For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Kel P produced and co-wrote 10 of the 19 songs on Burna Boy’s African Giant including “On The Low” and “Pull Up.” He and the artist helped spread the sound of African music across the world — all from inside of hotel rooms.
“We didn’t record any of the songs in a studio. We were in a hotel. The day I met Burna, we recorded in a hotel and we stayed there for over a month recording songs. I have my mobile studio with me. We were in Lagos, Nigeria. But, we also recorded in a hotel in Ghana,” Kel P told REVOLT TV.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Kel P discusses the African Giant recording process, the status of Burna Boy’s next album, and the rap artists he’s personally produced unreleased music for.
When did you link up with Burna Boy?
I met Burna Boy last year in August. A friend of mine who is an artist played him the beats that I had and Burna recorded on the beats. Then, he asked, ‘Who made these beats? I’m looking for the person who made these?’ The next day I get a call from Burna Boy and my friend saying, ‘Kel-P come here.’ When I met Burna Boy he was like, ‘Oh, boy. Let’s go to the studio.’ We were in the studio for over a month and that’s how we made the songs that were on African Giant.
During that period of time, we were dropping songs. I think the first song we dropped was last September and then we dropped another last November. So, we recorded from August-November.
What studio did you both record African Giant songs in?
We didn’t record any of the songs in a studio. We were in a hotel (laughs). The day I met Burna, we recorded in a hotel and we stayed there for over a month recording songs. I have my mobile studio with me. We were in Lagos, Nigeria. But, we also recorded in a hotel in Ghana.
Why choose a hotel?
I always travel with my mobile studio and I set it up in my hotel room when I travel. I’m always working. He comes in, I play him beats and he’s like, ‘Oh, let’s do this.’ When we recorded the song ‘Another Story,’ M.anifest came through to see Burna Boy, we vibed on the beat, and what he did on it was dope. We recorded that song in the hotel in Ghana.
What type of hotel rooms is Burna Boy recording in?
First, the rooms have a sea view. We like to record in hotels with good views. It’s a big hotel room.
What is Burna Boy like in these hotel recording sessions?
Burna can record anywhere: hotel, studio, in the car (laughs). For him, the vibe has to be cool. His process is he listens to the beat and drops the melody first. He’ll vibe from beginning to the end doing just the melody with no lyrics. He’ll listen to the melody back and forth, and then start filling in the lyrics. He’s a very fast writer.
What’s the fastest you’ve seen him record a song?
We recorded four songs in a day in the hotel. We recorded ‘On The Low,’ ‘Gbona,’ ‘Omo,’ and ‘Spiritual.’ When Burna is ready, he’s ready. He’s hungry.
Do you have to match his speed of recording when you’re making beats with him?
You have to match that speed and you have to be faster than the artist. You need to have eight to ten thousand beats. You need to have beats ready because you can play 100 beats and he may select two. You need to have beats.
Since it seems like you’ve played him hundreds of beats, were there songs recorded during the African Giant sessions yet to come out?
I did 23 songs with Burna in one month and two weeks in the hotel. So, he has a lot. We’re still recording. His next album is ready. Anytime he’s in Africa, we always link up and record. I’ll take my mobile studio to his place, boom, set up there. He has a very good mic that doesn’t record noise and the plugins I use can fade out the sounds.
What’s the most memorable session between you two?
‘Killing Dem.’ I made the beat somewhere in the hotel and came to Burna Boy. His best friend was there and I was like, ‘I have these beats for Burna Boy.’ Burna woke up and came to my room. He listened to the beat for four to five hours. In my head, I was thinking, ‘This dude is not feeling this beat.’ But, he was already doing something in his head. Then, he was like, ‘Record me now, bro.’ When he did the song, we realized the song needed a feature, so he called up Zlatan. He came through, did his part and killed it. We danced to that song throughout the day to that song. You know the Zanku dance that Nigerians dance? We were all dancing and telling ourselves, ‘This is a hit.’
My favorite song on the album is ‘Collateral Damage.’ The production is breezy, but the subject matter is sort of bleak. Why does it have that contrast?
I had this old Michael Jackson song and the guitars in it were really good. I was listening to that song for a few days. So, when I made the drums, I called my guitarist to play the chords from that song. When I first played it for Burna, he was not feeling it. I send that same beat to Wizkid. Wizkid was feeling it. But, he couldn’t catch the right vibe on that beat. I played the beat again for Burna and he recorded on that beat.
’On The Low’ was the first song from you two that blew up.
Yeah, I had a skeleton of the beat already. Burna’s the kind of artist that once he gets the chord progression of the song in his head, he’ll just write to the chord progression from the beginning to the end. He dropped the Angelina part [in the hook] first. He dropped the melodies and started fixing the lyrics. Burna doesn’t do love songs (laughs). But, he had to do this one (laughs). I wasn’t really feeling ‘On The Low,’ but when I started seeing how people reacted, I started feeling ‘On The Low.’
Did Burna Boy speak to you about wanting a certain sound for African Giant?
No. When I met Burna Boy, we never said anything. We never introduced ourselves (laughs). He didn’t have my phone number until three weeks after. We weren’t communicating that much. We were just recording. Everyone was too serious. When I met him, I never thought I would make an album with him. We were just recording and recording.
How did you develop your chemistry with Burna to understand his sound?
For me, I had been listening to Burna Boy for a long time. He was someone I wanted to work with for a long time. When I met him, I already understood his sound. He never said where he wanted the sound to go. We were just working.
How soon after hearing about your Grammy nominations were y’all back recording?
We haven’t recorded for a while. We recorded last month. We did four songs. The first day, we did one song and the second time I went there, we did three songs.
With the Afrobeat sound blowing up recently, how do you feel African Giant helped with that?
African Giant did a lot. We did a lot of songs for the album that couldn’t make it that I was not happy about. The album really made people understand African music. For whichever artist is trying to push African music to the world, Burna really did a lot.
Are there any artists from other genres that respect your sound?
I’m working with a lot of people. I have a song with Future that’s not out yet. I produced it for him. I have a song with Stefflon Don. I have songs with a lot of people that aren’t out yet.
Are there any real-life stories that inspired any of the music on African Giant?
I would say 80% of the songs on African Giant have life stories. Songs like ‘Wein Man Go Do,’ ‘African Giant,’ and ‘Collateral Damage’ are all the truth, man. He sings about his life, the country, and what’s happening. That’s how he gets his lyrics.