The producer talks to B.Side on his new album, working with Wizkid & becoming a full-fledged artist.
I am staring into a black Zoom window when Killertunes materializes. He’s seated in a swivel chair, peering into his phone screen. Dimmed blue lights take the shine away from his sparkling peach-colored haircut, enhancing his surrounding ambiance. He’s in his sonic haven, with his go-to artillery: a multi-channel mixer lies in front of him, a synth pad and his most used tool – his MacBook.
Killertunes isn’t resigned to operate in the familiar, as just a producer, creating beats for artists. Just months before the pandemic, the beatsmith released an experimental project, Gbedu & Things. His first body of work, the five-track EP was laced with groovy rhythms and jaunty vocals and patterned for sweaty dancefloors. But that project only outlined his new lease of life.
In years past, Killertunes had emerged from a budding cast of producers responsible for knitting sonic foundations for artists to unravel their lyrical prowess. The year 2018 was his breakout year. He become Afrobeats star Wizkid’s go-to man and the pair created a slew of hits – “Fake Love” & “Nowo” – which stormed airwaves, and within months, the music universe became familiar with his producer tag: "Shabalistica". But now, the producer has opted to wade in completely into another realm – singing fully on his own beats.
“Before I became a producer, I used to sing,” Killertunes tells me. On KillaXtra, his debut album released back in September, the versatile creator is draped in introspection, offering takes on a trove of familiar topics. KillaXtra’s magic, however, rests in the structure anchoring most of the songs. The beats Killertunes has sculpted panders to avant-garde tastes now resonating in Afrobeats where a delightful blend of smooth melodies and guitar tones creates a soothing listening experience. At their best, tracks on KillaXtra make the listener revel in the brilliance contained in Killertunes’ delicious creations, with his voice and that of his guests further shaping the story entrenched in the sound.
“I just wanted to create something everyone can relate with it, a story everyone can resonate with,” says Killertunes of the opener, “Sure 4 U,” where he’s engulfed in a mood of gratitude. On “Do Me,” a mid-tempo track where both he and Odunsi trade lyrics on desire brimming from their bodies, the mood sways to a sensual one as catchy percussion meddles with light piano melodies. These are just highlights on the record, showcasing Killertunes’ profound dexterity over the years.
Hailing from the ancient city of Benin, music serenaded Killertunes’ childhood. “My dad had stacks of vinyls, and I remember listening to Majek Fashek, King Sunny Ade while growing up,” he says of his childhood. Killertunes started off singing at first, being part of a group in school where they rapped and sang and freestyled. As secondary school drew to an end, the group encountered a problem: they had no producer and could also not afford to pay one. However, Killertunes took up the gauntlet, laying aside singing to learn music production. He began fiddling with beats on Fruity Loops soon after.
Killertunes moved to Lagos for tertiary education years later. Studying became difficult as he was hellbent on his music aspirations. He would drop out to dedicate ample time to music production, perfecting his prowess during that period and working with more and more rising artists. Time and space would see him rise, getting recognition from the industry’s top brass. In 2015, he produced the Timaya and Don Jazzy’s collaboration, “I Concur”.
Around this time, he would link up with DJ Spinall, who assisted in elevating his production profile. “Through Spinall, I met everyone in the industry,” he reveals. In time he would score credits with titans in the music space supplying beats, including getting D’banj to fork out Four million Naira for just one beat. Since then, Killertunes has seen his creations transcend the scope of Afrobeats in 2020, creating for Latino act, J Balvin and Italian rapper, Ghali.
B.Side: Most people don’t even know you sing. You’ve done that at an extended length here. What informed that switch on KillaXtra?
Killertunes: Before I became a producer, I used to sing. I was in a sort of band with my friends who were also artists. During and after school hours, we would rap, sing and freestyle. But we had a problem: we had no producer and couldn’t afford to pay for one, you know producers are expensive. Out of that necessity, I just had to learn. I searched for the software, and I learnt how to do stuff.
The sound bed for this album is so smooth and relaxed. Was that the vision for this project?
I was just trying to do something soft, something alternative. Blend in a mix of those alte vibes and some afrobeats.
Tell me about the creation process of KillaXtra. You’ve crafted a project filled with a sprawling cast of artists. Was it hard getting vocals from them?
It just happened naturally. These guys didn’t give me much stress. I reached out to them like ‘yo, I have this song which will be a perfect vibe for you; listen to it. If you like it, let's work around it.’
But how easy was it getting a verse from Odunsi in 2021?
Trust me; it’s a surprise for me too. Odunsi and I used to talk but not that close. There was a time he was saying ‘oya send beat,’ but that was in 2019. When I was making “Do Me,” I was like, ‘this is a vibe Odunsi can hop on’. I reached out; he was in London at the time. I just sent the song to his email and then fired a text, ‘yo check your email and tell me what you feel.’ After an hour or so, he listened and got back to me confirming he’ll send a verse when he gets to the studio. In a day or two, I got my verse. It all happened early this year.
You’ve worked with some of the industry’s best. How has being in the same space with some of these acts impacted you in terms of song creation?
Definitely, [it has]. [Making] music with someone will influence you in the way you write, record and even in the way you listen to music. For example, Wizkid – I’ve been in the studio with him several times and I’ve picked up a few things from him.
Let’s focus on Wizkid; you produced heavily for him between 2018 and 2019. How was the relationship? How was that experience?
I’ve worked with so many artists, from A-list acts and emerging ones. But Wizkid is very creative, very different. Even some of these rising acts booming in the scene lately, when they’re recording, they may be hesitant, taking things slowly, wasting time. But Wiz exudes this aura of a talented person. The first time I met Wizkid, we recorded six songs that day though he didn’t release any of them. But that night, I felt something special.
I find “Sharon’s Interlude” an interesting track. Was it dedicated to someone, given the title?
It’s about my girlfriend. While working on the project, anytime she calls me, I’m always busy and not available. She complained about me spending too much time on my laptop. So there was a day she complained again and I just kind of bribed her by writing a song for her.
Going forth from this project, what should we look out for from Killertunes?
Expect videos from KillaXtra. Next year, people should expect more collaborations. This year, I didn’t produce for a lot of artists; I’ll do that a lot next year. Also, I’ll be singing a lot more; in fact I’ll be singing full time.