoy JB caught Drake’s attention. From there, the buzz began to spill out of Memphis, putting their local rap sound at the forefront. After starting to make beats at the age of 14, Tay Keith had his first hit with Drake and BlocBoy’s “Look Alive” by the age of 21. Since then, his hypnotizing bounce has created undeniable chemistry with Drake, also heard on tracks like “Nonstop” and “Sicko Mode.”Tay Keith spoke with Rolling Stone shortly before the release of Her Loss about working on the collaborative album, his creative process, how his Memphis roots spill out in his beats, and more.
Being from Memphis, your sound is often described as that trunk-rattling grit from the south. How would you describe the influence Memphis has on your sound?
I was born into this shit and raised in this shit. Memphis music is all I listened to and all my family listened to. My stepfather who I am still close with really influenced my taste for music. So a lot of the shit he was listening to was a lot of Memphis artists. During that time it was like Playa Fly, 8Ball & MJ, and you know it’s subconsciously stuck with me. The Three 6 and all that shit, like that sound. Most importantly, me being in this Memphis wave and being a big part of Memphis becoming mainstream, I had to do my research on the past artists and the niggas who actually have influenced the Memphis sound like Gangsta Pat and Gangsta Blac and all that shit. Understanding Memphis history, especially if I’m like the face of it now. I salute them and give them credit, 100 percent.
How did “Jimmy Cooks” come together? Knowing that you produced that with Vinylz and CuBeatz, it’s three samples on there — “You Were Gone” by Brook Benton, “Just Awaken Shaken” by Playa Fly, and “Blaze Up Anotha One” by Gangsta Blac. How did you all blend all of those?
I mean, not to get too much into that but when it comes to the sample and in general, I felt like Drake wanted to really show people true Memphis culture and the sound within “Jimmy Cooks,” because a lot of people have never heard of Playa Fly. A lot of people have never heard of Gangsta Blac. These are artists that I’ve known my whole life. I went to school with Playa Fly’s daughter, she was a good friend of mine. To actually know, like, damn we were in South Memphis at Lincoln Elementary together and 15, 20 years later I got a Number One song with your daddy. It’s a story that can’t be made up. Like, this is like a blessing from God. When it came to “Jimmy Cooks,” I did the second part of the beat, so I didn’t necessarily do the sample, but just being a part of it shows the true connection that Memphis culture has into the mainstream now.
From “Look Alive” to “Nonstop” and of course “Sicko Mode,” you and the Boy have crazy chemistry. Why does it work so well?
I feel like when it came to Drake and his family being in Memphis, and me knowing a lot of his family and shit, it wasn’t like a thing where his family connected us or whatnot, but it’s just the thing that me and Block [Blockboy JB] was doing at the time just caught his attention. Then everything just kind of connected the dots — like “Oh, yeah, I’ve been knowing your family.” It just kind of made sense to bring it all together. I definitely would say Drake had his eyes on us and knew what our potential was and he saved us. That’s the best way I can put it. He saved us, because nobody expected the Memphis sound to be this big. We didn’t expect it ourselves, we were just doing what we knew best, which was making good-ass southern trap music. Drake came and saved our lives, bro. I’m forever grateful for him, and just to be in this position now five years later and still be, you know, arguably one of the biggest hip-hop producers… It’s a blessing from God, too.
On “Nonstop” I saw you do a breakdown and show that the song is built from just a couple sounds. How long did it take you to make that beat and how did you even know less was more in that situation?
At the time I just was making Drake so much shit I can’t even remember. It’s one of those things, like, man, I got “Look Alive,” now I need to get some more shit. Scorpion was about to drop and I just was like, “I gotta flood Drake with so many beats.” So I can’t recall exactly the moment of me creating “Nonstop,” but I definitely would say I was making Drake so much shit at the time, bro.
