“Dave sent me the Ruff Sqwad sample.” [Smiling]. He was like…yeah man, do your magic on this, he gave me an insight as to how he wanted it to sound, but he already knew that I knew…‘cus we were on the same page. We knew how this needed to sound. Then when AJ got on it, that’s when I was like yeah, this is gonna be proper, proper man.”
It’s mid-July and the heat is on in the capital. Tyrell, better known by his inconspicuous ‘169’-producer tag, is slouched sideways in the conductors’ chair. We’re in Fraser T Smiths’ West London studio spaceship. The lights are dim, an aura of greatness lingers, plaques hug the walls and No.1 single/album awards stand firmly in the absence of their devisors. Adele, Amy Winehouse, Stormzy, to name a few. 169 wraps up the chronicle of the making of recently reignited Thiago Silva, “Big up to Dave for even performing that, at Glastonbury, cus it’s still quite an old song, and its Glastonbury, that’s the big moment, so yeah man.”
It’s been an impregnable couple of years for the South London native. With production for everyone from Craig David to Headie One, a UK No.1 rap record with ‘Funky Friday’, countless engineering and mixing credits, not to mention, his own singles and EP release. He’s in full motion and the energy is clean. Nothing about his demeaner, his words, his work, depict trouble. “I don’t wanna turn down any opportunities man, and that’s just the best way, I think, to navigate, in this industry, just pushing forward…” he begins. “I don’t go in with every and anyone. You gotta be choosy, but at the same time don’t be too picky because you know, that person that you turned down could be the next biggest artist off that one song that someone else may have thought wasn’t it…”
…But you can hear the sound, you can hear the vision.
Music, undeniably in his bloodstream before birth, with the industry involvement of his father to the seemingly destined multi-track recording keyboard in his family home, inevitably culminated into the man sat before me, steering a culture’s sound. “Reggae was the biggest sound in my house. Beres Hammond, Barrington Levi, I make sure that’s still in my rotation.” Describing his early relationship with music before recounting those small yet indispensable steps into creativity…“Then I was like, let me try and make my own music, so I switched up from the keyboard and went onto FL Studio. I thought… this could be something if I keep working at it. I met a couple guys from school who had the same mindset, same vision, and it just continued going throughout school, literally.”
Despite the early musical upbringing, the idea of production being a worthwhile pursuit wasn’t always the mentality for 169. By aged 18 however, following the making of ‘Thiago Silva’ during Sixth Form, both him and by that time, frequent collaborator, Dave, were ready to take it to the next level. “We both have a friend in common called Kyle Evans…” speaking on the foundations of his relationship with UK golden boy Dave. “You’ve probably seen his name around; he’s producing with Dave now as well. We used to go to the same primary school, then he went onto a different secondary school but we still kept in touch. We’d link up after school… but Kyle introduced me to Dave. He was like ‘yo this guys a serious rapper, you need to link up with him.’ By these times, he had a couple of videos out in the streets so people kind of saw what he was about, so we tried something. Initially, it didn’t really work out, but you know, what does innit?”
“He was a huge influence on me. It was highly collaborative between him and me. He was the first artist I met up and worked with properly. So we were kinda developing the sound together. It wasn’t like I brought all of me and he brought all of him. We’re tryna merge something special. We made it something unique.”
Enter the breakthrough. It’s September 2016. Fresh out of Sixth Form both 169 and Dave found themselves at a crossroads, seeking jobs and apprenticeships, wondering what’s next. Dave, following the release of ‘JKYL+HYD” a few months prior, drops his first full-length project, ‘Six Paths’, a six track EP, co-produced by 169 and Fraser T, blueprinting his musical ability, mature perspectives and all-around willingness. The following month, ‘Wanna Know’, the fifth track on the EP, is picked up, remixed and dropped by none other than October’s Very Own. The rest, as they say… “It was almost like a miracle. Literally like, God working in mysterious ways.” 169 recalls the emotions, his tone lifting and his excitement perpetuated. “Out of nowhere Drake jumps on a track that you produced in your bedroom, Dave’s on it. Everyone’s eating, your family, your bros, so it was that moment I knew it, like yeah this is going to be something serious. The next day, Fraser called me, ‘cus we’d already been talking and working on Dave’s project. He called me and said; ‘yeah I want to offer you a publishing deal’. Contracts came through, then yeah, this is me now, this is my career.” His expressions are gleefully youthful as I ask if they expected the track to do what it did. “We thought it would be big, but we didn’t think it would catch the likes of Drake. [Grinning]. At that time, I think we were the first to get a Drake feature in the UK. One of the first innit? So it was a complete shock to all of us. Then it actually happened, like literally, honestly, it brought tears to my eyes man because that’s a life changing moment, serious ting.”
Fast-forward to 2018 and the duo have created a palette of colourful, chrome-plated bangers. However, arguably the most prominent would be that of ‘Funky Friday’, Dave ft Fredo. Not only was this Dave’s first No.1 record, but also the first pure UK Rap Record to debut at No.1 in the charts. 169 speaks on the records conception somewhat modestly. “That was very much a big collaboration between me and Dave and making sure it sounded exactly how he wanted it to sound. It was very much so his idea initially and he came to me ‘cus he knew I could get it to a point where it could commercially, be something sick. So it, for me, ‘Funky Friday’, as much as it’s a big song, a No.1 tune, I’d say, it was just something to show people that I am here, I’m about, we are around, we’ve been collaborating for a long time and its gonna be like that for a long time and yeah man, it was a moment.”
