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Behind The Board: Producer Eric Zayne On His Improbable Path To Music That Led To Working With Superstars Like H.E.R. & BTS
Eric Zayne in his studio.

Photo: Daniel Mendoza/The Recording Academy

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Behind The Board: Producer Eric Zayne On His Improbable Path To Music That Led To Working With Superstars Like H.E.R. & BTS

Eric Zayne explains how his war-torn childhood in the Congo shaped his musical identity — one that’s helped him become a superproducer and multifaceted artist in his own right.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2022 - 10:57 pm

For Congo-born musician, artist and producer Eric Zayne, inspiration has often come from unexpected places. "I was walking through a construction site and there was a jackhammer. And instead of hearing the jackhammer, I could hear a whole symphony," he recounts. "Something opened up, and I started hearing music everywhere in everything."

In this episode of Behind the Board, get to know the multi-faceted artist who has written and produced music for a diverse cast of A-listers that range from Twenty One Pilots and Ashlee Simpson to BTS, H.E.R. and Matisyahu.

As a kid, music seemed like an unlikely choice for Zayne, who grew up in a war zone and had to leave the Congo without his family when he was 13. "I was in school and there were a bunch of soldiers everywhere. They were handing out notes. And the notes said, 'Don't leave your house on Monday. A war will start.' That was Friday. Monday morning, 7 am, right on cue, bullets are covering the sky."

When his family had the chance to evacuate just one of its members, Zayne was forced to live independently from his teen years into young adulthood. "I had to basically learn to reconstruct what life is on my own," he notes.

Now, he says that experience taught him wisdom, compassion and understanding — all qualities that have contributed to his musical identity. Zayne's artistic philosophy is centered on humility and operating as a vessel for something greater and more mystical.

"I personally feel that I have never written anything in my life. I'm just lucky enough to pick up what's already there," he relates. "The minute that you take ownership of it is when you lose it, because it is not yours. You're lucky enough to get the antennas to download it. So get out of the way and let it move through you."

Zayne — who is now based in LA — says he's been lucky enough to meet some of the most talented, inspired people in the music business. "One of my favorite sessions was with H.E.R.," he says. "I was just so amazed to watch a true artist that really knows how to play all her instruments and understands music."

Get to know more about Zayne's personal history and musical methodology in the video above, and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Behind the Board.

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Everyone's A VIP At Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY Gala: From Travis Scott To Jimmy Jam To Brandi Carlile

Travis Scott

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Everyone's A VIP At Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY Gala: From Travis Scott To Jimmy Jam To Brandi Carlile

Pass through the velvet rope at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles for an exclusive look at the star-studded 2019 Pre-GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 12:27 am

On Feb. 9, on the eve of Music's Biggest Night, the 61st GRAMMY Awards, artists from across genres and decades gathered at the glitzy Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. for the 2019 Pre-GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons.

Less than 24 hours before the big red carpet walk today, the likes of current GRAMMY nominees Ella Mai, Dua Lipa, Diplo, Shaggy, Alice Cooper and Weird Al Yankovich, and GRAMMY winners Melissa Etheridge and Quincy Jones, brought their vibrant energy and killer looks at the annual celebration hosted by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis. Onlookers tried to spy the glam looks on the red carpet as they peered into the hotel's glass—we'll let you past the velvet rope and walk it with us as at this exclusive music industry event.

Dua Lipa & Ellie Goulding | Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images

This year's who's-who of music gala celebrated iconic industry veteran Clarence Avant, known as the Godfather Of Black Music, as the honoree of the evening. Like event host and fellow legend Davis, he helped launch the careers of many great artists, working with the likes of GRAMMY-winning greats Bill Withers, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of The Time.

The video celebrating Avant had countless heroes such as Former President Barack Obama, Jones, Diddy and JAY-Z sharing how much they love Avant, the powerful impact he's made on their lives and music, and how he always knows the right thing to say. Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow introduced him with a fitting complement, and a huge one given the company they were in: "You're the ultimate music person." The Time properly brought the funk on stage to celebrate Avant with a performance of their '80s hits "The Bird" and "Jungle Love," dancing as if no time had passed.

Current GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott set the mood opening the evening's performances with "Goosebumps" and "Sicko Mode," while sisters and fellow nominees Chloe x Halle brought home a rousing cover of the late GRAMMY-winning Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." Brandi Carlile, another current GRAMMY nominee, returned to the stage to join the duo, along with past nominee Valerie Simpson and Broadway star Keala Settle, ending the evening on quite the high note.

