With credits on new albums by Kehlani and Jessie Reyez among his high-profile placements in just the last two months, Toronto-based producer YogiTheProducer is finally reaping the rewards of a dogged dedication to his craft.
Yogi is currently riding the wave of contributing his production skills to two tracks on Kehlani’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t LP (currently #2 on the Billboard 200 chart), alongside Boi-1da.
Earlier this month when Kehlani revealed the album track listing, she tweeted that one of those tracks, “Grieving”—with its haunting yet insistent melody, mourning the end of a tumultuous relationship, augmented by an inimitable emotive assist by UK crooner James Blake—was her favourite track.
Yogi’s involvement in the song is a testament to his own personal mantra of being prepared and ready for your opportunity.
“I was at home chilling and it was around December and that was when Kehlani came into town,” says Yogi. “So 1-da called me and was like, 'Kehlani is coming to town, can you come engineer the session?' And I was like, ‘Well, of course!’ So that day I just canceled everything. And the first two songs we recorded were ‘Serial Lover’ and ‘Grieving.’”
Yogi had an immediate feeling about the latter track the Oakland R&B singer wrote.
“Something about it just felt like it would grab people,” says Yogi of the initial session at Boi-1da’s house. “I know she was in a very vulnerable state with everything else going on at the time. So she really tapped into that and I know she was super intimate and connected to it. There was always something special about it from the moment we recorded it.” But Yogi’s involvement wasn’t done. “1-da hit me up maybe about a week later and was like, ‘I really like those two tracks but I want you to work on it. I want you to add some stuff to it.’ And I ended up making the bridge for ‘Grieving.’ And for ‘Serial Lover,’ I added some piano stuff throughout. And then there’s a part where it switches up to like this West Coast, DJ Mustard-type vibe. So I did that section moving on towards the end. So it was really a collaborative effort.”
"1-da called me and was like, 'Kehlani is coming to town, can you come engineer the session?' And I was like, ‘Well, of course!’ So that day I just canceled everything."
Yogi’s contributions to the tracks speak to his musical versatility.
“I think I would describe my music as just like, melodic,” he says. “I'm all about melodies and because I grew up playing the piano, the very first thing I knew was melody and chords. I love R&B, so I'm usually within that genre, but I also do a lot of other stuff. I try to incorporate other genres as well. But it's definitely dark, melodic stuff. Like moody, melodic music, I would say.”
Yogi, who got the nickname in high school, was born Johann Deterville and began his musical journey in the fishing village of Anse La Raye in St. Lucia. His mother—an indomitable musical force on the island as a choir director—enrolled him in piano lessons from an early age, giving him the foundation to play and perform in church. “She did her master's in music education [in the U.S. and] she came back down to St. Lucia,” says Yogi. “And she started giving free music classes to the entire community and surrounding villages as well. A lot of these kids who were coming to the music classes are now like music teachers and doing things with music, they're making a living off of it. So she's a big, huge inspiration. A big part of who I am today.”
Unfortunately, Yogi’s mother passed away suddenly while he was at college studying music in Jamaica. Despite the fact he was logging studio time and connecting with the likes of Vybz Kartel, and Jah Cure, Yogi decided it was time to make a move to the unlikely location of Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, he would continue his musical studies at Saint Mary’s University and link with his brother, who also lived in the city.
Soon after arriving in Halifax, Yogi immersed himself in the local hip-hop scene, working with the likes of Classified, Quake Matthews, and Cam Smith, as well as fellow St. Lucian and frequent collaborator Kayo. However, after being in Halifax for just under two years, Yogi had a sobering moment of clarity riding a virtually deserted bus on an interminably long commute to his job at Future Shop in the middle of winter. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to work on my music.’” Yogi immediately moved to Toronto.
The move proved to be literally life changing. A couple of months after moving to Toronto, he showed up to engineer a session for fast-rising singer Savannah Ré. The two struck up an instant chemistry and they are now a married couple. “I recognize it all the time. Like she's very key in me meeting all these people because she was already doing her thing in the city,” says Yogi. “And a lot of people had already known about her from before. So once we started working, it was like we did everything together. People started asking ‘Yo, who produced this?’”
Yogi points to the studio sessions with Ré as the period where he mastered his craft. “That’s when the work really started, you know,” he says. “I figured out exactly how to create and make sounds and really make stuff work. I could really create with intention now. She strengthens me, I strengthen her. And we just moved together, you know?” Ré toured North America with Jessie Reyez last year and both she and Yogi lent their producing skills to “La Memoria,” from Reyez’s When Love Came To Kill Us debut. Yogi and Ré recently collaborated on Ré’s latest single, the contemplative, sensual slow-burner “DVP,” as she readies a forthcoming EP for Universal. Other fresh new projects from Yogi include Kayo’s just-released EP “KNOWHERE,” where Yogi is behind the boards for the entire project.
Despite his rising profile as a producer and his recent success, Yogi is resolved to continuing to remain grounded and to help and support emerging musicians, especially from St. Lucia, as a testament to his mother’s work. “Growing up in those kinds of surroundings really helps you stay humble and focus,” says Yogi. “Because the whole time when I moved up here, I was just thinking, ‘I really just want to make my community proud, make my country proud, and then do everything I can to bring back some of the knowledge.’”