It's been a banner year for 24-year-old producer Jahaan Sweet. Sure, he was first quietly introduced to us back in 2015 as co-writer and co-producer of Kehlani's Grammy-nominated mixtape You Should Be Here (and again for going behind the boards on Ty Dolla $ign's own Campaign mixtape last year). But it was over the last several months that he nabbed his first platinum record for his work on A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie's "Drowning" featuring Kodak Black; produced three tracks on Aminé's debut album Good For You, one of which features his longtime friend and collaborator Kehlani ("Heebiejeebies"); and helped create "Summer Bummer" for Lana Del Rey, A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti.
But even with so much going on, Sweet still manages to fly under the radar outside of the industry. He doesn't market himself aggressively, remains unjustifiably humble, and still finds the most joy in the music itself—and it's all because he'd rather gain recognition for his music than a gimmick.
We sat down with Sweet to talk his career beginnings, famous collaborations, true passions, varying skills, and more.
How did you get into music? I was, like, six or seven when I started playing. I was learning from Cynthia Blaylock, who was a great piano teacher for me. She was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. I wanted to quit piano around fifth grade; she told my dad not to let me quit. If she hadn't told my dad, 'Yo, keep him in it,' I would be doing something completely different right now.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music? I was good at math.
Those are opposite sides of the brain, right? Well, no, I use a lot of math. There is a theory in music that's linked to math. Most musicians are good at it. It doesn't mean they like math, but they're good at it. The tuning system is all math. It's all intertwined. I was good at math. I'd probably be doing something along those lines. I mean, I didn't have a passion for it.
Speaking of passion, does music ever feel like a job to you? No. Well, it depends on the session. When I'm upstairs in my room [making music], it doesn't feel like work. It just feels like I'm making stuff. I'd say 90% of the time it doesn't feel like work. Once I start making something, it doesn't feel like it. It only does before I start something.
Tell me about meeting Ty Dolla $ign. We were at Kehlani's show in the green room and he gave me his number. I told him I make a lot of her music, he invited me to his crib, I made a couple beats. I was on the road with Kehlani, still making beats. I had no expectations. Luckily, I was in the studio one day, Kehlani was sick or something and didn't show up. He showed up, we talked for a while, I showed him some beats and he was like, 'Yo, what's that?' He goes in the booth and cuts "$." We went through some more beats, he was like, 'What's that?,' goes in the booth and cuts "Zaddy." Both of them in one night. He called me later and said he wanted to make "Zaddy" the single. I'm grateful to him. He's like a brother to me. I can always ask him about life stuff, but I don't want to bother him too much. At the time, I was in a weird place because I didn't know if I was going to stay on the road. I wanted to stay home and make music. I wasn't as happy on the road. Him doing that was a sign. I also got my first royalty check. I don't know if he did it as a favor to help me out, but I'm forever grateful to him. I remember I had been talking to him about just making music. It wasn't a big conversation though. Either way, I appreciate it because he gave me the courage to step away from the road. He's one of the most genuine people I know in the business.
You've performed with Jesse Boykins III—even for his REVOLT Sessions show—but didn't do any production on his latest project or others. Do you enjoy learning from and performing with other people, and how does it compare to creating your own? Learning other people's music is cool. I'm more excited about creating music than I am playing it, at this point in my life. That might change later, but now I just like seeing how much more success I have creating my own music.
So you're not playing other people's music anymore? I just had a meeting with Aminé; I'm gonna be helping him musically direct his tour. That's my boy. I'm trying to figure out how to create with other people's creations by making arrangements. It's fun arranging songs for an ensemble; there is a creative aspect in it where I can give my take. I arrange the flow of the show song-by-song, putting all the stuff together. I don't really like doing it. It's a lot of tedious work and you can't be as creative arranging other people's work than creating your own thing from scratch. I prefer to sit in my room and make music.
So you're going to be on tour with Aminé? No, no, no. I'm not playing. I'm just music directing. I'll go on the first few dates of the tour to make sure everything is running smooth.
I take it you don't like the allure of the crowd, having everyone watch you perform, the crowd screaming, etc? No, I like that! It's cool, but they're not screaming for me, they're screaming for him.
What sets you aside from huge superstar producers? You have a platinum record, you've been nominated for a Grammy. Are you a celebrity now? Not even! I've never felt like I am. I'm not, not even close. I feel like some of the producers that are big are also big because they brand themselves in ways that aren't music. Like, by having beat tags. If you brand yourself like that, you can easily become a celebrity. I don't want the beat tag. I don't want to be a DJ, I don't want to have to start rapping.
Why not? I don't like the sound of my voice. I remember rapping, hearing my voice and comparing it to people that I like. It doesn't sound pleasing to me. People like J. Cole and Chance the Rapper have cool, unique voices. I could never be big. Even if I had someone write me a song and I cut it, it still wouldn't be good.
Can you tell me how "Drowning" happened? Man, so I was at a radio show with Kehlani in Phoenix, Ariz. and A Boogie was there in the lobby because he was on the radio show right before Kehlani. I knew who he was: I knew the "My Shit" record and I had been going to school in New York for four years. He's from the Bronx. I introduced myself, he invited me to his hotel room, and I played him a couple beats. I played the "Drowning" beat. At the time, it was called "Prosthetic Legs 3." He wrote the hook right there in the hotel room. He said he'd cut it when he got back to New York. I was in New York the next week, pulled up on him in the studio, he played it for me. A couple days later he sent me a version that had Kodak on it.
How do you make sad, slow-paced records like "Summer Bummer" and "Drowning," and then something like "Slide" with super-uplifting, bouncy production? Does it depend on your mood? It's funny because "Summer Bummer" was originally faster-paced and not as dark, but Lana Del Rey made me change it and slow it down. I just try to produce by making what sounds and fits best with what's going on. It's hard. I should really post some old beats so people can get to know me and see the progression of my style. You always know a DJ Mustard or Metro Boomin beat. That's a thing I need to work on: doing work that people can easily identify and say, 'Oh, Jahaan Sweet made this beat.' [But] I also like the idea of making a bunch of very different beats and surprising people. I feel like if I get a beat tag, people would start f—king with me more for the tag and less for my music. I know that just with my government name I'd probably make a cool-ass beat tag, but I'm a firm believer in sticking to my guns.
If it doesn't work, it's not meant to be. I know I could be bigger if I forced my name down people's throats. Also, it feels like my whole life, I've never had to force it. Things just always happen for me. I knew that if I just worked, was good to people, and did the right thing, at the end of the day things would always work out in my favor. I'm not in a hurry. If things get hella lit and people love Jahaan Sweet, great. If it doesn't happen now, no worries. I mean, I still live in an apartment with two roommates. I still have the same car I've always had. I know that I make enough money to get up out of this apartment. At the end of the day, I'm comfortable. I don't want to get greedy. Everything could change though if a big rapper shouts me out on one of my beats.