After working with Frank Ocean for his elusive sophomore album Blonde and Zayn Malik's solo breakout Mind of Mine, Grammy-winning producer/writer/engineer Malay is adding more to his workload with a new label imprint alongside his manager Randy Cohen, and a multi-year deal extension with BMG Entertainment.
The West Coast-based music man, born James Ryan Ho, admits that the imprint is still in its infancy (he has yet to finalize a label name) that was born from a conversation with BMG president Zach Katz about the music industry's future and a forthcoming collaboration album he plans to release. "My bread and butter is still producing and writing songs but just having a little but more ownership if I'm involved with helping artists develop their sound," Malay tells Billlboard of the BMG imprint. "It's just a little bit deeper where I can actually find somebody and help them from the beginning to the point where they're independently running their own career." Malay will also be bringing in his longtime mentor and friend, mixing engineer, Manny Marroquin, to help scope out new talent.
As a label head, though, the mission is simple: "Hopefully just finding some classic, timeless artists that are impactful and still very musical and anti-gimmick."
Starting off as a publishing client at BMG five years ago, Malay contributed to albums from the likes of Big Boi, Fantasia, Yelawolf and Jamie Foxx. He has since gone on to work with the aforementioned Ocean and Malik as well as Alessia Cara and Sam Smith. "Malay is unequivocally one of the top producers in the world," says Jon Cohen, BMG's executive vice president of recorded music. "First of all his work ethic is insane. He’s always working and his taste and his ear is so varied from his amazing work with Frank, to Zayn to Tori Kelly and John Legend, he’s just a perfect fit for the vision we have here at BMG."
Working on Ocean's Blonde brings back fond memories for Malay, who offers, "We literally started it, at least the writing process, right after we put out Channel Orange, so it was a long journey over the last four years with him and he's such a good friend of mine. I'm just really happy for him that he was able to finally put out that record after all the work that we put into it and he's happy and it worked out great."
While Malay says he'll be in the studio working on his project for the rest of the year, he has already begun plotting some new material with the artists he's worked with.
"I thought it would be fun to have a platform that was maybe a little less pressure for the artist and then me having the challenge and the fun of creating a new sound. The other part of what I'm doing is representing a little bit more of the culture subliminally with Zayn Malik, who I've been working with. We're talking about doing a song with him and A.R. Rahman together and I'm having Zayn in Urdu, it's real similar to Hindi but it's Pakistani language. It's a modern-sounding song, but for him to sing in that language is kind of powerful."
Cohen notes that BMG's services outside publishing, like its partnerships with TV production company FremantleMedia and book publishers Random House and Penguin, will help tap into Malay's diverse skill set. "You may or may not know this but Malay is apparently a master-class chef, so we already have been thinking about ideas to tie that in to do unique and creative things with him," says Cohen. "I think tying in all his artistic endeavors whether it’s his cooking or his music or as an A&R source, everything is really on the table at BMG."
He adds, "It’s not just limited to the lane of, 'Hey, I’m producing this artist, here’s a single, get it up on the digital sites and stores,' this really starts with how does the artist want to express themselves? And that is one of the things we are really looking forward to with Malay."