Family is everything to The Nasty Beatmakers. The production duo, comprised of brothers Johnny “DJ Nasty” Mollings and Lenny Mollings, have always been surrounded by music. Growing up in Cuba, the duo’s father often played Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five around their home and the brothers along with their other siblings would pretend to be each member of the iconic family music group.
“Anything [my brothers] liked, I liked whether it was the rock group Kiss or my dad playing Bob Marley. Music was always played in our house,” Johnny Mollings tells Billboard. “It’s in our blood.”
The Nasty Beatmakers was birthed in the 90s as each brother began to make a name for themselves in their respective industries — Johnny was a rising DJ and Lenny was a bassist/keyboard player. Their pseudonym was inspired by Johnny’s DJ name (DJ Nasty) and their ability to string together “nasty beats.” The duo earned their first major placement with Fat Joe’s 2001 track “The Wild Life,” after meeting Joe through a mutual friend they shared with DJ Khaled, whom they’ve known since they were 15-years-old.
Because of their longstanding friendship with Khaled, the duo has helped the “Major Key” DJ create some of his biggest hits to date, including Khaled’s infectious “All I Do Is Win,” “Welcome to My Hood,” and the ubiquitous “Wild Thoughts.”
Billboard caught up with the “Wild Thoughts” co-producers to discuss the song’s creation, their friendship with Khaled and working with some hip-hop’s household names.
Who were some of the producers you both admired growing up?
Lenny: I can’t just name one, because I listen to every type of music from classical to rock — anything you can imagine — [which] has a lot to do with the way we produce now. We don’t have a certain style or sound because we have too many influences.
Johnny: With me, it’s a little different. My brother [Lenny] comes from a rock & roll background and I come from hip-hop. So me growing up, I got influenced by Pete Rock, DJ Premier, of course, Mantronix, who was the master of the 808… I looked at DJs as the guys controlling the sound of music and I said, “You know what? I don’t want to just DJ, I wanna do what these guys are doing, I wanna make beats.”
Since your first major placement with Fat Joe in 2001, how has your craft evolved?
Lenny: The evolution is really all about the software now. When we started, everything was analog, MPC — I’m a guitar player also — and back then that was the main source of our sound but now, it’s got all these new plugins. So as everything is evolving, we’ve just gotta evolve with it, we have no choice.
What’s the beat making process like for you both?
Johnny: It varies. Sometimes my brother will come up with a melody line with guitars or keyboards and then I’ll come and put the drums on top of it. Sometimes, I’ll just make a drum track and then he’ll come and add his magical melodies on top of it. When it comes to our creative process, I’m more of a drum programmer/sampler and he’s the band guy.
How do you know when you have a smash record on your hands?
Johnny: Well I’ve been DJing since I was 15 years old, so I’ve been in tune to music for a very long time. So I feel like when I hear something, I know instantly that it’s a smash or it has the potential to be a smash. I get calls from labels 24/7 asking for my opinions on records, so I developed that ear to know when something is going to jump off.
How’d your friendship with DJ Khaled begin?
Johnny: I met Khaled years and years ago. I was a pretty popular DJ growing up and he would come and check me out and buy my mixtapes. He would pull up to the McDonald’s drive through when I worked at McDonald’s and ask to buy a DJ Nasty mixtape. [Laughs.]
The hustle was real and from there we built a bond. We started DJing together, we formed a group called The Hitmen: me, Khaled and a guy named DJ Caesar. We just went ham and cheese in Orlando — spinning at nightclubs, ballrooms — and gained so much popularity that we ended up doing guest spots on the local radio station. He eventually moved to New Orleans, things got bad out there, and then he moved to Miami and everything else was history.
Friendship aside, what’s it like working with Khaled in the studio? What’s his work ethic like?
Lenny: Khaled is hands-on. He likes to be involved with the creative process.
Johnny: Khaled is like a “now” guy — when he calls, he wants everything right away. His hunger and passion are through the roof, so just know that when the phone rings, we gotta work right now. It’s very cool working with him. I call him a genius because he has these great ideas, and comes up with these massive songs, and it’s not easy to do.
Lenny: He knows we can come to the table with the good stuff, so that’s the main reason we get the first call, because he knows what we’re capable of. We always deliver.
You both helped create one of Khaled’s biggest hits, “All I Do Is Win.” How’d that collaboration come about?
Johnny: My brother and I were in the lab making the record and as soon as we made it, we were like, “Damn, this shit sounds crazy.” We had never done a single with Khaled, so we had a lot of ideas flowing in our heads and we already had artists in mind for the track — like Ludacris — but we wanted to send it to Khaled.
Once we sent it to him, he was like “Yo, don’t play that beat for nobody else.” As soon as he played me the song with T-Pain on it, I went crazy because I had never heard a beat that had a pause in the middle. He had created the pause on the track where it goes “Everybody hands go up,” and I was like, “Where’d the beat go?”
Now for his most recent hit, “Wild Thoughts,” how did you guys end up working on the track?
Johnny: That song was all Khaled’s idea. He was the brainchild behind that song. Khaled wanted to flip Carlos Santana’s “Maria, Maria” for quite a while, but he was just waiting for the right moment. When he was finally ready to do it, he gave us a call and said “Yo, I have a record I want to redo,” and it came out amazing. We just appreciate that he called us once again to be the guys to put it together with him. He knows Lenny as a drummer/guitar/keyboard player.
Lenny: And we’re Spanish, so it was even easier for us to bring that Latin vibe to it. It was a no-brainer.
How long did it take to create the song?
Lenny: It came together pretty quickly. We probably spent a few hours on it actually. I take a lot of pride in recording and wanted to do the guitars and everything right.
Did you guys experience any hiccups when trying to obtain the sample?
Lenny: Sometimes when you sample a record, it depends on the artist — and the great thing about Khaled is if someone thinks he’s going to clear it, he’s going to make sure it’s cleared. It’s kind of hard to deny Khaled a sample.
On “Wild Thoughts,” you guys kept the essence of the original but still gave the song a timely rework. Why was it important to keep the track as close to the original as possible?
Lenny: Keeping the Latin vibe was one thing, but we still wanted to make the sound relevant, especially sonically. So we made sure the drums hit hard, and that all the sounds were big enough — like, I had to play the guitar line.
Johnny: We sent a couple passes to Khaled, but he said “Nah,” because he wanted to make sure it had the original vibe to it to keep its authenticity.
What else are you guys working on?
Johnny: Trying to develop new talent. Also, we’re looking for new producers to expand The Nasty Beatmakers, because we manage producers as well. It’s showtime.
Are there any artists you’d like to work with?
Lenny: I want to work with The Weeknd. I have some stuff for him. Everything he does is different and I just like what he’s doing.