SykSense, left, and Ducko McFli, right
The other day, Drake put out a song called "Draft Day," and now you know the deal: People either love Drake or he's become an eternal punchline for all their jokes. Debates about the song quickly flared up on Twitter, as people talked about its apparent jabs at Jay Z, Drake's relationship with Johnny "Johnny Football" Manziel, and the ridiculous Sprite endorsement name-drop (basically, Drake says he can't order a hit on someone because he's on Sprite's payroll). But above all, I heard one refrain: “That beat is absolutely fire.”
I first listened to "Draft Day" yesterday morning, and right away I agreed. Before the song was halfway through playing, I hit replay just to hear the Lauryn Hill "Doo Wop" sample pop through my monitors again. I needed to know who the fuck produced this song. I’m typically the first guy to malign any new Drake single, but this time I heard something different. Since it was a Drake song that was all over the Internet, it only took me 15 seconds to find out who the genius was behind the production. In this case, it was three geniuses, working in concert: Ducko McFli, SykSense, and Boi-1da.
Dude. I know Ducko McFli, and I know him well. We're friends. We met two years ago through our mutual friend Jordan Kelley, who called Ducko "the best producer I know. Period." Jordan's band Cherub is basically the hottest new thing out of Nashville, and here a cosign from him might as well be a baptism from Pope Francis himself. That said, Nashville is not a rap town. We’re known for country music. If you walk into Cafe Coco at the right time, you might see the Patron Saint of Putting Her Ex On Blast herself, Taylor Swift. Homogeneous country music is the narrative, so doing anything else outside that storyline means you’re ice skating uphill.
And I personally know how real Ducko's struggle in music has been. Three months ago, we shared a heartfelt conversation during the first round of the NFL playoffs. He was lamenting how he had to sell his studio equipment to pay his bills. He was dejected and heartbroken. He explained to me how he had spent all his money on gas, driving to and from Atlanta, just trying to put his music in front of the right ears. Fast forward three months, and suddenly he's on a Drake song. I was floored. Tears welled up in my eyes.
So, naturally, I had to call Ducko to ask about the beat. He was with his co-producer, SykSense—not a surprise, since they’re roommates, and, as I hadn't known but soon learned, have started mostly working together under the joint name The Fam. Ducko and SykSense live together in an attic apartment above a barbershop in East Nashville, a place Ducko chose because he could be as loud as he wanted at night, and no one would care. Whenever I stop in, I know I’ll be greeted by his friendly little pit bull, the faint smell of marijuana, and bass pulsing through the walls of his DIY studio.
"That was just a time in my life when everything was perfect," SykSense said about the decision to sample Lauryn Hill. "The late 90s, you know? That was the moment. I remember my mom taking me to school, and it was on the radio all the time. That record meant a lot to me. The part I sampled, that the one point in the breakdown where it always said something to me. It spoke to me."
"He played it to me, and I was like, ‘What the fuck? Why hasn’t anyone done this?’" Ducko added. "It’s that ‘perfect age sample’." As for how the song made its way to Drake, the credit lies with Boi-1da, Syk explained, describing Boi-1da as "a major part in this." Syk's been friends with Boi-1da since 2010, and the Toronto producer has taken Syk and Ducko under his wing like family, helping them improve.
“Boi-1da just makes us better," Ducko said. "He can take what we do, and put it onto the next level.”
"We made that beat on the 18th of March, and it was a big surprise when Boi-1da really loved it and said it was great," Syk explained. "He sent it back to us after he did a lot of the drums. The next thing we know, it’s 4 or 5 AM, and we heard a clip with Drake rapping on it.”
Ducko was asleep when the song dropped, and Syk woke him up to share it. He described the sensation of finding out about it, explaining, "Drake rapping on the beat was literally what I woke up to. He shoved a phone in my face. I thought it was a double dream. It didn’t feel real. I thought I woke up from a dream in another dream, like some Inception shit. It was a double dream. I can’t explain how it feels to hear something like that. Shane, I mean, you know my son. This is the only thing that has ever had a similar feeling to having a son. That joy. That feeling of accomplishment. Feeling proud. All those thoughts go into my head.”
"When I heard it, I had to catch up with myself," Syk added. "I was microwaving burgers in the kitchen, and I literally dropped my food down on the floor. I felt like a big weight lifted off my chest. I felt like we did it. It’s always been a goal to work with someone like Drake, and that’s why we started working with Boi-1da.”
I asked what happens next. Ducko paused, then thoughtfully responded, “We’re not trying to repeat what we just did. The goal right now is just to continue making good music, and show consistency with the music we create together. We have a lot of other records in play right now, with lots of other artists. I mean, Shane, you have to remember who I am here. This is two broke guys, driving back and forth from Nashville to Atlanta. I mean, seriously nigga, I’ve got bullet holes in my car." (I hung out with them later that night, and I can confirm this.)
"I’ve sold everything I could sell," he continued. "We’ve had like $2 in our pockets, for like two months, just for this moment. This is what we’ve been working for. Now we can finally continue working, the way we want to work. Two days ago, we were two regular dudes. Well, not really. We were broke dudes, in Nashville. Now we have one of the biggest records in the country."
I've been listening to Ducko's beats for years, and it definitely feels like something changed in the last few months. He and Syk suggested that working together is what's really helped elevate their craft. The two click mentally, and the chemistry, Ducko explained, is starting to come across. Also, they began to evaluate themselves more honestly.
"When you’re a young producer, you can be brash," Ducko said. "You always think your shit is the hottest. You think every beat is fire. You start believing your own Twitter propaganda, and it gets cloudy. When Syk and I got honest about where we were, we knew we’d have to get humble. That was hard, honestly. I had to learn to embrace my flaws as a producer, and address those." One thing that helped was Boi-1da's mentorship, Syk said. Even though it was sometimes demoralizing to hear the critiques the superproducer had to offer, the duo took them to heart. And finally things came together.
"That’s why I love the metaphor of ‘Draft Day’," Syk said. "This is our draft day … This is when we go from amateurs into the pros. We put in our hard work. We’re those guys who didn’t quite run the 40 fast enough, and maybe some scout found out about our marijuana use."
"We know Nashville isn’t known as a hip-hop town," Ducko said. "This is ‘Country Music City’ to everyone outside here. It’s just ‘Music City’ to us, though."
"On the outside, people expect white guys with highlighted hair and ripped jeans and acoustic guitars," Syk added. "It’s like being that player from a spread offense or something. No one is looking at you, because they’ve written you off as something else in another system. But in the meantime, we hired the right coach to make us better. That’s Boi-1da to us. He was the coach who didn’t care what ‘school’ we went to, you know? He wanted to take our raw ability and make us better. Then, Drake saw our talent, and he drafted us, metaphorically speaking."
Sometimes in life, it pays to be a late round draft pick. You’re in the wrong city, in the wrong system, and because of that, you end up slipping down the draft board because no one wants to take a risk on you. Eventually, a winning team sees you for what you really are, and allows you a moment to shine when surrounded by their talent. Welcome to the pros, fellas.
Shane Morris is a fourth-round draft pick, tops. He's on Twitter - @IamShaneMorris
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