Everyone knows that "Fancy" was the monoculture's song of the summer. But if you were listening to R&B radio, you'd know it was tough to escape Chris Brown's Ty Dolla $ign and Bobby Brackins-penned "Loyal." Chris Brown had stumbled on yet another smash record—but a huge part of the song's charm was its now-familiar production, similar to DJ Mustard, but not quite the same.
"Loyal" was produced by a tall Caucasian from El Cerita, Cali., in the East Bay. Nicholas "Nic Nac" Balding is a fun interview, a friendly, chill, vaguely stoned-sounding Cali kid who punctuates sentences with hella likes and hellas. He's actually been producing records for several years, first spinning out tracks for Bay Area rap stars before moving down to Los Angeles and linking up with Bobby Brackins. His first big national look—which he seems to regard with some ambivalence—was Ray J's "I Hit It First," which was then followed by Sean Kingston's "Beat It," a minor hit that happened to arrive at an unfortunate time in Kingston's descending arc.
But "Loyal" is a clean hit, surpassing every DJ Mustard record this side of "Rack City." We spoke with Nic Nac about making "Loyal," how living with five other guys in a house in Los Angeles helps his music, and his mom's take on "Loyal."
Tell me about making "Loyal."
Me and Ty [Dolla $ign] basically made the record. He just put the hook on it. My manager and Chris Brown's manager are best friends. My manager really liked the song and played it for Chris Brown's manager, and like the same day Chris kept the entire song.
Did you think it was going to be that big when you first made it?
Yeah. I knew it was going to be a huge song because I live with hella people and they all listen to my music when I'm making it. I know when the hell a song's—it's hella obvious. When Ty did that song, I would just play it at the house, and all my friends would go crazy when I played it. So it's easy to tell what the special songs are and what the not-so-special songs are.
What's it like living in that house?
I'm living with all my best friends from high school. One of them's my cousin that I grew up with. So they don't really lie to me. They don't have to lie to me or anything. They can pretty much keep it real. Or I can just play a song and see if they dig it. People can't really fake being excited. People can tell you straight up that they like it. But if they're jumping up and down, "play it again, play it again!" it's kind of obvious that they liked it. It's hard to tell when you're the one making music, you're kind of biased. But then you see other people who have the same taste, they fuck with it hella tough? Then you know you've got something good.
How many of you guys live together?
I fuckin' live with six guys, and we have a front house and a back house. Three in the front, three in the back. It's pretty crazy. My cousin makes beats, and a lot of them do music videos. We're also all in a group. It's called Starting Six. We have a bunch of videos, a college party group.
How did you link up with Ty?
Through my brother Bobby Brackins. When Ty first popped off out in L.A. off the "Toot It and Boot It" song, Bob hit him up and brought him over to my house. We've just been rocking ever since making tracks. We've got a bunch of new tracks coming up. We either collab'd on the beat together, or Ty wrote on one of my tracks. We've got a bunch of big placements soon.
What is it like when you guys work in the studio together?
Man, Ty is just literally better than everyone at doing music. I learned so much just fucking with him in the studio. His ear is insane. He can fucking play any instrument. He's just one of those naturally gifted, like all their life they keep playing it. Now everybody's realizing that.
How'd you start getting into beats?
The first stuff I did, I was in a group with five other rappers and singers called Go Dav, and it was basically like a more ratchet Pretty Ricky. We had one singer and then like four rappers. We had a pretty big song called "Ride or Die Chick" that is a pretty big Bay classic that no one really knows about outside the Bay. That got me more into music. That shit just gave me some type of hope that I was kind of good at it. This was in high school. Everyone in the group was from Oakland. I'm from El Cerrito.
How did you end up getting into a studio? Did anyone mentor you? How did you begin making professional beats?
Honestly, no one really mentored me. Over time, just random things started happening to where I would do something I had never done before. The first time I got to listen to a beat of mine in a big studio, then that one checked off the checklist. I got one of my beats actually professionally mixed, then that got knocked off the checklist. So just over time, doing it nonstop. Because I literally don't do anything else. I've never had a day job. Over time, shit just kept getting checked off the checklist. Once I do it once, I usually suck at it the first time. And then I understand it after the first time and get better at it.
What was the first big success you had as a producer after the group you had in high school?
It was for sure "143" by Bobby Brackins [and Ray J]. That shit moved me out of my mom's house, and down to L.A. Ray J getting on my song was the first big artist I didn't know personally to get on one of my beats, so that was hella tight. I thought I was fucking super on when Ray J got on my shit. But you know, it was good for me though.
Did you start getting calls from other people after that?
After that I moved out to L.A. and got a manager and shit. Shit with that manager didn't work out. In between "143" and now—I guess Sean Kingston's "Beat It" would be my next big hit. In between "143" and "Beat It" I was just trying to get my team straight, get a good manager. My manager right now I fuck with, he's grinding hella hard. So I was just getting my shit together, just getting better. Now I'm here, and I'm still trying to get better. Still doing the same shit. You never really fucking "make it." I realized that a long time ago.
How would you describe your production style, to people who wouldn't know better? Some might compare it to Mustard.
