When it comes to pinpointing an earworm-worthy beat, it’s safe to say that Zaytoven knows a thing or two (or many). With more than a decade of hit-making plaudits under his belt—think: “Papers,” “Versace” and “Icy,” just to name a handful—the highly sought-after megaproducer has become a go-to collaborator for Future, Migos, Gucci Mane, Usher and other industry elite.
So it’s little surprise that Rémy Martin tapped the Atlanta-based legend for the sixth season of its just-wrapped Rémy Producers series, featuring hopeful beatsmiths vying for the career-turning opportunity to work with Jermaine Dupri of So So Def Records. Recently, the competition stopped at Tao Chicago for its midwest regional faceoff, where Zaytoven joined Young Chop and Rémy Producers Season 5 winner Milo as the evening’s guests judges (ultimately, the trio granted tourney entrant Scylla a trip to the contest’s finale in Atlanta). During the event, the Grammy Award-winning talent reflected on lending his tastemaking sensibilities to the competition, the importance of consistency and the new generation of artists piquing his ever-discerning ear.
What made you want to partner with Rémy on scouting up-and-coming talent?
ZAYTOVEN: I was excited to see new talent, meet new up-and-coming producers, share the knowledge and game that I have with them. That’s what I feel like is my responsibility. I was excited to do it.
What was the game that you were getting when you were a still-emerging talent?
ZAYTOVEN: I didn’t really get a lot of mentorship. One of my mentors was JT the Bigga Figga out of the Bay Area...It wasn’t about technique or whatever, it was about hustle. He taught me really how to hustle and helped me out. These kids nowadays, they get to be around a Zaytoven, or whoever their favorite producer is, to get game and knowledge from. That’s why I really enjoy doing it.
What does it take for a beat to catch your ear?
ZAYTOVEN: More so than anything, it takes a rapper or singer on the beat. A lot of times, you can make good music, [but] beats I feel like were my best, nobody did nothing to them because the beat might just sound too good by itself. A great beat is really not because it sounds good; it’s great because it inspires an artist to write a hit song to it. That’s really when I can judge a beat, someone adding vocals on it.
How do you know when you have that chemistry with an artist? Is it a shared work ethic or do you just feel it when you step in the studio?
ZAYTOVEN: I think it’s a feeling. Once you do enough songs with an artist, and you listen to them back, and it does something to you, it’s more a feeling than anything.
When you were cutting your teeth, I’m sure there were some times when you wanted to give up or had some doubt. How did you persevere?
ZAYTOVEN: The crazy thing is, I never thought about making it. I never really got discouraged, because [when] I was doing music, it was for fun; it was a hobby. I used to go cut hair, play music at the church, but making beats and recording was a fun thing for me. So, for it to become my life, my job and provide for my family, it’s just been a major blessing. I never got discouraged at it; I’ve always just thought it was a blessing, over and over again, just to be successful at something I wasn’t even trying to be successful at.
What’s been the key to staying successful, but also challenging yourself?
ZAYTOVEN: I think the reason I’ve lasted so long is because I’m a very consistent person. Even though it wasn’t my heart’s desire to make it as a big producer, I still did something consistently over and over. I made ten beats a day; I recorded ten songs with Gucci [Mane]—or whoever was at my house—a day. So I couldn’t help but be successful.
The way I’ve stayed in the game is being consistent, but also I’m competitive. So when a new producer gets hot, it drives me to go back harder and find a new sound or new swagger or new artist to work with. And I think that’s what’s kept me around for so long. Everytime I hear a Lex Luger come out or a Mike Will or Metro [Boomin’] or someone like that, it just drives me to be like, ‘I’ve got more competition.’ These are all my friends and buddies, but they help drive me and push me to my next level.
The sixth season of Rémy Producers stopped at Tao Chicago for its midwest regional finale.
Emerging artists can learn a lot from your work ethic, and they can also learn a lot from the work ethic of the artists you’ve produced with: Future, Gucci Mane, they’re always working. How would you describe how impressive their work ethic is, to be always on?
ZAYTOVEN: It’s like never getting full, you’re hungry all the time. You just ate, but it’s like, ‘Man I’m still hungry.’ And that’s what we do. This is what we live for, this is our gift. So all we know how to do is create; everything else is boring to us. It’s good to go shopping and go on trips and vacations, but ultimately, what our heart’s desire is to work. That’s what satisfies us, so that’s why we work like we do.
What young artists are exciting you right now?
ZAYTOVEN: It’s so many…. Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi [Vert], NLE Choppa, Lil Keed, Lil Gotit. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.