“Getting the No.1 was important to me because it showed me, that I am capable of big things.” Molly, his manager walks in and is greeted warmly, he apologises and continues…”Producing on a mass level. This is something I can take international, this is real, this is no game. Big up Dave, really appreciate everything he’s brought me into. That’s my brother right there, for real.”
Whilst maintained, the air of humility is quickly overshadowed with a voice of confidence, mastery, when quizzed on the ability to encapsulate culture into sonic form. His motivations speak loud enough for his ambition.
To a certain extent, I feel like at the time we came up, UK music was not where it is now. Now I feel like we’re at the top, we set the sound.
“I just love making music, and anything that sounds good…” he expands, “there’s no other motivation for it man. I just open my laptop and its however I’m feeling, I just get on it. And just that drive to push the envelope, like what’s new? What’s hot? What’s not been heard yet? How can I improve on it? How can I incorporate different elements? Let’s say like, Gunna, his Atlanta sound, everything they’re doing right now, how can I add drill to that? How can drill be bigger than it is now? Why is it not as big as it could be? Those are the questions you have to ask when you’re about to make a beat or when you’re in a certain room with a certain person.” His response echoes that of Headie’s when speaking on the experimental approach to genre blending and sounds. Headie of course, being no stranger to experimentation, lays a drill flow on a trap beat or vice versa, not to mention his most recent effort, ‘Both’, a certified banger sampling 90s dance singer Ultra Nate. Thus our conversation flows to none other than the track that kick-started 2019, ’18HUNNA’.
“[Laughing]. That beat, I actually made it for myself to go over. Then I realised this is not my tempo… its very different. So I just had it as a beat, somebody could do damage to this right now. So we got in with Headie One, happily. ‘Cus you know at the time he was quite in demand, everyone wanted to work with him but we made it happen, we got in. I played him a couple of beats. Upon meeting him at first, he wasn’t really the most social person, but when he heard that beat, lit up, changed the whole vibe, and he wrote it in like 10 minutes. It was crazy. Crazy! He knew it was something special, something different. Dave loved it when he heard it. He was in the next room with Fraser. I was in here with Headie. Back to back in rooms at the same time, it was crazy.”
So whilst 169 productions continue to dominate playlists, the artist is also developing a strong prominence. ‘Seasons’, his debut EP released last year prefigures 169 as a future contemporary R&B star. The moody project withstands the erosive, bass-heavy glacial nature of ‘By Your Side’ ft Tekks Sinatra to the tropical intensity of ‘Squeeze’. “For me, being an artist was always there, that’s how I started…” he begins calmly, as we begin discussing both his and his peers artistry. “I would do anything. I will mix, I’ll produce, I’ll record, I’ll do everything I’ll sing, I’ll write, its cool. I’m always gonna take each and everyone of those things to the next level.”
“I had a sound that was special and could be developed. I wanted there to be a start point for people to hear the journey, like yeah he’s here now but where’s he going to be in the next three years? How’s he gonna sound there, and what’s he gonna be going through. It’s me documenting my life.”
I challenge him as to his ability to balance a potentially contradictory existence in both production and artistry. His response is simple, unravelling. “PARTYNEXTDOOR showed me it can be done. He wrote ‘Work’, at the same time he’s got a song with Drake, ‘Recognize’. He’s got his own EP out. If people wanna push you to be the biggest artist in the world then you will be, but if not, you can still be the guy with a large following that’s making music people love. For me that’s equally as good. It can work out man, it just needs to be executed properly.”
Producing I’m tryna be the best. Singing, artistry, I’m tryna’ be the best. If one overtakes the other, then I guess that’s fate, that’s Gods plan.
To be conducting the UK’s sound, amongst other noteworthy UK producers mentioned including Nyge, iO, Banglez, to name a few, at such a young age, speaks volumes for 169’s musical dexterity, but also his connection to culture. He identified and captured a sound, before catapulting it internationally. “The production game, initially, is where things started to pop off, it was very much all afrobeats, which is all good, ‘cus you know that’s the sound, that’s the UK sound, nobody can take that from us now, but I’d say now, its moving towards trap, a bit more of the Atlanta sound, and its gonna shine through. You’re going to see people like M Huncho become the biggest, or guys like UKNWN and INFAMOUSIZAK (Who is featured on his most recent record, Shine) …” making his predictions for future waves.
As our studio time concludes, 169’s ambitions for the forthcoming years are clearly mapped out, from continuing to top the charts, developing his music, more international collaboration, more live shows and of course, high up on the agenda, cracking America. His energy is focused; his mind is set and his parting words, something to live by.
“Energy is something that’s real, its out there, you can feed of it. Music is always that thing that brings it out, and changes the vibe, the mood. And even for me myself, energy is important to keep positive. This industry can get mentally taxing, so you always have to be positive and try and keep your head straight.”