In early April, "Old Town Road" was picking up buzz in the wake of its now-infamous Billboard chart controversy, but Lil Nas X was much more concerned with what he was about to do next.
Arriving at his very first session in a real studio, the 19-year-old rapper set out to create the follow-up to his massive debut single. There, he met Take A Daytrip, the production duo responsible for hits like Sheck Wes' "Mo Bamba" and 6ix9ine's "DUMMY."
So how did Lil Nas X handle the pressure?
According to Take A Daytrip's Denzel Baptiste and David Biral, he was a natural. "It was his first time making anything with producers in the room and recording on a mic at the same time with producers," Baptiste remembers. Despite his inexperience, within hours, Nas X was already giving the duo directions on how to rearrange a beat, and they began recording what would eventually become "Panini," his first single after "Old Town Road."
Remembering the subtle changes Nas X suggested for the song, Baptiste says, "What he did, without saying it, is extend the first verse to have twice the length, and he moved the chorus around and added a pre-chorus. But he obviously didn't know the vocabulary for all that. He was just intuitively moving it."
The duo say Lil Nas X didn't need any coaching. "He has no help," Biral explains. "He writes everything. It's all from his perspective. He knows exactly what's happening in terms of what his fans are saying, and he's very aware of what's happening in his life. He knows exactly how to put that across in a record."
While they were in the studio recording "Panini" and "Rodeo" (which later received a last-minute verse from Cardi B), Nas X developed a habit of sharing snippets on social media long before the songs were finished. "When he posted [the 'Panini' snippet], it was before we even had the second verse done," Biral says.
"Me and Denzel laugh all the time about how that song went viral before the second verse was even completed." Baptiste adds. "It was the same thing with 'Rodeo,' too, where we did the chorus, and then he just uploaded the chorus to his Instagram. We still didn't have the first verse done or the rest of the song done. But within two days, the video had, like, 3 million views on Twitter alone."
The duo say Nas X's social media instincts worked. "I think he's one of the best people on social media that I've ever seen," Baptiste says. And they're equally confident about his longevity. "He's just having fun with it, and he really does love music," Baptiste says. "He really wants to make music for people and inspire people." Biral says. "Lil Nas X is 100 percent here to stay."
On the day of the release of Lil Nas X's debut EP, 7, Complex spoke with Take A Daytrip about the rapper's first studio session and their role creating "Panini" and "Rodeo." They also shared stories about running down the street in celebration after finding out Cardi B got on their song, and how they bumped into Nas the same day they met Lil Nas X. The interview, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
When and how did you guys meet Lil Nas X?
Denzel: The first time we were introduced to his music was around when "Old Town Road" had, like, 10 million plays on Spotify. The song was starting to bubble, and people were starting to hit us up like, "Yo, there's this new kid Lil Nas X. He came out with this country-hip-hop-sounding song." People were pushing it our way to check out.
David: Then A&R James Supreme came to us and he was like, "Yo, Nas X is going to be in L.A., and you guys are going to be there the same time. He's going to be out there doing his first round of sessions. Do you want to do his first session ever?" We were like, you know what? This is definitely interesting, considering the amount of hype around this song. So we started to dive into his world a little bit, just seeing his personality on Instagram and Twitter and everything. So we're like, let's see what this is about.
When we all linked in L.A., it was his first time ever being in the studio with anyone. It was his first time making anything with producers in the room and recording on the mic at the same time with producers. Literally our first session ever was where we made "Panini" and started the bare bones of "Rodeo."
When did that take place?
Denzel: That was April 2 or 3. The beginning of April.
"Out of all the artists that we've ever worked with in our entire career, I've got to put Nas X as one of the best that we've worked with in terms of his understanding." - David Biral
Can you describe the atmosphere of that first session and what it was like working with him?
