Words By Miki Hellerbach
The Producer’s Voice is a new series for GUAP where we highlight the stories of instrumental crafters. We hope to bring their stories to the forefront instead of kept behind the artist they are producing for.
Ghana’s GuiltyBeatz is an instantly recognisable name now, but it wasn’t always this way.
While he was born in Palermo, Italy, producer GuiltyBeatz was mostly raised in his parents native Ghana which he moved to when he was six years old. Though his exploration into music didn’t begin until he was thirteen when his father bought him a cassette player. Guilty’s father was a big jazz fan and he remembers him specifically playing a lot of music by jazz guitarist George Benson, who was an early favourite. He thought at the time he would solely want to make jazz music as he became entranced by its sonic detail.
The first music Guilty eventually made was on a friend’s Sony Ericsson phone on an application called Music DJ. The app had simple drum loops and melodies you could put together and Guilty would make beats while his friends would battle rap to them. He would later form a rap group with some of those same friends and one day during a school show a local guy said he wanted to record them. After they started recording, one of the members of the group played that same man some of Guilty’s early production. He was impressed and took Guilty under his wing. Guilty started meeting various artists and also started honing his rounded craft including engineering. He even joined the choir and brass band in his school while teaching himself piano.
The first full track for someone else that Guilty produced was a song called “Tell Me Your Name” by Ghanaian artist Chase. The song took off almost immediately in Ghana. Guilty says he was cleaning his mother’s room one day and all of a sudden just heard it on the radio. From that moment in 2011 on, he committed fully to being a professional producer. In 2012, he got another huge hit in Ghana with an artist named Efya called “Getaway” which was the first time he used the program Logic 9.
This is a consistent theme with Guilty’s career, whenever he tries something new that connects with him musically it tends to have an immediate effect. His first song with Nigerian artists Jesse Jagz and Wizkid in 2013 “Bad Girls” had the same trajectory and became Guilty’s biggest song yet. But the problem was no one really knew he produced it.
Unfortunately, at the end of 2013, the studio home for Guilty closed down and it put him in a bind for two years. Then right before quitting it all, he was introduced to Mr Eazi and they collaborated on the smash “Sample You”. His producer tag was front and centre and again had a great impact on his career. With his new vibe Guilty propelled himself forward even further.
He would have a slightly shorter downtime after this played out in 2017, but he also started working solely with Ghanaian artist Pappy Kojo. In 2018 Guilty would sample something from a session they had the previous year and create his biggest hit up to that point, “Akwaaba” with Mr Eazi.
Since that song exploded, Guilty has gone on an unrelenting run with a plethora of other huge artists. He has over 1.5 million monthly listeners on his solo music Spotify alone and has had an unrelenting 2021. Following our interview, it was revealed that he produced 4 of the 5 songs on Tems brilliant new Ep If Orange Was A Place and 2 out of the 5 songs on Cina Soul’s new amazing ep For Times We Lost.
“I recently spoke to the guy who employed me at my first studio and he was so proud. It was me and I think five other artists and he was like, “You are the only one who actually made it out. Everyone else is down and stopping, and you are the only one who actually did not stop.” Bro, I almost stopped.”GuiltyBeatz for GUAP 2021
I asked GuiltyBeatz to give the backstory of three of his top instrumentals. Take a read.
“Akwaaba” by GuiltyBeatz, Mr. Eazi, Pappy Kojo, & Patapaa
“I was staying in Pappy Kujo’s house that whole year in 2017. Then at the end of the year, I took one of his vocals from a slow and very chill song and sped them up to make the beat for “Akwaaba”.
I started with the drums after that cuz I was going for an Afro House feel. After that song came out people were like, “That kick is very strong.” I just took a little kick I had and I doubled it. It’s two layers, one is normal level and one is low. It’s not too strong, but strong at the same time and sits very well. The synths are from the Dune 2 (Synthesizer) and I used Kontakt. Then I used basic Logic strings to give it that dark feel with one single note. Then with percussion, I choose from many different places. I have so many drum kits and pick from different places so I don’t always sound the same.
I was gonna release the track as just me, so just the beat with the vocal sample. But then I made a little video of someone dancing to the track and I posted it on Twitter. I wasn’t thinking that someone would listen to it or find it but it started getting a lot of retweets. The person in the video was the guy who introduced me to Mr. Eazi at first. People recognized him and then Eazi saw the video. He said, “Put me on this track. I need to be on this song.” I was like, “Oh yeah!” So I sent it to him and he did his verse while I was on a video call with him. He recorded it right in front of me but he was in London and I was in Ghana. He was invested in it so he pulled all his strings to push the song to get it to where it was supposed to get to.”
“Dem Blues” by Shaybo
“I did that in New York one morning. The sample is from a Ghanaian artist named Kojo Antwi. He’s a Ghanaian legend. I was like, “I haven’t actually sampled any Ghanaian songs.” It’s because every song I was thinking of was too traditional. Then someone suggested listening to Kojo Antwi and it was perfect because those songs are more blues, r&b, and soul. I took that specific track, pitched it down, bounced it, then pitched it up again so it wouldn’t sound too high but in-between. I had to cut it short for the album but the full version has the whole intro of the song and then it flips into that drill track.
The funny thing about that is the name of the beat became the name of the song. We went into the session and I said, “This track is called “Dem Blues”” she said, “I like it.” And kept it like that. When the beat drops, that is the sample sidechained and reversed. When Shaybo heard it, she loved it and said, “I’m doing this now!”“
“All of This” by Jorja Smith X GuiltyBeatz
“We met in Jamaica in October 2019. We made the initial track on a slow like 107 bpm, four on the floor kick and melody. When we were setting up the session, I was recording and I took those vocals of people saying “is everything ok” and looped it. Then I took one of Jorja singing a freestyle and added it in. You can hear it when it goes into that really high thing. I used both of those to build the beat. Then I played the chords and she did another long freestyle.
Fast forward six months later, I hadn’t actually gone back to the song ever. I went to a radio show with my friend in London who DJs. I just wanted to sit there and we were listening to house music and just talking about music in general. Then I was like, “Hold on, I have some Jorja Smith vocals, why don’t I just apply my “Akwaaba” story to those vocals.” So I sped it up and made a whole different beat around it. Then I sent it to Jorja and she didn’t even remember where it was from. So I sent her the old one too and she was like, “Oh, wow!” Then she put lyrics to it and went in.
The production, I kept changing it. The drums were from another project. I put them on then sped them up to fit with the melodies. Then when I put her vocals on top I was like, “This makes sense.” Then I built the beat with the drop. I like to build tracks where you get more and more excited, new things keep coming up, and it keeps getting higher and higher. That sound in the drop is from Dune 2, that I filtered. Once it gets quiet then that part just starts going up. Then that bass is from Fruity Loops and it’s called log drum. I put some CLA compressor on it and a little bit of gain so it would have presence so when it drops you’re like, “What is going on here?”. I really wanted people to be like, “Woah what is this?”.
Because Jorja’s music is chill but also has a lot of feeling to it I added some strings from Kontakt and arpeggios in the back half as well. All of that adds to the feeling. She said, “I wanna put Guilty’s name on it.” like two days before. I couldn’t believe it. Not a lot of artists want to do that, get up and say, “I wanna put the producer’s name on a track.””