"You have to have an undeniable chorus."
Young producer and solo artist Ricky Blaze is turning 24 on the day he picks up the phone for MTV Iggy, and he’s got plenty to celebrate. The Brooklynite’s latest release of dancehall infused dance pop, titled Crash the Party, is out on A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold label and his single “Love Right Now” is featured on the Magic Mike soundtrack. Yeah! You blow out those candles!
But previous years have given him some happy memories to look back on as well. For one thing, he’s the guy who produced Gyptian’s juggernaut reggae single “Hold Yuh.” Not only that, he helped produce “Disparate Youth” with Santigold, he’s worked with Nicki Minaj, he’s tight with Diplo, and he gets crazy love in Jamaica. No, he’s not Illuminati, he’s just a kid from Brooklyn with a preternatural gift for making catchy crossover pop that you can dance to. The question is, just where is he crossing over from? In his interview with us, he filled us in on that, famous collaborators, and why he’s driven to make his mark on music.
Happy birthday. Can I ask how you plan to celebrate?
I’m just chilling with the family. I don’t really have a big bang planned. Just doing a couple of things, taking myself to the spa, taking my mind off music for a little bit and then back to work.
Great Jones, it’s in Manhattan on the SoHo side. It’s like Spa Castle. They have hot tubs and you can get a massage, you know, get some drinks, relax in the hot tub until it’s time to go for your massage.
You’ve done tracks for some of the biggest artists in both the US and Jamaica. Who was the first artist you produced for where it was like “wow, this is crazy?”
Santi. Because when I worked with Nicki Minaj she wasn’t that huge. She had just signed a deal with Young Money and she was still upcoming so what really impacted me to work with her was just her style, her flow, how she jumped on tracks. So it wasn’t about the fame with her. Maybe if it was now it would have been different.
Santi was on the Brooklyn We Go Hard record with Jay-Z and she had the buzz already from the first album that she did, with “Unstoppable” and those kind of tracks. I was working with Diplo who was also someone who wasn’t as huge at that time. He introduced me to Santi, which at that point, Santi having her track record, it was just like … wow. And Santi wasn’t mainstream. She had her own thing going on so it wasn’t an easy task. I couldn’t come up with just any kind of tracks for her. You know, what she likes is kind of experimental.
What was it like when “Hold Yuh” blew up?
When “Hold Yuh” took off, I had the vision for this record becoming a huge record in like small islands like Barbados and Bermuda and those kind of countries, because it had that island feel to it. But it also had like a pop vibe to it, where it could potentially cross over.
So, it kind of was just something that I had envisioned already, so when it happened it was more surprising than shocking. I felt like all the track needs is to get the right promotion and marketing to the fans and they would gravitate to it but it was kind of surprising just to see the growth of the record and the love it got when it reached the level that it did. That was amazing. It just started picking up on urban radio and rhythmic radio until it just reached all over.
Of course, you’d had some success internationally before that, right?
Yes, before that I produced a record for a Jamaican dancer by the name of Ding Dong. It was called “Bad Man Forward, Bad Man Pull Up” and that was the first record that I ever produced. I was seventeen. We kind of just broke the record locally in Brooklyn and then it started to blow up. They had this dancehall series DVD that would come out called Passa Passa. It was a big DVD and everyone was tuned into it. It had like 70 episodes with like a street party in Jamaica and everyone wanted to be there. If you were somebody who wanted to get exposure that was the place to be at this particular party. They would video tape the party and put it on DVD for the world to see it.
There was a dance to it that Ding Dong had created, he was a dancer. The DJs would just play the record and he would dance in the street while they videotaped him. And he would do the dance and the crowd would follow him and that helped the song blow up even more. Dance how it was going down in Jamaica for a while with a lot of the dancing songs that the dancers were doing. They would create dances and then the artists would go into the studios to create songs for the dances. When they did that it would help promote that song if the dance was a cool dance that everybody wanted to do.
At that time, I was still DJing on the pirate radio station and the dancehall clubs, before I had fully crossed over into to producing and just being an artist. So, the club that I would play in I would play the record and with the record getting love in Jamaica and building momentum in both places it eventually got a single deal with this label in Queens, VP Records. When that record blew up the was the first official record that took off for me and that’s when I started to create my own music.
Are you tired of hearing that riddim yet?
No, I don’t think I’ve heard enough of it. It’s just amazing to hear your production on the radio or hearing it on television. When I heard “Disparate Youth” on, I think it was NCIS, one of those TV shows … it’s just amazing to hear your own production and your work out there. It’s a real feeling.
Despite the number of high profile collaborations you have, there are still people who would say you are somewhat unsung. Are you shooting for being a household name?
