Take A Daytrip Talk Executive Producing Lil Nas X’s Debut Album 'Montero' & Creating 'Like a Band'

David Biral, Denzel Baptiste
Tanima Mehrotra*

David Biral and Denzel Baptiste

From classmates to music greats, hitmakers Denzel Baptiste and David Biral of genre-bending production duo Take A Daytrip are the Grammy-nominated creative geniuses behind 16 Billboard Hot 100 tracks. That tally includes five platinum-selling top 10 hits -- "The Scotts" by Travis Scott & Kid Cudi (No. 1), "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" by Lil Nas X (No. 1), "Industry Baby" by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow (No. 2), "Panini" by Lil Nas X (No. 5) and "Mo Bamba" by Sheck Wes (No. 6) -- each co-written by Daytrip.

Graduates of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, New England native Biral (Rhode Island and Vermont) and Brooklyn-born, rural New Jersey-raised Baptiste co-executive produced Lil Nas X’s eponymously named debut studio album Montero, along with fellow star producers Omer Fedi and Roy Lenzo. This week, the set debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, after earning 126,000 equivalent album units in its first frame. Lead single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” spent one week at No. 1 on the Hot 100, while “Industry Baby" ties its old peak on the chart this week at No. 2. Montero also adds a third top 10 Hot 100 hit this week, with "That's What I Want" debuting at No. 10. Daytrip, who co-produced “Industry Baby” with Kanye West, began working on the globally successful album in 2019, the same year they met Lil Nas X and produced his earlier hits “Panini” (No. 5) and “Rodeo” (No. 22).

Signed with Universal Music Publishing Group in 2015, Take A Daytrip earned their first Grammy nomination in 2017 for their work on Free 6lack, which was up for best urban contemporary album. Baptiste and Biral additionally received a Grammy certificate for producing "Good in Bed," from Dua Lipa's 2020 best pop vocal album winner, Future Nostalgia, and have garnered Grammy nominations for their work on projects with Lil Nas X, YBN Cordae and the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrackTheir extensive discography also includes tunes by Kane Brown, James Blake, Miley Cyrus, Big Sean, Post Malone, Mary J. Blige, Sam Austins and more.

Once “two broke college kids eating dollar pizzas,” Take A Daytrip look back at pivotal stops on their career journey, from "Mo Bamba” and the late Juice WRLD’s “Legends” to Montero and the “holy grail" of producing Vince Staples' "Home,” from the Academy Award-winning film Spider Man: Into the Universe. 

How did “Industry Baby” come about?  

Biral: Every song on the album was meant for Nas. Every single idea was started with him in the room or we gave someone directions and then we played the idea for him in the room.

Baptiste: [Trombonist] Nick Lee started the idea one year to the day the song came out. I had asked Nick if he could make something that sounds like a king is walking into a stadium or the Coliseum. Part of our job as producers is to set the stage for whatever can happen throughout the day. We have tactics that allow us to turn any situation into a song -- or attempt to -- and we have an in-case-of-emergency folder if there's a lull in our creative process.

We had a day where we needed it. We were feeling uninspired, and Nas wasn't feeling too good. Things were coming across the internet that turned his emotion 180 degrees. People were like, “You fell off. You had all this momentum and you stopped putting out music.” Nas, who played trumpet in school band, wanted a trumpet when we did “Rodeo”; there’s a thing with brass that he really gravitates toward. So when we used the loop of the beginning brass in "Industry Baby,” he immediately snapped into full inspiration mode and essentially freestyled the entire song.

You directed Lil Nas X's 2021 VMAs performance, which sounded like a marching band. Was that HBCU-inspired?

Baptiste: We were figuring out how far we could push these songs in specific directions, like celebrating becoming a champion and really believing in yourself. The equivalent to that is when an HBCU band is playing and the football team is running into the stadium with the highest confidence -- that emotion is what we built into “Industry Baby.” There’s a certain way that HBCU band horn sections play that is specific for the way the music is arranged. Similarly, with the choir for “Home,” we had to figure out how to make it sound like a marching band. We got parts from Ty [Zizzy] who worked on the Drumline movie, Nick and [our co-director] Africa Asaf Rodeh. It was a group effort with people who are specifically experts at certain things. It probably took a week.

Biral: There would be moments within the process when Nas was rehearsing and we’d get a message from his choreographer Sean Bankhead, saying, “Hey, I need some dance hits in this section.” It was a very collaborative process.

Was there a song you played for Lil Nas X that you knew he loved immediately? 

Biral: We felt that way about each one, because every song was created from scratch. But "Scoop" is interesting. We were in the studio and I was messing around on keyboard. Our photographer and videographer, David Dickinson, was always recording things in the room. I was playing something for a split second and Nas was like, "Go back to that one thing you played" -- and none of us could figure out what I played, so we went back to the video David recorded, and that turned into the main lead line for “Scoop."

Baptiste: And the video clip of that split second when Dave was playing the keys and Nas was inspired by the sound is in the [music] video we used for another track, “The Art of Realization.”

As production partners, how have you learned to trust each other's judgment?

Biral: Denzel and I met 10 years ago; we started our freshman year at NYU together in 2011. In the beginning, it was this discovery process of learning the types of music we were into. Sophomore year is when we started to make more music together. By junior year, we were working at our friend Mel DeBarge’s studio in SoHo. It was our first time being around so much analog equipment where we could physically play multiple instruments at the same time together, like a band.

We create with no egos. It's been really important to us to take ego out of anything in our creative process and let the music speak for itself. And that's reigned whenever we hop in the room with another artist. No matter what, Denzel and I are that rock that never moves. We've learned the best way to make music is to try everything, leave no stone unturned, not hold anyone back and create as brothers with love.

