As clubs have been reopening and shows have been resuming across the country after a COVID-19 pandemic pause on the live music industry, Billboard is asking club and touring DJs about their experience transitioning from spinning at home to performing back outside.
“Nobody wants to hear that,” retorted the up-and-coming producer, who was steadily gaining recognition on Twitter, YouTube and SoundCloud for his genius decades-spanning mashups of throwbacks and new hits.
His perception changed on Thanksgiving Day 2020, when Amorphous posted a video on Twitter of him mixing Vandross’ 1981 post-disco hit “Never Too Much” with Rihanna’s 2016 R&B-meets-electronic rock scorcher “Kiss It Better” from the comforts of his bedroom — which served as his main stage for years, not necessarily due to the pandemic, but because performing in public wasn’t his forte. The clip, which has since amassed nearly 3 million views on Twitter, caught the attention of countless hit-makers, including Fat Joe and DJ Khaled, who ended up using Amorphous’ mashup as the underlying production of their track “Sunshine (The Light),” which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s Rhythmic Airplay chart and No. 8 on Rap Airplay.
Compared to the careers of other DJs, which were upended due to COVID in 2020, Amorphous’ was just starting to blossom. Like his premier collaborator Khaled, he holed up in his studio and assembled an impressive slate of collaborators such as Brandy, James Fauntleroy and Kelly Rowland for his debut EP, Things Take Shape, which he released last summer. He’s been spreading his wings ever since, from performing at Lollapalooza in 2021 to being tapped by Mariah Carey for the anniversary club remix of the Butterfly title track for the LP’s 25th anniversary expanded edition released this month. Whether he’s casually mashing up songs in the bedroom or (he hopes) opening up for Beyoncé‘s Renaissance tour, Amorphous feels cozier behind the booth, and in front of a mic and real-life audience.
“That’s why I do what I do: Life is very short, and I just want to leave my mark on people through music, through creativity, through just trying to be a good person,” he tells Billboard.
Billboard caught up with Amorphous about his Rihanna/Luther Vandross mashup morphing into his first Billboard hit, his vision of opening for Queen Bey, and the “darker sound” he’s experimenting with on his upcoming project.
Pre-pandemic, where were you spinning usually?
In my bedroom. I never necessarily consider myself a DJ, so I didn’t really think of going out and playing the mashups or even some of the remixes that I did out there like that. During college, when I went to Full Sail University from 2016 to 2018, I did one or two gigs. And I was like, “You know what? I’m a behind-the-scenes type of person. I’mma just stay in my room and do that.”
Before the pandemic, most of me spinning was literally just for my own ears or for my YouTube, so I would do the mashups and upload them. I had gotten some traction over the years, but it’s a whole different world going out there and actually spinning and playing in front of people.
What music were you listening to a lot during quarantine?
Jaguar by Victoria Monét. That was my quarantine album, 100%. I was listening to a lot of old-school music, like Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, things that made me really nostalgic towards my childhood because, as most people can relate to, the pandemic did me in. I moved out to Los Angeles in 2019 to try to have a career in film by doing trailer editing, and I got some really great opportunities. I almost worked with Ava Duvernay. There was a lot of stuff going on, but it just went into the gutter. I had to move back to Orlando right as the pandemic started. I was stuck in the house, just allowing myself to really sit and take in all the music that was coming out and all the music that maybe I hadn’t had the time to listen to in years because of school.
One year after you posted a video mixing “Kiss It Better” and “Never Too Much,” Fat Joe and DJ Khaled hopped on it and released the single, “Sunshine (The Light).” What is that process, and feeling, like when elite tastemakers want to use your mashup as part of the production for an actual song?
When Fat Joe hit me up, it’s kind of like what T-Pain said: I never checked my Instagram requests before. But for some reason, I’m like, “I’m blowing up. I see a lot of people hitting me up.” I decided to check it that day, and it’s Fat Joe. I thought it was a spam account at first. He’s like, “Here’s my number. Call me.” I FaceTimed the number and the first thing he does when he gets on, he’s like, “Yo, Amorphous! Young king, young legend! We got DJ Khaled right here. That Rihanna, that Luther, that’s fire! We want to put it out.” They played the song for me, they had already wrote to it. And I was just sitting there like, “This is so crazy.”
