Zaytoven Talks Working on Migos' 'Culture' Album & Studio Session with Jay Z
After clocking in more than a decade in the rap game, producer Zaytoven -- whose intricate piano arrangements have become a personal touch on many trap hits from Gucci Mane, Future and Migos -- continues to add bullet points to his already lengthy resume.
Zaytoven (whose real name is Xavier Dotson) plugged in his beats for 2017's best rap album (thus far) for Migos' Culture album with "Big on Big" and "Brown Paper Bag," three years after producing the rap trio's 2013 breakout hit "Versace." Identifying star power in young talent is a talent for Zay, who recently took producer Cassius Jay as heard on his 2016 project Trap Sinatra -- who fuses jazz qualities with the trap sound -- under his wing.
"I look at Cassius like when I first seen Migos or when I first seen OJ da Juiceman. When you see somebody that has talent or got a gift, you naturally want to say, 'Ay, come over here and rock with me’ because I know you’re going to blow up," explains Zaytoven, who tried to convince his friend Migos were the next big thing once he saw their "Bando" video. "I can’t put my finger on it. It’s just a certain it factor that the people have ... So that makes me feel even more that I know what I’m talking about."
Before rocking out on a keytar at New York's Highline Ballroom for the Migos' release day show on Friday (Jan. 27), Zaytoven caught up with Billboard to give an update on his current endeavors including the anticipated sequel to Future's Beast Mode mixtape and talks logging studio time with Jay Z.
On working with Migos' Culture album:
It was nothing different -- it’s just the fact that they got their heads back on straight. I feel like Migos has been consistent ever since they been in the game but now they just almost at a peak right now. So, to really come back in the studio and get with them on this project -- which, I done been on every album, every project and every mixtape they ever put out -- it’s just regular chemistry. I feel like every time I make a beat and the Migos rap on it, it’s gonna be fire.
On meeting Cassius Jay:
We linked up through church actually. I’m a church musician, he’s a church musician so a friend of mine named Doc said, 'Man, I got a concert going. You got to come check me out,' and Cassius was playing the keyboard for him for the concert so I just remember meeting him that day and us exchanging numbers. [Cassius] would just be calling like, 'Ay man, I was gonna come over.' It just really went from there. We got cool.
On the sequel to Future's Beast Mode:
I’m moving on Future’s wave right now. He moves how he wanna move. I don’t know when his next project is. I just know that he got fire on top of fire. I can’t say exactly when Beast Mode is coming out. All I can say is when it does come out, it’s crushing everything.
On reuniting with Gucci Mane:
[Gucci Mane and I] haven’t seen each other in the last three, four years so it’s a whole new fire burning for us to work together since he been gone for so long. So soon as he got out of jail, it was something that I think the world was waiting on because they used to hearing Gucci Mane and Zaytoven together so that’s inspiration alone to just get in the studio, create new stuff, come with something new and at the same time, give them the same chemistry that you’re used to hearing from us.
We’re excited. We’re both just excited about where we at in our careers. He going on tour in March. I’m a show guy now. I’m on the tour playing piano, keytar, stuff like that. All that stuff just keeps us excited to continue to make more music, new music… I feel like we could be father figures to the producers and artists that’s in the game right now and we love the new energy and the new guys that’s coming in. But at the same time, we competitive to show we still got it.
On playing live music:
I think it brings a whole ‘nother dimension. For a producer, I’ve been behind the scenes my whole career. So now, it’s showmanship I’m taking pride in -- being on stage, playing the piano even on the DJ set. Now, all new doors have opened for me and I think it comes from being consistent and relevant the whole ten, twelve years I’ve been doing it. So now I could show a whole ‘nother side of Zaytoven and people respect it.
On wanting to work with Shia LeBeouf:
I’m waiting [to collaborate with LaBeouf]. I think that [might] be a nice project. He’s unorthodox in the way he even approaches music. It's just dope to me.
On working with Jay Z:
What’s so crazy is I always looked at Jay Z and guys on the caliber of Jay Z like they just the big dogs. I didn’t think they listen to my music or even know who I am. I was in L.A. in a meeting with [veteran publishing executive] Big Jon and he was like, 'Me and Jay was just talking about you.' So he text him and [Jay Z] said, 'You have Zaytoven over there? Can he come to the house?' And I’m like, What? For real?
This is me having no idea that he even cared about my music. First thing [Jay Z] said [to Big Jon], 'Tell him when he come over, make sure he bring them beats with them strings and pianos in it.' So that means he’s paying attention to what I’m doing. I feel like I’ve been behind the scenes, making music all this time but I’ve been making it just to satisfy my demographic.
I didn’t know how far it was reaching. So when Jay Z invited me to his house and told me what type of beats he wanted, it opened my mind up to be like, 'My music is reaching everybody and touching people in a certain way.' There's a distinct something when they hear my music. I feel like [the collaboration] is gonna be for both of [our projects]. I know it's going to be a trophy for me.
On appearing on Lifetime's The Rap Game:
I’m starting to get good at going on TV. The other day, I had to make beats for the kids live on camera. The whole camera crew was just amazed because we had to do it in 30 minutes. I’m enjoying all the different aspects of the industry right now and I’m taking it all in.
On his goals for 2017:
I just want to do bigger and better than what I did last year. I think last year might have been my biggest year or best year and I just want to outdo that. Right now I’m supposed to be going on tour with Gucci. I’ll probably be going on tour with Future. These are the things I never thought of or dreamed that I would be doing. But I’m up for the task...I want to continue to grow.
I got a movie on Netflix called Birds of a Feather. I was the lead character in the whole movie so now we’re working on part two, a joint venture with Nick Cannon. To me, that’s another aspect -- the book [A To Zay: The Indie Guide to Music Production] the tour, the live DJ set -- it’s just adding more glam to the Zaytoven name.