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100 Years of Radio–100 Years of Hit Makers

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 28: Record producer Sonny Digital performs onstage at the 2015 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards at Saban Theatre on August 28, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for BMI)

The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.

New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.   

100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.

Sonny Digital has been one of hip-hop’s most successful songwriter/producers for nearly a decade, starting with YC and Future’s “Racks.” In this interview, he talks about some of his biggest hits. Hear the entire interview in the podcast; read some of the highlights below.

Let’s start off by talking about “Racks” by YC and Future. That was an important song for you. 

We were still working to get on, nobody was really famous yet. When we got that song, everyone was brand new, I was new to the scene, YC was new to the scene, Future wasn’t new, but he wasn’t who he is today. He was like the leading force in that [song] though. I didn’t really know YC, I didn’t really know Future.

But the stars just kind of aligned and the right people connected at the right time and made the right song. You know, it just kind of set the tone for the next decade. I feel like that was just a song that kind of opened the doors for the what was about to happen [in hip-hop] next.

Like you say, you were new to the scene. People who knew hip-hop knew who Future was, but he wasn’t as popular as he is now. But for someone who was new, getting a song recorded with Future on it must have been a big deal. 

Future wasn’t that big, to be honest, at that time. It wasn’t like mindblowing to me, like “I got a song with Future!” Future was signed to Rocko. Rocko was more popular at the time. Rocko’s one of my favorite rappers of all time. Whenever he hopped on my stuff, that’s when I was kind of like more excited. Future was kind of like Rocko’s artist at the time. It was like we were all coming up at the same time. He didn’t know who I was to be excited to be working with me, I didn’t know who he was at the time to be excited to be working with him. I made the beat and I sent it to YC. He played for Future to get [him] on it.

At the time, did that song take off pretty quickly from the time that you wrote it to the time that it got out to radio? Did it change your life at the time? 

It wasn’t life changing. It was good. It was learning life-changing. At the time I had signed a bad publishing deal, and when all that stuff transpired, everything came to light and it let me know when real money started getting involved, that’s when I had real business under control. That’s when I started to figure out what kind of situation I was in, so it was good. I started making money, though, but it wasn’t as much as I was supposed to be making either. It was better than where I was. So, you know, I was still happy that at least we got the wheels on the car rolling. I wasn’t down on myself as a producer. I knew I can produce, I knew I could make more. I just had to head that first one, trying to get people to believe in everything else I was going to be doing.

Was that the first song of yours that you ever heard on the radio?

Yeah, that was most definitely the first song that I heard on my nose on radio.

Do you remember where you were, what the situation was?

Yeah, I was in a car. I forget where I was on the way to. But I remember exactly where I was. I was in Atlanta on 85. I was surprised, like, “Damn! I’m hearing my song on the radio.”

Tell me about “Tuesday” by ILoveMakonnen.

That whole ILoveMadonnen project was just something that I personally like. I personally liked it. I wasn’t looking for it to do anything crazy [commercially]. Even though that’s what we all hope for. But I wasn’t  doing it with any intention, I just wanted to make something that I like. It was like everything was just, like, effortless. The vibe was just so cool. Just good songs that we can all vibe to. Then it transcended to the people too. Personally, I didn’t think people were going to f— with it, like heavily, how I did. And [co-producer] Metro [Boomin’] did.

Like I said, I was just working on it just because I really liked it, though. I liked what he was doing. So that was that. And everything in that situation just kind of transpired, just kind of like quick as hell. Like, honestly, we thought “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” was gonna be the single. In my eyes, that was kind of a bigger song than “Tuesday” but it didn’t get a feature like “Tuesday” had.

Drake called about “Tuesday,” so that’s when the focus shifted from “I Don’t Sell Molly” to “Tuesday.” But it was real simple, there wasn’t nothing to it. Keep in mind, when the ILoveMakonnen s— happened. I was kind of like… both my feet was kind of wet in the game by that time. Eveybody in the industry kind of knew me. And Metro was poppin’ too at the time. But we didn’t think it was going to resonate with people like it did.

I guess as a producer, you make beats, you put together a track, you send it out. But Drake being on that track changes things; it changes where that song is going to be heard. 

I saw this interview that Kanye had done with Nick Cannon. He said that any record he co-produced with anybody, it would be their biggest record.  I’m like, “Damn, bro! That’s kind of far from true.” It was just kind of a big statement, though. I was like, “Man, that Drake feature, that’s where you really do numbers. That’s life-changing.” You know, shout out to Kanye and everything. But Drake features? When he come through, that s— will change some s— around for you. Not to say that Kanye West won’t, but that Drake s— will surely do, and quick.

 

Well, we know that he says stuff like that all the time. The next song I want to ask you about is [2 Chainz’s] “Birthday Song,” which Kanye was on. Talk about that… and yeah, it’s interesting that he would make that comment, it takes away from what other people contribute. It’s not only about him. 

When he said that, I had to say something about it. I only did that because, s—, it just felt like a direct shot though. But people who haven’t produced wouldn’t understand. They’re just going to look at him like Kanye West, the big producer. When we talk about co-producing… just because you have the biggest name doesn’t mean you’re making [the song] the best. My biggest record wasn’t with you, even though I had a big record with you. It’s cool, I’m not even trippin’ though. We “little people” still work too.

Check out the rest of our interview with Sonny Digital — he talkso about working with Travis Scott, Rae Sremmurd, 50 Cent and more — in the podcast. Scroll up to download it.