Chloe x Halle | Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Other musical guests for the evening included current nominees Bebe Rexha, Florida Georgia Line and H.E.R., along with past nominees Jazmine Sullivan and Ledisi, plus GRAMMY winner Rob Thomas. Sullivan and Thomas offered a powerful duet, belting out Aretha and George Michael's "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)."

As the evening rolled on, Davis made sure to highlight all the countless legends in the room, as the crowd continuously burst into applause and often up on their feet to celebrate the likes of music greats Barbara Streisand, George Clinton and Dionne Warwick, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Apple's Tim Cook and even former-L.A. Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Don't forget to tune in to the 2019 GRAMMYs live from Staples Center today. Start with the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at 12:30 p.m. PST/3:30 ET, then follow us to the red carpet at 2:00 p.m. PST/5:00 p.m. ET—both will be live streamed right here on right here on GRAMMY.com.

Then the moment you've all been waiting for, the 61st GRAMMY Awards, hosted by 15-time GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys, will air live at 5:00 p.m. PST/8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT on CBS.

GRAMMY Nominees In Their Own Words: Brandi Carlile, H.E.R., Shawn Mendes, Janelle Monaé & More

Behind The Board: TOKiMONSTA On Creativity And Finding Common Ground Through Music

TOKiMONSTA

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Behind The Board: TOKiMONSTA On Creativity And Finding Common Ground Through Music

The L.A.-based electronic music producer describes the organic journey of turning her love of music into a career, how she's learned to go with the flow creatively and more

GRAMMYs/Feb 1, 2019 - 11:00 pm

Jennifer Lee aka TOKiMONSTA is up for her first GRAMMY Award this year, for Best Dance/Electronic Album for her third studio album, Lune Rouge. While she has been experimenting with beats and sounds and sharing her music with the world since her first EP in 2009, she didn't always think her love of music would ever be more than a hobby.

In the second episode of the Recording Academy's Behind The Board, which looks at the producers and other creatives behind the studio board, Lee dives into how she went from a music lover to full-time creator. She shares how she got her making beats with the likes of Flying Lotus and Daedalus at underground parties in her native Los Angeles and how that paved the way to where she is today.

She also discusses another way that going with the flow has helped her in her life, sharing that forcing herself to make music has never really worked. "I've learned that for me in my 'creative process' is to not really have a process," she says.

Lee also talks about how she's proud of her GRAMMY-nominated album, that time Skrillex called to congratulate her on her nomination and how making music that she truly loves helps her connect with fans.

"I'm hoping that if I make music that's for myself, that there's a commonality between me and my listeners where we can agree on this music together. So it's more of a joint venture where we all get this," Lee explains.

Watch the exclusive interview with TOKiMONSTA above, and don't forget to tune into the 61st GRAMMY Awards on Sun. Feb. 10 on CBS.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: TOKiMONSTA On Authenticity & Why 'Lune Rouge' Is "A Celebration Of Life"

5 Essential D'Mile Productions: Silk Sonic, H.E.R. & Others
Producer D'Mile

Photo: Monhand Mathurin

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5 Essential D'Mile Productions: Silk Sonic, H.E.R. & Others

'An Evening with Silk Sonic' producer D’Mile revisits his career milestones and discusses his blockbuster 2021, which included back-to-back GRAMMY “Song Of The Year” Awards and multiple hit collaborations.

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2022 - 03:02 pm

"He is a genius. I don’t feel like most people realize how much of a genius he actually is" producer D’Mile asserts when thinking back on his most popular project to date with Bruno Mars.

But prior to the formation of Silk Sonic, longtime friend and bandmate Anderson .Paak implored Mars and D’Mile to come together for a session. "Once we realized we were doing a group project, I think it was easy for all of us to know what kind of vibe it was going to be," D'Mile says. 

"Leave The Door Open,'' the GRAMMY-winning product of the trio’s collaboration, became a hit for its groovy R&B bridges and velvety vocal harmonies — and D’Mile’s career skyrocketed. Now, he is a creative backbone behind many top artists, infusing discographies with blues, jazz and neo-R&B, while engineering for Beyoncé, Jay Z, Lupe Fiasco, H.E.R. and others. Long before earning a clutch of awards, D’Mile was disciplined in a musical household.

