A funny thing happened on the way home from Saigon and Just Blaze‘s show at the Apple store, in SoHo, on June 10. Producer/rapper 88-Keys decided to stop by Kanye West‘s spot to say a quick ‘hello.’ Little did 88-Keys know that he’d be invited to a “Watch the Throne” studio session to craft the track that would become “No Church in the Wild.”
88-Keys’ affiliation with Kanye goes back ten years when the two were both living in Newark, NJ. “We met in the studio and he was actually a big fan of my [work],” 88-Keys says. “Within the first eight minutes of our conversation, he told me that he was going to be a star. We both traded verses then I kind of ran out after three verses because at the time I wasn’t even really trying to be a rapper.”
The two quickly became friends and colleagues. When 88-Keys decided to seriously pursue rapping, Kanye executive-produced his 2008 debut album, “The Death of Adam,” and appeared on the single “Stay Up! (Viagra).” 88-Keys had also been working on The Throne’s music, individually, producing a track for West’s “Graduation” (2007) and Jay-Z‘s “The Black Album” (2003). Unfortunately, they didn’t make the final cut.
But 88-Keys’ unplanned attendance on their “Watch the Throne” session would prove to be the turning point. In front of Jay-Z, Q-Tip, No I.D. and engineer Noah Goldstein, Kanye asked the fateful question: “You got any beats on you?”
Luckily, 88-Keys played 20 of his beats that were catalogued on SoundCloud. “Everybody in the room just started going crazy,” 88-Keys said. An hour later, they had singled out the beat that would become “No Church in the Wild.” Kanye told 88-Keys what additions he wanted made, “add an extra kick drum on there… a heavier bass line and strings,” 88-Keys says ‘Ye suggested.
The next day, 88-Keys met Frank Ocean for the first time and heard the chorus as well as an unreleased spoken word portion. “He was pretty quiet,” he says. “He actually had a talking intro part that he put on there. I thought it was pretty dope, it was pretty comical. But I guess it didn’t make the final cut.”
Over the next few days, Jay-Z recorded his 16 bars and Kanye recorded an eight-bar verse. For a while, the song remained unfinished. “I didn’t actually hear the final product ’til the morning of the listening at the Planetarium [on Aug. 1].
88-Keys, who always draws inspiration from A Tribe Called Quest when creating music, remembers hearing Kanye say that “No Church in the Wild” was “just what they needed for the album — a different sound.” “It made me feel appreciated and welcome,” 88-Keys said.
Although the song was recorded fairly close to the album release date, 88-Keys says there were no signs of stress. “They’re always focused, 100 percent to the point where it’s almost scary focused. But the atmosphere is always light. The jokes are always flying around the room.”
“No Church in the Wild” is the first production credit for 88-Keys’ new production company, Keys Open Doors, which is associated with his new record label, Locksmith Music Records. He’s preparing to sign a “handful of artists” and planning a compilation album, “Green Light Means GO!” He’s also working on a new EP, “Adamantium,” and two free mixtapes, “The ALPHA Program Version 2.1 and “Ready/Set” with Mick Boogie.
88-Keys is confident that we’ll hear more collaborations between West, Jay-Z and himself in the near future. After all, they did choose a lot of his beats, one of which Kanye tracked along with “No Church in the Wild,” which according to 88-Keys, “the track is too hot to be unheard by the masses.”