Why Metro Boomin Thinks Zaytoven Is G.O.A.T.
Rare public conversation between hip-hop producers Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital and Zaytoven.
“Really, Zay the godfather, just flat out.” This is how Metro Boomin, the young producer currently dominating the hip-hop world, described the importance of Atlanta trap veteran Zaytoven during Beatmaker Roundtable: Trapped, which took place in Manhattan on Saturday evening as part of the month-long Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York.
“He birthed all of us,” Sonny Digital, sitting next to Metro, added before making a motion from right to left across the couch that the three producers sat on. It was a telling moment that summarized the mood of the conversation and its focus on Atlanta’s current dominance of the rap landscape.
Metro and Sonny are household names with production credits for Future and Young Thug, but before all that they were just hungry young kids looking to Zaytoven and his work with Gucci Mane as inspiration. Humbled by the compliments, Zaytoven joked that he felt old before simply saying his young acolytes motivate him every day.
“It’s 2016 and he’s still relevant,” Metro continued before concluding. “For real G.O.A.T., goat emoji.”
It’s all about timing. Everything happens for a reason, it made more sense later. It was a better moment and it’s really about moments.
Following a first edition in 2015 featuring Just Blaze, 9th Wonder, Khrysis and Che Pope, this year’s Beatmaker Roundtable looked south. By bringing together two generations of Atlanta producers it offered a unique insight into the roots, influences and reality of the city’s rap scene.
The mood on the couch was convivial as the three recounted stories and proved just how close knit their music community is. But it was also clear that talking, especially about themselves, isn’t always their preferred mode of expression. Rather it is through music that they feel most comfortable speaking. With every music break in the conversation, the trio came alive to sing and dance along to some of their breakthrough and biggest hits including "Icy," "Racks," "Karate Chop," and "Where I Came From."
Trap was dirty and edgy, but now it’s EDM too. It’s its own genre now. That’s crazy, that’s big. We were making it for the guys in our neighborhood.
Asked to describe what trap music meant to them, Zaytoven called it “hustlin’ music” before admitting that neither he, nor Gucci Mane, really knew what they were doing when they first teamed up in the early 2000s. “Trap was dirty and edgy,” he continued, “but now it’s EDM too. It’s its own genre now. That’s crazy, that’s big. We were making it for the guys in our neighborhood.” And now everybody around the world dances to it. Metro, who moved to Atlanta from St. Louis, said he was inspired by local acts Nelly, Chingy and J-Kwon growing up, “That’s how I knew I wanted to be in music.”
Sonny, raised in Atlanta to the sounds of Zaytoven, Shawty Redd, and DJ Toomp, called trap “a hood symphony, the soundtrack to life” in Atlanta and “motivational music, it made you wanna do something.”
I wanna be the light for this generation, like Kanye was for the last one.
Despite the fame, all three producers made it clear the music itself is their motivation while their respective successes keep them sharp. “We all utilize each other,” Metro admitted before Sonny added they sustain a high rate of production by working together. “We gotta make beats every day to stay relevant,” Zaytoven said. “I make beats just to make ‘em, that’s how I keep up.”
It’s not uncommon for the younger producers to reach out to Zaytoven for help in completing a track or to bring something fresh. This is in large part due to the generational difference. While Metro and Sonny are fluent in the language of Fruity Loops, Zay remains anchored in his church roots and plays all his keys and drums by hand on hardware equipment to this day. For Metro, that’s what makes Zay’s sound unique and he later joked that one of the reasons most of their music remains sample-free is because they treat their friends like samples.
While certain regional sounds are defined by a sense of competition and rivalry, Atlanta appears much more united to the outsider. This sense of kinship was evident between the three producers, who showed constant respect and humbleness throughout the evening. When asked how their prolific collaborations play out when it comes to deciding who gets paid for what, Metro was unequivocal. “Everything down the middle,” he replied instantly, “even if he put just one kick in [the beat].” It’s “the only way to do it,” Sonny chimed in.
We gotta make beats every day to stay relevant. I make beats just to make 'em, that’s how I keep up.
Early on, the conversation turned inevitably to Future, one of the rappers most associated with the three artists. Metro described Future’s working rate as so tremendous that it was “natural” for the music he, and others, create to rise in intensity. And this work ethic also means that sometimes the songs you hear are years old, just waiting for the right time to be revealed. One example is "March Madness" from Future’s 56 Nights mixtape. It was created during the making of "Monster" in 2014 but not included until later because “it’s all about timing. Everything happens for a reason, it made more sense later. It was a better moment and it’s really about moments.”
Speaking on the importance of mixtapes to both rappers and producers, as well as the music, all three agreed that they are the best way to attract more — and better paid — work. It’s a “relationship builder” said Sonny and “good advertising” according to Zaytoven. But ultimately, they all just work hard and hope for the next big hit to drop.
As the conversation wound down after an hour, each producer reflected on their current status. “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” Metro replied when asked how it felt to now be the guy young kids look up to, as he once was. Sonny for his part underlined how his notoriety as a producer now affords him a platform as a rapper, which is how he first got involved in the music. “I wanna be the light for this generation,” he said, “like Kanye was for the last one.” But it was Zaytoven who offered the most fitting summary of the night: “They make me mad when they do real good.”