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.
Ye Ali is the R&B sensation who is called in the studio when your favorite artist needs to make their songs tighter. The producer/songwriter/artist has been a part of the creative process for artists likes of Big K.R.I.T., Chris Brown, and PartyNextDoor with the latter leaving him with lessons he still uses today.
“[PartyNextDoor] kept stressing, ‘Sometimes it’s too familiar for a reason. You have to go against the grain and make your own melodies on a beat to make people fuck with you and take them a different way.’ That just taught me a lot about songwriting, how to approach, and the comfort of challenging yourself when writing,” Ali told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the talent opens up about how an Instagram DM led to him working with Chris Brown, his creative process and more.
What was your first session that made you feel like you finally made it to the industry?
Probably when PND (PartyNextDoor) hit me up to come to the studio a few years back. It was around 2017. Bizness Boi was like, “Answer your phone. Bro is calling you.” It was a blocked number. I ended up pulling up with Biz and making a few demos. But, it was more of a learning process. The next week, Warner [Records] had me pull up at another session for Party again. He didn’t hit me up, the label hit me up and it was dope he saw me again. That was the moment I felt like I was getting some traction for real. Biz and Prep, Party’s engineer and producer, had some beats. We were just pulling up beats and started doing vocal ideas. The mic was outside [the booth], so he’d pass me the mic and then he’d take it. It was kinda just free-for-all when meeting each other.
You tweeted around that time that Party stressed the importance of “new flows.” What was he speaking of?
I still say “new flows” to this day. He had done a couple of ideas and asked, “Does this sound hard?” Biz and I were like, “Hell yeah.” He then said, “Don’t this kinda remind you of this artist?” I was like, “Now that you mention it, maybe.” Then he was like, “ OK, delete it.” I was like, “Oh shit. It was hard, though.” He kept stressing, “Sometimes it’s too familiar for a reason. You have to go against the grain and make your own melodies on a beat to make people fuck with you and take them a different way.” That just taught me a lot about songwriting, how to approach, and the comfort of challenging yourself when writing.
the time i was n studio with @partynextdoor, he stressed the importance of using new flows ...best advice ⚡️— Ye Ali (@Ye_Ali) May 31, 2017
What came from those sessions?
I never got those songs, but I got to hear them in that session. Honestly, I didn’t expect the songs to come out because it was so early in my career. I only had Traphouse Jodeci out at the time and it was still new for me to get in the studio with people. I never worked with writing with someone next to me. I was expecting to leave with more than he left with because I was going to learn from the engineers in here, the producers, and everybody in here. I left a better writer.
In 2018, you were in the studio with Big K.R.I.T. years after checking him into the Holiday Inn. What was that moment like for you?
That was crazy because he remembered the show; he didn’t remember me. He remembered coming to Bloomington, Indiana and having that show. I checked him in, took his bags up, and years later, I was in the studio with him. I told him that in the session and he told me, “I appreciate it.” That, to me, wasn’t even about the music. It was about the moment. The songs never came out but, as with a lot of sessions, everything doesn’t get utilized by you or the other artist, but you’re supposed to take something away from it.
had studio w @BIGKRIT last nite. Last time I seen him I was a freshman working at holiday inn and checked him for smokers club..years later I’m writing hooks n he rapping on my shit. Crazy ✍— Ye Ali (@Ye_Ali) September 17, 2018
What are some other lessons you’ve learned in the studio?
Play your role. Sometimes if you have certain people in the studio, you don’t need to do everything. Maybe you don’t need to top line. Maybe you need to do clean-up duty. Rebounds and hitting the boards. I think of it as sports. The hustle players, like Draymond Green, matter because he does the things Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] don’t do. Sometimes you need to be the glue guy who finishes a line someone can’t finish. You don’t need to be the guy who writes the whole song. I learned I don’t need to take the reigns to fully improve everything.
You worked with Isaiah Rashad in 2016 after he dropped Cilvia Demo. How did you two connect?
I met him through his baby’s mama, actually. We’re from the same hometown, so I’ve known Zay for a while, even before music. We weren’t best friends or anything, but just through his girl, I would always see him at her crib and I didn’t know who he was until 2016 when he dropped the album [Cilvia Demo]. I was like, “Oh shit. This is Zay.” I told him, “Damn, bro. I didn’t know you were like that.” I got more hip. We had a few sessions. We had sessions that just involved me just kicking it and being a different type of energy. His engineers told me that’s what was cool about me. It wasn’t necessarily about me writing or anything, but just me being there and kicking it with him. Me learning from him, him learning from me, if he learned anything. I think Zay and I fuck with each other from a genuine perspective. Only a few artists can make people wait this long and still be interesting. That’s why I told him he’s one of the greats. It’s like Frank Ocean. Every time he drops, you’re going to be there. It’s the same with Zay.
Beyond just songwriting, you’ve also had your hand in the production of a few tracks including Jack Harlow and Chris Brown’s “Already Best Friends.” How’d that happen?
So, basically, the loop for the song is mine. It’s the sample of a song I never dropped that I worked on with me, my boy Joe [Hodges], and my boy Buddafly Wolf. It was my vocals on the loop that I and my homie did, and then Joe just pitched it differently to where he slowed it down. I sent it to Jetson[made]. Jetson and I had a relationship just off Twitter from talking to each other about music every now and then. I told him I had some loops for him and that was one he ended up fucking with. The rest was history. That was Jetson and I being cool and building behind the scenes by sending him loops and samples, trying to figure out what he needed for the Jack Harlow sessions. I was able to send that, they put the drums on it, and took it home.
