World, meet Yuki. After working alongside Jaden Smith, the New Zealand producer announced his arrival with his debut, ‘Be Free,’ and he shares EXCLUSIVELY with us the challenges and triumphs behind this project.
Chances are, you’ve heard Yuki‘s work, even if you haven’t given his debut album a spin. The young hip-hop producer contributed the instrumentation for “NOIZE,” Jaden Smith‘s collaboration with Tyler, The Creator from 2019’s ERYS. The track was selected to be the official intro to last year’s NBA Playoffs, introducing Yuki’s sound to millions of viewers. One year later, Hamilton, New Zealand’s favorite son has stepped out from behind the boards and in front of the mic. On Be Free, Yuki brings a punk rock DIY spirit to bedroom hip-hop, crafting an inventive and intriguing sound that captures the current zeitgeist. It is in. It is the sound of now.
Yuki weaves together a complex tapestry on Be Free, and he tells HollywoodLife that the complexity almost was his undoing. “I had 80% of the songs done and written about halfway through the process, but I kept becoming uninspired and was struggling to rerecord certain vocal parts or restructure a song,” he shares via email. “I learned along the way to try not be as hyper-analytical. As a producer and someone who pays attention to every micro detail in a song when constructing it, I tend to forget that 95% of the people listening won’t even be paying attention to those tiny details.”
For those who are listening that deeply, the hard work is appreciated. Yuki talks with HollywoodLife about how he came to accept his “hyper-analytical” nature, what he learned while working with Jaden and Tyler, and who’d he love to get on his next project.
HollywoodLife: You just released your debut full-length Be Free. One month after its release, how are you feeling about completing this project? Does it feel like a huge weight was lifted off your shoulders from getting this project done, or is it more like you’ve lit a fireworks display that announced your arrival?
Yuki: It was definitely a huge weight off my shoulders. The album, as a whole, was me being very honest with myself and expressing my thoughts a lot. So not only was it a relief to get the album out after working on it for so long, but to be able to move on from the times and things I talked about on that album. I didn’t really release Be Free to have it do well, but more for me knowing that I was honestly happy with the music, and I’m super proud of it.
Has COVID-19 affected this release? New Zealand has been setting the gold standard when it comes to coronavirus control.
I think people being stuck inside has actually affected how people listen. Personally, I don’t know many people that just sit inside and listen to albums on loop unless they’re busy. With so much downtime, people aren’t going to work or busing to school etc., so how people are listening seems very different.
Are there any plans to perform this music in NZ?
I definitely want to perform this album live, but I’m not sure if New Zealand is the place I want to go all out on a performance, though. I’m for sure thinking of things to do!
There are a lot of challenges and unexpected obstacles that go into making a record (you always hear stories about producers jumping through hoops to get the right sound.) Were there any significant challenges that you had to overcome in making Be Free? Like, there was a sound that you were not getting right until the last minute? Or a verse that wasn’t coming together?
Absolutely!! The main challenge for me was being happy with my own performance, production-wise too. I had 80% of the songs done and written about halfway through the process, but I kept becoming uninspired and was struggling to rerecord certain vocal parts or restructure a song. I learned along the way to try not be as hyper-analytical. As a producer and someone who pays attention to every micro detail in a song when constructing it, I tend to forget that 95% of the people listening won’t even be paying attention to those tiny details. I remember I had to go back and forth with my engineer about editing tiny breaths, white noise sounds, and even super small things like a hi-hat placement. It ended up being too much, and he ended up just saying, “I think you’re overthinking it.” I sat with the record while the mixes where being finalized, and realized that I can’t overthink this to the point where it will get ruined for me.
You worked as a producer on Jaden Smith’s ERYS, most notably on the Tyler, the Creator-assisted “NOIZE.” You’ve said that a lot of music was made during these sessions – “A lot of trial and error.” What was one thing you learned not to do in future sessions?
I think I’ve learned not to expect certain things to come out of a session. I use to go in very excited and sort of expect/want to make x amount of songs or work on this certain song, and the artist to do something really cool on x part. That mindset can be really motivating but also soul-crushing when it doesn’t go your way, when in fact, it’s never about something going your way. At the end of the day, you’re just there to create and have fun, in my opinion. I’m much more relaxed and into letting what happens on the day, happen.
If you could be an apprentice to – or, like spend a summer internship with – any music producer, who would you pick? Like, which maestro would you love to work with?
It’s a tossup between Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) and Hector Delgado (A$AP Rocky‘s producer). Ezra, as a creative, is super inspiring. The way he obsesses over things and crafts these sonic worlds in the Vampire Weekend albums is exactly what I try to do. Also going in to creating a Netflix show, he’s just super interesting to me. Hector has just had his hands in one of my favorite albums and a lot of huge records. I’d love to spend a month just learning about how he and his team creates.
Similarly, who would you love to hear sing or rap on one of your tracks? Would you pick a hip-hop icon like KRS-One or Jay Z, or would you pick someone out of left field – like, would you love to hear Dolly Parton or Robert Plant’s voice on a track you produced?
A$AP Rocky, 1000%! Also, I think another voice that would work well on my production would be Lil Uzi Vert. He’s the best!
Be Free is out now.