Photo: Tyler Roi
Yeti Beats: From Punk Guitarist To Doja Cat's Go-To Producer
Yeti Beats was searching for some inspiration when he sat in his then-studio in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with his intern in 2013. The genre-blurring producer and songwriter caught a vibe once he heard the electro-soulful "So High" on SoundCloud by a local rapper/singer/dancer calling herself Doja Cat, and knew collaborating could work wonders for the both of them.
Turns out Yeti Beats' gut was spot on. The beatmaker, who became Doja Cat's co-manager and tour DJ, executive produced all three of the 25-year-old's musically adventurous projects, the 2014 R&B-flavored EP Purrr!; her 2018 major label breakthrough Amala; and her 2019 smash Hot Pink.
A musical chameleon himself behind the console, the musician born David Sprecher either co-wrote or cranked the knobs on "Candy," "Juicy," "Like That," "Tia Tamera," "Cyber Sex," "Go to Town" and the GRAMMY-nominated chart-topper "Say So." His creative direction morphed into an exclusive deal for him with Warner Chappell Music last summer.
But chasing success in the music business has been trial-and-error for Sprecher over the last two-plus decades. The Santa Barbara, California native started out playing guitar in a melodic/skate punk band, Slimer, while his ears stayed tuned into Al Green, The Cars, reggae and his sister's hip-hop tapes. When Slimer released its Adult Cabaret LP under Grilled Cheese Records in 1999, Sprecher knew the label and touring grind for a band wasn’t exactly for him.
By 2003, he started concentrating on producing records instead, carving out his niche in underground hip-hop and reggae. At his home studio, he booked sessions with Kool Keith, Sizzla, Junior Reid, The Pharcyde’s Fat Lip, late Geto Boys member Bushwick Bill, Kurupt, Ho99o9 and Rebelution. He opened his Echo Park spot, Himalayas, in 2010 before upgrading to another studio in Hollywood in 2015.
These days, the experienced producer has abandoned the state-of-the-art studio atmosphere in favor of his MIDI controller, speakers, laptop, guitar and bass in his house. He recently chatted with GRAMMY.com about how he met Doja Cat, her appeal as a viral sensation, his creative process, musical evolution, future projects, and how the dynamic pair would celebrate a GRAMMY win.
How did you meet Doja Cat?
I first heard her from an intern at my studio, Jerry Powell, a producer himself still involved with lots of Doja’s songs. He was just playing songs off of Soundcloud on the homepage, and he played a really rough home recording that Amala [Dlamini, a.k.a. Doja Cat] had done, "So High," and it immediately caught my ear.
I asked him who it was and we looked her up on Facebook. She happened to live in Los Angeles, we wrote her a message, and asked if she wanted to come in the studio to record some music. A couple of days later, she came in. Soon after recording with her, I just immediately knew that she had incredible raw talent. It was just something that needed to be nurtured. It’s just incredible to see how she’s grown over the years and evolved as an artist and a person is just beautiful to me.
"We try to make music as authentic to who she is, and each one of these records is like a time capsule of Amala as a person."
Is there a formula that you and Doja Cat have whenever you’re in the studio?
We try to keep the projects and creative process fun and lighthearted. Amala is such a unique talent, I just try to keep her inspired. The records have evolved over the years; we started on that dusty, slower, vibey R&B, and over time, we started changing it up, bringing in different sounds, adding elements of dance music and more melodic, quirky sounds that accent her personality. We try to make music as authentic to who she is, and each one of these records is like a time capsule of Amala as a person.
How has social media impacted Doja Cat’s success?
I’m not a social media expert, but I do think that Doja Cat’s music is particularly fun and sticky. She’s also a person that knows how to navigate the internet really well. She’s intriguing. Her sounds go viral, particularly on TikTok, because her music is authentic, and authentic music resonates with people.
How did you celebrate “Say So” becoming Doja Cat’s first No. 1 pop hit?
I was in Los Angeles at my house and in shock that Doja Cat had a No. 1. I talked with our team and the people that were involved on the project on the phone, and I was super congratulatory because it was her surreal moment. It was one of those “wow” moments; very, very crazy in a good way.
What did the Warped Tour in 1999 reveal to you about the music business?
I learned that you have to work really hard because every artist on the roster is out here working really hard. Traveling is not easy, and the lifestyle is not what people think it is. The rock star lifestyle is a different kind of work, which is exhausting. [Chuckles.] I understand the importance of touring, going out there, performing music in front of new people, and making sounds.
How did you go from punk musician to songwriter and producer?
I moved to L.A. to go to college. There, I was exposed to a lot more music. Through a friend, I ended up meeting another close friend of mine, Sam Stegall. He had a little home studio in Hollywood; he invited me to come over there. I watched him produce a beat and work with another artist. A light bulb went off. I was thinking I could do this; maybe I need to get ProTools or a MIDI controller.
I already knew how to play guitar and a little bit of keyboards, so I thought making beats would be fun. That was the beginning of a never-ending journey I would equate to a puzzle. I love creating music and had the realization that if I worked hard, then maybe I could turn that into a career. I already knew somebody who was doing this for a living, and I thought I was capable of it.
With each artist that I’m working with, I try to catch their vibe, have some fun, and not really focus on what I wanna make. I put myself in the artists’ shoes and really listen to what they want and make something that’s authentic to how they should sound. It’s about catching the moment; there’s parts of myself that enjoy the thrash of punk or to kick back and groove to reggae. I listen to uptempo music that makes you dance: funk, disco, house, jazz or pretty much anything across the board. I don’t wanna commit myself to making one genre of music or to just making rap beats. I aspire to be an eclectic producer.
What are you hoping to accomplish with your exclusive Warner Chappell Music deal?
The main reasons I’m doing the deal is to make sure someone is collecting all of my publishing royalties and to also have a strong partner to connect me with other artists, producers, or people that maybe either Doja wants to collaborate with or myself. It’s showing to be a very strong relationship; they’re putting me in the room with a lot of cool people.
What projects are you currently working on?
BJ The Chicago Kid is an artist that I've known for a while. We've worked together before, and I think he's one of the most amazing singers. We're doing a project together with a band that has a vintage element to it. It's gonna be a really interesting project based on an old soul sound. I have so much love and respect for BJ; he's an incredible artist, and I can’t wait to work with him more.
I have the next Doja Cat album, Planet Her, and I'm most excited about that. I have some really exciting songs on there, and I couldn’t be prouder of the people who worked on this project.
How has working with Doja Cat made you a better producer?
Working with Doja has taught me a lot about life. She was 16 when I met her, and I recognized her unique talent. My main objectives over the years have been to protect, enable and shepherd her through the music business, which can be very hard at times.
It's been a crazy experience watching her grow up from a teenager to a young woman. She’s grown tremendously as an artist, creator, entertainer, live performer. The whole experience has been completely surreal and beautiful. I get goosebumps when I think about where we used to be versus where we’re at; it is just incredible. I feel thankful and blessed.
How would you and Doja Cat celebrate a GRAMMY win?
It's a pretty surreal experience being nominated this year. We feel super blessed to be acknowledged. Me and Doja have a pact between some friends all involved from the early stages going back to 2013; if she was ever to win a GRAMMY, then we'd have to get tattoos of cats on our butts. We'll see if it happens. [Chuckles.]