Samo Sound Boy (Sam Griesemer) and Jerome LOL (Jerome Potter) of DJDS — the dance DJ duo formerly known as DJ Dodger Stadium — slacked on sleep for a month after receiving multiple messages from Kanye West‘s camp inviting them to work on the rapper’s seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo.
Despite the seemingly sporadic album rollout, Pablo has been largely praised by timelines for its cocktail of soulful sounds, entertaining samples and collaborative feel. DJDS, who admitted to Billboard that they had never collaborated with an artist prior to their sessions with ‘Ye, locked in production credits for five tracks: “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Fade,” “Low Lights” and “Freestyle 4.”
Here, the pair praise Kanye’s creative genius and why holing up in his studio ’til “4 or 5 in the morning” was well worth it.
Billboard: How did Kanye West reach out?
Samo Sound Boy: A bunch of different people from his team just reached out on Facebook, Twitter DM, and it basically said Kanye West requests your presence tomorrow. We were really excited and kind of curious and then we heard he was interested in one of our older songs and so we’re like, ‘Oh he probably wants to sample one of our songs.’ But then we went out to meet with him and he was interested in having us do more work for the album. Things just kind of happened really quickly and we basically spent the next three weeks straight just working on all sorts of stuff for his new album.
What was the vibe you both got from Kanye from that initial conversation in-person?
Samo: He kind of explained what he was going for with this album, the gospel nature of it. The stuff that he had liked of ours, we could tell that it made sense. There was crossover there in terms of the way we were using old soul samples and gospel elements on our own stuff…. He was like, can I just block you guys off for a couple of weeks to help me get this thing done?
Jerome LOL: Immediately we said, of course. He’s really focused on creative energy. Everything was about creative and positive energy. It was really a presence to be around. We felt like we really understood where the project was coming from and the passion that was surrounding it.
Post Malone — who appeared on a song you worked on called “Fade” — described working with Kanye as the “scariest experience ever.” Can you two relate?
Samo: [Laughs] Yeah, definitely. He’s the best.
Jerome: It was nerve-wracking more than scary and it was mentally humbling to even be there. Once we had that conversation, realizing his creative energy and how we think of music in similar ways, it kind of grounded everything.
Samo: Yeah, from both of us, he’s one of the more passionate people we’ve ever been around. When you do something that he isn’t crazy about, he’ll just let you know really bluntly but on the flip side, when you do something that he likes, he’ll kind of praise it to no end in front of everyone else in the room. It’s cool.
Jerome: He’s been one of our biggest inspirations — our sampling style is directly influenced by his old production. I mean everything from [Twista‘s West-produced 2004 single] “Overnight Celebrity” to “Hold My Liquor.” I think Kanye West has the best ear in the music industry. He knows exactly what he’s looking for.
You placed five songs on The Life of Pablo. Which came first?
Samo: Everything was being worked on at the same time — it wasn’t a really systematic way. Everything was being added to and worked on by everyone there every single day. We were working on everything at once.
Which collaboration do you hold closest to your heart?
Samo: For me, “Ultralight Beam” was really cool. It was one of the ones that really came together from scratch in the last couple weeks before the album came out and we kind of got to lay down the foundation for that with Mike Dean, who’s Kanye’s longtime right-hand man and also does a million other things on his own. He’s just somebody we love and we were in awe of getting to work with so that one, being able to kind of form the root of that one together with him was pretty cool for us.
Jerome: I think for me as well, to see that kind of come into fruition — just the message and the positivity. It’s such a powerful song, powerful message and everyone’s on it — Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Kanye of course, Mike Dean, The-Dream — that’s a dear song to my heart.
Samo: On that one too, the Chance part is so cool. His verse is amazing on that and it’s kinda cool to see him given that opportunity to have such a big verse on the first song of a Kanye West album, just absolutely smash it out of the park.
Was Chance a last-minute addition?
Samo: We don’t exactly know but we know that Kanye is such a huge fan of Chance and they have a mutual admiration and respect for each other, which I think [Chance] was really excited about.
Jerome: And they brought out Donnie Trumpet — Chance’s friend from the Social Experiment — and we were pretty lucky to watch him play the trumpet. It’s a pretty remarkable experience. He’s a fantastic musician. Kanye gives a lot of people an opportunity to try stuff out on tracks, whether it’s verses or production, then it’s like a lot of stuff gets auditioned and then the best stuff sticks. A lot of people did record for that and [Chance] really got it.
Coming out of Kanye’s creative process, is there anything you’ve taken from him for your own work ethic? Is there another artist in the hip-hop sphere you hope to work with?
Jerome: I mean being there and producing in this capacity — Sam and I have never had to work on other people’s projects, we’ve only produced stuff for ourselves and our own work. It definitely expanded our minds and we learned so much. Watching Mike Dean produce and being collaborative with him, even talking to him is so inspiring. We really did learn a lot and as far as working with other people, we keep talking about Chance but he’s so talented, he has great energy; positive person.
Samo: Yeah, we would definitely like to do more stuff with [Chance]. It’d be really cool. I’m sure other people have told you this too but one cool thing we realized about Kanye, like right off the bat from the first time we met him, he really seeks out, wants to know what other people are thinking. He’s really kind of this incredible curator, collaborator and producer in that way.
Jerome: He’s really striving for the best work — he wants people to perform at their best.
Samo: Yeah, he doesn’t settle. Even if he hears something that he probably knows is perfect, he’ll still want to hear it five different ways before he says it’s the one. That’s what’s so cool about him. He’s interested in different perspectives. It’s just cool that somebody who’s on that level asks so many other people what they think all the time.
What was the longest session?
Samo: We basically stopped sleeping for a month. [Laughs] We’d be there until 4 or 5 in the morning a lot of time but I mean, everybody was. [Kanye] was the one who was sleeping less than anybody.
Jerome: It’s such an inspiring work ethic and a creative energy throughout the entire project that you don’t want to leave. You want to be able to aid in any way possible. We kept our minds open throughout the process.