Danny “DannyBoyStyles” Schofield has been here before. The 36-year-old producer was young when he got his first taste of music industry success as part of the production group Blackout Movement, led by DJ Blackout, which cranked out the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “This Is Why I’m Hot” by Mims in 2007. But the success was fleeting; soon after, the Miami native was adrift, a piano-playing beatmaker who didn’t quite have a feel for the finer points of production.
“I had no structure,” he says of that period. “I had no one to help me really hone in on my talent. I was a very talented kid, but I was all over the place.”
All that changed around the turn of the decade, when a friend invited him to a studio and introduced him to Amir “Cash” Esmailian and Tony Sal, as well as Ahmad “Belly” Balshe: the former duo co-managers of Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and the latter a Canadian rapper affiliated with The Weeknd‘s XO label. “The day I met Belly, Cash and Sal was the start of my career,” Styles says now. They helped me grow to be a better producer, helped me learn that producing is about working as a team. And you know what else? The celebration feels better when you accomplish things as a group. It feels good when you and the people you did something with are all celebrating the same accomplishments.”
In the years since, DannyBoyStyles and the XO crew have certainly racked up the accomplishments; Styles produced all 10 tracks on The Weeknd’s 2013 breakout debut, Kiss Land, and won his first Grammy for best urban contemporary album for his work on The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, contributing to “Often,” “Acquainted” and “Angel.” At the upcoming 59th annual Grammy Awards this Sunday, he’ll be back in familiar territory again, up for album of the year for the second year in a row as a producer on Beyoncé‘s standout LP Lemonade, contributing the track “6 Inch” featuring The Weeknd, which he wrote with Belly more than two years ago.
Ahead of the Grammys this weekend, Billboard spoke to DannyBoyStyles about getting his start in the industry, linking up with Belly and XO, and his upcoming Grammy nomination.
How did you first meet Belly, Cash, Sal and the XO guys?
I met them down in Miami. A mutual friend of ours called me over and the first person I met was Cash at a studio. I went over there to just chop it up and listen to some music, and I met Cash, and he took me in and introduced me to Manny [Dion] and Sal. When I went into the studio, I saw Belly there. The first time I met Belly, I knew I was going to stay with that guy for a long time because of his aura when I walked into the room. He’s one of those people, you knew he was something, but he didn’t push that on anyone, you know what I mean? You know when someone knows they’re great but they’re very humble about it? Belly was the first person I ever met like that.
Back then I drank a lot, so I showed up and I had a bottle of Hennessy, Grand Marnier, and Belly had his whole set up and everything, and to this day I never met anyone who smoked that much. That was the first time in my life I’d walked into a studio room and you couldn’t even see who the hell was in there. [Laughs] There was so much smoke in that room; I’ve never seen something like that. But what really [struck] me, when I started playing my music, this guy started pulling on everything. The hip-hop beats, the R&B beats, anything I threw on, he just rapped to it. And that was the first time I had ever seen any artist do that in my life. I was like, “Yes. That’s perfect for what I’m trying to do.” [Laughs]
Was it through them that you first met Abel?
Once again, Cash is the one who introduced me to Abel. I was from Miami, so I would travel back and forth to Toronto to work. And at one point, me and Belly and Daheala [producer Jason Quenneville] were working on The Greatest Dream I Never Had, one of Belly’s earlier mixtapes. It was during that time when I first met Abel at Belly’s crib. The first time I met Abel… You know the person you all see today? It didn’t feel like that to me. The first time I met Abel it felt like he was somebody I’d known all my life. So easy to talk to, cool, chill, me and him just vibed. We built a relationship with each other before we even did music together, and I felt like that was a blessing. So when we decided to come together and do music, we already had a really good relationship with each other.
Is that how you got involved working on Kiss Land?
Yeah, Cash and Belly put that in play. But it was genuine, it was natural how we went into it. We just started by just doing music with each other; there was no set plan that we were going to be doing this or that, it was just a natural vibe. And when Abel was like, “Can you come on tour with us?” — that’s when we ended up doing the whole project, me and Daheala. That was one of the best experiences, man, sh-t. [Laughs] It was the first time in my life that I was working on a project that I was really, really free. We weren’t trying to appease the masses or anything like that, you know? And being able to work that close with Abel for a project like that; the guy, honestly, he’s like a genius in the studio the way he puts sh-t together.
