Daniel Tannenbaum may not be a name you’re familiar with, but his portfolio is one for any hip-hop producer to gawk over. Under the moniker “Danny Keyz,” the New York native has collaborated with the likes of RZA, Dr. Dre and Eminem and worked on BJ the Chicago Kid’s Grammy-nominated album In My Mind. But when the mysterious pseudonym “Bekon” popped up all over Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., it got the Internet asking: “Who is this guy?”
Under the new name, Tannenbaum contributed to eight of the lauded album’s 14 tracks. But that wasn’t why he and I hopped on the phone while he was visiting home after a busy Grammys weekend. We were talking to discuss the surprise release of his debut album as Bekon, Get With the Times.
“Imagine holding in a joke that you think is a good joke for 10 years,” the producer says when I ask how it feels to have his own music out in the world. “You keep waiting for your moment to say it. You go to the comedy show and you’re on the list to perform and the performer goes and you’re next, then they’re like, ‘Oh sorry, we’re done for the night.’ That’s what it feels like. It’s this thing that’s been wanting to come out for a long time.”
With a schedule as constantly hectic as his, Tannenbaum never felt like the time was right to release his own music, but working with Kendrick Lamar helped his creative juices flow. “Instead of producing — in a traditional sense — his record, [Kendrick]’s like, ‘Yo, just go write your music and we’ll find a way to put your music on my album,’” he explains. “So it sort of set the scene for me putting out my own album.”
After months of working on DAMN. — from meeting Kendrick and his team in New York City for what Tannenbaum thought was going to be a “musical one-night stand” to packing up his things and moving back to LA to help put the finishing touches on the album — he and the rapper had a heart to heart.
“[After the album was finished] Kendrick said to me, ‘You gotta decide if you want to keep inspiring the people who inspire the world, or if you want to inspire the world,’” he recalls. “I really thought about it, and I came back to him a week later and said, ‘Both.’ I love the idea that I could whisper into the ear of a king or a queen, and use that as some sort of influence for what I hope is good, but at the same time there’s this thing I feel like I need to say…When I said that, he said, ‘You know what, just go do it. Whatever you need from me, I got you. Just go do it.’” And he did.
Before the DAMN. whirlwind began, Tannenbaum had moved back home to Long Island from L.A. to deal with some financial and personal hardships that had been plaguing him. It was there that the concept of Bekon was born.
“Initially it was like bacon, the food,” he divulges. “I was thinking in terms of how I love bacon, but then I went to a farm one day and saw all the little pigs at the farm. It made me sort of confront one part of myself, but you know what? I kept eating bacon, which made me think about people in general and the human condition. Why do we destroy what we love?”
From there, he wrote what would be Get With the Times’ single “Cold as Ice” — a disorienting anthem about a failed relationship — and after tweaking it a little with some producer friends, the song sat on Tannenbaum’s laptop while he devoted his time to DAMN. With that project over, he teamed up with electronic producer Paper Diamond, production team The Donuts and Best Kept Secret’s Craig Balmoris, and together they brought the album into fruition.
“One thing I noticed about the people I admired is that they kept people around them that were as good, if not better, than them at something,” he gushes, “so it pushed them. One thing that I went out of my way to do, to put myself in this position, is I have this incredible camp around me.”
After taking numerous meetings with record labels, he and Paper Diamond decided to start their own label and release the album themselves. “I don’t have management or anything like that,” he admits. “It’s just us doing the best we can with our resources.”
So far, those resources seem to be working just fine for them. Bekon is more than just about music; Tannenbaum wants it to be a visual experience too. “I saw [Pink Floyd‘s] Roger Waters do The Wall a few years ago, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since,” he says with excitement. “So I just kept thinking, How can I do the modern version of that? So I’m working with these incredible cinema 4-D artists. I hope it’s going to be entertaining!”
The “visual extravaganza” is getting a test run at SXSW before Bekon’s performance at The Great Escape festival in the U.K. this spring, but he hopes for these dates to just be the beginning.
“I think the moment when a person who loves music is given the music they love is such a beautiful connection,” he says. “I believe in that. So this whole process now is creating the community that exists around the music, one fan at a time. Two months ago, I had zero fans…I try not to [get caught up in the numbers]…I just believe in it, and it’s something I’m willing to carry with me and something that I’m willing and wanting to show to the world.”
For a man who’s been behind the scenes for the past decade, Tannenbaum is ready to have all eyes on him. “All of the sudden, for nine years, I got to be part of this beautiful creation process,” he says. “It taught me everything. It taught me how to produce records; it taught me how to listen to an album and dissect it. But now, weirdly enough, this is natural to me. Every day I do this, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m just expressing this thing that I believe in.’”