Shit, that's a great fucking question. If you listen to all my beats, in my beat folder, there's a bunch of different shit. I think my sound is just defined by the sound that the population has heard the most. So it's kind of like—if I were to say my sound, I would say that I don't really have a sound. Because I make hella different-sounding shit. If I were to ask you what my sound is, it would probably be like—a more "R&B ratchet-slap." That is what I think people would say. Some of the melodies are really R&B-influenced. That makes it more poppy, on some low-stab chords that are kinda dark. So it's more happy-sounding, soulful-sounding, ratchet-slap. I don't know.
How did your sound evolve?
I had a piano teacher that was really into—they're called crushes, on piano. And when he taught me how to do a crush, I liked it hella much. It's when you hit a note but you slide up to it. You kinda tape the lower note and slide up to it. I don't know why, I just hella loved doing that all the time. Then every beat, when I would play the melody I would do hella those. If you hear "Loyal," you hear [sings a few notes]—the little fast note that hits before the longer notes is a crush. I thought it was hella tight when I would do that shit, I just never stopped doing it.
You've worked on some R&B stuff with Sean Kingston and Ray J and Chris Brown. Is it different working with a singer than somebody rapping over your beats?
It's totally different. A rapper will just come in rapping in the same frequency the entire time, rapping on one note. Singers are going ham all over the scale, so sometimes a beat with hella shit in it will sound cool with a rapper, because he's not really doing too much. But a beat with hella shit and a singer on top of it, it's just too much sometimes. That's why singers sound hella good on more empty beats to me. Rappers sound good on beats with hella shit in it because they're not really doing hella much.
singers sound hella good on more empty beats to me. Rappers sound good on beats with hella s**t in it because they're not really doing hella much.
Who are your favorite people to work with?
I really like working with my little sister—I just call her my little sister—Pia Mia. She's signed to Interscope. I really like working with Ty. With my bro Bobby Brackins. I like working with this dope ass singer named Marc E. Bassey. He's hella clean. He just dropped his EP. He writes a lot of Pia's stuff that I've been producing. He's super dope. Those are the only people I'm actually working with. I don't work with people if I don't like to work with them.
A year ago you had a few records making noise. Can you tell me a little behind "I Hit It First."
Me and Bob wrote that. It was just a record that I definitely knew was hella out of pocket, but I'm so far removed from that whole situation. I just kind of took it as being a fun record. I don't know. It was definitely a fun process making it. Now I kinda feel bad about the whole thing.
Do you regret doing it?
I don't regret doing it. I just hope everyone takes it lightheartedly and laughs about it. I don't want anyone to be too angry about it.
Were you glad it didn't become a huge hit?
I think it did what it was supposed to do. It's cool. I wouldn't really be tripping either way.
What are your favorite beats you've done in your career so far?
I really like the "Beat It" beat. Just because it's an old-school-sounding type of beat, with the same new drums and shit. I really fuck with that beat. Of course I like the "Loyal" beat. Do you remember that Snoop Dogg "Drop It Like It's Hot"? You know the [emulates Pharrell's mouth noises]? I did that in the "Loyal" beat with a tom [drum] or something. I did the exact same thing. It sounds hella tight.
What are your favorite beats by other artists?
That beat for sure. The "Grindin" beat. The Ty "Never Be the Same" beat. I like the "Toot It and Boot It" beat. I like a bunch of beats. Those are the ones I can name off the top of my head.
What do you think of California's scene right now?
I think it's dope. I think that the sound's definitely blowing up. Soon, somebody's gonna have to come in and start moving it in other directions. But I feel like people—everyone who's making that kind of music, everybody needs to try to make it different every time for it to last, if we all want it to last very long. But it's hard to make it different and still slap. But I feel like if we want it to last hella long, people need to keep changing it and doing it different every time, switching it up more. I think Mustard's doing a good job keeping it different—he's always changing his shit, his shit last year doesn't sound the same as his shit this year. I'm trying. I think Iamsu! and P-Lo are really good at switching up the sound of it and shit.
Are there West Coast producers you think are being slept on right now?
I think P-Lo, all of HBK are really talented. I think Sage the Gemini is the producer that people sleep on. He has two of the biggest hits, and he wrote and produced them. He's like the new-school Soulja Boy. Ty Dolla $ign is a slept on producer—people don't really give him production credit for all the stuff he's produced for himself. But he's an insane producer.
Other than "Loyal" what are you fucking with right now?
I fuck with the new Majid Jordan, "Place Like This." I just downloaded Kool John's new mixtape. That's dope. I like the new Jeremih and Shlohmo EP. In my free time I listen to more slow, settled shit.
Some might argue "Loyal" is a misogynist song. Has anyone in your family brought that up to you?
My mom knows these hoes ain't loyal, and my sister does too. [Laughs.] I think people take that song as more a funny type of song. Thinking deeply into it you can say it's misogynistic. But girls love that shit. I don't think it's directly talking to anyone, I think it's just in general, "Hoes ain't loyal." I feel like guys can be hoes also. I feel like it's not that degrading. Everybody knows hoes ain't loyal.
Yeah. If he'd said, "These bitches ain't loyal," that definitely would have been out of pocket.