Dernst Emile II, a.k.a. D'Mile was born to two esteemed Haitian musicians —  vocalist Yanick Étienne and Dernst Emile, an established music arranger and instrumentalist —  with a wide global lineage and appreciation of the music of the African diaspora. Coming up in Brooklyn,  D'Mile learned the piano from his father, and would hear his mother sing jazz and Haitian konpa around the house.

"They would always work together," the 37-year-old music producer bashfully remembers over Zoom, chuckling. "My dad [still] gives private lessons to this day. I was just always around instruments my whole life — the jam and recording sessions. I feel like I am just a younger version of him." 

A young D'Mile inherited the musical aptitude of his parents, nurturing his musical roots while keeping his ear close to the ground as his career blossomed. "One of my first [producer] placements ever was actually Mary J. Blige in 2005," D’Mile reflects bashfully. That single was the title track on Blige’s 2005 album, The Breakthrough, which won the GRAMMY Award for Best R&B Record.  

Nearly two decades into producing music, D’Mile applies artists' personal experiences to the music they create together, tailoring their sounds as a reflection of who they are, at the moment he meets them. "I just do what I know when I feel right in my heart," D’Mile says, shrugging his shoulders. "[But] when I do a collab with an artist, I try to speak to who they are through the music."

That insight, and ability to cohere an artist's essence with contemporary culture, has led to many hit-making moments. After having compulsive thoughts of quitting music over the past decade, D’Mile ignited an artistic flare at the beginning of the pandemic and a plethora of gold-plated accolades was on the horizon. 

From 2020 to 2022, D’Mile experienced highs that accelerated career’s trajectory. At the 2020 GRAMMY Awards, D’Mile received seven nominations for his work on Lucky Daye’s debut album, Painted and H.E.R’s second album, I Used To Know Her. Following the police murder of George Floyd, D'Mile channeled racial tensions into H.E.R.'s "I Can’t Breathe"; the song won the coveted GRAMMY Award for Song Of The Year in 2021. That same year, D'Mile won an Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Fight For You") in the motion picture, Judas and the Black Messiah.

D'Mile's star only continued to rise in 2022. At the 64th GRAMMY Awards, the producer took home three golden gramophones for his work on Silk Sonic's "Leave the Door Open" — including Song and Record Of The Year. A testament to his production expertise and wide-ranging ear, D'Mile was also nominated for his efforts on Christian/Contemporary song "Hold Us Together (Hope Mix)."

"I am not saying my first accomplishments haven’t hit me yet, but it is just unbelievable sometimes to think of all of the good things that have been happening in my career recently," D'Mile reflects.

The Los Angeles-based musician is nourishing the nucleic basis of R&B, creating an environment for upcoming and celebrated artists to rejoice and evolve. The producer shared memories from some of his favorite collaborations with GRAMMY.com. 

Joyce Wrice - Overgrown

Executive produced by D’Mile, Joyce Wrice's 2021 debut album is an exquisite gift to R&B buffs. The bluesy 14-track Overgrown is a delineation of nostalgic 90’s R&B and hip-hop, with pitched vocal highs and emotional lows.

"The first time Joyce and I met in the studio, I was picking up on who she is as a woman and her vision for Overgrown," says D’Mile. "I got close with her and I would gather information off of what she would play me. I feel like when I make music, that's me kind of examining who you are."

Throughout Overgrown, the San Diego native sings about the pains of healing from heartbreak and unrequited love. The album is also a celebration of womanhood, where a confidently independent Wrice embraces the mental strength she discovered while finding herself. 

Buddy - "Happy Hour"

Compton-raised rapper Buddy released his sophomore album, Superghetto, in 2022 and D’Mile produced one of the most popular tracks from the project. "Happy Hour" is an ode to letting loose and treating life as joyously chaotic as ordering a drink at a crowded bar on a weekend night.

"Buddy and I created this song a couple of years ago," D’Mile recalls, thinking deeply about the track's origins. 

The single can be seen as a sequel to T-Pain’s 2007 anthem, "Bartender" — and fittingly so. Adds D'Mile, "T-Pain hopped on the track maybe a few months before it was released. I can’t take credit for getting that feature on the song, but it did make all the sense in the world."

H.E.R’s "Fight For You," "I Can’t Breathe" & I Used To Know Her

In 2021, D’Mile got together with longtime collaborators H.E.R and singerTiara Thomas to create socially-charged songs that highlighted the atrocities of police violence against Black Americans.

