Kane Brown on How He Recruited Swae Lee, Khalid, Nelly and John Legend For 'Mixtape Vol. 1'

Kane Brown
Matthew Berinato

Kane Brown

Kane Brown’s Mixtape Vol 1, out today (Aug. 14), shows off the country star’s range, whether it’s duetting with Nelly on the breezy “Cool Again,” his gorgeous ballad with John Legend, “Last Time I Say Sorry,” and, of course, his current rising pop hit, “Be Like That,” featuring Swae Lee and Khalid.

The 7-track set also includes three previously unreleased songs including “Worship You,” a radiant ode to his wife.

For Brown, the musical statement comes as he’s writing via Zoom for his first full-length album since 2018’s Experiment, but admits he’s sheltering quietly in place during the pandemic. “I’ve been trying to stay off social media as much as possible during this time, hang out with family and watch my baby girl while we have this time," he tells Billboard.

Below, Brown chats about how “Be Like That,” written by Alexander "Eskeerdo" Izquierdo, Mike Will and Ryan Vojtesak, as well as the three artists, came together remotely, how close Khalid came to not making the track, and why he was afraid he would lose the song.

Billboard: You and Khalid had worked together on the remix for “Saturday Nights.” Were you looking to work together again?

Brown: Yeah. We released “Saturday Nights” and out of the remixes I've done with the songs that already have been out that was the biggest song that has done something for me. So I was like, “Could you imagine if we did a song and it hasn't been out yet?” When I first heard the song, I immediately fell in love with it. There was some things that I had to change so it would fit me and took some of the cussing out.

[With] Swae Lee, the writers on it were good friends with him, so they bought him in… I was like, this has got a Khalid vibe, we gotta bring him in. I wanted another song [with him] that hadn’t been out. He was in Tokyo one day, in another country another day, doing all this crazy stuff. So we eventually got him last second. The next day we were about to put the song out, so we got fortunate enough that the timing worked out.

What about the song appealed to you?

It's rare that you hear a song from writers and you immediately say, “Bro, you gotta play that again.” And then you leave the tour bus and you do your show and you come back and say, “Hey, play that song you played for me earlier.” I was like, “if this is stuck in my head right now, already, then I've got to take the song.” For a while I was kind of nervous that I wasn't going get it because they had other artists that were interested in it and they're like, “No, you’re my boy.” Then we had to find a time to rewrite the lyrics and then get all the artists on it and they wrote their verse on it. I feel like this was the most difficult song there was to get out that I've had.

All three of you were in different locales. How did you make sure that song sounded like you were still collaborating?

We sent it back a couple of times. It wasn't like a one-time take. After Swae Lee and Khalid did their parts, I went back and reworked my part. So it went back probably six times before we felt like we had the sound.

You also just released a remix of “Cool Again” with Nelly. How did that come about and what was your favorite Nelly tune growing up?

So I went out to dinner with [Jason] Aldean and DJ Silver at Aldean’s steakhouse E3, and Silver connected me with Nelly. I just started listening to the song and we were talking about possibly doing a remix so I just threw it out to my manager what about getting Nelly on the song. [Nelly] loved that idea. He sent in a verse for it. He just brought so much more energy to the song and he filled in a spot that we actually took out of the original single, which was the bridge. I wasn’t a huge fan of that bridge so I told him you can have that spot. I fell in love with it. My favorite songs, I got a couple of them: “Hot in Herre,” “Over and Over” I grew up on his Country Grammar, he was one of my favorite artists.

What do you look for in a collaborator?

I just look for it to make sense and that I've never done it before with the person, other than Khalid. Unless the song makes sense, I probably won't do like another duet with somebody or another feature. I like sharing fan bases and I usually I'm a fan of everybody.

You also recently collaborated with John Legend on “Last Time I Say Sorry.” After meeting on The Voice, what was that writing session like?

Oh, man, that was awesome. I walked in, John Legend’s behind a grand piano. It was definitely different than meeting him on The Voice for the first time because we were singing “Good As You” [on the show] and I thought it was amazing that John Legend was singing my song. But when we got to writing there and compared our relationships and we just kinda hit it off. We wrote that song pretty quick. John really helped me out with the vocals a lot. I made him go first. 
At the time I was like, “Oh man, that was a bad move. I gotta follow him.”

What did your wife think the first time she heard it?

She loved it. When we had to shoot it for [ACM Presents: Our Country] I had to do it in my house because of quarantine and my wife’s in there just smiling and listening all the time. She was like, “You just sound so great together.” When she supports me like that, it gets me excited.

Let’s wrap with “Worldwide Beautiful, ” a song about embracing everybody that you released following George Floyd’s murder with all proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. What can the country music community do to embrace diversity more?

Well, not only with country music, I think it should be with everybody. Just spend more time with people. You never know what kind of day somebody's having. People get judged for the clothes they wear, you don't know their living situation and you shouldn't talk down on anybody. I feel like everybody should just love each other and once everybody finds out how to do that, the world would be amazing.