Ayo N Keyz are the musical powerhouse behind so many artists from Beyonce to Chris Brown. Formally known as The UpperClassmen, this music production duo are versatile regardless of the genre. We had the opportunity to speak with Ayo and Keyz about working as a duo, their upbringing and what’s next!
How did you guys get together?
Keyz: We met six years through a friend we both had at the time and we just linked up. Ayo was visiting Atlanta and we chilled, had some fun and then we stayed in touch for the next year. Eventually, we started working and then we decided to be a brotherhood. Here we are.
How has your upbringing impacted being music producers?
Ayo: I think it’s been essential. With both of us growing up in churches, I think that’s sort of why we’ve seen some success. I honestly feel like it’s not really failure that really stops a lot of people, I think it’s doubt. So for us to be brought up with parents who instilled faith in us and being able to keep faith, even in our situations where things really didn’t seem possible or everything seems against us, just really sticking to it has paid itself off. I guess then just evidence of you know how faith works awesome.
You guys grew up in the church but the music you create isn’t always gospel. How has this been a benefit?
Keyz: It’s been a benefit because growing up in church you learn different instruments. A lot of today’s music stems from gospel music. They all kind of tie-in. We don’t do any gospel music at all and the closest thing we have done was with Lacrae. Our music is a different influence. With our records, you can feel the passion and emotions, even through the beats.
What type of instruments do you play?
Ayo: Drums. Piano. I did saxophone and alto saxophone in high school. A little bass guitar.
Keyz: Drums. I played saxophone when I was in elementary school.
For the instruments you are able to play, do you feel like it hinders the musical process with all of the computer-generated sounds? Does it lack authenticity?
Ayo: I think true musicians have almost an advantage where it’s like they’re gonna know how to swing their high hats just a little bit so it sounds authentic, even though they may be played in. I think that keeps the music not feeling to programmed and computeristic in a sense. I think when you actually have the knowledge of knowing what to really listen for rather than knowing I could put on a snare drummer every two, I think it sort of separates you. It gives us an advantage.
What’s the benefit of having a partner when producing music?
Ayo: I think that opinion of someone who has really mastered the craft matters a lot. It’s really hard to have somebody coach you through because so many people are busy worried about themselves. So to have a business partner who understands. You may find yourself in complacency. I think it’s dope to have that other person challenge you.
Keyz: It’s like it’s a daily push. With other producers, you don’t hear their work every day so when you got a partner you hear their work. Going back to back. It’s just a push to continue to get better.
When in the studio is there a process on how you guys work together?
Keyz: We’re in different cities and we don’t work in the same room with each. We start with the melody or a melody loop or sample. Then we push the idea through and send it to the other person to see what they add, or switch or take out.
Ayo: Definitely agree. I know with both of us it’s one of those things that can’t be forced. A lot of people think that they can go to a studio with ten of their friends to get their vibe right and think “okay, we going to make hits today.” To me, it’s all about having the right feeling, the right energy, the right vibe. I feel like it’s one of those things that you can’t make it a math problem. You have to let the feeling and the vibe push you. It’s been times when we’ve done records and at the end of the record, it’s like how did that just happen.
How do you hold on to your creativity when working with other creative people?
Keyz: We meet in the middle but the job is to make the artist happy. Whatever it is that they are looking for we try our best to do. The artists that we work with we believe in and we believe in their creativity. So 9 times out of 10, their ideas are dope and we’re on board.
How important is it to receive accolades? How important is it to you guys for your peers and people to recognize your work?
Ayo: I honestly think all of that is just a bonus. I think for us to be able to be in a position use a gift and honestly live off of it and be able to support our families and do nice things for not only ourselves but the ones around us who mean the most, I think that’s really what’s important. Grammy isn’t all that’s amazing. It feels great to see them. I think it’s great to wake up in our house every day and see plaques on our walls. I think that is the reminder that gives us the motivation to say “hey look you are in this and continue doing what you’re doing because you’re changing not only your lives but our family’s lives as well.”
If you could work with an artist who is no longer alive who would that be?
Keyz: I’m gonna go with Aaliyah. I love working with female artists and female artists who can really sing. That’s a super dope vibe to me. I feel like her production and voice would be crazy.
Ayo: For me, it’ll be Marvin Gaye. He was so great at making timeless music. Knowing about his music and hearing about his music for so long. Hearing how he passed away, was just crazy to me. Marvin Gaye has always been top three artists for me. It would be amazing to work with someone who helped cultivate such a sound!
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to enter the music industry as a music producer?
Ayo: I honestly would say don’t get discouraged. It’s so much that will happen. It’s going to be somebody that tries to get over on you and will most likely succeed getting over on you but in that those are the situations that are going to make or break you. You can’t get discouraged. I know its human to get discouraged but stay positive. You can’t let hearing no bother you so much. It’s a part of the process but always hearing that no is what’s going to make hearing that yes so special.
Keyz: I say where evidence that dreams come true. If it can happen for us it can happen for you. Music producers who moved to Atlanta or LA from their small town are on social media complaining about how hard the music industry is and really only been in it for less than a year. We went through years to get where we are and so many people want the end and don’t want to go through the struggle. They don’t want to go through the process. So you can’t skip the process at all you’ve got to go through it. As long as you do that and as long as you work as hard as you possibly can everything will pan out.
What can we look forward to from Ayo and Keyz?
Ayo: Great music. For us, it’s just about continuing to do the best we can. We want to keep our name going, to keep our brand going.
Keyz: I definitely want people to support the Chris Brown Heartbreak on a Full Moon. We got two records on there; To My Bed and Covered In You. We also have a few artists that we are about to sign and produce underneath us. We are going to continue to push the brand forward.