Atlanta, GA – Ayo & Keyz are the illustrious hit-making producers behind standout cut “Bickenhead” off Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy debut album, which has already been labeled as one of the hottest tracks for the summer. The song was consciously made with Cardi’s famous persona in mind. HipHopDX was able to catch up with the production duo over the phone for a #DXHitList Session to find out the story behind “Bickenhead” and learn more about the enigmatic beat-making team that continuously churns out hit records such as Wiz Khalifa’s Hot 100 hit “Something New” featuring Ty Dolla $ign.
Things fell into place so quickly for Ayo & Keyz that it certainly seemed destined for these two to meet and make music together. Having both grown up in the church and being musically inclined, the pair hadn’t even been together a year (forming originally as The Upperclassmen) before they scored their first major placement with “John” on Lil Wayne’s double-platinum Tha Carter IV album from 2011. It was also their first Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album. They landed their second Grammy nod in 2015 for their work on Sean Paul’s 2015 album Full Frequency.
Depending on their faith, these two have been going in musically since they came out and they refuse to let a little distance between them stand in the way or slow them down. While Ayo resides in Orlando and Keyz lives Atlanta, everything between them seem to be so in sync. Their humbleness and patience have procured them placements with Yo Gotti, Wale and Chris Brown as well. Ayo & Keyz curated a special #DXHitList on Spotify featuring some of these songs and gave us the stories behind a few of their picks.
Wiz Khalifa f. Ty Dolla $ign — “Something New” — We did this record with a producer named Paul Cabinn and Hitmaka — that’s Yung Berg/Christian/the Tuh. It’s one of those records where it’s just a good cookout and two-step music. That’s just the Hitmaka and that special vibe. Everybody loves a club song but we still need that feel good music. This is one of those records. No matter what your age is you can’t be mad at the record. Shouts out to Sauce Miyagi who mixed that record. — Ayo
Cardi B — “Bickenhead” — The sample; everybody knows that’s from Project Pat [“Chickenhead“], but originally they had sampled something else. From there, we added 808s, melodies, drums and the usual. We tried to keep it as simple as possible but still give it that Cardi bounce that everybody knows her for. — Ayo
Yo Gotti f. French Montana — “Oh Yeah” — That record was actually supposed to be for Jason Derulo. It was Derulo, Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign. We went back and forth over it for about a year. We’re gonna put it out, we’re gonna put it out. Berg is one of those types of people where he doesn’t want to let a record sit. He suggested we just get what we can and keep working it. We had the opportunity to give it to Gotti. Same day, it was done. — Ayo
Lil Wayne f. Rick Ross — “John” — This was the beginning of us taking our music career serious. I remember trying to sell this record to local artists for like $50 or $100 but nobody wanted it. Polow Da Don and Rob Holliday hit us up and told us they were in a session with Lil Wayne and he was looking for records. We ended up sending the record in and a week later the song came out. — Ayo
Wale f. Jacquees — “Black Bonnie” — We were able to get into the studio with Wale and that was one of the beats that he loved. We pulled up, he recorded the song immediately, it was crazy. We were trying to find that perfect hook for it so we sent it out to a couple of writers and we didn’t get what we were looking for. Eric Bellinger ended up co-writing the hook with Wale and he wanted to get Jacquees on it. It really sound like the old Wale. He’s been quiet for the past few years but he’s back in his bag. He’s working. It’s been super dope to be part of the process. — Keyz
Chris Brown — “To My Bed” — Sometimes we don’t know if we’re going to give a beat straight to the A&R or if we’re going to get it to a songwriter to get a song written to it and then shop it that way. With “To My Bed,” we sent it out to a writer named Dimitri McDowell and what’s so crazy about Dimitri is that I met him at Zara. He was working there at the time and he was familiar with Ayo and myself and he wanted to work. I sent him the record and as soon as he sent the record back I was like this is amazing we have to get this to Chris Brown. Chris loved it, Chris cut it, put it on Instagram and it went crazy. A year later it came out on [Heartbreak on a Full Moon]. — Keyz
Introducing Destiny’s Producers — Ayo & Keyz
DX: How do you guys work together living in different cities?
Keyz: We work through email everyday. I’ll start an idea, send it to Ayo or he’ll start an idea and send it to me. We finish it and add whatever needs to be added or changed. It’s super dope to have a partner that has your same ear and a lot of times I might send him something and he’ll change something simple and I’ll be like dang, I never thought of that. It’s cool to have somebody else’s ear you can count on. We try to get into the studio as much as possible. I’ll probably fly out to Orlando once or twice a month.
DX: Technology has really changed the way business in music is done and how people create. Some would consider that a set back. How’d you guys first meet and decide this is the person I need to be making music with?
Ayo: It started back in the MySpace days. I took a trip to Atlanta and we had met through a mutual friend. All of us are active producers and we stayed at Keyz crib and Keyz played us his records and I was like, Keyz low-key the dope one. When I got back to Orlando, we followed each other on MySpace and we worked so much coming with new stuff we might as well lock-in and make this a business together. We have a similar lifestyle and a similar mindset about staying focused. It takes a lot of faith to really make it in a business like this.
Keyz: It was just easy. My parents are pastors and his parents are pastors. We kind of just clicked in that way and the music was just easy. It wasn’t hard at all. Even back then, around 2011 and 2012, having The Upperclassmen as our label and signing producers, six to seven years later, we did just that. We have two or three producers, we have an artist. We’re stepping into that role and we had that vision since the beginning. It was good to link up with someone who is like-minded and shares the same vision as you. We made it happen. A lot of people in the industry are all about themselves and they get hauled off real quickly. It’s nice to have a tribe that you can trust. We’re brothers and we talk about everything.
