When someone says super-producer, they’re probably talking about people like Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Q Tip, or Timbaland. A name that should be highlighted as a super producer of this generation is Bongo ByTheWay. Bongo is a Nigerian born producer and songwriter raised in Providence, Rhode Island, currently based in LA. He started rapping when he was only eight, and turned to production at 11 when he realised he couldn’t just rap on other peoples beats. He credits his brother as how he got into music, and taught him everything he knows. He says he wants to bring worlds together sonically, but I believe he already has. An incredibly versatile artist, he is behind an extensive range of hits. Most recently ‘Girl Like Me’ (Jazmine Sullivan + H.E.R.), ‘Better Days’ (Ant Clemons + Justin Timberlake), ‘Back To You’ (OT Genesis + Chris Brown + Charlie Wilson), ‘Status’ + ‘Everywhere’ (Ty Dolla $ign), ‘West Coast Shit’ (Pop Smoke + Quavo + Tyga), ‘Gifted’ (Cordae + Roddy
His phenomenal production quickly got the attention of the industry and has landed him placements with a wide range of artists like Chance the Rapper, Eric Bellinger, Nipsey Hussle, Big Sean, Trey Songz, G Herbo, Future and Kanye West. Last March, Bongo received a Grammy award for his work on ‘Jesus Is King’. But it’s not his first rodeo. He has been nominated for a Grammy four times, for songs with BJ the Chicago Kid and Cordae. In 2013 he also received a Grammy for his production on ‘Free From It All’ by Lecrae. The Kanye connect happened through his friendship with fellow songwriter Ant Clemons. He tells us that part of the reason for their hits is how quickly and easily they work together. Praising him saying, “He’s an alien. He was the first songwriter I’ve met that can write songs as fast as I make beats.”
There’s no telling what Bongo will do next. He plans on experimenting more musically, and is also bringing on a team of up and coming producers so he can create opportunities for others. When asked about current projects he’s working on, he told us that he’s always working on new tunes with Jeremih, Anderson .Paak, Cordae. VIPER spoke to Bongo ByTheWay about Grammy wins, Jesus Is King, type beats, and more. You can find his extensive discography here, and make sure you stream his most recent song ‘Girl Like Me’ with Jazmine Sullivan and H.E.R.
Just for starters state who you are, where you’re from and what you’re about.
Alright. I am Bongo Bytheway. I’m from – originally born in Nigeria. Lived in Providence, Rhode Island and Jacksonville, Florida, currently in LA.
How would you describe your production style?
Versatile. Yeah, that’s a good word.
You definitely have range.
I appreciate it. It’s not even that I want to be put in a box, I feel like it’s kind of like acting. Actors they can play different roles. As a producer, I can have different sonics and soundscapes and not be put into a box that way you know what I’m saying?
What was the session like for ‘Better Days’ with Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake?
First off shout out Ant Clemons and Justin. Ant’s my brother. We’ve put a million man hours in, it feels like. The song originally started out like that, it was another one of the songs that we happened to do over quarantine. While working with Justin, he has such a good rapport with Justin; Justin decided to hop on the record with him. At the time he was with 1500 or Nothin. Shout out Rance and 1500, they came in and helped finish the production.
They helped add to what we had already put together. Because me and my boy Tarron, shout out Tarron, we did the original production of the song which was just guitars. Ant sang the song to just guitars. So then it was kind of like one of those records where it grows over time. It’s a process over time. This wasn’t like some quick one fell swoop. It was put together for real and that’s how it became a masterpiece you know?
What have your sessions been like with quarantine lately?
Man, I’m not really with the Internet session like that. Because I’m better in person. But there has been some changes made due to COVID. A lot of studios will only allow a certain amount of people in a room at one time then everyone is still wearing masks and stuff out of courtesy to one another you know. There’s been some adjustments made, but I still feel like that’s the best way to make music organically you know? Being in the same room and sharing the same energy and being able to grow from each other’s vibe. So I still do that.
So you have worked with many major artists from Chance the Rapper, Big Sean, Kanye to Cordae, out of the artists that you’ve worked with, who do you think has left the biggest mark on you?
