Interview: “WAP” Producers Ayo N Keyz Discuss Sampling Frank Ski & Why Cardi B Songs Don’t Leak

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Cardi is like working with the CIA

They explained why working with Cardi is like working with the CIA.

Songs in 2020 have a tendency to come and go. This year we’ve seen hyped-up releases that top the charts but then faded away after a week or two. However, that’s not something you can say about Cardi B’s Megan Thee Stallion assisted smash “WAP.” Two months after the song’s release, it’s still a Top 5 hit on both the Billboard and Genius charts.

Initial interest song was aided by the conservative backlash it received, but the main draw remains the undeniable star power of both Cardi and Megan. Another factor to consider is the beat provided by production duo Ayo N Keyz, who sampled DJ Frank Ski’s classic Baltimore club track, “Whores In This House.”

The duo has been producing together for a decade now after meeting in Atlanta in 2010. Since then, they’ve worked with the likes of Bryson Tiller, Rick Ross, and Wiz Khalifa, and collaborated with Cardi on her Invasion of Privacy cut “Bickenhead.” Still, they’ve never had a smash hit quite like this one.

To get the story on how the song came together, we talked to the producers about what inspired them to use the sample, why one of them told their parents to never listen to the song, and their reaction to seeing Ben Shapiro read the lyrics to “WAP.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview by Insanul Ahmed

One of the records that you guys did that set up “WAP” was Cardi B’s “Bickenhead.” What can you tell me about making that record?

Ayo: One of our mutual friends with Cardi was like, “She’s looking for one more for her album [Invasion of Privacy].” This was Monday, the same week that the album dropped. Wednesday, they picked the record. Friday, the record came out. It was insane.

“Bickenhead” is built around the sample of Project Pat’s “Chickenhead.” What was the thought process behind the Project Pat sample?

Ayo: With that particular sample, we partnered up with one of our good friends, NES. He tapped the sample, then from there me and Keyz added our touch to it and finished it. That’s always me and Keyz’s model when it comes to making music, we strive for making moments. “Chickenhead” was one of those classics, we wanted to make it current.

When did you guys start working on the beat for “WAP?”

Keyz: We have this little database of songs that we think would be great [to flip], samples that we think would cause those moments. We were together in Atlanta at some party or club. The sample [DJ Frank Ski’s “Whores In This House”] came on and we looked at each other like, “Whoa, we gotta get it ASAP.” That’s how it started.

Ayo: Even with “Bickenhead,” it was a similar situation, it’s not like that moment happened once. That moment happens often where it’s like, you’re hearing these songs in a club and you’re just like, “Yo, that’s one of those ones.”

We knew that Cardi was working again, through our mutual friend. It was like, “Yo, let’s get this Cardi pack together.” I wish it was one of those situations where we like, “We’re going to send this one song and that one song is going to be the one.” But we did the collective of music that we felt would fit her. It was like, “If it doesn’t fit her, let’s go for the City Girls or Megan Thee Stallion.” It’s crazy that it ended up being Cardi B featuring Meg.

Why did you guys feel like this would be perfect for Cardi?

Ayo: With Cardi, there’s no filter. Even when it comes to her personality.

Keyz: Yeah, there is definitely no filter.

Ayo: Don’t get me wrong, there are other artists with confidence. But with Cardi, she really does what she wants. Even with us, we’re like, “You know, maybe the sample may be pushing it.” But if there’s going to be one artist that’s going to push the bar and do what they want, it’s going to be Cardi.

The first thing I did was call my parents and told them to never listen to it.

Once you sent her the beat, did you hear back from her or her team before the record came out?

Ayo: We always say like working with Cardi B is like working with the FBI or the CIA. Nothing is slipping through the cracks, there’s no Cardi B leak. What we heard was almost like a rumor, like, “We heard that she likes it.” We’re like, “Well, we haven’t heard that. How did you hear that?”

Then Craig Kallman from Atlantic Records reached out to me and Keyz and was like, “Yo, we love this production.” They wanted us to bring three more options for her to be able to pick from. She stuck to the original. We heard that from Craig.

Then [Cardi’s team] asked for the files and the week of release, they called us like, “Hey, it’s time to get the paperwork done.” On Friday, I was here in Orlando and Keyz was in Atlanta, but we were both watching the premiere, waiting for the song to drop.

