The success Drake has encountered since his rise in the late aughts was something few predicted—with the exception of his hometown friend Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels. The Toronto-based producer, who has crafted beats for heavyweights such as Dr. Dre, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and the aforementioned Drizzy says he instantly knew Drake would leave an impact on Hip Hop the second the two met back in 2006.
Drake managed to be the talk of the industry despite essentially dedicating the whole 2012 calendar year to a few guest features. And now, with Drizzy working on his third album, Nothing Was The Same, more eyes are fixated on Drake. “Started From The Bottom” has already made its way through the clubs and radio, and a comedic, concept-heavy video is helping things on the visual front. Last week, Drizzy linked up with the Grammy Award-winning 1da to release “5AM in Toronto,” an unofficial sequel to “9AM in Dallas.”
The synth-heavy record can be described as early-morning venting, co-produced by 1da and Vinylz. Drake puts on his Rap cap, reminiscent of previous Drake standouts “9AM” and “Ransom,” and throws his haters against the wall—every single one of them—without dropping any names.
To get everything straight regarding the backstory behind “5AM in Toronto,” we connected with Boi-1da at his home in the outskirts of Toronto. He discussed his thoughts on the controversial MTV Hottest MC’s list, his rise from the bottom (it’s becoming an OVO theme, right?), and his thoughts on the rapidly growing EDM scene.
Boi-1da Recalls Meeting Drake During The "Degrassi" Days
HipHopDX: Since “Started From The Bottom” is blowing up right now, can you tell us some stories that relate with the song’s theme? I know that prior to your brief Rap career years back, you had a nine to five at Winners, right?
Boi-1da: I definitely started from the bottom. We all did as a team—me, Drake, everybody. I always say this in interviews. We started working out of a studio that was rat-infested. I was working at Winners at the time, and Drake was working at two places. He was working at “Degrassi: [The Next Generation]” and was working at a restaurant where he was doing spoken word over the piano. Everybody was working from the bottom, and we just all shared the same vision—which was Drake. We all believed in him.
That song means a lot, because despite what anybody thinks about Drake and them making comments about how he didn’t start from the bottom, he did start from the bottom. We all did. We all started from a place that was not where we are now. A lot of people to say that, but it’s not easy for a rapper to come from “Degrassi” and to make it mainstream as one of the biggest rappers in the world.
To me, he really started from the bottom. When I hear people say [that he didn’t], it really upsets me, because I was there when we all started it and went through the struggles. He is how he is portrayed. The TV show and all that stuff factors into being a Hip Hop artist, because you know how Hip Hop is. You got to have street cred, this and that. But Drake made a lane of his own.
DX: How old were you when you were working at Winners?
Boi-1da: I was 17-18...
DX: So you were still in high school?
Boi-1da: I was literally just leaving high school. Drake wasn’t in high school. I met him when I got out of high school.
DX: What restaurant did Drake work out of?
Boi-1da: I forgot the name. I don’t even know if he wants me to mention that. Just say he got two jobs [Laughs].
DX: The thing at Winners. I assume that wasn’t the greatest job...
Boi-1da: No way. I was the only guy that worked there. I literally had to do everything. All the manpower was me, because I was the only guy there. I worked with a bunch of 50-year-old ladies that couldn’t push or lift anything. So anything that had to be done, I was doing it. My name would be called on the P.A. system every time I worked with a bunch of women.
How Real Events Inspired Boi-1Da's “Started From The Bottom” Cameo
DX: You did a little cameo in the Drake video. It was at a Shoppers Drug Mart out of all places. Were you surprised when they told you to come to a Shoppers?
Boi-1da: Well, yeah. I was wondering what they were doing. I know with Drake, OB [O’Brien] and Ryan [Silverstein], those three together are straight comedy. I knew it was going to be something funny. I went to kick it. If they needed me, I was like, “Whatever.” They told me they needed me for the scene, and I just did it.
DX: So they just asked you to come on set for that short scene?
Boi-1da: Yeah, I was chilling and Director X said, “For this scene, I need you to take these boxes of condoms and drop it on the table.” I was like, “Alright.” [Laughs.] This was my first time I ever acted in anything.
DX: The song talked about Drake’s rise to stardom, and you’ve known Drake for a while. Looking back, are you surprised at how big he’s become?
Boi-1da: I’ve always said this. When I first met the guy and heard his music, I said, “This guy—and not to disrespect anyone—was going to be the next Jay-Z.” He was going to be that guy. I always knew he was going to be that guy, and it’s crazy to see what he’s doing now. I never knew it was going to be as huge as it is now, but I always knew he was going to be that guy. He had everything working for him. He had the swag, the look, and on top of that, the music was always spectacular. To this day, I’ve never heard a bad Drake verse.
DX: Was that back in 2008...2009 when you met him?
Boi-1da: I met him in 2007...’06-ish.
DX: With Toronto rappers in 2006, the city had this “screwface” mentality, and you didn’t see guys make it big out the city. Did his success surprise you?