It’s a strong tie between Ant Clemons and Jeremih. Jeremih, I learned so much from him. Working with him made me a better producer. Knowing what it is to work with a good songwriter, makes you not overproduce. Being able to appreciate how less is more, and still making incredible records. I learned a lot of that through just working with Jeremih. He didn’t even have to sit down and say it, I just got it from him.
With Ant, man, he’s an alien. He was the first songwriter I’ve met that I was like, wow you literally write songs as fast as I make beats. We would go back and forth and there was a time when we would write. So there were times I would put a little input and I still do from time to time, but he’s honestly super self-sufficient and it got to the point where he would load up a track that I just did and he would go in with the engineer, and I already know it’s gonna be fire. So I just put my headphones on and I start making another beat. By the time I am done with that idea, he’s done with the song and we listen to the song, load up the next one and just keep going and going. You don’t find that with a lot of you know people.
What do you think has been your favorite song that you have worked on, at least more recently since you’ve done a lot of stuff?
It’s crazy because I always tell people life is about balance. so it’s crazy. I always look at things like in two sides or two options and in two different worlds. One would be the record I did with The Game and Nipsey Hussle called ‘Welcome Home’.
That was just monumental not only because Nipsey was a part of it, rest in peace, but because I was able to work with Nipsey and Game on the record in the studio. To the point where after Game was in the studio having done his part, Nipsey starts rapping. He was about to rap his verse and I told him, “not for nothing, I kind of want you to rap to just the sample.” We didn’t even have all the music we have now.
It was just my beat, what I originally did and the sample – and I was like, trust me. Your voice would sound incredible with just the sample, without the drums all in the way. He actually asked us, he was then almost adamant about rapping over the drums and I was like ‘trust me, trust me it’s gonna be fire’. And he trusted me and he did his verse to just the sample. And it’s crazy because I feel like that affected the pocket that he rapped in which made it super conversational, not just rapping. It was super dope being as monumental as he was, he trusted my vision with it.
That means a lot as a producer too. So then fast forward when we’re with Dre, me, Game, Stat and Wack 100, are in the studio, we had hella musicians. Just putting it together. When that part comes in, it was so wide open it made a canvas for all sorts of musicians to have a space to shine. I’m literally going back and forth with Dre like yeah let’s add this guitar, ok yeah let’s have this bass line, okay we can add this piano and put a drop back there. One of the dopest parts to me was Dre he stops the music for a second, looks over to the engineer and is like, “Yo, turn Bongo’s tag up.”
That was crazy, the timing too. We did that song in like December ‘18 and in June, he ended up passing half a year later. The part where Dre was a year later. Like you gotta understand there’s nothing that’s really overnight about it. It was this whole process from beginning to end. It was just crazy.
The other one I have to say is the Jasmine Sullivan and H.E.R. record that just came out, ‘Girl Like Me’. I’m all about moments. Like I know Hip Hop is all about moments, I can make beats all day but when you catch a moment and it’s like wow this is impacting people. Someone is gonna remember this when they’re older, they’re probably gonna tell their kids, this is someone’s soundtrack for somebody’s life. It gets that platform, those are moments to me. I was blessed to catch one of those records. If you catch what they’re saying in that ‘Girl Like Me’ record.
Conceptually, it is the antithesis to ‘WAP’. I love that song. The beat and what they’re doing, how they’re saying it – the empowerment and I feel like this is the other side of that coin. For the girls who are not on that wave necessarily. Who are still gonna shake their ass when they’re in the club but this might be how they feel, might be what they ride to you know what I’m saying?
It was super dope to be apart of that. On top of that if you look at those records sonically, they are totally different. One is like hard Hip Hop, sample driven, 808s. The other is acoustic, like literally just guitar, bass guitar and vocals. They are able to show a ton of versatility. It’s really all about the record at the end of the day.
How does it feel to have two Grammy nominations this year? It isn’t the first time you’ve been nominated either.