Keyz: What’s so crazy is even Frank Ski [who is sampled on the song] didn’t even know [about the song]. They didn’t tell him who the artist was, they just wanted him to clear it. They were that top secret about it.

Even when it came to the video shoot, we had some friends that were there with their artists who were featured in the video. They told us that at the video shoot, they didn’t even have the song playing. They just had the beat playing. Cardi is super tight when it comes to her music.

When you guys heard the final product, what was your impression of it?

Keyz: Oh, it was a lot all at once. We’re listening to the song and we’re watching the video because they dropped at the same time. As far as the song, I was like, “Wow, she just went there.” I was just curious to see how the world would react and everybody loved it. So, it was a cool moment.

Well not everybody loved it. I have to ask, did you guys watch the video of Ben Shapiro reading “WAP” lyrics?

Ayo: Absolutely. I’ve seen it man. We try not to get into politics, but it’s one of the most important things now, especially making sure that you go vote. It was interesting to see the “backlash” from this because it shows the influence and power that our culture has.

The other thing, deeper than that, it’s two women. Two women got this type of influence where you got Republicans and politicians being vocal about a song. It was dope to be reminded of that, especially when it’s so easy for our culture to feel less than. Like, “Nah, we really do have power, we really do have a voice.” I loved it.

Did you feel like the reaction was overblown? Because that’s how I personally felt. What were your impressions of the lyrics?

Keyz: I think so. Nobody says anything when the male rappers say what they want to say. But because it’s two women and they have power and they’re beautiful and talented, now people have an issue. I didn’t really understand that. I think that was very hypocritical, honestly. If we’re going to be that way, we’ve got to be that way about all the music not just when females do it.

Ayo: We’re really in a time where everybody’s trying to look for what’s wrong in a situation. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a faith-based background like Keyz. The first thing I did was call my parents and told them to never listen to it.

WoW

Ayo: It’s just a part of hip-hop and music. Like, go back and think about when Sir Mix-A-Lot first dropped [“Baby Got Back.”] What was that like back then? I’m sure it had the same culture shock and it’s just like, “Oh my God, did he really say he likes big butts?” It’s just one of those things where it’s like, live your life and let these other people live theirs. People are just reaching to find a reason to make somebody wrong.

What has it been like for you guys to land your first number one record?

Ayo: It’s been a lot of process. You got the comments and social media, you got PR, you have labels calling. You’ve got management, family, just a lot at once. For us, this is just another pivotal moment, but we understand that this is our purpose and there’s more work to be done. You can create one “WAP,” but can you create another? We just got to be focused, making sure that we keep working and be prepared for what’s next.

It was interesting to see the “backlash” from this because it shows the influence and power that our culture has.

What else have you guys been working on right now? I’m sure your phones and your emails are blowing up.

Ayo: It’s been crazy. For the most part, we’re working with the CIA right now. The things that we can speak on, me and Keyz have really been focused on building out our company and our roster of the artists and producers that we have. Making sure that not only we are successful, but the ones around us see success as well.

Keyz: We got two artists that we’re working on right now. Asia Graves and Summer Khori, they’re the next wave of R&B female singers. And, like you said, there’s a bunch of calls coming in, a lot of other projects that we are working on.

You guys have been in the game for 10 years and worked your way to the top. What advice would you give to a young producer?

Ayo: You got to eliminate expectations. It’s easy to get into a space where you expect things to go a certain way. “Oh, I’m going to go to L.A. I’m going to meet this person. They’re going to connect with Rihanna and then I’m going to be one of the best producers in the world.” When things don’t line up with their expectation that leads to disappointment. It’s important to take out expectations and focus on your craft.

Keyz: If you’re a person of faith, definitely put all your faith into God. That’s number one. Number two would be to make so you have a good team; attorney, manager. We’re in this space of getting rid of the old industry and the bad deals, bad publishing deals. You definitely don’t want to be caught up in that.

Then I would say, don’t ever compare yourself to anybody. We hit those moments in our career, when it seemed like everybody was getting different looks that we wanted to have. We just had to be patient because God had way bigger for us than what we thought we wanted.

Was there anything you guys wanted to add?

Ayo: The only thing I’d add is to keep streaming the record, but steam the record on your way to go vote. I think it’s super important that we vote. This is one of the most critical elections of our lives.

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