If you have even a cursory interest in hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and/or hi-top fades, chances are you’ve heard about Canadian dark R&B mega-sensation the Weeknd. You are also probably aware that the main man behind the project is a 22-year-old ex-American Apparel employee named Abel Tesfaye. He’s done very well for himself in a very short period of time—becoming BBFs with Drake, securing an upcoming 2012 Coachella performance, and remixing a Lady Gaga song within a year of his free mixtape debut House of Balloons.
The tidal wave of hype that has been building over the last 12 months began with the release of three songs: "What You Need," "Loft Music" and “The Morning (Original Version).” Discerning listeners might remember that the production of these standout tracks was originally credited to a guy named Jeremy Rose, who has since parted ways with Abel. Yet, until now, no one knew the full story of why and how the split happened.
The handful of Weeknd fans and music journalists who have followed the story have only been able to discern that “creative differences” were to blame, Jeremy is now producing under the moniker Zodiac, and that all mentions of his name had been scrubbed from the final version of House of Balloons. Recently, Jeremy decided to set the record straight, and the facts ain’t pretty. After our interview, I attempted to reach out to Abel to see if he had anything to add to the discourse. A member of his crew who goes by the name “XO” got back to me via Facebook, claiming that Abel had “no comment.”
VICE: What’s your backstory? When did you start making music?
Jeremy Rose: I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and lived around Nova Scotia, mostly Dartmouth, until I was ten. It’s kind of a shitty town, so my parents, my brother, and me moved to Chatham, Ontario. I lived there until I was about 21. Chatham is a small town surrounded by cornfields. Nothing to do. Lots of drug use. Teen moms. Stuff like that. The music scene there was just kids playing screamo shit. I didn’t really fit in, so that’s why I got out. Then I moved to Toronto. I had some intentions of doing music out here, but I’ve always been a slow worker. I really take my time with it.
How did you first meet Abel?
My girlfriend was working at Poutini’s [a poutine spot in Toronto, obviously] and I used to hang out with a couple of these Australian guys that worked there. That’s where I met Abel, he was hanging out at their house. I was showing them some things in Ableton, because they were interested in that stuff and I was playing the beat for “What You Need.” I had that thing for a couple years and I didn’t know what to do with it. Anyway, Abel was there and he started free-styling on top of it.
So that was the impetus of the Weeknd?
Yeah, that’s when I asked him if he wanted to work on something—I had this idea for a dark R&B project. I think I talked to Curtis Santiago [aka Talwst, local Toronto R&B dude] about it, but he wasn’t really what I was looking for because he was on some other thing. Abel seemed to suit the project.
And would it be fair to say that you basically conceptualized the Weeknd’s sound. Because the first three songs that leaked were “What You Need,” “Loft Music,” and— “The Morning,” the original version that didn’t make it onto House of Balloons. Which is much slower than the version that wound up on the mixtape.
Yeah, it’s slowed down and has a layered backwards beat on top of a forward beat, so it’s funky that way. The version that you get on House of Balloons wasn’t me. It was whoever, Doc or Illangelo [the officially credited and highly publicized producers of House of Balloons].
Just so we’re crystal clear: The first three songs released by the Weeknd, which Drake posted to his blog, all feature your production.
And those are the first three tracks that initially got the Weeknd recognized by outlets like the New York Times and Pitchfork.
You also produced “The Party & The After Party,” correct?
Yeah, but originally it was just “The Party,” which is the first half of the song. The second half of the song is where it gets all..
Dark and weird.
Yeah, and slows down and everything? That wasn’t made by me. That was tacked on afterward by somebody else, which I was kind of pissed off about, because, that’s not very cool. But whatever, that’s that.
Right. When you two first met, was Abel’s creative direction heading in the same direction it has been over the past year?
No. When I met him I heard some of the stuff that he was doing. It was called the Noise. Remember that? It came out after he broke. It was this group, with him and another producer and it was called the Noise. They were a straight kind of R&B, just really light and kind of candlelight… [sings] “I wanna see you in your birthday suit”… And I was just like, “Aw, fuck that shit. No man, let’s talk about, fuckin’ and getting too high and trying to fuck bitches and it not working out. Let’s get really grimy about it.
Do you feel like Abel’s lyrical content changed in line with the production? In other words, he wasn’t talking about fuckin’ and suckin’ and getting ripped until shortly after you met him?
He had a lot of stuff written. He always had something written in his Blackberry or something. I’m not saying he was a really light guy or anything like that. He had [the writing] in there, but a lot of it was in the form of raps.
And obviously he’s not a rapper.
He can rap. I produced the entirety of an album, but it wasn’t really going in a good direction so we scrapped most of it. He rapped on about a third of it.
What was your personal relationship like with Abel during this period? Would you say you were friends?
We were just trying to work on music. We were also partying a lot. We became pretty good friends, hanging out every day. At first it was working pretty well, but then I don’t know if it was a change in his heart or the people around Abel trying to guide him, but he was starting to push for doing club tracks and I didn’t really want to [do that]. We started as a group; it was he and I, and we called ourselves “The Weekend.” I came up with that name, by the way.
How did the “e” get dropped?
Well, I left. He dropped the “e.” But he was pushing for some things I didn’t want to do, and it got to the point where he wouldn’t respect my opinion. He wanted me to produce for him without any of my input. And I was like, “Well then, what’s the point of being a group?” and he was like, “You can just be my producer,” and I said, “Are you going to pay me?” Then [I realized he was] not going to pay me. That’s why I backed out. I was like, “You can have those three or four tracks, I’ll give you the stems, just take ’em, But I don’t want to work with you anymore.” I was really congenial about it, but I told him, “Just make sure that you give me credit,” and that’s where things went sour.
And, of course, that’s when things exploded and bloggers started writinga bout the music.
We knew that it was getting around to some of the smaller blogs and stuff, and just as I backed out, Drake threw up the tracks. Then the New York Times article and everything else started blowing up. I was like, “Fuck.” It started popping off. I sent him an email: “Remember! Give me credit!”
Did Abel respond?
No. I’ve never heard from him since I told him I didn’t want to work with him anymore.
If you Google around a bit, there are certain blogs that do give you credit—the early adopters, I guess.
Yeah, but that’s because they were the ones who were [up on us immediately]. It was Jeremy Rose and Abel Tesfaye. It took a long time for it to turn around because it was all word of mouth. To the early blogs, I was still part of the group. But then when the New York Times and all the big guys started covering it—
They were writing about it like it was some mysterious project, like Daft Punk or something. “Who is the Weeknd?”
It was just Abel and his tracks...
Yeah and this hot-shit unknown producer. A lot of people started claiming that 40 [Drake’s engineer] was making the beats.
Did that piss you off?
I was flattered that I was being compared to 40, but at the same time, I wasn’t getting any recognition! I didn’t want to go out of my way and be like, “No! I did it!” because I feel like that would have looked bad. So I was pretty quiet about it.
Were your friends and other people around you encouraging you to say something? To call him out?
Oh, yeah. Everybody around me knew what was going on and thought it was bullshit. But I was just trying to take the higher ground because they [Abel and his people] were being bitches about it. I wasn’t even going to get into it.
Has Drake ever contacted you about anything? Has he ever acknowledged your existence and input?
He knows. I heard that he knows I’m around, and I heard through my manager that 40’s manager really likes my shit. I hear that from a lot of people, other producers...
Yeah, but what does that mean at the end of the day?
What does it mean? Fuckin’ give me money [laughs].
So you haven’t received a cent from anything the Weeknd has released?
No, not yet. We’ll work on it.
Photo by Kavin Wong.