Denzel: The first time we linked with him was the first time that he was in L.A. It was one of the first times that he even left Atlanta. We knew he had one really big song, but we didn't know anything about his ability after that. So we started diving into what we thought he would be into next, and what would be exciting for us to see him do next. He had a bunch of guitar ideas and country western starter ideas. So the first thing that we ever played him was the intro guitar lick to "Rodeo." Then we put that to the side and played a bunch more country ideas. He was like, "But what else do you have? What's some weird stuff you have?" So we started playing through our catalog of things we've been collecting.
We had been working with Dot Da Genius, who is one of our favorite producers, and we had collaborated with him on a bunch of things. So we played some of those ideas, and he really started latching onto those. When he heard the beat for "Panini," he was like, "OK, let's do this one." Then he was like, "All right, but what if this part came in here? And what if this happened there? And what if you cut the intro down?" He was writing and arranging things in his head.
We had been talking before about the fact that we've never seen the show Chowder, which is a show on Cartoon Network. We were the Dexter's Laboratory era. He's like, "Chowder! Panini!" And we were just like, "What are you talking about?" But then he starts writing in his head to the beat, and I'm there rearranging the track, like, "Wow!" Basically, what he did, without saying it, is extend the first verse to have twice the length, and he moved the chorus around and added a pre-chorus. But he obviously didn't know the vocabulary for all that. He was just intuitively moving it. We were like, all right, that's pretty interesting. Not many times do you work with a new guy who asks about changing the arrangement of your beat before they even start anything with it.
Then he got in the booth. We actually posted a video on our Instagram of the first take that he did. Me and David just looked at each other like, "Holy shit. This kid is actually really fucking good." Just the melodies and the lyrics and the way he incorporated the Panini thing while using that as a metaphor for himself, all within this first verse... We were like, "Oh! OK, cool!" Then he did another take at the beginning of the course, and he was like, "All right, play it back." We played it back and he took a video of it and immediately uploaded it to Instagram.
So that was that the first song you made with him?
David: Yeah, that was the first song that we ever did with him. And when he posted that video, it was before we even had the second verse done. Me and Denzel laugh all the time about how that song went viral before the second verse was even completed. [Laughs.] We were like, "All right, we should probably do another verse now."
Denzel: It was the same thing with "Rodeo," too, where we did the chorus, and then he just uploaded the chorus to his Instagram. We still didn't have the first verse done or the rest of the song done. But within two days, the video had, like, 3 million views on Twitter alone. We didn't even have the full song done yet, and we were literally working on it as people are like, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God."
David: It's funny because then we were basically locked in. Whatever mix we had on the vocals, however the beat was arranged, and however everything was in that moment had to stay the same. People were always used to that, so it was kind of locked in. It's a snapshot in time and you can't change it now.
"I remember I was in Target with him in L.A. He was wearing his cowboy hat, and people were staring at him. And he was like, 'Yeah, I'm the guy who made 'Old Town Road,' guys. It's ok, guys.'" - David Biral
I noticed he was able to turn the phrase "drop Panini" into a meme after sharing snippets of the song. So people started commenting "drop Panini" on everything before you were even finished making the song. He's so fuckin' good at social media.
David: He's amazing.
Denzel: I think he's one of the best people on social media that I've ever seen. There are certain things he does that I didn't even know you could do. And his comedy and sarcasm and irony is universally funny on the internet.
You guys has have worked with a lot of artists who have more experience than him. What was it like working with an artist as new as Nas X? Do you think he's a natural? Or did the inexperience make things difficult?
David: Out of all the artists that we've ever worked with in our entire career, I've got to put Nas X as one of the best that we've worked with, in terms of his understanding. Even though he might not have known all the terminology and the words of this and that, his understanding in how to craft a record through his intuition is some of the best that we've come across in any artist that we've worked with. Especially for a new artist, with that being his first studio session ever, it was a breeze. It wasn't hard for us.
