For Ape Drums, the last 12 months have been crazy. The Houston-bred producer has been steady grinding on the reinvention of dancehall since 2014, which sets him up perfectly for pop music’s current Caribbean obsession. These riddims are the beat of his heart, the sound of his childhood. His vision for a more futuristic sound is what pushed him to produce in the first place.
Being a Houston boy, he cleverly infused trap, hip-hop, and electronic dance styles into classic dancehall forms. It’s a blend that brought high-profile faces to come knocking. His tune “Mutant Brain” was recently tapped as the soundtrack to Parisian fashion brand Kenzo’s 2016 World campaign. That brought him a lot of attention when the Spike Jonze-directed video clip went viral, and the heat continued to boil when Pitbull nabbed his remix of singer Steven A. Clark’s “Can’t Have” as the base for his track by the same name on his most recent album Climate Change. He was even invited to join the rapper for his live New Year’s Eve broadcast in Miami.
But all that hype can’t tear him away from his roots, and looking around at the current state of radio, he’s more fired up than ever.
“As an artist in the dance music world, I think about it as a competition,” Ape Drums says. “I’m like ‘man, this guy’s killing it. This guy’s doing good. This guy’s production is cool,’ but I wanna kill them all. I’m competitive because I trust myself. I trust my ears and my talent. That just helps me make good music.”
If you’re gonna be a rude boy, it’s important to be a bit cocky. Your attitude lets the people around you know you’re real, and your sound is the embodiment of your soul. For all his posturing and love of the culture, Ape Drums was still a dude from Texas, but he has the true shine, and it was a beacon that led Silent Addy to his door.
“I was never really close to any Jamaicans or anybody that was really into dancehall and Caribbean culture the way I was,” he remembers. “When I met Addy, me ad him just saw eye to eye. We vibed well, we were chilling and have conversations, we’d go out. I felt like I knew him forever.”
Addy reached out to book Ape Drums for his first visit to Jamaica, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
“He was like, ‘your sound is next level. Dancehall is at a stand still, and you’re just taking it to the next,’” Ape Drums says. “Coming from somebody who knows, who’s in the streets and knows the music, it’s a good compliment to hear. Addy is a really good DJ. He has super crazy links with everybody. He’s also a good person to have around, because he’s really motivating.”
Recently, Addy linked him up with Suku, a personal hero of Ape Drums’ from the legendary Jamaican group Ward 21. The producer met the local legend on another journey to the island nation, and the pair wasted no time cookin’ in the studio.
“I’ve always liked his voice, because he had a real deep voice, and it still sounds the same,” Ape Drums says. “I had this beat, I just laid it out for him to record. It was just open, a looped beat, and he literally just wrote it there, at that second.”
The beat was a perfect match, a gritty, bass-heavy rump shaker that sits as low like Suku’s raspy rumble. Ape Drums flew home with the recording, finished building the beat around the ill vocal, and today, he debuts “Deva” with a release on Mad Decent.
“I could use his voice a lot more,” Ape Drums says. “I want to get his voice more known in music in general. Maybe somebody hears the song we did, and they can get a bigger group or somebody more mainstream to get him on a song. He has a very distinct voice. His voice sounds like nobody else’s, and there’s people out there that try to sound like him, but they can’t.”
Ape Drums and Silent Addy took their teamwork up a notch when they formed Vision Sound. The nascent project is bigger than just a label. It’s a sound system, a crew vibe, a sonic dedication to pushing the boundaries of dancehall’s future. One day, Ape Drums hopes to make it a touring party where he, Addy and a cast of colorful characters will hit the road pumping rowdy riddims into twerking spines around the country and the world.
Until then, Ape Drums is holed up in the studio, merking out new ways to tweak the dancehall trope. “Deva” is a definite step in a damn hard direction. Listen to its Billboard Dance premiere below and grab it up on Mad Decent.