Photo: Anthony Ghnassia
Tchami Talks Debut Album 'Year Zero,' New Single "Faith" And Producing Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica'
GRAMMY.com caught up with the Parisian DJ/producer to talk about how he experimented in the studio on 'Year Zero,' Lady Gaga's fearless approach to music and his ongoing chase to "master the alchemy of making great records"
Tchami might be having the best year ever, and in 2020 no less. Over the last decade, he's performed at some of the biggest festivals in the world, amassed hundreds of millions of online streams and launched the future house genre. This year, the Parisian DJ/producer upped the ante: As one of the featured producer's on Lady Gaga's latest hit album, Chromatica, he's put his magic touch on one of the year's biggest pop releases.
After first working with Gaga on "Applause," the lead single from her 2013 album, ARTPOP, the pop queen once again tapped Tchami for Chromatica. He co-produced four of the album's tracks, including lead single "Stupid Love" and mega radio hit "Rain on Me" with Ariana Grande.
"The vibe in the studio was open," Tchami said of the creative process behind Chromatica. "[In] the end, I was just happy to be there and come back when my help was needed."
As the overwhelming success of his earworm tracks continues to build, Tchami is closing out the year with the release of his forthcoming debut album, Year Zero. Set to release later this year, the album is an "illustration of where I am right now as an artist and also as a human," he explains.
So far, Tchami has rolled out five singles off Year Zero, including his latest, "Faith," released Sept. 25. The up-tempo house track centers on a haunting sample from legendary soul-jazz singer Marlena Shaw's 1969 song, "Woman of the Ghetto," a stark portrait of Black life in America during the tumultuous decade.
"There is a fascinating aspect about sampling in the way that you're able to bring something from the past and its aesthetics into a new time and place," Tchami says of the distinctive sample driving "Faith."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Tchami to talk about how he experimented in the studio on Year Zero, Lady Gaga's fearless approach to music and his ongoing chase to "master the alchemy of making great records."
Your new single, "Faith," samples Marlena Shaw's 1969 song, "Woman of The Ghetto." How did you discover the sample in the first place?
About two years ago, during the first studio session for the album, DJ Snake came to me with this idea to sample "Woman of the Ghetto" by Marlena Shaw. I made the first sketches around the a cappella that we extracted from the original version. The creation process around it was really similar to doing a remix.
What drew you to the sample for this specific song? What made you want to use it for "Faith"?
In the early 2000s, I was buying a lot of vinyl records in France. It could be any type of genre, and as far as I can remember, I always liked to incorporate samples in my music. There are ups and downs due to clearances, but it's definitely not new to me. There is a fascinating aspect about sampling in the way that you're able to bring something from the past and its aesthetics into a new time and place. Again, nothing new here, but that's my thinking behind all my sample choices.
I called it "Faith" to punctuate Marlena Shaw's powerful message in her original song. I don't write lyrics at all, even if I try to, and, like many others, my words often fail to express my intentions. That's why I mainly choose to stick to the musical side to express myself; I have found just that in electronic music. I can't hide the fact that I have been touched by records with a powerful message in my life and I wanted my first album to represent that as well.
You're releasing your debut album, Year Zero, later this year. How do you plan to make the album stand out from your previous releases and projects?
I surely went deeper in my sonic explorations, tested new BPMs and song structures. I also wanted to be in a studio creating with songwriters. Since I mainly make music from home, I wanted to shake [up] my creative process a little bit. We had some wonderful moments during these sessions. If I have an obsession in life, it's definitely knowing enough about making a record from scratch, alone or with other people in the room. Everyone's energy is important and I pay attention to everyone.
The main reason for this album to exist is that I wanted to challenge myself. At some point, I was asking myself, "What's next for you Tchami?" Another EP? Countless singles? [There's] nothing wrong with that, but the challenge wasn't there. And as a listener, I just love the album format. But the main wall I kept hitting was, "How are you going to keep the listener engaged through the whole album?" Well, I guess I'll have the answer soon enough.
The term "year zero" carries a lot of different meanings and definitions. For instance, it's used to describe "the beginning of revolutionary change" or "the beginning of any new system or regime." What does Year Zero mean exactly in the world of Tchami?
I think Year Zero is a good photograph/illustration of where I am right now as an artist and also as a human. I have lost family members during the making of the album, I had to terminate some friendships that were unhealthy. Those who know me know that I can be too agreeable most of the time because I believe in people's vision and want to help them achieve it. The cost is putting myself aside. I also think this is a good reason why I'm a good asset in the studio for other artists. But all this led to an inner revolution that started with the Tchami project and continues with this album.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy healthy collaborations; that's what this LP is about. Music is a therapy for me before being a job. I am also conscious that the title can resonate in other ways, especially during these times, and I can't stop people [from thinking of] it. Once the album is out it's up for debate and interpretation. It's meant to be shared, experienced, and maybe be a part of you for some time.
You co-produced several tracks off Lady Gaga's new album, Chromatica. How did that opportunity come about for you?
[GRAMMY-nominated producer] BloodPop and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, as simple as that. I think he wanted to work with other electronic music producers to shape the Chromatica [album] with him and Lady Gaga, so I'm glad I was one of them.
Beyond the fact that this is an exciting project to work on, the vibe in the studio was open, and as far as I know, I had full latitude to work on every song of the album. [In] the end, I was just happy to be there and come back when my help was needed.
Have you always been a fan of Lady Gaga's music? Or is this a more recent development?
What I like the most about her is the big picture she paints, not only with her music, but with all her artistic and aesthetic choices. It always makes sense. She is not afraid to challenge herself in other music genres and makes it look effortless. I think it's powerful not to let people put you in a specific box; if you want to do something else, you should be proud and praised, too.
Lady Gaga has always kept one foot in the pop world and one foot on the dance floor. For example, electronic artists like David Guetta, DJ Snake, Infected Mushroom, Zedd and Madeon have produced for her. Does this dance-pop crossover make it easier or harder for your individual sounds and styles to come together when producing for Gaga or a similar artist?
Unless I'm asked to, I never try to bring the Tchami sound forward when I work on somebody else's project. Bringing my best game means sometimes getting Tchami out of the way because we're trying to write a whole other story. I make all kinds of music in my studio that never sees the light of day, so working on other projects is always an opportunity to surprise people. Maybe the most important thing isn't the sound signature, but the creative process and being able to co-create something unique each time.
Do you have plans to continue experimenting and producing in the pop world? Are there any other genres you're interested in exploring or experimenting with as a producer or artist?
Pop music is a vast world, plus it is one of my guilty pleasures. So why not? I'm interested in other genres, too; maybe [working] with live instruments a bit more. I'm also deeply invested in the mixing and mastering aspects of a record. I think it's one of the key reasons why a record is satisfying to one's ear and potentially timeless. [More so] than genres, I'd like to master the alchemy of making great records.
Your label, Confession, has helped globalize several breakout electronic artists, including Malaa. What's the label working on for the remainder of 2020 and going into 2021?
2020 is definitely a year we take to reflect on the label's direction. We will continue to give a voice and a platform to emerging artists, but also to initiate and engage more in collaborative efforts such as new compilations and live events.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards
Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category
The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.
Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville
Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.
Championships – Meek Mill
In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
i am > i was – 21 Savage
Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.
The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae
Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.
Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images
Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream
Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund
This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.
“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”
Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.
DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs
DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards
DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.
"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."
After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.
DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle."
Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."
Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.