We didn't have to coach him or do anything like that. We just pushed along together as a team. Denzel and I, and everyone else that was in that room—maybe even Nas himself—none of us knew what to expect. But once we got off the ground and got it moving, it just really molded into the tracks that we made, which is "Panini" and the bare bones of "Rodeo." Then, from there, we saw how talented of an artist he actually is.
He has no help. He goes in. He writes everything. It's all from his perspective. He knows exactly what's happening, in terms of what his fans are saying, and he's very aware of what's happening in his life. He knows exactly how to put that across in a record. That's very rare in an artist, especially a new artist. This is also a one-time thing. No new artist has ever had a song as big as "Old Town Road." You're also seeing someone being able to carry that weight on their shoulders and handle it with such grace and ease. It's inspiring for us to see. He's been definitely one of our favorite artists we've worked with.
You guys were in the studio as "Old Town Road" was turning into a massive hit and hitting No. 1 on Billboard. Did you talk about the expectations and pressure? Did you talk about what he was trying to prove with this EP?
Denzel: I feel like Nas' sense of humor is so specific that he doesn't allow any of that pressure to influence what he's doing. I mean, it is absurd how big that song is and how everything kind of rolled out. He fully embraces that absurdity and just works normally how he would anyway. His sense of humor is like, "Oh, you know that song 'Old Town Road'? I made that. Isn't that funny?" [Laughs.] And it's like, yeah, that is pretty fucking funny that you did that.
David: I remember I was in Target with him in L.A. He was wearing his cowboy hat, and people were staring at him. And he was like, "Yeah, I'm the guy who made 'Old Town Road,' guys. It's OK, guys." [Laughs.]
Denzel: Our entire career so far has been us working with new artists and developing the first stages of their career and seeing how they grow. Sometimes we'll do one song with the artist and they'll be the biggest thing a couple months later. But it's been interesting to see how he doesn't allow it to really change his personality, and he almost takes it as humorous that it's working. It's actually changed how we approach things, too. Just having the humility to be like, "We actually can't control any of this. We make songs and people like it or they don't. And if they do like it a lot, that's actually pretty funny.
I think his best characteristic is that he's just undeniably himself. Through all of this, he's just been himself. There's something very powerful in that, especially in this day and age of how we consume media, who we look up to, and what we're constantly looking at. Here comes along this kid, Lil Nas X, with the biggest song for a new artist ever, and he's just been himself through the whole thing. He doesn't really care what people say or if they think negatively about what he's doing. He's just having fun with it, and he really does love music. He really wants to make music for people and inspire people and have a perspective that people can dive into.
"He has no help. He goes in. He writes everything. It's all from his perspective." - David Biral
When we interviewed him in April, he told us that fans shouldn't expect him to do a bunch more country rap songs. When you guys were in the studio with him, did he have a similar outlook? Did he tell you what musical direction he wanted to take things on this EP?
David: I think every producer he worked with approached this like, "He has 'Old Town Road,' so I'm going to come with my country ideas." We stacked up our country ideas, too, but we also came with a pile of beats that could just push him out of that world, and push him forward in a whole different dimension. One of those beats was the "Panini" beat that we made with Dot. I think that might have been the second beat that we played him from that folder.
Denzel: He definitely drilled that message home, where he was like, "Of course I'm the guy who made 'Old Town Road,' but that's not all I want to be known as. I'm more than that."
You mentioned you made that beat with Dot, and then later you brought it to Nas X. Did the beat change much after you brought it to him?
Denzel: It was really only arrangement changes. And then the whistle at the beginning. People think it's a synth or a splice sample, but Nas was actually just whistling one of the melodies from the song. We were like, "We should record that. You're really good at whistling." And he was like, "Really, guys? You guys are sampling me? I've been whistling like this my whole life!" We're like, "Well, yeah. It's pretty damn good." [Laughs.]
David: That beat was the first beat we ever made with Dot Da Genius in New York. I think we made four beats that night.
