_Photo by Genaro Magana _
When most seventeen-year-olds were skipping fourth-period gym class for more free hang out time, Francis NguyenTran—a.k.a FrancisGotHeat—was busy sending music to Drake. In October 2014, FrancisGotHeat sent one particular track to Oliver El-Khatib, Drake's manager and OVO founder. "I had been sending Oliver beats through my manager at the time, who knew him from the music scene in Toronto," Francis said. "I kept emailing him my stuff and then he listened to this one track and said, 'I like that. Hold it.'"
So he did—and that beat would appear on "4422", the Sampha sung tune on Drake's latest, More Life. The multi-instrumentalist Toronto native, who now splits his time between the budding city and Los Angeles, spent the wake of Drake's highly anticipated album release unbeknownst of his place on the 22 track lineup. Three years later, the song he had virtually forgotten about was resurrected to appear on More Life.
As an entrancing, melodic ballad, "4422" nests cozily amidst a heterogeneity of sounds, permanently cementing the young producer into More Life's cultural mosaic. Sampha's voice dances atop a soft piano, while a faint, percussive beat is interpolated periodically by a synthesizer-cum_-wind instrument and a swirling vocal recording. "4422" is beautiful in its pensive melancholy and FrancisGotHeat's presence as the producer symbolically interjects just the right dose of "Toronto" into its genetic makeup. _More Life's sound may reach the farthest depths of the world, but at its core, feels very close to home.
FrancisGotHeat's talent stems from his musical upbringing. His parents, who both moved to Canada from Vietnam, were also musicians. With his father as a guitarist and his mother a singer, Francis' impeccable ear, creativity, and versatility as an artist lends to his early influences and musical training in formative years. At three years-old, he began piano lessons, which eventually evolved to violin, percussion, and saxophone. "I grew up listening to whatever [my parents] listened to, which was a lot of jazz and classical music," he said. "Plus, some Vietnamese tracks as well."
When I talk to Francis, who is now 20 years-old, it is 7 PM in Los Angeles and he has just come home from a long day working in the studio with friend and fellow music producer, Rex Kudo. In stark juxtaposition, he has gone from being a young teenager who—like every wet-behind-the-ears aspiring producer—was buoyantly uploading beats to Youtube and Soundcloud to creating music for some of the biggest names in the industry. "I've been producing, technically, since I was 13, so like seven years now. I was always just making beats and putting them online and people started really liking them," he says. "I guess I didn't officially get into the industry until 2013 when I got my first album placement with Tre Mission."
After dropping over twelve tracks in the past year alone, for an impressive roster of artists including Big Sean, Eminem, Ab Soul, Isaiah Rashad and Roy Woods, his compositions have gradually grown to be more nuanced, and his recognition more fruitful. He has added hip-hop and trap to his repertoire, deviating from his reputation as the strictly R&B producer he came into the industry as four years ago. "I don't want to pull away from R&B," he explains. "I just want to more than that. I want to do a little bit of every [genre], because I like everything."
The FaceTime audio screen buffers momentarily, but despite poor connection, Francis 'message is undeniably clear. "Well, I always knew I could be something big," he states playfully. His humble persona dilutes the would-be boastful assertion. When asked about his goals for the future, he promptly replies that he has his mind set on winning a Grammy. "I don't know what for yet…I don't have anything that deserves a grammy," he laughs. "But, one day I will."
NOISEY: I read something you had tweeted after the album came out, and you wrote, "I remember two years ago I was cheesed I didn't make the cut for _If You're Reading This It's Too Late_**. Now mans have a Sampha record." What does it mean to be a part of this particular album?** FrancisGotHeat: I mean, it's just crazy. It's a crazy moment I think for everyone, but especially for me because I remember being younger and just working, trying so hard to get on a Drake track. Just to see all of that effort pay off, was amazing. Plus people really love the album.
So, were you supposed to be on IIYRTITL?
I was just trying to get on it. The way it works is that you never really know with [OVO] and whether or not you're going to be on the album. It's always a surprise. Honestly, I didn't even think anything would come from this track. Because after the first year of waiting you're like, "you know what, it's not going to end up happening. They probably got hundreds of more tracks." It's really competitive.
When did you find out you were going to be on More Life?
I found about 2 weeks before the album dropped. A friend called me saying that 40 wanted to link with me today, so I went and met him at his studio in Toronto. It was just me and 40. We talked for a bit. He told me Sampha was on it and then he showed me the track. I was just sitting there taking it all in.
That's a pretty special moment. So there was no back and forth between you Drake and Sampha about whether anything needed to be added or changed, production wise?
I wasn't there when Sampha was recording it, so I'm not sure how that conversation went. I pretty much just heard the finished product. It's crazy how three people can make a song and not even be in the room together.
Was the original song altered when it was first sent over to Drake?
No, actually. Everything is still the same.
That's interesting because I listened to Process, which came out the beginning of last month and I thought it was incredible. After listening to his album and then listening to "4422", you can draw parallels in sound. It really was a perfect fit for him.
Yeah, I agree. I'm not sure if Sampha heard the beat and then was like "Yo lemme do a thing" or how it actually happened. I am also a fan of Sampha's music to begin with. Everyone's saying I need to send him more beats and work with him. I have to do that, for sure.
The last time we spoke you described your sound as "moving, emotional, and musical." How important is musicality in your compositions?
(Laughs) Yeah, I don't know if that's the perfect way to describe it, but I don't know how else to. Musicality is really important to me. It's definitely the biggest tool I use to separate myself from everyone.
Well, "4422" is just that. It's really moving. It is emotional, it is musical. The instruments have a huge presence in the song. I found this interesting because you have a classical music background and this track was made during a time when you were studying it heavily because of school.
I mean, now I don't really listen to classical music at all anymore, but my training and background was in that. I played a lot of the [instruments] in "4422" by hand. Also, at the time, Oliver was asking me specifically for songs for Drake that sounded like that. You know, ones that were very musical, minimal drums, that kind of thing.
How has the reception been so far?
Oh man, it's been amazing. Everyone's been showing me mad love. I see people posting it on their Snapchat and Instagram stories and shit. It also has really good reviews. People really loved the Sampha track.
Andrea listens to "4422" on rainy days and gazes out the window, pretending she's in a music video. Follow her on Twitter.