Boi-1da: Oh yeah, definitely. It definitely played a role with the stigma and the Toronto screwface mentality, but at the end of the day, the music spoke for itself. You couldn’t say anything about the music. He’s not lying in his raps. He’s not talking about anything unrealistic.
DX: He knows his lane…
Boi-1da: He keeps it 100% real. He talks about his life and enjoying it.
Boi-1Da Explains Co-Producing “5AM In Toronto”
DX: And moving to “5AM In Toronto,” that’s a record you co-produced. Can you talk about the backstory of that record and how it came about?
Boi-1da: Originally, I started that beat with a producer named Vinylz, and it was a dope beat that me and him started. But there’s that one sound that goes through the main beat that I liked a lot. I said I was going to make something completely different. I had my boy Nikhil over here that plays the keys, and I started adding stuff to the beat. It just all came together. I sent it off to Drake and he was just like, “Yeah. It’s about to go down.”
DX: When did this happen?
Boi-1da: This was actually a few days before the song came out.
DX: So you just sent it over, he hopped on it, and the rest is history?
Boi-1Da: Yep. He had some things to get off his chest and [that’s] it.
DX: He threw a lot of subliminal shots on there. Do you think the haters are fueling him right now? It seems like he’s being a lot more aggressive lately.
Boi-1da: I think that song was something that needed to be said. Sometimes I’m on the Internet, and I read the comments. A lot of people seem to forget how lyrical Drake is. They forget that he’s one of the best lyricists out, if not, the best lyricist in the game. It was just a reminder. Although he puts out songs like, “The Motto” and “H.Y.F.R.”—which are super lyrical anyways—and they’re so popular, we’re in an age where you’re either popular or you’re good. Sometimes the good people don’t get the popularity. It’s like, he’s so popular and he’s so good, people just see that now, and it’s a rare case. He’s great at rapping, and makes great music off of it.
DX: I guess some people have a hard time living with that.
Boi-1da: Exactly. People are mad at that.
Produced by @boi1da like it should be.
— Drizzy (@Drake) March 7, 2013
DX: Right after “5AM” dropped, he tweeted, “Produced by @Boi1da like it should be.” Do you feel your chemistry in the studio with him is something that gives you both an advantage when working on records?
Boi-1da: I wouldn’t say [our chemistry] is an advantage over anybody; it’s just that we do what we do. When me and Drake have something clicking, it’s special every time. Every time we get together, people react a certain way. It happened with “9AM in Dallas,” it happened with “Best I Ever Had,” it happened with “Headlines.” Every time we get together and do something, I don’t know…we got that chemistry.
DX: Should we be expecting more records with you and Drake on Nothing Was The Same?
Boi-1da: Oh yes. Me and him have been collaborating on this album, so you’re going to see me a few times on this album.
DX: Can you give us any hints on the direction he’s going in, in terms of sound, features, or vibe that he’s going with for the album?
Boi-1Da Talks Drake’s Critics And MTV’s Hottest MC’s List
Boi-1da: The direction is just legendary. I’ll just say that. He has some records on there that’s going to be a great body of work. People are going to be very shocked. He’s taking it to the next level.
DX: Sometimes he goes in on records like “Ransom,” or “9AM in Dallas,” and sometimes he becomes vulnerable on records like “Marvin’s Room.” From a fan’s perspective, do you have a preference between hard-spitting Drake or vulnerable, singing Drake?
Boi-1da: I like everything Drake does. It’s so real. It’s him. When you get something that’s more of him being vulnerable, it’s something that happened to him. Every song that he made, there’s no lying. It’s something that has happened to him. There’s just different sides, and you get to know him through his music because he really exposes himself with his music.
DX: Why do you think people get on him for being that way?
Boi-1da: I think people get on him for that because they’re uncomfortable with themselves. They can’t get comfortable with themselves and they get on him for that. Music is art, and he’s portraying art in telling his life story. Not everyone is a tough guy everyday. You’re not happy everyday; you’re not sad everyday, you know? All his songs have a different spectrum, and he’s just giving you the realness of his life. He’s not lying about anything.
DX: That surprised me, because I thought you would prefer the more lyrical Drake over those hard-hitting beats since that follows suit with your signature sound—you’ve even described them as “smacky” beats.
Boi-1da: Yeah, I just like everything from Drake. Because as much as you think one song is more lyrical than the other, it’s all lyrical. Even songs when he’s singing, the pictures that he’s painting when he’s singing is something you can imagine. A lot of people can’t do that with their music.
DX: I want to move onto another topic. MTV’s Hottest MC’s. Are you familiar with the list?
Boi-1da: Yeah, I’ve heard about it. I think that list is just weird. I don’t know…it’s a strange list to me.
DX: Would you change the order?
DX: Do you agree with Kendrick Lamar at number one?
Boi-1da: I’m a huge fan of Kendrick, and he’s up there. But I’m going to be honest and not biased. I really thought Drake would be up there at number one. He hasn’t put out an album since 2011, but he’s been on features. He’s been on some of the hottest songs, he’s broken a record for most number one records [and] he’s won a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Everybody that you’ve named on the list—he’s been on their singles. They’ve jumped to number one. It’s strange he’s at number five. I guess that’s their opinion. I never would’ve made my list like that.