"It was in the same room, on the same microphone that we did Sheck Wes' 'Mo Bamba' and YBN Cordae's 'Kung Fu.' All that stuff. In a small closet." - Denzel Baptiste
Did you just have one session with Nas X, or did you end up doing more?
Denzel: We did an initial session when he first signed to Columbia, and they were trying to figure out who to put him in with. They did one day with an array of producers that they thought he'd be able to work well with. So we did that one day. But yeah, in that first session, we pretty much completed "Panini" all the way up to maybe 75 percent of the second verse. So it was, like, 80 percent done. And then we started on the beat for "Rodeo." I feel like at that time, he was like, "All right, we're on a similar creative wavelength, and you're not trying to just make the next corny country hit with a kid who has a country hit already."
So then he trusted us to go back and be like, "Well, maybe we should re-approach this guitar lick [on 'Rodeo'] with that country western vibe to it and see how far we can push it out of that space and just make it an overall interesting song." We started on that beat right after we finished working on "Panini." Then we got back in New York a month and a half later, where we totally finished "Panini," finished "Rodeo," and started on a third one. But yeah, we did three days in New York. I was thinking about this earlier: It was in the same room, on the same microphone that we did Sheck Wes' "Mo Bamba" and YBN Cordae's "Kung Fu." All that stuff. In a small closet.
Cardi B has a verse on "Rodeo." I'm assuming that probably happened late.
David: Oh, yeah. We got that verse just a couple days ago, to be honest. Nas texted it to us when we were in the studio working on something else. David was like, "Bro, you check your text?" And as soon as I got upstairs and played it, literally the first word, she's like, "Gunshot." I was like, "Oh my God. This is Cardi B!" We started running down the street like, "This is Cardi B on the song!"
David: We literally ran out of the studio. Me and him were like, "Ahhhh!" Just screaming, running down the street. I think it was raining, too. It was starting to rain. We gave no fucks.
Right now, some people are having conversations about how Nas X is just a meme guy who lucked into a big song, and everyone's debating where he'll take things next. Since you guys have worked with him so closely, I'm curious what your impression is of him as a musician.
Denzel: It's been impressive just seeing how naturally it came to him. He bought the beat for "Old Town Road" off the internet, and went through hundreds of these and picked that one out, and he was able to find a void in culture to combine different genres and create something unfamiliar on both sides. He did it intuitively, without a marketing team, and it wasn't something that was a crowdsourced decision or anything. Then he followed it right up with getting in the studio and actually being able to write whole songs and arrange and have opinions.
A lot of times, new artists like the attention. They like the lifestyle of it, and the music sometimes becomes secondary. They're like, "Yeah, whatever, I'll just do this really quickly and then I'll upload something on my Instagram." But his attention to what he's doing is on par with some of the biggest artists that we're working with. So his intent is definitely there for really doing it. He definitely has the ability to do it. He has a natural ability to figure out what people will be able to latch onto. It's something that you can't teach and you can't really learn. You just have to have it or you don't.
David: Lil Nas X is 100 percent here to stay. It's not easy being a new artist and hopping in with heavyweights like Boi-1da, Ryan Tedder, and Travis Barker—producers that Denzel and I grew up idolizing. He's a brand new artist, and within two or three weeks, he's working with all these people, holding his own, and really delivering strong records from his perspective.
Denzel: He's doing interviews in the morning, and then press all day, and in the studio at night. Then he wakes up early in the morning for another interview and a fitting and all these things. To be able to actually balance all of that, and then deliver EPs that quickly, that's something that we've never actually seen someone do before.
David: He knows how to do this, and the talent speaks for itself. He's doing it. He's 100 percent doing it.
"We literally ran out of the studio. Me and him were like, 'Ahhhh!' Just screaming, running down the street. I think it was raining, too. It was starting to rain. We gave no f*cks." - David Baptiste
Do you have any favorite stories from this whole experience of working with Lil Nas X?