What other session have you been in that came from a social media connection?
The first and only time I ever met Chris [Brown]. I had DMed him on Instagram. I had hit him up many times before and never got a response. This time he was like, “Pull up.” I was like, “What’s the address?” He sent it and I told him, “I’m in the same neighborhood. Not to be crazy, but I’m like 30 seconds away. I’m about two cribs over.” That was some fate and luck mixed right here. Me hitting him up led to me working on the song “Emerald/Burgandy.” We did it in the studio. This was straight from Instagram to the studio.
You recently worked with a Studio Sessions alum, legendary producer Troy Taylor, who discovered Trey Songz and worked with legends like Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. What did he help you with when you worked together?
Troy reached out to me in Atlanta last year. We would talk briefly on Instagram before that. I pulled up to the studio and he was like, “What are you working on? What’s good?” I’m telling him that I’m working on behind the scenes stuff and he was like, “Oh, OK. You want to be in the background.” I think he said it in a way that could’ve been offensive, but I knew he meant it in a place of challenging me. I loved it. I liked his energy off the bat because he didn’t beat around the bush. He eventually asked me if I would let him executive produce a project of mine. I said, “Let’s do it.” He told me, “You need to have writers in here. You have to sing it a certain way. It’s going to be kinda hard and difficult.” I was like, “Bring it on.” It was a challenge, but it was super fun because I never was able to go through a true artist moment because I always do songs myself or I have one engineer with me and he’s not really part of the music. It was the first time I really had an engineer who was a vocal producer, writer, and producer, and also had writers with me that I trusted. Troy helped me become a better recording artist. He believed in me enough. He said, “Let’s do an album. No features, just you.” I was like, “Let’s do it.”
What do you need in the studio to make your best music?
A lot of water, Flamin’ Hot Doritos, Eggo waffle cereal, and obviously some bad bitches to snack on if need be (laughs).
Is your music inspired by the women in your studio?
Usually, when I have girls in the studio, I’m making turned up shit. I’m not making R&B if there are girls in the studio because girls make me competitive, so I want to rap and do some turned up shit. They like that. They like jumping around. That helps me come out of my shell more.
Another Studio Sessions guest Bizness Boi has made some huge songs with Jessie Reyez and PartyNextDoor. How have you two built your creative chemistry together?
The homie Travis Bruce is a popular engineer, producer, and writer in L.A., and we went to college together. He introduced me to Biz on Twitter and we had always kept in touch online. Then, we met in 2015 at what was Kanye West’s old studio, but it also used to be Harvey Mason’s. We walked into each other one day and recognized each other from Twitter. We got cool from there, but didn’t work until about a year later. We were homies and cool — the music came later.
Biz and I maybe only have 10 songs together, but those songs hit so well they’ve forever linked us. Traphouse Jodeci was a classic for a lot of people. Biz and I didn’t do another song together until he co-produced “Talk Less” with Jordon Manswell. Then, we didn’t connect again until “Patron & Lemonade.” Then, we connected again a year after that. We did so much music the first time we linked up, it forever solidifies us as a tandem to people. We just do our thing and it’s natural. Also, Biz, TH3ory, and I produced on the Chris Brown record “Tell Me How You Feel.” We did all of that together. We worked, production-wise, more consistently lately than on my music. He’s always working on big shit and getting me involved in it. He sends me loops and shit. It came from a place of respect and I think we recognized we’re both hustlers.
One of my favorite songs from you is “Big Body Benz” with Eric Bellinger. How did you two combine your creative processes?
I met Eric years ago. I was actually doing video work for him as an assistant to his director when he was doing his skits around 2015 with “Vallet” was out. I was an assistant on shooting his skits for Instagram and these promos. He later met me again as a musician and he recognized me. For “Big Body Benz,” Eric did the melody and I just started yelling, “Big body Benz.” He did the whole song in one take and then asked me if I had words for it. He and I wrote it together, and it was the first time I had ever done that. I was surprisingly good at it because I was hearing the words he wasn’t saying, but was probably thinking. The song was done in 15-20 minutes. He had one half done and I did the other half, and we helped each other. When someone is as immensely talented as Eric is, I don’t have to do shit but be Draymond Green. I’m making sure the song sounds straight at the end. Eric already laid the groundwork, now I can come in fix it up and add my sauce on it. Working with Eric was probably the easiest song I ever did. I was able to have more fun.
How did the pandemic affect how you made music in 2020?
I like to work alone, so it hasn’t affected me. Now, I’m more in artist mode, so I don’t need people in the studio with me. I’m making samples and loops, so I don’t have to be in the room all the time. I’ve focused on myself in the last year. I’ve been working on new situations for myself, new business endeavors. Not necessarily focusing on writing, placements, and producing. That should be clockwork. People should be sampling me 24 hours a day, in my opinion. Focusing on myself as an artist is what my independence has allowed me to do, which is amazing. Once Troy said he didn’t want to have any features on the album, I decided I’m going to do features for others, but no one is going to be on my new music.