Interview: Rey Reel
Published by Beyond The Stage Magazine
It’s a balmy Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, and Rey Reel, the mastermind beatsmith behind Beyonce’s “***Flawless” and Drake’s “Trophies,” is gearing up for another hectic day of creating music with some of the industry’s heavyweights. He pulls up to a nondescript warehouse-style studio in true producer fashion, heavy synth bass and 808 drums bleeding from his trunk. Upon arriving, he immediately proceeds to take his dog, a remarkably mellow and well-behaved pitbull, out of the passenger seat and pets her affectionately on the head. Although the backlot studio doesn’t look particularly interesting from the outside, the interior is decked out with top-of-the-line equipment and effortlessly cool furniture. Rey is still acclimating himself to the space; he just moved into it a few weeks prior.
“I can’t wait to start running sessions here,” he says excitedly as he begins to set up his laptop. “The studio will be ready and functioning in a week.”
The purchase and setup of Rey’s personal studio mark the beginning of a new chapter in the 26-year-old Sacramento-native’s career. With three Grammy nominations for his work on Beyonce’s eponymous 2013 album as validation, Rey’s beats have become incredibly sought-after. His recent musical triumphs have built, and effectively sustained, a massive amount of buzz surrounding his work. He’s currently juggling the creation of his own album with a handful of collaborative side-projects, and his excitement about the new music is palpable. Rey couldn’t reveal which artists he would be hitting the studio with, but his sheepish smile when presented with the question would indicate that his current collaborators are household names.
We got a chance to chat with the up-and-coming producer about his rise to mainstream prominence and his ridiculously bright future.
BTS: What sparked your interest in music production?
Rey: At first, I was just messing around with music programs. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue. I actually wanted to play basketball or be a lawyer, but music just came naturally to me. Back in the Myspace days, I would put beats online and get thousands and thousands of plays. From there, I just took it and ran with it. I think that because it was fun, I stuck with it. It wasn’t something I was forcing myself to do.
BTS: You’ve worked with some incredibly high-profile artists, how did you get to this level?
Rey: God, of course. The first record that really put me on the map was will.i.am’s “Scream and Shout” with Britney Spears. It was the remix with Waka Flocka Flame, Diddy, Lil Wayne and Hit-Boy. Hit-Boy had plugged me with that because we grew up together; I’ve known him since I was twelve. He lived in Atlanta for a little bit and when he later came back, he wanted to work with me. We didn’t get placements together for the longest time, but we finally sparked one with this record. That’s what really kicked it off and created buzz for me. Hit-Boy always took me with him when he got to work with artists and we became a team.
BTS: Out of all the artists you’ve produced for, who has been your favorite to work with?
Rey: I always say M.I.A. because she’s such a free-spirited person and she doesn’t really care about what other people have to say about her. It’s super dope because she’ll always run with what she cares about and what she’s passionate about. I feel like a lot of us don’t live that way; we care too much about other people’s opinions. She’s also really fun musically; we always get to experiment with a bunch of different sounds.
BTS: Who would you most like to work with in the future?
Rey: There are so many names that come to mind! I want to work with Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift, Ciara; I love working with female artists. As far as rappers go, I’d love to work with Jay Z, Nas, 2 Chainz and Waka Flocka. I would also love to do a record with Ester Dean.
BTS: Would you say your sound is more hip hop-oriented or pop-oriented?
Rey: I’m more of the experimental type; I don’t like to tie myself down to just one genre. I want to try everything. I’m actually just now starting to listen to some country music so I can cater to that kind of artist. It may not end up being my thing, but I want to try it first and see how it goes. I tend to favor pop, only because I like to mash hip hop drums with pop sounds.
BTS: How do you build your tracks?
Rey: There are three scenarios of how I’ll end up putting a record together. Sometimes the artist and the writer will come in to my studio and we’ll do something brand new and fresh from scratch. Sometimes they’ll bring a capella tracks to me and I’ll help them create the right sound to fit the tracks. Occasionally, I’ll just play them beat ideas and we’ll take it from there. I like to cater to how the artist and the writer are feeling in the moment.
BTS: Do you ever get involved in the songwriting process yourself?
Rey: I used to. Artists will sometimes come to me for opinions, but I’m not as hands-on with the writing as I used to be.
BTS: Lately there’s been a really big shift in the music industry towards the do-it-yourself style of releasing music. What’s your stance on that? Do you think it’s easier for artists to succeed when they’re signed or unsigned?
Rey: If I were an artist who could fund their own project, I would definitely go ahead and do that without reaching out to a major label, because they are catering more to sales than to the public in general and the aesthetic I would want to create with my music. If I’m an artist on my own with $100,000, I would take about $30,000 to go on tour and build a fanbase. It would be a difficult and long process for sure, but that’s better than going to a label where they’ll front you the money and lay out the groundwork for you, but later end up shelving your project. The worst scenario would be if you were to end up in a contract with a label for 3 years or maybe even more and they won’t put out any of your music. You’d end up at a standstill because legally, you’re bonded to the label. I’d rather go broke, do my own thing, and then find a distribution deal, but it really depends on who you are as an artist.
BTS: What have you been working on recently?
Rey: I’m currently working on my own project, and there are going to be a few guest artists on it. I can’t tell you who will be on it specifically just yet, but some are major and some are unsigned. The project is going to be eight songs and a two-part video. Each video will have four songs in it, and the transitions are really dope. I’m hoping to release it by birthday, which is September 13th.
BTS: What do you think is next in terms of artists incorporating different types of media into their albums?
Rey: I don’t know, but I can tell you that I have something up my sleeve that I’m going to accompany my project with that a lot of people will like. I love that artists are doing public droppings, like when Kendrick released his “King Kunta” video on the monitors in New York. That unexpected stuff is so dope! That’s a world takeover right there.
BTS: What are your goals for the future?
Rey: I want to retire at 45 with over twenty million dollars. I’m also starting up on an acting gig, and I’d love to be respected in that profession as well. I haven’t set any specific goals because I’d rather go day-by-day and see how everything works out.