There’s precocious, and then there’s Maddox Grayson. Grayson is a 14-year-old who is quickly becoming a sought-after rap producer. He has one hit song under his belt, YBN Cordae’s “Scotty Pippen” (recently re-titled “Alaska” following some legal issues), and more on the way.
But the most notable thing about Grayson is how he learned to make music. He has been a regular presence in Mike Dean’s studio for the past seven years. Yes, you read that right. Since he was 7 years old, Grayson has been in the lab with Dean, a legendary producer and engineer who has been an indispensable part of the careers of everyone from Scarface to Kanye West to Travis Scott. Now, Grayson is putting his apprenticeship to good use. I called him to find out more about learning to make beats from a legend, hanging out on movie sets, and, of course, doing magic tricks for rap stars.
How did you meet Mike? He was your neighbor?
Seven years ago, Mike came over to dinner at my dad's loft in SoHo and he really liked the space and the building. My dad was really good friends with his girlfriend, Louise [Donegan]. He wanted to get his own space to put in a studio in the building. My dad went to the landlord and tried to see if he could get him a space in the building. The landlord Googled him and saw he was a big hip-hop producer, so he was kinda hesitant because he knew he would make a lot of noise. After he met Mike, they let him in the building.
When they were recording [Travis Scott’s] Rodeo, I would text Mike all the time to see if I could go up there. This is when I was 7 or 8 years old. He was always letting me go up there. He was babysitting me, basically.
What do you remember about that?
I can't remember much. I just remember always hanging out and ordering food and stuff. Oh, yeah—I used to be really big into magic, so I would do magic tricks for Travis and his crew.
What was it like growing up having Mike's studio essentially next door? Were you over there a lot?
Yeah, I was over there all the time. Twice a week, probably.
How did it dawn on you that you wanted to make music yourself?
Music is a new thing for me. I've only been making beats for the past year now. I went out to Los Angeles twice and Mike was teaching me how to do stuff. I was there for multiple weeks both times. That's how I was learning how to mix and make beats on Pro Tools and FL Studio.
What made you decide you even wanted to make beats?
It's funny you ask that. Just two days ago, I posted this thing and said, "Making beats is my anti-depressant." When I make beats, it makes me very happy. It makes me feel like a winner.
Are you in school right now?
I'm homeschooled by my dad. It's fun.
Do you miss any aspect of going to a normal school, like being around other kids?
Where did you grow up? Was it mostly in New York City?
Yeah. I always grew up in New York. When I was younger, I also lived in Connecticut.
Do you still ride horses? I saw that was something you liked to do when you were younger.
No. My mom liked horses. I just rode sometimes. I don't really ride anymore.
With the beats you're making, how does that work? Do you compose into the program? Do you play instruments?
I'm learning piano at the moment. I'm just getting better at that. I'm really good at programming drums. I use a lot of samples as well.
I saw footage of you in the studio with Quavo and Desiigner. What was that about?
They were at Mike's house. That's when they were making Culture II, and I was just around while they were there making it.
How is it now for you to meet big artists, since it's something you've been doing for half your life at this point?
I've been meeting big artists for a long time. Now it's cool to be able to meet them for work and not just say hi.
You just did your first song where you're the primary producer, “Scotty Pippen” for YBN Cordae. How did that come about?
Mike introduced me to my friend Kez [Khou], who manages Jungle Studios in New York. He brought me to a studio where Cordae was recording. I really clicked with Cordae and we became friends. This time, when I went out to L.A., I invited him out there—he lives in L.A. now as well. I played him some stuff I had already done. We were just making a whole bunch of songs and that one was just a hit.
What was it like for you to lead your first session as a producer and actually be in charge?
This might seem like a silly question, given what you’ve accomplished, but do you think producing is something you want to do professionally?
What’s next for you after “Scotty Pippen”?
I can't really talk about other placements, [but there’s] more stuff coming soon.
What do your parents think about all this?
My dad's proud of me and my mom's proud of me. They like it.
Do you think that having a father who is an artist has made you more inclined to try to become an artistic person yourself?
Yeah. He's a lot more understanding than a normal father would be with art and music and stuff.
What else do you want people to know about you?
I love working on music. It's the best feeling to do what you love doing.
Do you have any other hobbies outside of being in the studio? I know you used to like video games.
Yeah. I still like to play games with some of my friends, like my friend Jack Osbourne.
I know your dad has been friends with Channing Tatum for a very long time. How long have you known Channing?
I've known Chan for eight years.
You got to go to movie sets with him, right?
Yeah. I was on the set of 22 Jump Street and White House Down, and a bunch of movie premieres as well.
What was being on a movie set like?
Pretty cool. You get to see everything behind the scenes, all the movie props and cameras. It's pretty cool. You get to see a lot of explosions and stuff, too.
Channing's been very supportive of your music career.
Yeah. Chan's proud of me.
I saw photos of you and Mike in Hawaii during the ASTROWORLD sessions.
Yeah. We were out in Hawaii making ASTROWORLD. I got to watch everything be made, and it was very influential. I got to learn a lot there—how to get along with artists, how to speak to people, how to hang out, how to act.
What was your favorite part of those sessions?
Probably watching them record and everyone becoming instantly silent.
When you're making beats, who are your influences? Who do you try to model your stuff after?
I really like old Kanye albums. I really like old Eminem albums. Mike, of course, influences me. A lot of new hip-hop I don't really listen to because I don't want other influences that I don't like as much.
You met Mike when you were 7. How did you grow to learn about his history, not only with Kanye but before that, with Rap-A-Lot? When did you become aware of how much he had done?
I wasn't really aware of who he was until I got a little bit older and hung out with him more. I just noticed I'd hear [a song] on the radio after I was in the studio watching rappers record it. I'd be in the studio, and then I'd see it on YouTube—“Oh, that has 100 million views. I saw that being recorded.”