"I always wanted to be a rapper, but I didn't know how to make the play without looking corny," says Cameron Pasquale, who later became known as the "Chef" in his music career as a producer.
Before all of that came along, Pasquale had been through a lot at a young age growing up with an older brother in his grandparents' house on the often forgotten NYC borough of Staten Island.
Pasquale credits Michael Jackson for falling in love with music. "I was him every year for Halloween when I was 11-years-old," he admits over the phone. His older brother also had a huge influence on his discovery of hip-hop. "I grew up on Wu-Tang, I'm from Staten Island so they were a big influence. 50 Cent as well. Big Pun and all the New York guys -- Biggie too," he says.
Looking back on his enduring journey into the industry, Pasquale is quick to say how easy kids have it these days, even though they don't know the grueling years ahead to turn their music passion into a full-time job. "Not every kid was trying to be a producer and now it's so oversaturated with people trying to do it. Kids can be 11-years-old and make beats. It's way more accessible."
Now 25-years-old, Pasquale has developed a signature melodic sound that he plans to develop into his own production empire. Billboard caught up with the unsigned producer for an in-depth phone interview recalling carving out his own lane into music, cultivating a relationship with Drake that led to crafting "KMT," and plans for this year that include working on Cardi B and Drizzy's upcoming albums.
Stage One Studios
After high school, Pasquale took his talents to a local audio engineering program where he received a certificate after one year of schooling and was quickly kicked to the curb after demands of a studio internship went ungranted by the program's directors. From that humbling experience he knew anything worth having in life would have to get done by himself.
The Staten Island native brought out the traditional phonebook and gave a call to every studio in Manhattan until one gave him an interview. He ended up finding his way into Stage 1 Studios, which doesn't exist anymore, but was a hotspot for hip-hop artists like French Montana and producers such as Harry Fraud, Vinylz and Beyonce's engineer DJ Swivel.
Pasquale maintained an unwavering work ethic watching everything that was going on at the studio. The studio heads kept him around, as he moved up from intern to studio manager in just the year he was employed. He recalls a funny story where he thought it was over after his boss found him sleeping overnight in the studio.
"I had missed my bus and thought anybody could sleep over in the studio. My boss came back after DJing a show and I got ripped. He was yelling at me, 'Why are you here?' He sent me home for three days. I was so upset and thought I fucked up my whole career," he remembers.
He eventually would spend more time in the studio than his grandparents' Staten Island home. "I ended up going to the studio every day and it didn't make sense for me to go home. I would pack a bag and stay the whole week," he says. "Then I'd come home on Saturday and do my laundry and then I'd go back for the week again."
Beginnings of the OVO Relationship
Post-studio life wasn't easy. The next year-and-a-half proved to be the toughest, but Pasquale always found small signs of inspiration that gave him the energy to keep chugging along. The only person he knew in radio was programming legend Frankie Blue, who played an integral role in starting major radio stations around the city.
A conversation with Frankie led him to pair up with him and his partner Alex, who had music dreams themselves. Alex's cousin happened to be Drake's best friend, OB O'Brien. That was Pasquale's first connection to the OVO camp
The aspiring producer recalls a time when Boi-1da got his hands on one of his beats through a writer. The legendary beat maestro began working on one of his beats. "All these little things added up," he says.
After a thorough application process, Pasquale and a friend drove all the way up for one night in Toronto to play that very beat for Boi-1da so he could put a face to the production. "Battle of the Beats was out in Toronto and I saw Boi-1da was one of the judges. I had to go to this battle and play him this beat. He didn't know I made it. That was my whole mission to show I was the one that made it," he excitedly remembers.
"I could see him realize 30 seconds later that he was familiar with it and he told me to stay after to talk to him. He was like, 'I know that beat.'"
Building a Buzz in Toronto
By this point, Chef is still working three jobs in addition to making music. He finally got his break by linking up with Canada's RamRiddlz in NYC, where he sent over a pack of beats and one ended up becoming "Hey Mr. Ramrod," which appeared on his EP, Venus. Pasquale knew he had to give up everything else and take music way more serious when the track took off after Kylie Jenner played it on her Snapchat.
"The next thing I knew the song was going viral. My name started buzzing heavy in Toronto. OVO Sound picked the song up. That's when I quit my job and knew I had to take this more seriously," he added.
A Direct Message From Drake's Manager Leads to 'KMT'
The 25-year-old beat maestro recalls getting a life-changing direct message from Drake's manager back in 2014, which meant it was time to get to work. "Weeks later Oliver, Drake's manager, hit me up to send beats. I just remember I was in my truck and got a DM from Oliver and was like, 'This is it,'" he said.
After diving head first into pursuing a career as a producer, he ditched his former three jobs and dropped all of his surrounding bills and distractions to completely lock-in. Pasquale's determination could not be derailed. "I was sending beats to Oliver and never got an email back. It's business," he says. "This was about a year. I could see my emails getting opened up by these guys 15 or 25 times. I knew they were fucking with me."
A week out from More Life and the Chef is scrambling in hopes of securing another placement on the playlist as his first fell through and wound up not securing a sample clearance. Next thing he knows, he wakes up to a phone call from his producing buddy Ness. "My phone keeps ringing and it's Ness and he's bugging. My name is going viral on Twitter," he excitedly explains. "Drake just premiered 'KMT' in London and dropped the record. Everything's going crazy. Finding out who Giggs was, it was crazy watching that video. That changed my life."
Working on Cardi B & Drake's Albums
Chef Pasquale continued his rise closing out 2017 adding another major credit to his growing resume. He and Ness provided the tuneful sonic behind PnB Rock's "Issues" single, which went on to power his sophomore, Catch These Vibes, album. The track also marked the first-ever collaboration for Russ, who had never rapped on a beat that wasn't his for a commercially-released song. A coinciding visual dropped at the top of March and has since accumulated over 1 million views in less than two weeks.
The New York native plans to parlay that momentum into an even bigger 2018. The Chef has been quietly cooking up in the studio for some of the most sought-after artists shaping the culture's landscape including Cardi B, Drake, OT Genesis and Giggs, to name a few, in addition to crafting a project of his own.
He continued to divulge that he's notched one placement on Cardi's highly anticipated upcoming album, Invasion of Privacy, which drops Friday (April 6). "Lon Ray from Atlantic Records is Cardi B's A&R, she just hit me up they're finishing up the album so she wanted me to send her a pack of fire. They're recording a bunch of joints right now. Cardi B's album is going to be fire," he proclaims. "I got one joint on there as of now."