Yes, I would love to be a more household name. At the end of the day my talent resides in production and songwriting but being a fan also of music I just feel like the elements of the songs that I create and the music that I create as an artist are just elements that I feel, as a fan of music, are missing, or it could have been done this way or that way.
If I hear a song on the radio that I like, as a fan critique, it might be something like “this song needs a twist” and then I might go into the studio and create a track and it might give me a feeling that I just want to do this song like this. A lot of my music sometimes it’s just based off of me being a fan of music and just ideas and things that I’ve heard in the past, elements that I think music should have.
Aside from your own music, what are some of your favorite summer jams this year?
I’ve been listening to a lot of dance and pop stuff. I love a lot of things that are out. I love the new Demi Lovato record. That record is really hot. What else? Katy Perry, Wide Awake. Pay Phone by Maroon 5. I’ve been listening to all the pop stuff on the radio recently along with some of the urban stuff like hip-hop. That’s what I do. I give my music fusion, so you might here like cool pop phrases with some funky urban drums on it, you know, give the music a twist. I’m back and forth especially when I’m in the car I’m back and forth from radio station to radio station listening to what’s going down.
You seem to be really interested in what makes a pop hit. What have you figured out about the elements of an earworm?
I was never taught from any one on how to create records. I just kind of studied the sound, what you hear on the radio. The biggest Top 40 records, the biggest dance, or any genre of music, the biggest records, what are the elements of the records that make them so popular. You have to have an undeniable chorus. You have to have big chorus. Not too complicated lyrics. Sometimes easy that people can remember and relate to. It has to have a cool flow with it. It can be minimal or it can stand out by the choice of instruments used. And how much it can relate to the club and fans.
That’s how I think about it when I go into the studio. I start off with a metronome, you know, the speed that I would like the track to be. And then I’ll go up to the keyboard and play a phrase and then I’ll record the phrase and then put some cheesy drums on it and that when the ideas start coming in to me, whether it’s a track for me or one that I’m referencing for someone else.
What’s in your headphones lately that might be surprising?
I’m listening to some Kansas. They’re amazing. Peter Gabriel. I’ve been also listening to James Morrison from the United Kingdom, he’s super dope. UB40, I listen to a lot of UB40. Yeah, I love that group.
What gets you dancing more than anything else?
Just dance music as a whole. It’s amazing what they do with records these days. Me, I’m a little more fascinated with the ’90s. I love that ’90s house music style more than the new stuff, but with all the cool tricks and effects and things that they do with the stuff now is really cool and just makes you want to move. I’m just really fascinated with what they’re doing right now and just trying to do some cool stuff like that now but putting my own little twist on it.
How did you get involved with Fool’s Gold Records?
After working with Diplo it got a couple of people on my radar. I was performing at Terminal Five one day when I was introduced to A-Trak and me and him just kept a relationship and one day I just saw him on Twitter, I was following him and just @A-trak “we should collab” and he’s was like “okay, most definitely.” So, we direct messaged each other and we took it from there. And I just went in and met him and Nick Catchdubs at their headquarters in Brooklyn and I played them a few tracks and they picked the ones that they really felt strongly about.
Did you go to Jamaica growing up?
I’ve been there a couple of times. My mom and my dad, my whole family was born there. I was born here, but I’ve been there a couple of time being a kid. I went back there two years ago to perform. I performed at this event sponsored by Guinness called Fully Loaded. That was just an experience. As a kid, I don’t really remember the experiences down there growing up and actually seeing the vibe there and the culture and understanding it was really cool and I really enjoyed it. I’ll be going back to visit and collab with some artists down there.
How were you received there?
I had released a song called “Feel Free” and it was featured with Nicki and I had another artist on it and the record kind of blew up down there without me even being down there or anything like that so they kind of requested for me to come perform. The people perceived it really well. They were kind of amazed because they don’t look at me as a reggae artist. Here in America, the regular fans that know who Ricky Blaze is think that I’m a reggae artist. In Jamaica, they think that I’m a hip-hop artist. It’s kind of like a weird situation.
How do you feel about the hipsterization of dancehall? Are you into it?
I think it’s cool. It’s a different vibe. That was kind of created by dope people like Diplo and A-Trak and you have a lot more others out there that kind of produce these dope reggae influenced records, that still have a twist of their own. And that’s what hipsters stand for.
They’re always on their own shit. It’s not any trends or it’s not anything that’s done. Hipsters are just living their style, their way, in their world. So, reggae music having that twist to it and becoming something that they can say “well, this is a part of us now” is super cool with me. That’s kind of how I create my own sound for myself, not following any rules. And that’s worked for me for a long time. I’m cool with it and I’m supporting the movement.