'All the Stars' Producer Al Shux On Working With Kendrick Lamar and Awards Show Love: 'It's All a Bonus'
Last month, Black Panther became the first superhero to film to score a best picture nod at the Oscars -- one of countless nominations it’s received this awards season. But its soundtrack, featuring the hit Kendrick Lamar and SZA collaboration “All the Stars,” is getting just as much awards-show love. Black Panther: The Album is up for album of the year at the Grammys, while “All the Stars” was nominated for best original song at last month’s Golden Globes and is now up for four Grammys (including record of the year and song of the year) as well as an Academy Award for best original song.
Not bad for a song that, according to co-writer and co-producer Al Shux, began as kind of a mess.
“I started working on [“All The Stars”] on my own and was just experimenting with weird sounds in my studio, recording everything as I was playing it,” Shux (real name: Alexander Shuckburgh) tells Billboard. “Most of it sounded really terrible, but there were few moments that sounded interesting, so I went through what I had recorded and made a loop out of the noises.”
After settling on a chord progression he liked, Shux gave the preliminary version of the song to co-producer and Lamar’s frequent collaborator Sounwave, who passed the track along to the Pulitzer Prize-winning MC. “[Sounwave] really heard where it could go and he added drums and other sounds when he was with Kendrick,” Shux says. “Later on, he arranged the strings with a violinist too and really took the whole thing to the next level.”
While Shux wasn’t in the studio when Lamar recorded his vocals, Shux has seen him in action before during studio hangouts and calls him “one of the most fearless artists out there.”
“[He’s] really open to ideas from any direction,” Shux says. “It’s inspiring to see someone -- who you could say has a lot to lose -- still actively [taking] risks and [pushing] himself and what people expect of him in every project he does. As a producer, it makes you want to push yourself, too, and it gives you free reign to try whatever.”
If “All The Stars” is victorious during the Grammys, it’ll be another trophy for Shux’s shelf. The London-bred producer won for best rap song in 2011 for his contributions to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” which, like “All the Stars,” started out completely different: The song’s original topline featured sung verses instead of raps until publishing exec “Big Jon” Platt thought it could be a fit for Jay-Z.
“There’s no way that anyone could know how things would pan out to that scale,” Shux says of the song, which eventually hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in late 2009. “When I heard the finished mix, I was confident that it was a banger. But there’s other things in play as well that transcended [“Empire State Of Mind”] to that level. It’s timing: It came out at a time, literally, where people wanted to have an uplifting song, and it was okay to be patriotic.”
While he has a penchant for creating hip-hop hits, Shux has worked with artists across all different genres. Outside of some of rap’s heavyweights, he’s produced and written for Lana Del Rey (“This Is What Makes Us Girls,” “Young And Beautiful”), soulful singer-songwriter Paloma Faith (“Freedom”), R&B tastemaker Kelela (“Take Me Apart”) and electro-pop newcomer L Devine (“Can’t Be You”).
“I try to get into the world of the artist without trying to push them into my world,” he explains. “I try and approach every session without too many preconceived notions of what we should do [with the music], and try and just get into the head of the artist, and try and approach it without personal egos.”
That approach certainly worked for “All the Stars,” whose success Shux is still wrapping his head around. “I never planned on this song being nominated for an Oscar when writing it,” he says. “It’s all a bonus, and it’s really exciting to be in the mix… It’s hard to predict how you’re gonna act when something that great happens. At the end of the day, my favorite part of the process is creating stuff. Even though it’s nice to get awards, that’s not my motivation.”
While Shux isn’t sure yet how he’ll spend Oscar night, he says he’s grateful to be apart of the “Black Panther phenomenon” by contributing to a movie whose success highlights the importance of representation of minorities in popular media.
“It’s really cool to witness how big the film became,” he says. “I personally loved the film. How it reached such a wide audience and generated so much money is great, because there is still not enough diversity in Hollywood. [Director] Ryan Coogler did an amazing job, and the fact that the film was so good really helped elevate our song too.”
As for his future projects, Shux won’t reveal whom he’s been in the studio with recently, but he says he’s “always working” -- and is always on the lookout for his next great collaboration.
“Obviously there’s great, established artists out there that I’d love to work with, but I’m just as excited to find the new and unknown person, and make them into a future star,” he says. “That’s really exciting to me -- watching who the new person is.”