Even if you don’t know Ronald Banful’s name, you know his work. As GuiltyBeatz, the Ghanaian DJ and producer has had a hand in some of the most vital music of the past few years: He was an essential collaborator on Tems’ If Orange Was a Place and several Beyoncé songs, including the Renaissance standout “Move.”
GuiltyBeatz was in L.A. for Sunday’s Grammys. He watched Beyoncé set the record for most all-time Grammy wins, but then suffer a surprising — or, if you follow the Grammys, not-that-surprising — loss in the Album of the Year category. The defeat left the superstar one-for-18 in the Big Four categories all time, a dispiriting stat that suggests larger institutional issues with the Academy. We talked to GuiltyBeatz just after the ceremony about the snub, working with Beyoncé, Tems’ new music, and more.
How was L.A.? What was the energy around Renaissance?
Yeah, obviously people were happy about it. It got nominated for Electronic/Dance …
And Album of the Year.
It was my first time at the Grammys, and I got to experience everything. So how the red carpet is, I saw where all the interviews happen, [thinking of] how to comport yourself, being in environments like that. Leading up to the thing, I was a bit nervous. I was like, “Oh, my God, how’s it going to be?” But then I calmed down. I was cool.
Who did you attend with?
I was with [my manager] Nikita and I was with Tems.
So you were there when she won her first Grammy, too. I don’t know if we’ve talked since If Orange Was a Place [Tems’ last EP, which GuiltyBeatz heavily produced] came out, but your guys’ work together is great.
Yeah, we’re still working. The album is coming, so we’re on that.
Let’s talk about making “Move,” then, the Renaissance track you co-produced. Can you talk about how you and the producer P2J collaborated on the beat and what Tems’ contributions were as someone featured on the song?
I think that song’s been around for a while. Yeah, we did it a couple years back, me and P2J. I was with Tems, working on If Orange Was a Place, and then we got invited to the Parkwood office in L.A. to work on “Move.” So, we got there and they played us the instrumental, and I thought, “I need to change the ending and add some chords.” … Do you understand? To give them more soul. Tems was like, “Yeah, let’s do that.” So I did that. Completely changed the ending. And that’s how Tems just wrote all her lyrics, everything on the spot. That’s it.
Then the A&Rs, they loved it from there. When Beyoncé heard it the next day, she loved it. They wanted us to just finish the song. Then Beyoncé sang what Tems wrote and kept some of Tems’ vocals in there. It was a quick turnaround, I would say, ’cause I’m pretty sure it was one of the last things they were working on for the album.
Did P2J have the base instrumental and then you made modifications? Is that how that worked?
Yeah. The beat was there. I made an entirely different beat for Tems’ part.
And she wrote all the lyrics that Beyoncé is singing, for the most part?
For the most part, yeah.
What was it like when Album of the Year was announced? I think that there’s frustration among fans, myself included, that says, “How much harder could she work?” Maybe for people for whom this is their first or second nomination, or their first time in the Big Four, there might be this feeling of like, “OK, I’m going to keep going.”
It’s like they could give her everything, the best this, the most whatever. But Album of the Year, [they’ve] always been trying to fight her on that. Why is she not getting that? I guess it’s a deep conversation.
What are your thoughts on that conversation?
I guess we need more voting members who are like us. You get me?
You mean people who understand Black music and —
Who understand our culture, too — they should actually be part of the decision-making. I think the majority of people that are making the decisions don’t understand what the culture is about. I mean, congrats, she’s obviously sweeping up all the Grammy Awards. But Album of the Year is Album of the Year, and I feel like Renaissance is the Album of the Year, literally. There’s no album out there like that; how it made people feel. People have been down and sad for the past, maybe, two years, three years. And she released an album to basically make people feel like, “Yo, you can be free. You can be who you want to be.” And it wasn’t awarded. It’s a bit weird, you know?
There’s been this movement in the past few years in which headlines about expanding the voter base have come out; the voting classes that are coming in are more diverse than they’ve ever been. So, yeah, I mean, I guess it is a question of, “What happens now?” What should those efforts look like going forward if we’re still not seeing the sort of progress that we hope for?
I feel like they need to add more Black people to voting members. Do you understand? Yeah, that’s literally what it is.
There’s one lady who won. I think she does, I don’t know if it’s country music, but she herself was so surprised that she won that category. I understand the world is huge and there’s certain demographics where music may not get to, maybe the youth or people around the world, maybe from Africa, maybe from Europe, America. There’s places where we may not get to hear certain type of songs —
Oh, I think Bonnie Raitt is who you’re talking about. She won Song of the Year.
Yeah. But she was surprised by it. At the same time I get it, ’cause obviously there’s people out there who are like, “We love her music.” But there’s also people who have worked hard to get their music worldwide. Like, worldwide. It means that anywhere in the world — if they play “Break My Soul” people know it. Because Beyoncé’s music is worldwide.
There’s people [whose] music didn’t go worldwide. Obviously they’ll sell out their shows here and there, but it’s not everywhere, basically, compared to others. So, if all the voting members are the ones deciding, “OK, let’s give it to this person, let’s give it to that person,” [then] there’s not enough Black people on there. That’s what it is. I’m going to be a voting member myself. So I can bring in more of my friends, more people.
I know Beyoncé worked hard on this Renaissance album. I know she pushed it, and I could feel that they really worked on it. Do you understand? She joined TikTok, it became a thing. She was on it. She’s becoming the most Grammy-winning artist of [all time]. What’s the point of all that? You’re giving her everything [else] like she’s the big everything, but the Album of the Year, they’re not actually doing that. So, what is the problem?
Yeah, I think that is the question. Before we hop off, I do want to celebrate the album because even in her speech, her thanking her uncle Johnny, her thanking the queer community for founding the way that dance and electronic music sounds, it is so important. For you, what are the biggest successes of the album? Why are you glad that other people can see the value in it?
Because of the kind of messages she had on the album. She listened and she observed how the world’s been for the past couple years. I’m glad she sat down and directed Renaissance in a way that would touch people’s lives. People felt connected to the album. I feel like people danced and they felt free listening to it.
What about on a musical level? Was this a groundbreaking album to you just in terms of the musicality of it?
Yeah, the way the songs synced into each other was amazing. It’s something that I even practiced myself on my first EP. I made all the songs sync into each other. You have to take your time, ’cause it’s a lot of work to do that; the chords, the different ways she tackles the music. Even with the lyrics and melodies, she’s doing different things that she’s never done. She’s been doing this for so long, and this is still so different from everything she’s done in all these years. It’s like she keeps getting better, I would say.
How are you feeling now about your Grammys experience?
You know what? I’m grateful that I was still nominated, grateful for being able to be present at the Grammys, whether it won the Album of the Year or not. For me personally, it’s a sign. It’s a sign that whatever I’m doing now, I have to keep doing what I’m doing. Do you understand? Work on another Beyoncé album and it will win. So I’m grateful. I was a bit sad yesterday, but today I’m happy that I’m moving forward.
I hope Tems’ album comes out in time to be nominated for a Grammy for next year.
Yeah, we’re at that. Nah, seriously, I’m on that, literally. ‘Cause I’m producing, I’m executive-producing. Yeah, don’t worry, I’m on it.