DX: Considering how much music you’ve produced that’s all over the radio, you guys are pretty low-key. Is that on purpose?
Ayo: I think it’s really just a situation that you really love what you do and you’re in it for the passion and not for the popularity. I’m not saying that the people who are in the light want popularity, but there are a lot of people who want clout rather than doing something they love so I think it’s just one of those things where we kept our heads down for so long, we’ve been working and focused on our work where we probably look up and we see we have all these placements we need to slow down and let people know who is behind the song and pad. I think that’s why we’re sort of low-key in a sense.
Keyz: Really, we’re low-key people as in our personalities. We’re just real cool, chill and a lot of things that other people in the industry be worrying about we really don’t worry about. We really just want to continue to make money and take care of our families. We understand we have to be in the spotlight but we don’t be tripping on that. At the same time, we want people to know who we are. It’s kind of that balance.
DX: With “Something New” Zapp’s “Computer Love” was tastefully sampled much like Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” for Cardi. What’s the secret behind picking the perfect sample?
Keyz: Melody. That’s first thing that catches our ear. The melody and the chorus that they use. Back in the day, in the ’80s and the ’90s, that’s all they did. When we come up on one of those, it’s like Christmas Day. We’re constantly looking for new ones. That’s how we decide how we’re going to use the melody, how it sounds, the chorus, the percussion, you singing it…
DX: Keyz, now I’m assuming since your name is “Keyz” you go crazy on the piano. Ayo, what instrument are you known for playing?
Keyz: [Laughs] I just play a little bit. I don’t play as much as I used to.
Ayo: No, he goes crazy! Don’t believe him. I play a little bit of everything though.
DX: Are you guys into songwriting at all?
Keyz: No, but we definitely help with the melody. We understand a good song and what’s a good choice of lyrics.
DX: How do you know when a song is done and ready?
Keyz: We both fell in love with music for its emotional attachment. Once it makes you feel a way … I don’t believe in adding a bunch a stuff in the music. I feel like if I had one instrument and the vocals and the song is crazy, it’s done. There’s nothing else left to be added to it. When it makes you feel a way I think that’s when you got it.
Ayo: It’s kind of like asking how do you know the person is the one? It’s just a feeling.
Creating Music For Cardi B, Nicki Minaj & Women Empowerment
DX: You guys are behind the beat of one Cardi B’s standout songs off Invasion of Privacy, “Bickenhead.” How did that even come about?
Keys: We collaborated with our boy Nes, a super dope producer and we did the beat. We always had Cardi B in mind for it. Cardi was in Atlanta. We were supposed to get into the studio with her but scheduling kind of got messed up so we weren’t able to lock in with her. But our management team did a good job of getting the record to her team and that’s basically how it happened. We just found out a week or two ago that it would be on the album.
DX: What was your first impression when you first heard what she did with the record?
Keys: I loved it. I knew what it was. I knew the females would love it. We were both getting messages from everybody about how much they loved the song. It was a pretty cool experience.
DX: Since you have some music with Nicki coming out and you’re fresh off a song with Cardi B, do you think there’s an industry plot to pit them against each other?
Keyz: I definitely think some people are trying to do that and create that division. It doesn’t have to be like that. Come together and really do something.
Ayo: It kind of sucks. I wish they wouldn’t do that. Cardi B came out with a solid project.
DX: You guys have been in the industry for a while now. Can you say if there is some kind of obstacle with Black female rappers getting ahead? They say there can only be one at a time.
Ayo: Nah. I think it used to be that way. I think this is just the era of women as a whole. It’s dope to just see women empowering and uplifting each other. I think it’s something that’s needed. It’s such an alpha-male mentality when it comes to men. We can actually learn something from women who are like, OK they’re trying to make it hard for us so let’s just team up together. I think it’s dope right now to really see that with not only Black women but with women as a whole.
On Securing Grammy Nominations & Billboard Hot 100 Hits Since The Beginning
DX: What was it like when you found you guys were nominated for a Grammy for your work on Lil Wayne’s Carter IV?
Ayo: With that one being the first one, we almost didn’t know what to do. We started our producer duo in 2011 and then to get right to it and get a nomination it’s like, OK, what do we do? Nobody was really there to tell us like OK you guys do this and you attend the awards. It showed us that there was purpose in what we were doing.
DX: What project or song did you guys find the most enjoyable to work on?
Ayo: Right now, it’s a song off that Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign [MihTy] project. It’s a joint R&B album. A lot of rappers are doing that right now like Travis Scott and Quavo with Huncho Jack. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised, that’s why it’s my favorite.
Keyz: Yeah, that’s going to drop in a like a month or so.
Ayo: Shouts out to Hitmaka, man. He’s definitely a key person in that situation. That’s one of the most underrated people I know.
Keyz: For sure! I would say it’s kind of like the stuff we did with Bryson [Tiller] because Bryson was a new artist. We were a part of his first album and him being welcomed to the world. I think that has to be up there as one of our favorites to work on. Bryson’s style was new.
DX: What are ya’ll working on now?
Ayo: We have the MihTy, the joint Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign project coming out. Very excited about that. Next month is going to be smooth. We have four songs on Wiz Khalifa’s up-and-coming album, including “Something New.” We’ve been working heavily with Wale still. He just dropped a small EP but he’s going to drop an album. We’ve done some work with Nicki Minaj, of course Bryson. Anybody that’s working, any label that’s working, we’re trying to come in and leave our footprint.