Whenever Rey Reel is in the studio, there is no telling in what direction his creative juices might flow. The self-motivated 26-year-old producer is currently making a name for himself as a member of the Grammy award-winning producer Hit-Boy’s syndicate of beatslayers under his imprint, Hits Since ‘87 (HS87).
Reel’s keen ear and unwavering sense of musical direction that connect pop, hip hop and R&B has earned him production credits on singles such as Beyonce’s “Flawless,” the remix featuring Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey’s “Thirsty,” Drake’s “Trophies” and Drake’s and will.i.am and Britney Spears’ “Scream & Shout” remix.
A native of Sacramento, CA, the sonic-savvy, extremely down-to-earth man born Raymond DeAndre Martin was recently named a three-time Grammy award nominee for his work on Beyonce’s latest self-titled effort. He didn’t graduate from high school, so the proud student of music thinks possibly winning one of the coveted gramophone trophies is the equivalent to earning his diploma.
“This is like my high school graduation,” says Reel with his thick West Coast accent. “It’s my big awards ceremony, and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m soaking it up, but there’s way more work to be done.”
Reel’s self-coined “experimental” sound is crafted courtesy of FL Studio, a couple of keyboards and drum machines. He bangs out drum cadences that are sometimes sparse and gargantuan and other times syncopated and accented. As awesome as his music set up is, I’m sure some of the audio equipment at HIFISYSTEMCOMPONENTS.COM would enhance the quality of the music produced even more.
The booming thumps are layered under quirky melodic nuances that resemble bizarre video game effects or random distorted tones. “I don’t try to oversaturate anything that I do,” says Reel. “I don’t try to make the same sound. I want it to be a variation. It’s really hard to tell my production.”
The increasingly sought after beatmaker has also landed behind the console to produce for Casey Veggies, Rockie Fresh, Big Sean, DEV, Sage the Gemini, Travi$ Scott, Missy Elliott, Skeme and Robin Thicke. Rey’s recording sessions typically run from noon to midnight or 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“It’s harsh, but it can change,” says Reel calmly, “but I’m handling it very well.” Tight-lipped about who he is currently collaborating with in the studio, one project the beat maker hopes to get off the ground is a compilation album.
The ensemble LP, Reel says, will feature various artists performing over tracks that defy genres. Reel wants to include music he’s recorded with Sri-Lankan artist M.I.A. Ideally, Reel would like to feature Beyonce, producer Detail, the entire HS87 camp and surprisingly British outfit Soul II Soul.
One artist in particular really excites Reel. “I’ve always wanted to work with T-Pain,” proclaims Reel. “He’s one of my favorite writers.”
Never one to throw shade at other artists or their music, Reel, an avid listener of film scores and music from the 1990s, thinks many of the current records in rotation are being mimicked. He consciously chooses not to listen to the radio.
“I have to do what’s best for me in order to keep my ear refreshed and not in the moment,” says Reel. “I want legendary music, you know, longevity.”
The producer who is also an exceptional basketball player gets in his element when he talks about his HS87 peers. The vibe, Rey says, is always fun because each artist and producer takes ownership in the music.
Because everyone is so prolific and infectious, Reel honestly prefers to keep his musical preferences completely in-house. “I listen to us,” he says. “We are the future. We’re trying to make this impact, and at some point in time, it’s gonna come.”
As Reel further elaborates on HS87’s formula for making records, the analogy he uses to describe their chemistry is “a big puzzle.”
“We just go from there and create,” says Reel. “There’s no ego. Once we find the direction we want to go with, everybody just disperses and do their own thing. We all bring it back to one piece and find out how we collectively come together.”
Like his own production work, Rey Reel adds that HS87’s output defies musical categories. “We do everything with no expectations, so we never disappoint ourselves,” he says. “We just want the fans to appreciate everything we’re doing.” For many artists, music innovation is a top priority even if this means they only appeal to a smaller audience who appreciate such things. The ultimate goal is to bring it to the main stream.
Reel, who grew up between Inland Empire (IE) and Simi Valley, CA, met Hit-Boy through Oktane, one-half of Audio Push. He remembers having frequent conversations with Hit-Boy, then an ambitious producer and MC, in their IE apartment complex about making music.
Upon Hit-Boy’s return to California following a brief stint producing under superproducer Polow Da Don in Atlanta, HS87 was born. Hit-Boy, according to Rey, is the “coordinator.” As Rey starts to talk about Hit-Boy’s good qualities, he doesn’t know where to begin.
“He’s a good person all-around,” proclaims Rey. “He looked out for everyone around him. He treats us all equally in our creativity. He listens to everyone and values our opinion.”
Musically though, Hit-Boy, whose Midas touch produced records for Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Jay Z and Kanye West, showed Rey the importance of bringing his emotion into the production.
“Instead of being a beatmaker, he helped me to develop the inner producer in me,” says Reel. “Collectively, when it comes together, it’s a creative vibe, and it just blows up.”
Audio Push, also childhood friends of Reel, continues to inspire him to put his best foot forward. Rey produced the lyrically exceptional hip hop duo’s infectious 2009 debut single, “Teach Me How to Jerk,” which racked up over three million streams on MySpace and over 20 million views on YouTube.
Making that record was the fuel needed to convince him that he should pursue music full-time. Audio Push’s and Reel’s system consists of the pair approaching the producer with their idea, and he lays down the track.
From there, the three guys give each other constructive criticism until everyone is satisfied. “They make me dig super super deep into my archive of beats and really produce a record or a real song,” says Reel.
Reel’s adrenaline really gets going whenever he witnesses Audio Push battle rapping. “They love to compete against each other lyrically, and that’s fun to watch,” he adds. “We just have fun, and when you have fun, it doesn’t turn into work. You’ll always come out with something positive.”
Always keeping his fans in mind, Reel, who admits he deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts numerous times before because he has a tendency to rant, likes to keep his followers informed about the music, especially through SoundCloud. When he isn’t working, Reel makes it a point to spend time with his close friends and family in IE.
He’s proud of his accomplishments but refuses to live beyond his means. Ensuring he remains humble, Reel credits his ethnically diverse group of friends as his muse. “When I walk into a room full of people that I don’t know, I’m never there to stunt or show off,” urges Reel. “I’m there to embrace and ask questions.”
As far as horror stories, Rey’s career has yet to encounter any cautionary tales of shady management or indulgences. The most extreme crisis Reel has dealt with was the death of his sister in 2009, who he says had a great ear for music.
“I realized life is too short,” says Rey. “When she left, I took in all of the energy that she had and put that on myself.”
Otherwise, Reel’s life couldn’t be better. He loves being able to make music everyday of his life and work with great artists. He jokes about going into fan mode when he and Hit-Boy frequent a studio where Pharrell Williams works his magic.
The three Grammy nods still haven’t fully hit Reel yet, so he is keeping his expectations low despite the acknowledgement. Reel’s schedule is becoming increasingly hectic as he also concentrates on developing his acting career.
Reel hopes to set an example for generations of producers and creative talent to come behind him. “Whatever you choose to do, succeed at it,” says Reel. “Just do it if you’re passionate about it. Go forth with it and have fun. If you stop having fun with it, you won’t love it.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.