Word. I didn’t even post nothing about that. I just be moving. It feels good. It feels special this year especially since one of them is for Ant’s project. It means a lot just to see where he came from, where our journey started, and to see where he’s at now. It’s dope to be not only have been a part of the journey but a part of his project and the art. And then for that to get Grammy nominated? It’s a gift that keeps giving. We’re constantly looking out for each other too. Trying to set up situations where we can help each other out, and see each other win. It’s dope to be able to contribute to contribute to his personal project and it still be a gift. It’s amazing.
You also worked with him on Selah, off ‘Jesus is King’, what were those sessions like?
Insane. Insane, it’s a blur bro, it’s a blur. Between Chicago, New York, LA and Uganda. That’s the only way I can sum that up. It’s a blur between those four locations. It started off with the Ye album and Ant getting on ‘All Mine’.
Which was a confluence of Jeremih, Ant and myself and our relationship getting that song put together. After that, Ye was on Ant’s tails
At that point we were moving everywhere together. Chicago, New York. We did Saturday Night Live. We were literally on stage with Ye when he had the whole MAGA hat, it was crazy. When I say that time, it was epic. Then going to Uganda. It was a whole process, there wasn’t one specific session where it was made. Especially with like Ye’s process, he is ever changing and ever evolving and making things better.
Do you think that production software becoming more accessible has been a positive or negative change for music?
It’s good you know, life is about balance. Anything becoming oversaturated can become a bad thing but the flip side it’s gonna show separation. I know it’s crazy because a lot of stuff has become program driven, but I feel that real music cuts through.
Producing is really program driven in like Hip Hop, which happens to be Pop right now. But because of that, we have room to grow. We have room to innovate within that and give back to different roots. While at that same time R&B is having a resurgence, it’s very much alive and well. So there’s more spaces for more organic sounds and I love like..man of my favourites
My brother Anderson .Paak, he is such an inspiration to me because we do a lot of things organically from scratch. Like I’ll pull up to the studio and we’ll finish something that we’ve been working on, and he’ll be like let’s do something from scratch. Then he’ll hop on the drums, and I’ll go downstairs and hop on the piano and we’ll record from downstairs, upstairs. I’ll have my boy Touran come through and play bass and guitar, have Thundercat pull up. You know what I’m saying? There’s still outlets for organic music for sure. But i’ll do it all, I love the ratchet shit too.
What are your thoughts and do you have any advice for the producers out there making type beats?
Just try to find something original. There’s nothing wrong with making type beats. I cant even front when I was in college, I used to make beats that sounded like Pharrell – he’s one of my idols. I made other stuff too, like Dilla, Pharrell, Ye, Timbo. But, I used to like make Dilla sounding beats, and then I’d try to make Pharrell sounding beats. Pharell was like the commercial side of me and Dilla was the underground side of me you know what I’m saying?
You had a song on the most recent Pop Smoke project, you were on ‘West Coast Shit’, how did you end up getting the placement for Pop?
Shoutout Mustard. It was crazy. That session when that beat was made, I was there for a Ty Dolla session for records that actually ended up coming out on the ‘Featuring Ty Dolla Sign’ album that just came out.
I was working on Status, and I had this other song he wanted me to get on with Mustard, so Mustard could put his touch on the other song. We listened to it, we went through it and we kind of deconstructed it and were like, alright we’re at a good space with this. We did two more tracks. One of them was ‘Everywhere’ that was on Ty Dolla Sign’s album, shoutout Mike Lowry, I used some guitars that I got from him – and me and Mustard produced the rest of the beat out. And then after that, Mustard was like, “yo, you got some hard shit?” I literally just pulled up a new session, and I pulled up this piano sound and those were the first two notes hit and he was like, that’s hard. I laid it out, bounced it and sent it to him, he did his thing on the drums and the rest is history.
I later ran into him at a Roddy Rich session. He was with 1500, and they were doing a live rehearsal or something for Roddy. He was like, man did you heard the new Pop Smoke joint? And I was like I haven’t heard it, but I saw something that Tyga put up. That Tyga was about to hop up on it and Quavo was already on it, and he was like I’m gonna send it to you. He sent it to me that night and I was like man this is going to be crazy. Shoutout Mustard man, he made that happen.