Have you ever been faced with a predatory contract? What's your advice for new producers navigating that?

Baptiste: We've been blessed to not have been in those situations that so many producers, artists and creatives unfortunately find themselves in. In some ways, it’s because we have always worked with our friends, for the most part. As we build those people up, they bring us with them and we pull them up. It’s become a ladder of not skipping steps. In those situations, you’re dealing with people who are your equals. From the beginning of our career, we always worked with new artists. When we met Nas, he was essentially still a new artist because “Old Town Road” hadn’t reached the top of the charts yet. But we thought, "This kid is pretty cool" and saw his potential.

My main advice is: Don't skip steps, put in the 10,000 hours with people you love, and it all works out. There's no way that can't work, because even if you're a terrible producer and don't know anything, or you're an artist who hasn't done much yet, if you're working with people that you love, you're going to get better.

Biral: Me and Denzel have been blessed to have great teachers and mentors both in and out of school. We had the opportunity to take business and legal courses, on top of learning the history of music theory, art and creative classes. We had a great starting point coming to NYU and living in New York City.

One of my pieces of advice is to look for teachers and mentors and find the importance in your education. Education is more than taking a music course; it's what YouTube videos and many other things can teach you about how to move within the music industry and how to think about things presented in front of you. You'll be able to make smart decisions that benefit yourself, family, team and partners. That’s something Denz and I learned firsthand, because we were blessed to learn from people before we entered the industry.

Is there one special song you produced that more people should know?

Biral: There’s a special shout-out to "Cigarette Song" by Raury because that was the first true placement we got together, in 2014. That song introduced us to the music industry. It gave us our first opportunity to sit in the big offices, meet people and get a firsthand glimpse. It was right as we were graduating college -- like you're an NBA player, you played in college and you're getting ready to go to the league. That song gave us our first deal and capital to fund our first studio and equipment. Some of those songs have changed our lives personally in ways a lot of people may not know at all.

Then some songs are the biggest we ever made in our careers. I can't say the road was necessarily easy, but it gave us a glimpse of, “This is possible." It also brought us into a genre that we had never made music in before and challenged us to try something new. That song was the start of me and Denzel’s careers and when I look back at everything, it's probably the song I'll be most thankful for. It arrived at such an important time. We were two broke college kids eating dollar pizzas.

Baptiste: We had been on Universal for quite a bit and thought, ‘Oh, we’re on a label now. We’re gonna be rich.” But a couple of months after buying our studio equipment, getting two apartments and buying a new pair of shoes, it was like, “Well, money is gone.” [Laughs.] It was a super struggle for years. There were a couple of junctures where [we felt] this could completely cease to exist. But there are certain songs that brought us back from completely running out of money or hope at specific times.

One is “Home” by Vince Staples, which was the trailer song and end title credits for Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. We didn’t know what that movie would end up becoming culturally. We were like, “Spider Man? Animated?” and there had never been a giant, animated [Black superhero] movie before.

The way “Home” came together is, we wanted a gospel choir sound but didn’t have any money. But, there’s two of us, so we recorded ourselves 50 times and acted like we were different people, thinking, If this works, it would be hilarious.” Then, one day the trailer comes out -- and it's our song with us, sounding like a gospel choir. As a producer and songwriter, a song that goes into a movie is a holy grail -- it’s called a sync license because it becomes part of advertising, so you get a giant check up front.

At that point, we had so many attempts at things like movies, but they were all falling through constantly. Our manager texted us right before Christmas like, “Merry Christmas.” It showed us that we can do anything we want, with any amount of resources.

What was the first song you produced that charted on the Hot 100?

Biral: "Legends" by Juice WRLD [peaked at No. 29]. The day we met Juice was the same day XXXTentacion had passed, [on June 18, 2018]. Me and Denzel were on a trip to Los Angeles. It’s one of those mornings where you wake up and you’re like, “What the hell?”

We had a meeting at Interscope that day and went reluctantly. There was an A&R named Dash [Aaron Sherrod] that came into the doorway and said he used to work with Treez Lowkey, an artist Denzel and I worked with and love so much. Dash was like, “I signed Juice WRLD, and I wanna get you guys in the studio with him tonight.” Me and Denzel showed up and Juice WRLD was already there.

We played one beat and quickly realized what the energy was in the room. We played the second beat, which was “Legends” and he went in the booth and pretty much one-take freestyled the entire song. He previewed it on Instagram and it came out the next day. Me and Denzel were so honored to be a part of such an important record, and something we felt the world needed in that moment. That song has also gone on to be a representation of Juice WRLD. For that to be our first charting record is a really special one for everything it means for X, [Lil] Peep and Juice WRLD’s lives -- and so many artists we lost too young.

Baptiste: The crazy thing is, when we did “Legends” for Juice, “Mo Bamba” was already out and it was already huge in the clubs and we were DJ’s in New York. That was always our goal, to have a song that really defined the moment in New York the way “Hot N---a” [by Bobby Shmurda], “Bodak Yellow” [by Cardi B] or “Panda” [by Desiigner] did. The record that’s like, “You can’t play that until 2 a.m. because everybody’s gonna go crazy."

Miraculously, and thankfully, “Mo Bamba” comes about -- and it's that song that we always wanted to make. It was in the club, but it didn’t hit the chart and wasn’t streaming well, and even though it was blowing up, we were still broke and losing money traveling around. It was an interesting dichotomy of a really high, high and low, low at the same time. Then Juice WRLD’s “Legends” comes out and a couple weeks later, it’s on Billboard and it gives us the hope that, “Maybe this will all work out."