How a Studio Session at Drake's House in Los Angeles Turned Into Rihanna's Next Big Hit

We talked to producer Sevn Thomas about the making of the song, his hopes for it, and much more.

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Complex Original

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Stop the presses: The Queen—Rihanna, obviously—is back and ready to take on 2016 with a vengeance and a new sound. That new sound—a contemporary take on dancehall with fresh vibes—is exemplified on her brand new, Drake-featured single "Work," which is produced by Sevn ThomasBoi-1da, and Allen Ritter. The lead single from her upcoming ANTI album is the comeback that everyone saw coming, but the track is also another notch on Sevn Thomas' belt as a producer.

The young Toronto beatmaker is a rising star in the industry and has already produced for Drake ("10 Bands"), Kanye West ("Real Friends"), and more during his short career. With "Work" being his banner moment to this point, we spoke with him about how they came up with the sound for the song, his hopes for it to reach No. 1, and how it all came together during a studio session at Drake's house in Calabasas

How are you feeling now that "Work" is finally out?
It feels crazy right now. I can’t even really process, but it’s definitely a good feeling.

How does this feeling compare to when "Real Friends" or "10 Bands" came out?
Man, Rihanna alone, the magnitude of that is incredible because she is the queen of pop right now in my eyes, and she’s an icon. I haven’t heard anyone really buzzing about any song recently as much as this one, for it to finally be out—I was paying attention to all the rumors, but I had to be really tight-lipped about the whole thing. I was really excited, following all these blogs to keep up with it, and when I heard that it was out this morning, I couldn’t even react because I know the impact the song is going to have. This is my first major single, and I feel like it’s going to skyrocket to No. 1 or something. 

So you have a good feeling about this?
The trajectory is already insane. I feel like this is going to go straight to No. 1. I could be wrong, but right now, it feels incredible.

Did you know it was dropping today?
Nah, but I knew that it was close because when you’re dealing with production and working with labels and artists and stuff like that, your lawyers have to go back and forth to do all the paperwork. We had all the paperwork done early, so I knew it was coming soon. Also, because of the tour, she had to have the song released and build up enough buzz for people to be excited about her new album. 

Run down how the song came together. 
So basically, myself, Allen Ritter, 1da, Vinylz, Nineteen85, Illangelo, and Mike Zombie, we were all staying at Drake’s house in Los Angeles. We all stayed there for three or four days, and literally it was like a beat factory. Everyone was sitting there working and collaborating with each other. I had made this beat maybe a couple days before with a dancehall influence, and I played it for 1da and he loved it. So it kinda just awakened something within him because we’re both Jamaican-Canadian. It was just something in our DNA, so it woke him up, and we started remembering all these old dancehall songs from the '90s.

He came up with the idea of sampling an old school dancehall rhythm, and we just went with the chords, and everything sort of started coming through organically. We basically banged this track out in half an hour, and we were just jamming out because we could just feel that island vibe, and we knew that the sound of the industry is sort of shaking up its little island vibe, and we knew we were really authentic, we had the Jamaican culture, and we took it upon ourselves to hone in on that and make our new futuristic dancehall songs that we like to call the new wave. We put our heads together with that one, and then Allen Ritter killed the chords on it. Amazing process.

Where did it go from there with Drake and Rihanna getting involved?
Usually what happens when 1da is involved in this song, he sends it over to Party, and Party wrote the lyrics, he’s an incredible writer, and he’s Jamaican as well I think so that’s how he’s able to come up with those vibes and feels. Drake heard it, he loved the whole vibe, and you know Toronto is probably one of the largest concentrations of Jamaicans outside of Jamaica itself…so he heard it and he understood the vibes, and he put a verse down on it.

Then they shot the video for it, and here we are.
When they shot the video for it, I wasn’t sure the role I was going to play in the song, and then they said they were looking at it to be a return single to build buzz for her album. It was just really exciting to see. I remember seeing it and hearing all the rumors, and my brother was like, "Bro, this shit’s about to change your life again." 'Cause we already went through the whole "10 Bands" excitement last year this time, so this is like a second wind.

Talk about that session with you, 1da, Vinlyz, and more at Drake's house.
That was a brainstorm thing, it was coincidental, we didn’t plan to meet up or anything. I was already up there for a couple months, so we just came together, they invited me up there. Drake had a pool party up there and told 1da he could hold down the crib for a little bit, and we were just vibing there. We’re all family, so everyone treated it like their own home, and we went to work, man.

When was this, over the summer?
End of summer, yeah. 

What’s a Drake pool party like?
Oh man, it’s crazy, 'cause it was like nothing you’ve ever seen—your name has to be on a list and you have to sign a waiver, so you can’t fuck around at all. Some people have to check their phones, so before you even get in there you have to do the whole process. Just as I’m entering the kitchen and walking into the living room, I stumble into Kanye West and go, “Alright, I’m here.” I literally bump into him and look up and go, “oh, my bad,” and just kept walking.

Speaking of Kanye, you also produced on “Real Friends.” Talk about the process behind that one.
That beat is almost two years old, so me and 1da were working on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly album, just coming up with ideas. 1da basically did most of the work on the original beat, and all I really did was put down a bass line, so I'm really getting credit for the original idea of the beat because everything me and 1da did was flipped, and Havoc kinda just went in on the drums and all that. We got the credit for putting the sample together.

How did it end up with Kanye?
1da went down there sometime last year, went to Paris to work with Kanye, and during that little session, that’s when I knew. 

You're about to be on Kanye West and Rihanna's albums to start 2016. How does that feel?
It’s funny, my brother mentioned to me this morning, “You just got your ticket to the 2017 Grammys.” This year was my first year nominated for Drake’s album, so that was exciting for me, and right away, boom…. You already know how this whole thing runs…. Rihanna and Kanye are the biggest artists, it’s almost automatic. I was acknowledging the nomination this year, and my friend was like, "You’re going next year for sure too, no doubt."

So, where do you go from here?
From here, man, honestly developing this new sound, the future dancehall shit. Everyone’s gonna hear this Rihanna song, and people are gonna feel inspired to replicate the song. But it’s not gonna be easy, because it literally has to be in your DNA. That’s how the reggae…it has to swing, and that can only be felt, you know what I mean? It’s hard to just wake up and make something like that. It’s something you have to feel, there’s a certain groove, a certain pocket, not many people can imitate it. I feel like we got this one locked down, and it’s going to be a really good year for pushing the envelope, and hopefully we have continued success with it.

Yeah, it definitely doesn't have what's thought of as the typical Toronto sound.
Yeah, this is what he was talking about. This is something between me and him, this is our culture, this is our heritage, this is everything we know, this is what we lived when we were growing up, so not everyone’s going to be able to do it. Funny enough, Toronto culture is an amalgamation of U.S. and Jamacian culture, and this has always been our staple, but we had to figure out ways to get into the game because…you could point to the likes of Kardinal Offishall​, artists before us in the city who were doing reggae and dancehall-influenced stuff and it’s literally Jamaican patois or creole, whatever you want it call it, and that’s our flag.

You can hear the same parallels in London, and we were able to recognize that from early, but now we’re bringing it back to that essence. With the success of Drake, he had a whole different flavor, it wasn’t like anything you had heard because everyone else at the time, he was doing real Toronto stuff when it comes to putting in the slang and talking with the slang, and it was really Jamaican. Shout out to Kardinal Offishall and them for being the torch-bearers for that in the city, but we’re here to take it to the next level. Rihanna is a Caribbean person as well, she can feel that, she’s a Caribbean person too. It’s in her DNA.

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