You may not be familiar with his name, but you definitely know his sound and music. Think Big Sean’s “Stay Down” (co-produced with Da Internz), Musiq Soulchild’s “Radio” and his latest works on The Game’s Billboard-charting album, The Documentary 2 and 2.5.
His name: Bongo, a.k.a. the drum GAHD.
After lacing the Compton emcee’s project with 10 tracks including “On Me” featuring Kendrick Lamar, which cleverly infuses samples from Erykah Badu, music heads are soon to be very familiar.
“Working with Game is really dope because he’s super creative and it wasn’t just sending somebody tracks,” the Nigerian born and Rhode Island-bred producer tells JET. “I was literally in the studio with him everyday just working on stuff. Even beats that I didn’t do, I still have production on. Being able to work hand-in-hand like that was good stuff.”
Bongo has been putting in work and creating beats since he was 11 years old, but if you were to tell him that his name would one day be attached to one of the hottest LPs to hit in 2015, the disbelief would be real. However, living by the mantra: dream, build and prosper, there was no doubt his time would soon come.
“Everything happens in God’s time, y’know?,” he says humbly. “The concept behind dream, build and prosper is finding your God-given purpose and actualizing your dream.”
JET caught up with the emerging hit maker and talked the magic of storytelling through instrumentation, cultivating the “Bongo sound” and Detroit hip-hop.
Get to know Bongo below!
JET: When we listen to music, one thing that draws us in is the rhythm and melody but there are also heightened moments within the music that make you feel a certain way. How would you breakdown the producer’s role in storytelling through instrumentation and creating that climactic experience?
BONGO: Music, like anything, to me is about moments. It’s like a movie. Certain moments will captivate you – certain lines that were said that stay with you when you leave a theater. Music is the exact same thing. Being a great producer is like being a great director, because it’s about your choices. You have to make certain choices that are not going to be just cool for you but entertaining to people and going to leave a mark on people.
JET: Is it important for you to build a relationship with the artist before laying down a beat and orchestrating the song?
BONGO: Absolutely. It’s the best. Any other way is like shooting in the dark. It’s either you’re in there with them or trying to create something you think they would do. But I work better with artists and songwriters in the actual studio. I’m a very vibey guy, so every time I go in the studio, I’m pulling not only from what I had in me but also the vibe in the room. That’s usually the best way to make music.
JET: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you want to be the next Pharrell-meets-Kanye. What do those two artists mean to you, hip-hop and pop culture?
BONGO: The reason I look up to them is because they carved their own lane and made an impact not only on hip-hop but on music in general, and that’s what I want to do. Hip-hop is only one facet of what I do. I have written and produced records that I feel could be a good fit for Christina Aguilera, Rihanna and Beyoncé. It just so happens that The Game showed so much love and gave me the trust to really help him shape his project. So hip-hop has always been in my blood and is what made me start producing but [there’s more to what I really do.]
JET: Clearly, you’re no stranger to producing major hits. What do you think woke people up to your skill in 2015?
BONGO: I’ve been learning and growing since I’ve been out here. I just feel like it’s just the right time and I’ve gotten to a point where, like you said, I’ve been doing this for a little while now but it’s just that next level. Now, people can hear what I really can do, and it’s not just making beats. I do concepts of whole albums. If you were to ask me if I was ready five years ago, I would’ve told you “yeah,” but I’m not the person that I am now.
JET: What was your life five years ago?
BONGO: Lol – I was a sophomore in college at the University of North Florida. I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. College was a great experience, but it was like a detour (laughs) because I’ve always known that I wanted to do music. Five years ago, I was definitely in a place where I didn’t even know I would be in this place. I was getting out of class going to sessions, back-and-forth staying up until God knows when, like 6 in the morning, then going to 8 a.m. classes.
JET: Sounds like the creative’s hustle right there! Does your psychology degree play a role in your approach to music and lyricism or getting into the mind of the artist you’re working with?
BONGO: Yeah…it’s not so much the music but more so dealing with people, and that’s what I do most as a producer. Music, of course, is the product but it’s more so dealing with artists, songwriting, musicians, and the business people and knowing how to work with different people.
JET: How do your Nigerian roots and Rhode Island-upbringing influence your approach to sound production and ear for music?
BONGO: My Nigerian roots, I just have an innate sense of rhythm, and it’s in my programming. Rhode Island is when I really started listening to different types of music. I started listening to The Roots, Mos Def, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the many ’70s groups that begin with the word “The” (laughs) – The Manhattans, The Chi-Lites … I was a sucker for all of those groups. Even stuff like Fred Hammond. A lot of the gospel music really influenced me. That was pretty much the beginning of me learning different styles of music and the mechanics behind it. Then when I moved to the South [Jacksonville, Florida] , I figured out a little more of a feel and started to capture different feels and putting it all together with hopes of making a hit. (laughs)
JET: What was the song that solidified your wanting to pursue music?
BONGO: When I heard Slum Village’s ‘Fantastic Volume 2’ (laughs). I’m like the biggest Dilla fan ever. Detroit hip-hop & Dilla is what made me want to do music. There’s so many good artist from Detroit Slum Village – Elzhi, obviously Em and D12 but Royce Da 5’9! Really I started rapping before I started making beats, and that’s what made me start making beats because. I realized I couldn’t rap to other people’s beats. So listening to Slum, Royce, Em and The Roots, Mos Def really made me want to start. I never really thought about that, that was a good question.
JET: Thank you! How would you describe the “Bongo” sound?
BONGO: It’s quality music. I have different qualities that I add to every track, but what I want to do as a producer is not really put myself in a box. I just want to have my own lane and cultivate my sound. You know what, whether it’s hip-hop, pop, R&B, whatever, there are different elements that make that genre what it is, so I just put myself into each thing. That’s really what my sound is. It’s not like a particular instrument, even though I do like guitars, drums that hit, bass lines, but I’m somewhat of a hybrid producer.
JET: Being an artist of sound, when you feel the process being forced or nothing is turning out like you envision, what brews the creative flow?
BONGO: Drums always. I can do a million drum patterns and then think of something progressive.