Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds once said, “Lyrics can be important, but ultimately what pulls people in on a song is melody and the tracks, and the way music feels.”
He was right.
Think back to the last great song or album that immediately grabbed you. Sure, some lyrics may stand out and run constantly in your mind like the SportsCenter news ticker, but chances are it’s the production and melody that burrowed deep into your temporal lobe and made themselves comfortable.
At least that’s what happened when most people listened to Brent Faiyaz’s new full-length project, Larger Than Life, for the first time. While Faiyaz’s usual stoical splendor was on full display, it was the production that caught everyone by surprise. You’d be forgiven for hearing the mixtape’s first track, “Tim’s Intro,” and thinking Timbaland blessed the indie superstar with one of his vintage space funk productions. After all, the Virginia legend is on the track talking and beatboxing and the beat sounds like something he would have given Aaliyah over 20 years ago. Also, his name is in the title. Same goes with track #2, “Last One,” which features Timbo’s longtime collaborator Missy Elliott. But nope. Both beats are courtesy of David Patino, better known as D-Pat.
Born and raised in Houston, D-Pat taught himself how to make beats in college and then lucked into landing a dream placement with a then-ascendant The Weeknd. From there he linked with two like-minded musicians—Faiyaz and producer Atu—and formed the group Sonder. Although the group only dropped one official project, the EP Into back in 2017, D-Pat would help Faiyaz craft his debut album, Sonder Son. And, after being mysteriously absent from Faiyaz’s sophomore effort, D-Pat returned to anchor Larger Than Life—Faiyaz’s first project under his partnership with UnitedMasters and his new ISO Supremacy label. Producing eight of the mixtape’s 12 songs (two tracks are skits), D-Pat laid the foundation of the album’s referential but modern sound.
Billboard caught up with D-Pat right after the mixtape’s release on October 27th to talk about how the two first started working together, his ability to manifest his success, and what it’s like producing for one of your musical idols.
Before we get to the new album, how did you and Brent first start working together?
Well, I started out as a solo beatmaker. There was a movement, I’m not sure if you know, it was called Selection. Which was basically DJs and producers. It was a collective. And I got tapped into that crowd, even though I was still living in Houston. I would come out to LA for some shows sometimes. And I met another producer named Atu, who was also Selection affiliated. I was going to do a show with Atu so I went to [his] place. We were preparing for a DJ set or something and he randomly put on a SoundCloud when Brent’s songs came up. As soon as it started—I think he only had two or three songs out at the time, this was 2015—and we heard his voice, we were like, Whoa, who is this? I’m not saying we were big or anything, but we had some followers. He agreed to meet with us and we just had a couple sessions. The three of us were on the same page sonically and [with] our influences. We weren’t even anticipating making a group or anything as the three of us started Sonder. The chemistry was so strong from the first time, it was inevitable in a way.
I had no idea that’s how Sonder started
It was a SoundCloud algorithm. So shout out to that.
Looking back, how would you describe Sonder?
It’s funny. It was a side project for us all. We were all solo artists, and this was just a one-off project to see what happens. And when it started taking off, it came as a surprise, especially to Atu and I. But what’s funny is Brent knew what it was going to be the whole time. I remember we made the project in Orlando, which is where Atu was living at the time; he was going to school up there. Since I’ve known Brent, he’s the most confident person I’ve ever known in my life. I remember we hadn’t even made a song and he was like, “Yo, we’re about to shift music. We’re about to move the needle; have so many fans. All these people are going to be on our wave.” And I’m like, Okay, can we make one song? We hadn’t even done anything, and he was already saying all these grandiose things that we were going to do. And I can see now, looking back, he was just manifesting it.
And how did you get into producing?
I used to be a skater kid, and then I broke my arm. During that time, I started picking up the guitar. That’s really how it started. My dad had a guitar at the house and he would always play it, but he only knew three chords, and he would play every song to the same three chords, which is hilarious. I love that for him. But, yeah, I taught myself [guitar], which transitioned into me learning piano. I was in a high school band, and then later on when I went to college I had an electric guitar, but I couldn’t really play that in my dorm. So that transitioned into me making beats. I was very inspired by Kanye, 9th Wonder, [J] Dilla, so my sound was chipmunk-pitched up soul samples. I think everyone starts that way [Laughs].
I guess what got me into Beats, too, was I heard [Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s 1998] Black Star album. Those beats just blew me away. I hadn’t really, I guess, appreciated hip-hop until I heard that, which led me to A Tribe Called Quest and all the classic hip-hop stuff. That’s really what drove me to start to make beats.
I have the craziest story. I started making beats [in 2011], and that was the year that The Weeknd came out. And I remember being such a big fan of The Weeknd. He was so mysterious—no one could reach out, talk to him, nothing. And, somehow, I started talking to him and I got a placement with him. I had only been making beats for a year. It was insane.
Wait. What? How did you start talking to him?
I used to have a Tumblr, because Tumblr was a thing back then, and I made a beat tape. Somehow, someone in his camp heard it and they reached out to me and they were like, “[Send] 10 beats to the Weeknd.” And I was such a huge fan. I was like, Holy shit! It’s crazy.
Wow. I can’t believe you got connected with The Weekend via Tumblr.
It’s really weird. I manifested it and I don’t know how. But ever since then, it feels like I can just manifest anything I want. It’s really weird.
That is a crazy story.