Boi-1da Details Toronto’s Music Scene And Non-Hip Hop Production
DX: Going back to the Toronto sound, do you think that market will eventually reach the heights of Rap markets like Los Angeles or New York?
Boi-1da: Definitely. I think it’s already a bigger market with what Drake’s doing. Last time I checked, “Started From the Bottom” was number six on the Hot 100. Everytime I go to a party, they play that song 15 minutes straight. I think the OVO Sound is definitely taking over and moving strong. With everyone growing, I think it’s going to be legendary.
DX: Even with the guys from LA, NY or the South?
Boi-1da: Definitely. I think it’s already up there. People don’t realize sometimes that Drake is Canadian. [Laughs.]
DX: And when it comes to providing that Toronto sound, we got the Maven Boys, who you’ve been working with. How did that connection happen?
Boi-1da: I’ve been working with the Maven Boys—there’s a member of the Maven Boys whose name is Zalezy. I’ve been working with him since I was 14. He’s always a hungry kid who is eager to learn…very spongy. Whenever I’m making beats, he’ll be right behind me picking things up. I’ve mentored a few guys, and he was one of the hungry ones who has been eager to learn. [The Maven Boys] are starting to branch out and do things on their own.
DX: You were quoted before in an interview saying you’d work with anybody. You’ve gone on to work with bands like Down With Webster, and talked about working with the Jonas Brothers. What makes you so open to that?
Boi-1da: Before I was like that, but now I want to work with people who are more willing to listen. I’m a visionary. I hear things, and I like to mold it into what I’m imagining. It’s not as easy to work with a lot of people. Not everybody shares the same vision and is willing. I like to work with people who share the same vision.
DX: Would you say it’s easier or harder working with rappers?
Boi-1da: It’s definitely easier because sometimes you would just give them a beat and that’s all they need.
DX: How does your mindset change when you’re with a group like Down With Webster?
Boi-1da: I get to experiment, listen to different music [and] fuse it with what I’m originally known for.
DX: In terms of artists, you’ve worked with all the big names like Dr. Dre and Eminem. Are we going to see more collaborations soon?
Boi-1da: Possibly. I can’t say anything without getting in trouble, but soon...
DX: What about Detox? Is that every coming out? I know you’ve done some stuff on that.
Boi-1da: No comment. [Laughs.] I just know Dr. Dre is one of the greatest producers of all time.
DX: We talked about who you’ve worked with in the past, but who do you want to work with in the future?
Boi-1da: I’m definitely a fan of Beyonce, and I’d just like to sit in a room with Elle Varner and just stare at her. [Laughs.] I’d like to work with Nas again. He’s a cool guy. I literally chilled with him in the studio for an hour and just gave him beats and ideas I had in mind. It was a cool vibe.
DX: Are there artists that make it more difficult to work with in terms of being on the same page with vision and ideas?
Boi-1da: Yeah. A lot of time time, artists are artists. They’re strange. Some things just don’t work. Back in that old interview, I was like, “Yeah, I want to work with everybody.” I didn’t expect experiencing working with everyone, and now it’s just different.
DX: Your mindset just changes after seeing how this guy acts, and then seeing this guy act a certain way.
Boi-1da: Exactly. I’ve been in some crazy studio sessions lately.
DX: Like what?
Boi-1da: I’m not going to say any names, but I’ve been in the studio session one time and somebody was doing a tribute for Amy Winehouse. She poured an entire bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the hardwood studio floors and said, “This was for my homie.” I was like...
DX: Must’ve been sippin’ on that lean.
Boi-1da: I don’t what they were on. I don’t want any part of that. The engineers were scrambling to clean it up, and everyone’s like, “What the hell is she doing?” I ended up leaving that session after a while because it was too crazy. She was too insane.
DX: When HipHopDX first interviewed you, you both talked about sampling and how you hated it because of all the legal stuff. Do you still have that same mindset?
Boi-1da: I just hate the legal side of it, but I love sampling though. [Laughs.] I love to sample. The beauty of it now is after getting a bit more experience, people can re-create stuff, and I have the ability to re-create things, make it sound like a sample, and cover it up.
DX: Do you think doing more original stuff is becoming more of a loss art lately?
Boi-1da: Original stuff? Nah, not lately. Original stuff that’s being played right now—like original synths and 808s—I barely hear samples.
DX: What do you think of the EDM scene. It’s been rising lately. A$AP crossed over and did his thing with Skrillex. Are you ever going to get into that?
Boi-1da: Hopefully, one day. I think that stuff’s dope. I love that A$AP/Skrillex song. I met Skrillex [at Ultra] one time back in Miami and he did a little show out there. It was so crazy. I’ve never been to a show like that before. It’s like a rave. I didn’t pop no molly or anything. I don’t do that, but I was just having fun. Everyone is just having fun, and it’s a different vibe compared to going into a club. Literally everyone is having fun.
DX: So Boi-1Da, EDM—sometime in the future?
Boi-1da: Yeah, sometime in the future, future...far in the future. [Laughs.]