David: I think one little Easter egg story, which we find kind of funny, is the day that made "Panini." Denzel and I had a meeting at Jon & Vinny's earlier in the day where we all ordered beef pasta. And then Nas, the big Nas—like, the first Nas—happened to be in a booth right next to us.
Denzel: We're eating there for an hour, and we're like, "Wait, is that Nas? Is this actually Nas this entire time that's sitting right there, so casually, with one other person?" We're looking, and we're like, "Oh, that definitely is Nas."
David: We're like, "Wow, we're literally going to see Lil Nas X after this." Then we ended up giving Lil Nas X the "Panini" beat. All our beats are named after food. It's called Daytrip recipes. It's an easy way for us to remember all our instrumentals. And that beat happened to be called "Beef Pasta," which we happened to be eating earlier that day. We were eating beef pasta in Jon & Vinny's with Nas next to us.
Denzel: So we're just like, "Whoa, the universe is telling us something."
Wow. That's amazing. We've talked about Nas X a lot, but I want to get into some of your other work, too. What else have you been up to?
David: There's a lot of stuff on the way that we're extremely excited about, one being we've been doing a lot of work with Big Sean. Sean was the first big artist that we looked up to when we were kids in high school. He approached us and said, "Hey, you guys got something, and I want you to be a part of it," and we've been working with him since November. We're working on his project and everything that's been going on in his life and really developing a real friendship with this guy, down to staying at his house and just being fucking dudes and hanging out. Crafting this amazing music together has absolutely been a dream with Sean.
He's been giving us opportunities and introducing us to people. There's going to be some interesting surprises as guests that are going to be a part of these songs. He's gone out of his way to really make things possible for us and for himself. So Sean's definitely one that we're extremely, extremely, extremely excited about. We also have some stuff with G-Eazy coming. We have some stuff with Kevin Gates coming. And Lil Tecca, keeping the New York stuff going.
Denzel: Along with producing for other artists, the reason that we're even able to do that is because when we were in college, we went to music school at the NYU Clive Davis Institute. That was where we met, and our intention as producers was to be a producer-DJ duo, because we were super inspired by artists like Justice and Daft Punk. That was one of the first things we actually connected on musically, and we were just geeking out in our dorm rooms like, "Yo, this shit is crazy. How can we be a part of this?" Then we went down to Ultra for a spring break trip. That completely changed everything that we were doing musically, and how we approached it. At that point, we were like, "Let's just do the music for ourselves and not care what anyone thinks."
David: The idea of Daytrip really just came from a dream, saying we want to see the world through music. And now that we're at this point that we're at now, it's like we want to make the world feel smaller through music. So one of the projects that we're working on right now is Daytrip vs. London, a part of this whole Daytrip vs. the World series. We're really putting a focus on things happening around the world. I feel like now, more than ever, people are starting to discover more and more music and be able to go from a hip-hop song to a rock song almost seamlessly in the same playlist.
At the same time, I feel like people still do focus on differences rather than similarities, whereas something that me and Denzel have been talking about a lot is if you go to the U.K., or you go to Africa, or the Latin market, or the West Coast, there's a tempo happening in music between all of them around 100 BPM. The snares and the kicks might just fall a little bit differently, but you're still dancing. One thing we really want to do with this project is focus on the similarities that all these places have and reintroduce them in a different way to people. And at the same time offering up a perspective from two kids of color that are discovering and diving into this music around the world.
Denzel: We've been spending a bunch of time in London, just working with whoever is exciting to us and whoever is leading the counterculture, because inevitably that's what is going to shape the future of the entire culture—music being one of the primary things that shapes culture. Just seeing what people out there, like Octavian and Slowthai, are doing. It's just a look into the future of London. It's interesting for us to see it happen, and it's exciting for us to be a part of it.
Is that project coming sometime soon?
David: We're still working on it, but it's definitely something that's coming.