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.
Joshua. James started his real producing journey as part of Last Night In Paris but really found his feet going solo.
Producer, singer, and songwriter Joshua. James was born, raised, and still lives in South London, though he did spend a few years in his youth in his parents native Ghana. When he was five years old his folks bought him drum kits which he repeatedly broke, so they pivoted him to the piano which in turn sparked his rounded musical approach. At around age 12, James got a scholarship to study classical music and theory, but he always wanted to make his own contemporary music and songs. Once he learned to craft beats on his computer in Secondary School that propelled him and his friends to start an art collective called Last Night in Paris, which gave him his first taste of acclaim.
This trajectory hit a plateau eventually though around 2015 for a variety of reasons. James took a solid 2 year break until late 2017 when he realized his life wasn’t where he wanted it. He decided to nosedive back into music for the fulfillment and joy of it. It pushed him on a solo based career trajectory which has got him to where he is now. Through many amazing collaborations with the likes of Kojey Radical, Chew Lips, and Lukas Graham (to be released soon), James is now on the cusp of releasing his own solo debut project 10,000 Hours. He has started to rack up thousands of streams from his own singles. Everything, it would seem, is only up from here.
I asked Joshua. James to give the backstory of three of his top instrumentals. Take a read.
“Plucking Petals/Chase The Dragon” by Kojey Radical feat Miraa May (Damonoway Remix)
(Note: Damonoway is Joshua.James’ former producer alias)
“Kojey reached out to do a remix in 2014. We knew of each other cuz of the collective I was in. He said, “Do whatever you like. Go to town on it.” I was really hungry during those times so I decided to flip it half way through into Reggae and mix orchestral horns and 808s. I wanted it to evolve, so start simple and small with not too many drums, but have some live strings in there and chop up their vocals and sprinkle them around. I wanted it to be cinematic and build.
Kojey has amazing vocal control so it was really easy to build to that crescendo part of the song when it becomes super epic. When he started saying, “Chase the dragon, chase the dragon,” he got more intense so I put more bass. There might even be Timpanis in there. But then I was like, “What do I do next?” Something in his tone changed which made me turn it into a Reggae thing. I like to do things that no one expects.
Like on my song “Homies” it’s a grime rap song for the first half and for the second half it goes into this folk guitar dreamy outro. So at the time for this one I was like, “I can flip this into a Reggae thing and no one would see it coming.” Especially after the whole orchestral section. I decided to do live bass and got my friend Oscar to play some guitars and used some delays you would use in Reggae and Ska music. Give it that authentic feel. I’m still really proud of it.”
“Luvin U” by SHANTÉH feat. Joshua. James
“I made it around the time I was working on my album and I would go into my studio, make beats, and post them on my Instagram story. I found the vocal sample and thought it was cool, so I played with the key, pitching it up and down. It was giving me this really bouncy vibe so I made the drums that way. I made it really quickly. I can do that but I’m not the type of person who makes 30 beats a day. Are they all really that good though? The most I’ve made was like 5. I like to really go into detail and listen to a loop over and over. But that one went really fast piecing it together.
I was posting clips on Instagram and people kept dming me like, “This is crazy!” When people do that, I know it’s a good beat. When I first started producing I didn’t really sample much because I come from a background of playing everything in. But in the last couple years I realized the genius in taking something someone else created and flipping it into something completely different. I even pitched that sample in a way where I created a chord. I had the original and pitched it a few semitones up, then another like four semitones down. I thought, “No one will get that but it feels good.”
That beat sat on my hard drive for ages, but then earlier this year me and SHANTÉH were making an Ep in 3 days. We had “Meant 2 Be” and 1 other song. Then I was looking through my hard drive and I was like, “What beats do I have that could tie these songs together?” Then I found this one and sent it to her and it was the song on the project that took the longest for her to write to. When I heard her melodies and how she flowed on it I was like, “Yeah this is gonna be a good one.” I finished mixing it and I thought it was gonna be the song everyone was gonna like.”
“HMU” by Joshua. James & Mimikat
“I love that song so much. That beat and song may be the quickest I’ve ever made something in my life. It was the day of the London Marathon and I had a session with Mimikat and I was running late because they shut off a lot of the roads. I like to get in before the artist to chill, work on a few ideas before they come in, and get in the zone. I got to the studio and was super flustered cuz it had also been raining, but I just started making beats. Literally ten minutes before she came I made that one.
For the intro bit, I was literally on my laptop playing different voice samples and happened to play them in that order. I thought it was kinda sick. I programmed it in and had no idea where it was going except for the drums. I was playing through loops then found that guitar. I slowed it down, then put the drums underneath and copied over the vocal samples. But I thought it was missing something so I pitched down the guitar sample in the verse.
I thought it would be cool vocally if she was singing up while the beat descends. I even put a low pass over it to make it sound a bit more muffled. When I did that I knew it was sick. She arrived and I played it. When she got to the part where the key changes she was like, “What? No way. We are writing to this now.” We literally finished the song in 20 minutes. She had the hook like that (snaps). We knew it was a hit, especially for the summer.”