Imagine if I never checked my Instagram requests. The song probably wouldn’t have come out. I was able to work with two legends in the industry – Fat Joe is a veteran, especially within hip-hop, and the success that DJ Khaled has had – and [with] my last project, as a producer, [I was] able to work with other artists and have them featured on my projects. DJ Khaled is kind of the king of that right now. To be uplifted in that sense was beautiful. Going to Miami with them and shooting the video with them, meeting Diddy, and just the kind words and energy was a great experience and something that I don’t take for granted. The song definitely helped put me at the level I wanted to be at.
Last year, you enlisted Brandy, James Fauntleroy, Kelly Rowland, Kehlani and more for your debut EP, Things Take Shape. What was a pinch-me moment you had while working on the project?
The moment where everything kind really hit me was working with Kehlani. They were the first person to truly reach out outside of Fat Joe and Khaled to say, “You know what? I saw your tweets about you doing your own EP. I want to be on it.” I was really nervous because I had never been in the studio before with any artists of that caliber, but they gave me so much grace in that room just to be like, “Look, this is your project. You tell me what you want to write about, what you want to do, what should I be singing, and we’re gonna make it happen.”
Putting that song out was a beautiful moment because we also had a partnership with Spotify for the Frequency campaign, so I was part of the launch for that. I got to go to New York and see me on this huge billboard. I got to take my mom to go see that. Put out my first single on my own with Kehlani, here I am in the middle of Times Square – that was definitely a pinch-me moment. And then working with Brandy, of course. That was a dream collab that I really wanted for my actual album later on, but it ended up going on my first project. Brandy is such an amazing vocalist and human being.
How have your roots/upbringing shaped the music you like to listen to and play live?
It shaped everything. When I think of the Rihanna and Luther mashup, my dad’s favorite artists are Luther Vandross and James Brown. He always used to tell me, “You’re gonna blow up when you do a remix with an old song.” And I was like, “Nobody wants to hear that.” But for me, I grew up on a lot of gospel music. I had different generations of people in the house – my parents, my older brother and then some of my siblings that are kind of closer to my age. So there was different layers of music that I could consume: Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, my brother grew me up on Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Usher. And then, as I said, my dad was listening to the Marvin Gayes and the Anita Bakers of the world. So subconsciously, it definitely affected me.
Did you perform at any virtual events during quarantine?
I did some behind-the-scenes corporate stuff for some people. I did some nonprofit organization stuff, did some stuff for Detroit, which was really, really cool to support the youth over there. I remember when Keyshia Cole and Ashanti had a Verzuz that was supposed to happen and it got delayed, I just went on Twitter and started streaming. And that turned into a whole big thing, a lot of people enjoyed that. I did a livestream for Kelly Rowland’s birthday, and that’s when we first had our interaction. I was really nervous. I mean, it’s Kelly Rowland.
What was the first live music event after quarantine that you attended as a fan?
I went to go see Willow Smith last year. I am a huge Willow stan and I cannot wait to work with her one day. I’mma manifest it! I was in the back screaming my ass off to all the songs. Willow is just such an incredible artist, and to be able to see her live and transform into the place that she takes you is beautiful.
What was the first live music event after quarantine that you performed at as a DJ?
I DJ’d at Lollapalooza, which was my first kind of festival experience. [Before that], I did do a truck that drove around L.A. that I was DJing in for Hillman Grad, Lena Waithe’s company, which was so cool. Going from the bedroom and being comfortable in your own space to, OK, now you’re playing in front of people is definitely a huge adjustment. That’s why when people call me a DJ, it’s absolutely flattering, but I’m still learning all the ins and outs of that culture.
When I look at someone like Kaytranada, who can really put on a full-on show, I’m like, “I’mma get there!” But for me, I’m taking it slow and learning all the ins and outs and how to work a crowd and how to move a crowd in the right way.” Because it is so different having blown up in the pandemic and just DJing in my room for Instagram Live or a YouTube stream. But when you’re playing into a live audience, learning how to feed off of that is something that I really want to tap into.
Are there any songs you were listening to/spinning at home that you were excited to play for a live audience?
I feel like most of my old-school mashups that people didn’t know I did but they knew of them are always fun to play. For example, there’s a mashup I did of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” with Rihanna’s “Work.” And I did that years ago, and it went viral over the Internet. I remember some DJs was tryna be like, “No, I made this.” And I was like, “Look, I put certain things in there you can’t replicate, honey. My stamp is on that.” So when I drop it in my sets, sometimes people will be like, “OK, I didn’t know that you did this! That’s really, really cool.” It’s always, always fun to drop Beyoncé. People sometimes get on me like, “Ah, you’re playing too much Beyoncé in your sets.” And I’ll be like, “Girl, there ain’t such a thing. Be quiet.” Also, I’m a huge fan of ‘90s house, so it’s cool to drop some of those old gems [like] “Perculator.”