You also have developed chemistry with 21 Savage as well. You worked on “Don’t Come Out the House,” which you made with Metro, and he hopped on BlocBoy’s “Rover” remix
Shout out to 21. He really fuck with Block, because when “Rover” came out, I will never forget the moments, because “Shoot” actually went viral first. “Shoot” was a big song on Instagram and shit — this was kind of like before the TikTok era. But when I made the “Rover” beat, and I sent it to Block, he automatically knew it was gonna be a hit, bro. So when we dropped it everything just went crazy. Everybody started hitting us up, 21 being one. I fuck with 21 heavy.
Can you talk about your creative process for producing tracks on Her Loss?
I feel like I really had to go back into doing my history on the Memphis artists, because you can only be inspired so long by doing the same shit, you know? I had to go back and look up the Memphis history, get more intrigued by it and listen to all of the Project Pat shit, Three 6, Yo Gotti shit, and the older artists like you probably haven’t heard of. I was just listening to all this shit. And I knew this the type of vibe that I needed to really tap in. So I definitely was in my Memphis bag for the past six months. I was going crazy making the majority of my Memphis shit, and also still focusing on different vibes too, sampling and shit. Even me going into the studio with 21 a couple months ago and knowing I got the session with him, I’m like, “Man, I know him and Drake got this Memphis chemistry, too.” So I had to tap into it 100 percent.
You mentioned your studio session with 21, but how do you even go about cooking up for a collab album like this one?
For the most part, when it’s some shit like this you just want to focus more on cooking up wherever you feel like you can make the best music at, whether that’s at the studio or at home in your own comfort zone. That’s very important for producers to understand — like, you don’t have to be in a studio all the time with 100 niggas in a studio. You can’t really tap in, you have a lot of eyes on you. If you are at home and feel like you’re in a certain bag and you want to cook this beat up, you want to sample the song, it might take you six hours to make, you can do that. You gotta understand, people want certain shit at a certain time that you might not have the beat for or that you might not make the shit in time enough. So it’s good to cook up on time at your own pace. You can send it or you can go to the studio and play beats for the artist. 0 times out of 10, for artists nowadays you’re not going to the studio and just cooking up and expecting something to come out of it. You gotta come prepared.
Speaking of timing, when did you know that what you worked on made the album?
Man, it’s crazy that you asked that, because me and Drake had been working. We got so many songs that we have been working on for the past four years. You just can’t expect that, “Oh, we are cooking up this song and it’s gonna be on the album.” You know what I’m saying? Just gotta keep going. Like for Certified Lover Boy, I wasn’t necessarily on the album, but I know me and Drake had songs then, so it wasn’t like I was disappointed. I just felt like I needed to go harder. I needed to just keep cooking up. So me and Drake never stopped working. It’s like, “All right, I’m gonna send this pack. I’m gonna send another pack in a couple of days. Next week I am going to send some more beats.” And that’s with any artist.
Are you ever surprised by which ones Drake actually chose to rap over?
It’s always a surprise every placement I get. You never know what artists might release what. There have been times where I’ve been in the studio with artists and we’ve done so many songs and I’m like, “I know this song is gonna be the biggest hit” — and then the album comes out and it’s a whole other song. If I take it personal that this song going to be on the album or won’t be on the album, I will get stuck in that loop. I never get caught in it.
What should we expect from you in the future, especially heading into the new year?
I just got to my studio. Extremely happy about that. Co-own that with my manager. You know, that’s our foundation. That’s one of the most important parts of my career, to have that foundation. It’s the actual infrastructure where I can go in and work. At MTSU I’m an honorary professor, so we are in the talks of having interns and growing — you know, spread and spread and the branches of the tree, bro, and putting on my producers. Also, me tapping into tech and rubbing shoulders with all of the big Black tech investors and VC companies, startups, and me investing into a couple companies also. Using leverage that we have in the music industry to take advantage of the opportunities in the tech world. We came from Section 8, sleeping on our family couches, so just us being able to come in these rooms and have a voice and having financial literacy is big. Understanding that we want to be the biggest — not just hip-hop, because we’ve mastered it and accomplished it — but also the biggest thing in other industries, specifically tech.