"The creation of these songs started with a conversation," D’Mile says, smiling as he reflects on the trio's tight bond. "H.E.R and Tiara were talking about what was going on in the world. H.E.R. is an artist that really cares about people and cares about what's right."

D'Mile recalls that H.E.R. picked up a guitar and played "I Can’t Breathe." "I remember tearing up when I first heard the song and I just knew exactly what I needed to do to help."

The producer also assisted on the tearful tune "Could've Been," which was also born from this session and later appeared on H.E.R’s second LP.

Victoria Monét - Jaguar

D’Mile had his hands in all processes behind the production of Victoria Monét’s debut album, Jaguar. The supersonic 2020 project is a funky unification of fun R&B with sultry pop melodies.

While Monét has penned lyrics for Ariana Grande, Nas, Chris Brown and others, Jaguar was the Georgia native's first full-length foray as a solo artist. The performer, dancer and recent mom is also using D’Mile’s musical compositions on her next album. D'Mile says he's excited for Monét’s next musical chapter, which incorporates her experiences with motherhood and more sass.

"We dug a little deeper. She is an artist that I feel really comfortable with," the producer says of Monét's forthcoming record. "There might be a couple of songs that you wouldn’t expect from her, and then there are songs that are just incredible records."

Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic

The breakout group of 2021 were undoubtedly the nostalgically catchy vocal duo Silk Sonic — a project of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. D’Mile executive produced the entire An Evening With Silk Sonic album, which swept the 64th GRAMMY Awards.

D’Mile related immensely to Bruno Mars, who is also a producer, and found commonality in .Paak's interest in older R&B originals from the likes of Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. The stars finally aligned in 2020 when Anderson reached out to D'Mile about a collaboration.

"It took us two years to create the vision and we all just kind of love that era of music [that Silk Sonic is emulating]. That's what we grew up on," D’Mile reminisces. "'Smoking Out the Window' was a song that Bruno and Anderson sat on for five years until the right moment came. It feels like a blur because we were just having so much fun together."

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BTS Release Stunning Music Video For 'Map Of The Soul: 7' Single "Black Swan"

BTS - "Black Swan" Music Video

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BTS Release Stunning Music Video For 'Map Of The Soul: 7' Single "Black Swan"

The striking visual is the latest offering from the South Korean septet's chart-topping album

GRAMMYs/Mar 4, 2020 - 11:19 pm

BTS are back with another stunning music video off their newly released, chart-topping album Map Of The Soul: 7. Today (March 4), the global pop superstars released the official music video for "Black Swan," the first single off the album.

Simple yet striking, the "Black Swan" video shows the South Korean septet deliver a gorgeous dance performance inside an equally beautiful theater. Directed by YongSeok Choi and co-directed by Guzza, both from the Lumpens creative collective, the visual depicts the members of BTS transforming from swans into the song's eponymous black swans onstage. 

The "Black Swan" video follows the group's recent cinematic visual for Map Of The Soul: 7 single "ON," which last week (Feb. 28) broke YouTube's record for most views for a video premiere. Last month (Feb. 21), BTS released the Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima, the first visual for "ON" that unfolds like a short film.

Released last month, Map Of The Soul: 7, BTS' fourth studio album, is breaking records around the world. Already the best-selling album of the year worldwide, the album topped the Billboard 200 chart, their fourth No. 1 album in the U.S., while lead single "ON" currently sits at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, marking their highest record on that chart to date.

Read: BTS Talk New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7': "The Genre Is BTS"

In an interview with the Recording Academy last month, BTS explained their creative approach to Map Of The Soul: 7, which sees the group exploring everything from pop ballads to hip-hop jams.

"I think it's less and less meaningful to divide music into genres now," BTS member Suga said. 

"The genre is BTS. That's the genre we want to make and the music that we want. New genre," the group's Jungkook, V and J-Hope added. 

Map Of The Soul: 7 follows a dazzling performance from BTS at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards last month. They joined Lil Nas X in a star-studded performance of "Old Town Road" that also featured Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo and Mason Ramsey

Map Of The Soul: 7 marks BTS' first full-length project since their 2018 album, Love Yourself: Tear, which topped the Billboard 200 chart and solidified the group as the first Korean act to accomplish that record-setting feat. It's also the second installment in BTS' ongoing Map Of The Soul series, which launched with the chart-topping Map of the Soul: Persona EP last April.

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