At just sixteen years old, Kwamé Holland released his debut album, Kwamé the Boy Genius featuring a New Beginning. That was 1989. Since then, the Boy Genius has become quite the well-rounded artist and producer, forging a formidable path for himself in the music industry. Between producing artists like Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera and Keyshia Cole, continuing his work as an artist, producing music for film and partaking in other groups and initiatives, Kwamé has really made a career out of being a musical Jack-of- all-trades. Insight was granted an exclusive opportunity to talk to Kwamé and pick his brain about his experience, the music industry and what we can expect from him next.
I: You were just sixteen when you released your debut album! You started out so young! How did you find yourself drawn to music and into the music industry to begin with?
K: I’ve had a love for music ever since I was two years old. I was just seven years old when hip-hop became more mainstream. I had no clue it could be my reality, or even better, my profession! Pioneering acts like Kid n’ Play and Salt-n-Pepa made me see that this could be real. Their careers motivated me to put all my time and energy into music.
I: After some time releasing albums of your own, you decided to switch over from artist to producer? What made you switch ships, so to speak?
K: I didn’t really “switch.” I wrote and produced all my material as an artist. I also produced an wrote for artists such as En Vogue, Kid ‘n Play, Salt-n-Pepa, and Bell Biv DeVoe. It was a natural move to produce for other talented artists. Producing allows me more freedom. It also gives me the privacy that I enjoy to really think creatively and dig deeper into my element. Also, it totally helps that I am an artist as well. I can see their point of view, and in turn, the artists I work with show a different level of respect towards me because they know I’ve been where they are.
I: So, which hat do you like wearing better, that of producer or that of artist?
K: Producing allows me to mostly work on my own time. In the beginning phase of most projects, I have no creative deadlines. Not to mention, producing allows me to work with so many talented people. Individual artists never get to work with so many different musicians, from across various genres, as much as a producer would be able to.
I: And you definitely have gotten to work with so many great artists – LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole, Christina Aguilera, etc. Do you find that there is a type of music you’re attracted to as a producer? Or, maybe, a type of artist and personality that attracts you?
K: I don’t really have a favorite genre of music; being able to experiment with different forms is one of the many perks of being a producer. However, I am attracted to music that adds a live element to the sound. For example, horns and string sections can make a song pop. As far as artists, I love working with artists that have a strong work ethic and aren’t doing things just for “fame.” Artists that come to work and can contribute to the project at hand are great. An individual that I can teach, work with and learn from spark the best types of sessions.
I: What is the music that seems to inspire you the most? What is your source of musical creativity?
K: I create music just off of the stimuli of life. Any life situation can inspire me to produce. Music from around the world also heavily influences my style. When I hear different types of music, including African, Indian, Chinese, classical or Caribbean, it makes me want to create new songs! I’m also compelled to make music for artists that I feel have that extra special aura. Record deal or not; great musicians deserve to be heard. It is part of the reason I love being a producer. I love the fact that I get to choose who I work with.
I: Musical creation seems like an invigorating field. But, what is something that the public doesn’t realize about the process? We as an audience tend to hear the ultimate product and make our judgment calls about it, but I’m sure that the role of critic tends to overlook an extensive amount of labor. What do you wish the public knew about the process?
K: It’s a 24 hour process with very little sleep involved. If you’re serious about your craft, you hardly have any personal time. You’re devoted to the music. I can’t speak for other producers, but I take a lot of time perfecting my craft. Learning new techniques and working with all types of musicians helps me to continue evolving as a producer. Also, producers wear so many hats. I’m often part teacher, mentor, student, psychiatrist and coach. It can be exhausting, but it really is all a beautiful experience. You can love or hate the music, just respect the process that goes behind it.
I: In addition to producing for albums or radio, you also have worked on several movie scores and cinematic music, including for movies like Step Up 1 & 2, Stomp the Yard, Coach Carter, Fantastic Four, etc. How do the two types of productions compare?
K: Creating music scores is very different. For example, you have to tell a story with your music in a matter of seconds, not minutes. Also, music for films helps push my creative boundaries. When making music for records, more often than not, labels want you to stay in a specific box, depending on what genre of music the artist is in. Creative opportunities are what I strive for and film music allows for that…I also can’t help but mention the pay is 100 times better!
I: You have really walked down many paths in the music industry. You must have had first row seats to its evolution over the past few decades, then. What has it been like to see the industry evolve over time, and to see the production, producers and artists change? What’s your take?
K: Sometimes I feel like a vampire, in the immortal sense. My world keeps changing around me and technology has made it an awesome time to be in music. So much has evolved in just the last few years, let alone the past decade. But, I still feel 16 and have the same drive, wants and ambitions. It’s refreshing, challenging and welcome all at the same time. As far as the music itself, the beats that make up new music continue to be original and fresh, especially in hip-hop. Unfortunately, the song lyrics are saying the same old thing. I see a serious lack in creative writing in hip-hop and R&B music.
I: You’ve done so much already. But, what have you got coming up next?
K: One of my pet projects for a few years now has been working with an Atlantic Records artist, Lauriana Mae. I’m hoping the label will release her album later this year! I also have releases on albums for Chanté Moore, Busta Rhymes, Algebra Blessett and Vivian Green coming up. In addition to my production work, I am part of a classic hip-hop group called The Alumni. The group is comprised of legendary hip-hop artists Special Ed, Chubb Rock, Dana Dane and Monie Love. We are currently on tour. Last but not least, I’m an avid comic book, toy and sneaker geek. My personal passions led me to create a lifestyle brand called GEEKMODE. I have developed an entire website dedicated to this culture that can be viewed at www.geekmodeonline.com.
I: And, for anyone else that wants to walk your path and find a way in the music industry, what is the best piece of advice you can offer that person?
K: Find your own voice and don’t try to be the “next” anyone. Be you!
*You can continue to keep up with Kwame Holland over social media!