(Up Close & Personal With Alex Da Kid And Skylar Grey was streamed live on GRAMMY365, The Recording Academy's member-only website. The discussion is now available for members via video on demand. For more information on Academy membership, visit www.grammy365.com/join.)
A great piece of music, like any great piece of art, can speak for itself. But when the artists behind the music are willing to speak freely about their work, motivations and inspirations, it's a tremendous opportunity for fans and fellow music makers to get a unique, in-depth understanding of the creative process.
This was the opportunity offered on Sept. 28 at Up Close & Personal With Alex Da Kid And Skylar Grey, an event presented jointly by The Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing and Los Angeles Chapter. The evening consisted of an insightful, open-ended conversation with GRAMMY-nominated producer Alex Da Kid and GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Grey, moderated by renowned DJ, entrepreneur and music mogul DJ Skee.
Alex Da Kid made his initial splash in the industry producing such hits as Nicki Minaj's "Massive Attack" and B.o.B's "Airplanes." Working with Grey as a co-writer and vocalist, more mega-hits have followed, including Eminem's GRAMMY-nominated "Love The Way You Lie" featuring Rihanna, P. Diddy's "Coming Home," Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said," and "I Need A Doctor" for Dr. Dre's long-awaited Detox album. The pair have also collaborated on Grey's forthcoming debut album, Invinsible, due in January.
DJ Skee served as an engaging and energetic moderator, asking the pair a series of direct, informed questions while keeping the tone light and conversational. (It's no surprise given that he's an on-air personality for Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM and hosts no less than four SiriusXM Radio shows.) Several questions centered on the respective journeys that brought the two panelists to the current points in their careers, and two very different paths were described.
Up until age 19, Alex Da Kid said he had every intention of becoming a professional soccer player, and didn't take the full plunge into music until he began pursuing a college degree in audio technology. "The things that create a hit record I don't think I learned at school," said Alex Da Kid. "But I might not be here if I didn't go to school."
Grey started out as a child performer in a folk duo with her mother, singing songs such as "Never Smoke Tobacco" and "We Are The Colors Of The Rainbow" for audiences at libraries and elementary schools. "Eventually, I told my mom I was going solo," Grey recalled, to which DJ Skee responded, "Good career move."
The two described their first meeting via email after Grey's music publisher suggested she contact Kid. "I sent him a long, aggressive email, 'You're awesome! We have to work together,'" said Grey. "He sent me a one-word response, 'Cool.'" Alex Da Kid eventually sent her one of his beats, over which Grey created the hook for "Love The Way You Lie," and an artistic partnership was born.
Some of the most interesting moments came when the duo discussed the contrasts in their creative processes. Alex Da Kid explained that he was a proponent of a "create whenever you can" approach, and said that he'd begun naming the music files on his laptop after the specific situation that inspired them, such as "Alex made a beat when he had the flu," "Alex made a beat on the airplane." Grey admitted to having a much more fragile sense of inspiration, and said she has often turned to the seclusion of a cabin in the woods in order to pursue and develop her artistic vision.
The two occasionally teased each other about their experiences working together, including when Grey revealed that after they first played the track "I Need A Doctor" with her voice on it for Dr. Dre and Eminem, Alex Da Kid "helpfully" suggested that maybe Lady Gaga could sing Grey's part.
"Before I could say a thing," Grey recalled with a smile, "Eminem turned around and said, 'No.'"
The discussion was followed with a short but moving performance by Grey, who sat at a piano to sing a medley of her most familiar work, including "I Need A Doctor" and "Love The Way You Lie." The evening concluded with a question-and-answer session during which the trio offered practical advice and guidance.
"Have a great team around you and trust them," said Alex Da Kid, while Grey offered, "Take risks."
Speaking once again to the theme of opportunity, DJ Skee said, "A lot of people are running away from the music industry. I'm running into it."
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)