It seems like when you’re producing it seems like you prefer to do the melodic side..
I do everything. I’m gonna keep it a buck I feel like it’s a self-manifesting name, but bongos are in the pocket, you know? Percussion is in the pocket and kinda gluing everything together, you know? The thing is at the same time, it is a rhythm instrument. It’s crazy because out in LA they use to called Drum God because my drum programming is just out of this world, but I do everything thanks to my brother. My brother is a garage musician who taught me everything I know. He’s the reason why I even do music. He made sure I knew how to play. He would seat me in front of the piano and teach me at five years old. I don’t read music, I play by ear. But I play piano, I mess around on bass, play drums, not guitar but I mess around, keyboard of course. I like to do everything, of course. But if it’s something where I have to work with someone else and let someone else shine or work with someone together I’m super with it too.
Do you feel like Nigeria has affected your sound?
Oh for sure. I feel like I have a heightened sense of rhythm because of that. I can hear rhythms within a rhythm, I can hear a beat playing and I can imagine different patterns. I can hear it slowed down, I can hear it sped up and it’s all because I have that different perspective on rhythm. It’s hard to explain, but if you hear Nigerian rhythms and certain African rhythms, there are certain ways you can put it in a meter – like a 4/4 meter that would make it more conventional. If you listen to it it’s crazy that you’re listening to two time signatures at the same time, and if you apply that to other music or trying to be creative you can hear things and I feel like as a producer you’re as good as your options.
When did you first start getting into production?
When I was like 11 years old. I started rapping when I was like eight, but at a point I came to realise I couldn’t rap to other people’s music because it’s like, not yours. So a simple solution, I started making my own. My parents had this old Windows computer, Windows 95 or whatever, and I downloaded FruitLoops and I started going crazy.
What are you using now to produce? Are you still using Fruityloops?
I use Logic and FruityLoops every single time. There’s something about FruityLoops that’s like a cheat code, some sort of cheat code in the compressor that lets you crank stuff and it turns out amazing. I just take drums and take effects from FruitLoops and then I bounce it in Logic and arrange it through there.
What are you working on right now? Are there any major projects that you have going on that you can talk about?
I’m always working with my boy Jeremih, Anderson .Paak, Cordae.
What was it like creating ‘Bad Idea’ with Cordae and Chance, and why did you pick that nostalgic sample from Scarface – ‘My Block’?
Shoutout my boy Ali. It’s crazy. I didn’t know if Cordae knew the song, the Scarface song originally. But I mean he did. He has a big music library or whatever in his head. So I didn’t know if the nostalgia was gonna work, but yeah. It worked perfectly. He sounded amazing. We made that shit magic. Chance’s verse was incredible, it’s probably one of the best Chance verses of that year. If not the best, in my personal opinion.
If you could pick an artist to do a collab project with, who would it be?
I would say Ant Clemons or Jeremih. But I already have a collab project with the both of them. Because I did a collab project. A lot of the people I already have music with. Someone that I haven’t worked with, I don’t know like HOV? I would definitely do that, Jay Z for sure.
Not for nothing, or Drake, but I always fashion myself after the greats. That’s who I always wanted to work with, while at the same time, building the new generation up too you know what I’m saying?
What can we expect from Bongo in 2021?
Man, more great music, but I’m trying to do more and experiment more. I’m bringing a team on too because I want to just create more opportunities for more people not just myself, you know what I’m saying? So I’m bringing a lot of people on to make more opportunities for up and coming producers like I was a few years ago. I still feel like I’m still on my way up, like I feel I’m not at the pinnacle at all. But at the same time while you’re on the way up, you can still help people. That’s one thing you could for sure look forward to. One thing I’m trying to do is bring worlds together sonically. I got a few more couple records with feature artists. Artists who are on the scene like Cordae and Bobby how that two worlds together. How Jasmine and H.E.R brought two different worlds together even though they’re like both R&B. They have different demographics, but it was fire to bring those worlds together. I like the juxtaposition and that’s what I try to bring out. I have another record that’s going to be crazy that’s in that world. I don’t want to spill the beans on that one yet.
Interview by Calvin Schneider