I remember I just sent him a beat and I sampled “Tell Me Do You Wanna” by Ginuwine. And he was so gassed on me, and it was just so funny because I didn’t know what I was doing back then. And I made that beat on Garage Band, which is even more funny to me.
That was “Remember You” on Wiz Khalifa’s ONIFC album, right?
Yeah. And then that became the single. Then it got Grammy nominated. And I’m like, Bro, I don’t know what I’m doing [Laughs]. I actually had the biggest imposter syndrome ever. The craziest thing is that I sampled Ginuwine. I don’t know why. It’s just crazy. Who knew years later I would be bringing that sound back in a way with Brent?
Listening to the intro on Larger Than Life, I thought, “Wow this is the best Timbo beat I’ve heard in a while.” Did you make that beat to sound like him or was it just a coincidence that it aligned that way?
That’s a good question. I’m just a student of music of all genres, and I’m a chameleon. I can reverse engineer or recreate anything, any genre. Obviously, we’re already fans of that sound. We did a studio lock-in for this album. [It] was basically a studio in a hotel that Brent booked for a week straight. So, it was just wake up, [go to the] studio until ungodly hours, go to sleep, wake up, studio. On the sixth day of this lock-in, Brent was like, “Oh, Timbaland’s coming to the studio and I want him to be talking on an intro.” I was like, okay, cool, let me make a beat. In my head, I’m thinking, What could be cool for Timbaland to talk on? All of us [grew] up listening to Timbo talk his shit, beatboxing, the ad-libs—they’re just so iconic. And so, in my mind, I’m like I want this to be a statement.
Since it’s the opener of the album, I wanted it to hit hard. And the whole approach of this album, which I’m sure people can tell by now, is that Brent wanted it to sound like a mixtape. So that’s why there’s all the producer tags, the air horns; it’s very sample heavy. It’s all intentional. But, yeah, I wanted it to be an impactful intro. If Timbaland’s about to be talking on my beat, I felt like I had to deliver production-wise. He’s such a legend. That moment was the culmination of everything, my whole past: what I told you about sampling Ginuwine how many years prior, the Sonder ep, everything we’ve done. I’m like, okay, Timbaland’s about to come. This is everything I’ve learned. And then I made the beat in 15 minutes. I showed it to Brent and he was like, “Yeah, this is it.” And then Timberland came in and it was the most surreal full-circle moment for Brent and I. We were kind of speechless. As soon as Timbaland heard the beats, he was in awe.
I was wondering what his reaction was to hearing that beat.
It’s funny because it could go either way. He could be like, Wait, they’re just taking it, or whatever. But he had the utmost respect, and he was like, “I honestly feel like I’m 18 again right now in the basement with Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Missy.” You could see it in his eyes that he was just very humbled, appreciative. And I think he’s just a fan of Brent. It almost felt like a passing of the torch moment. He called Brent and he’s like, “You’re like the next Static.” And then he looked at me and he’s like, “This sounds exactly like me.” It was just a surreal moment for not only Brent and I, but for him. It was a mutual thing.
There’s no better compliment than that.
That’s my favorite studio moment of all time. And after he left, the energy of the studio was insane. There were like 50 people in there going crazy.
In what order were all of the songs made?
The project started last December, I would say. We went to Tulum with no expectations, just for Brent and I to make songs. But that was where the first song was made, which was “Pistachios.” A majority of the project, honestly, was made [during] that one week at lock-in with a couple made throughout the year. But the majority were made in that lock-in. I’ve never seen anything like that. [Brent] was writing one, two songs every day. It was actually insane.
Can you talk about “Best Time”?
Yeah. The whole project is an homage to our musical predecessors in a sense, since it’s a mixtape. Brent really wanted to shine a light on who he’s inspired by, his influences, and stuff we grew up on. It’s just paying our respects to our pioneers, the trailblazers. We actually had sessions with Chad [Hugo]. I know Brent has songs with the Neptunes, but that was my first time meeting Chad. It was earlier this year and I was very appreciative.
So for “Best Time,” is that “Caught Out There”?
Yeah. We used the melody from Kelis’s song “Caught Out There,” and then I just made new drums for it. Kind of like a different bounce, but it’s still Neptunes flavored.
It’s interesting that “Pistachios” was the first song you guys made. Did that set the tone for everything going forward?
I really like pistachios. That might be my favorite [on the album]. It started with Brent wanting to flip the Adina Howard song that we sampled on that, “If We Make Love Tonight.” Maybe from there that kind of subconsciously set the mood of being a sample-heavy album or with a mixtape approach. I think that did set the tone. A lot of the samples were Brent wanting to use them. The Rome sample on “Belong to You,” [for example]. I’ve just been working with Brent for so long, we both know what each other wants. If he sends a song he wants to flip, we both reach the finish point without saying too much.
So what’s next?
Well, right now I’m working on a trilogy of solo projects, just instrumentals and stuff like that, which I had been doing before Sonder. I know Timbaland had his own albums but they always were feature heavy. I thought it’d be interesting to see (should it be here?) just instrumental albums, and that’s stuff I love as well, so I’ve been working on that. And this album release has me inspired to work on full albums for other artists. I really like how Timbaland would produce all of Missy’s album or all of Ginuwine’s, Aaliyah’s, Justin Timberlake’s. Or even the Neptunes would do that, you know? I would really be interested in doing that. I don’t really have any artists in mind, but I would love to help. It doesn’t necessarily mean I have to produce every track, but just help craft and develop. An entire album feels more fulfilling to me than getting one track on [someone’s] next album.