That also catapulted my career to a whole other level, too, because it taught me even more about producing, more about finishing projects, more about different styles and genres. I didn’t really listen to the type of music Abel listened to when I first met him. His library was a little bit broader than mine. So to be able to work through that project and incorporate all those things that he knew that I didn’t know, it just made me stronger as a producer. You can only grow from that.
How did working on that project differ from Beauty Behind the Madness?
I feel like when we were working on Kiss Land, we didn’t have as many resources as we had when we were doing Beauty Behind the Madness. Abel was able to work with Ed Sheeran, Max Martin, you know what I mean? Kiss Land was more like an internal project. It was like our own little thing. But Beauty Behind the Madness was a little broader, it incorporated way more people. And you know what? That’s what made that album even more great, because of all the different types of people involved.
That also got me to collaborate with people that I didn’t know. You have to understand. I had been with them at that point maybe about six or seven years and I had not worked with anyone else. I would not work with anyone outside of the people that I worked with, because my previous situation had tainted me. I felt safe when I was with them, so I would not venture out to work with anyone. But when we ended up moving to California, and Beauty Behind the Madness [happened], I started to learn how to be able to work with other people outside the people in my camp. Another step to me learning, to being a better producer.
Can you describe the moment when you found out you won a Grammy?
Man… I could just say I felt blessed. I was in L.A. when we found out we won — I actually went and attended that Grammys, and that was an amazing feeling. You know, when you’re young and working in the music industry, they give you all these accolades to shoot for, and then you start chasing these things to help yourself, I guess, feel more confident about the person who you are. And then you get it, and although you’re very appreciative of it, you still understand that you still have more to do. So the celebration is great, but there’s still a feeling inside of, “I gotta go get another one now, and then I gotta get another one.” [Laughs] So [I felt] blessed in the fact that I was able to receive such a great honor, but also humbled in the fact that I know I have to work harder to continue that, to keep that going.
How did “6 Inch” end up on Lemonade?
Shoutout to Issac Hayes, man, rest in peace. Me and Belly started working on that record together down in Miami. I was making the beat in the lounge in the studio and Belly heard it, and like I said, Belly is one of those people where he will hear anything, and if it sparks anything in him, he’ll record over it. When I first did that beat, it didn’t sound like the way it sounds now. But when Belly took it and he put that hook on it, that turned it into a whole other type of monster. Later on I met Ben [Billions] down in Miami, he was working over there with [DJ] Khaled, and he would come by the studio a lot. And I was like, “Yo, me and Belly have this record, could you put some sauce on it for me?” You know, Ben’s the sauce man, I call Ben to put the toppings on it for me. So he did his thing on it. But me and Belly had that record for maybe two, two-and-a-half years before we even went back in on it and did anything else with it. Could you imagine? [Laughs]
What led you to bring it up again?
It wasn’t even me! What happened was, when Belly went to see [Warner/Chappell Music chairman/CEO] Big Jon [Platt] when they first started talking about doing the Roc Nation deal. And Big Jon asked Belly for some records, and “6 Inch” was in there. So Big Jon says to Belly, “What do you think about me sending this to Beyoncé?” See, this is why Big Jon is a legend; he’s the only person — do you think me sitting down there would be able to send this to Beyoncé? [Laughs] She’d probably be like, “Who is this person?” But Big Jon pushed that through.
When they first told me, I was a little skeptical about it. Only because, for some reason, in the music industry I have been taught to not to have high hopes about things. I think that’s sad, but it happens. But honestly, if it wasn’t for Big Jon, and Abel [who] came in and put that verse on it, those two things happening to that record put that record in the hands of Beyoncé.
And now you’re nominated for Album of the Year.
Yeah! Again! You don’t even have to ask me how I feel about it, because I already told you! [Laughs]
What are your plans for Grammy night?
I think I’mma just to get high and watch it, you know? Most likely I’ll be with my family or one of my brothers here in L.A., and when it’s over, blessings to everyone at the Grammys and everyone who’s nominated, and let’s get back to work. Let’s get back on it.