Did you have any worries that certain songs or albums might be considered “too old,” because it came out during the pandemic?
I have a little bit of a brand within myself, so I would hope that people that do come understand that I’m not just going to play only the newest of the new. Here’s some of the new stuff and here’s some of the stuff that maybe you forgot about, or a song from even like the early 2000s that brings you back to that place. Even when you look at music in general, catalog music is being streamed way more than new music. So I’m like, “If people can’t come outside and dance to ‘Girls Dem Sugar,’ something wrong with y’all.” Or if people can’t get jiggy to “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross, why are you here? Like I said, I’m not out there to DJ to just make money or make a cut. I want to cultivate a fan base, a community that’s going to say, “You know what? We want to go to the show that Amorphous is bringing.”
What are some of the newer songs or albums that you’ve been hyped to play?
Renaissance. You can’t not play it, you know? It’s so difficult because if you only play a couple of tracks, somebody’s gonna come up there and be like, “You need to just play the whole album through.” I’m like, “You know what? You might as well just hook up your iPod and let it play. I’ll take the check just to play Renaissance.”
I love playing stuff from [Drake’s] Honestly, Nevermind. There’s some really good songs that translated towards a club environment on there. There’s an artist named LAYA that I’m a huge fan of, and her album Um, Hello has some big-tempo slappers that I love to drop.
You’ve created an entire slate of Renaissance mashups, including Ms. Tina Knowles-Lawson’s favorite, “Plastic Off the Sofa,” meets Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky.” When you’re putting your Midas touch on an entire body of work, where do you even start? How many times are you listening to Renaissance front-to-back to get an intimate feel of the songs so you know what works best with them?
It’s so funny, because when I listen to Renaissance, I honestly don’t really think like that. It’s when I’m not listening to Renaissance and my mind does that. When I’m listening, I need to block all of my own creative inhibitions out. This is an album Beyoncé put out, lemme not touch it when I’m listening. But when I’m in my bedroom, I might hear “Don’t Stop the Music” with “Cuff It” or something, which is a mashup that I put out. This album has a very Off the Wall, Michael Jackson kind of feel, as far as something I can mash up with that. But I try not to let it impede my listening experience as a fan.
What are you looking forward to during your future sets? Where do you wanna perform next?
I definitely want to go on tour with Beyoncé one day. She’s been in this industry for such a long time. I feel like it could be a cool experiment for me as the opening act to do a cool little mix between some of her eras, a celebration of her artistry and her history as a veteran artist before she goes into the full-out tour versions of those songs.
I would love to do something for Rihanna one day in terms of doing something live, like a Savage x Fenty show. And I always want to open up for Kaytranada. I’m a huge Kaytranada fan. That alignment is there even just in terms of production. I always say that I would not be here fully without him.
Who is your dream collaboration you’re manifesting?
Beyoncé, Miss RiRi. I would love to work with Victoria. We had a session, but that session was so funny because we got along so well, we didn’t even get a chance to work on music. I would love to work with Victoria more. I would love to do a collaboration with Tinashe. Like I said, Willow would be amazing. I really want to work with Banks, I’m a huge Banks fan. She set the stage for a lot of these new alternative girls. There’s some other stuff in the works hopefully happening for this next project, but it’s gonna be a good one.
What can we expect from your next EP?
You can expect something very different than my first project. I only had three weeks to do it, so I had to get my shit the f—k together! And to be honest, I’ve kind of put a lot of pressure on myself in the sense that I haven’t dropped music in a year. I’m taking my time. I’m like, “You know what? It’s not like my fanbase is diminishing. It’s growing still within this time period.” So I know when I do come out, it’s gonna come out hard. It’s a bit of a darker sound. I wanted to show something that was more mature in terms of production. It’s going to be more male artists on this project. I showed out for my girls, but I gotta support my bros, too. It’ll be fun. I think people are gonna be really shocked and be like, “Oh, this is the type of sound that Amorphous can do as well.”
Check out Amorphous’ playlist for Billboard below.