Beatchild's new nostalgia
The Toronto artist discusses his new compilation and looks back at the beats that built his sound
Written by Del Cowie.
Beatchild's career has often been hidden in plain sight. This can be attributed to his chameleon-like work across many different genres — traversing pop, house, rock, hip-hop and R&B — and to the way he shapes these sounds to fit his various personas.
Byram Joseph began as Slakah the Beatchild, and has since issued solo and collaborative projects under the Slakadeliqs, the Art of Fresh, Sandie Black and now, simply Beatchild. The Sarnia, Ontario-raised performer is a multitasking powerhouse who, through being a singer, songwriter, performer, mixer and engineer for himself and various other high-profile artists, has indelibly weaved himself into Canada's R&B tapestry.
Throughout his 15-year career, Beatchild has worked with artists such as Drake, Shad and Glenn Lewis, applying his distinctly soulful sheen to everything he works on, while building an enviable catalogue. He's also increasingly utilized his skills as a mixer and engineer, having notably been a guiding hand behind Junia-T's Studio Monk, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Polaris Music Prize. It should be no surprise that Beatchild's latest release, Nostalgia: Beats of 2008 - 2020, pulls from his extensive vault, featuring a mix of old and previously unreleased instrumentals that provide a gateway to the foundation of his sound, which Beatchild equates to a "classic cocktail."
"To really take [Nostalgia] in, you need to take your time," he told CBC Music. "And then when you take your time and actually take it in, you can start to understand the different layers of who I am."
"I don't really need to make beats anymore," said Beatchild. "I write songs, and I produce songs, but I'm kind of paying homage to where I came from. It takes you on a journey that is easy listening. I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew that I'm still here, I'm still alive."
"When I was Slakah the Beatchild, I was rapping and battle rapping because that was what appealed to me when I was younger," he said, explaining the name changes. "I really grew out of that really quick and I felt like I was carrying that identity with me, that it wasn't truly who I was. And then I started exploring and really started getting inspired by different types of music. And so that's when I came up with the Slakadeliqs because that was quite different than like, beats-oriented stuff. Basically, the Slakadeliqs was my way of saying, 'OK, if you see the Slakadeliqs, you know, it's me, but you know, it's gonna be more on the experimental tip.' So with that, I think people were still confused. And it got to the point where I didn't care, I'm just gonna make whatever."
Now, Beatchild has found a happy medium, fusing both his past and present identities.
"I feel like I've changed significantly, I know who I am," he said. "A lot more than I was when I was a kid rapping, doing battle raps."
"And not just even in the music industry," he continued. "So it was more of a personal decision to retire as Slakah and just go to Beatchild. That was kind of my personal way of shedding that skin and coming out as something more refined. Because that's exactly how I feel right now: I feel like I'm a refined version of who I am."
CBC Music caught up with Beatchild to look back on his decorated history as a producer under various aliases, as well as learn about his latest release.
Track: "Enjoy Ya Self" and "Enjoy Ya Self V2" featuring Drake
Project: Soul Movement Vol. 1, Slakah the Beatchild
"Man, geez, I was really super inspired when I made that album. I was young, I didn't have any responsibilities. I wanted to write great songs. I had started my own studio, and I was working at a studio full-time, too. So I was surrounded by music in my early adult life, and I knew that I wanted to create a producer album, but I knew that I could sing. I knew that I could make songs for myself, and I wanted the first song that the world heard to be something special. And to me, it was special. But I didn't realize that ['Enjoy Ya Self'] was gonna really propel my music career. I had no idea, honestly. And I say that with humility because I'm not famous, but it definitely helped in a huge way. To this day, people talk about that track like they talk about their childhood [laughs] and how special it was. And to have that effect on somebody with a song, I'm happy, you know — I'm satisfied."
On the remix version featuring Drake:
"Drake was at my studio, working on a lot of his own stuff so we were just in communication, almost on a daily basis. I was helping him with his stuff and he was helping me with my stuff. We were just working on all kinds of stuff. There was a song called 'Thrill is Gone' [from Room for Improvement] — that's my beat. He heard it and was like, 'Oh, I need this.' So he recorded a song to it. We just respected each other. I was doing a lot of recording for [Room for Improvement]."
Track: "Out This World"
Project: Back to the Earth, Art of Fresh
Art of Fresh is Beatchild's group project with hip-hop artist D.O.
"That was another special moment in my life and when I was producing Art of Fresh projects, I was doing my solo project at the same time, too. I did all these projects and I heard these sounds in my head, and I had to get them out. I needed a vehicle to get them out. That's why there are all these names and projects. I needed vehicles for these different sounds in my head. And Art of Fresh was one that was really cool. We're slowly working on the third album. When I think about Art of Fresh, we toured a lot and toured the world. The memories I have of Art of Fresh are like, performing in ski towns, and people really turning up and realizing that we have this really unique, special sound that people really love."
Track: "Something Forever"
Project: Something Forever, Beatchild
"I had been travelling a lot in Europe around that time and I had been making music with a friend, [Swedish singer] Tingsek. I had been to Paris, and people were really digging [Soul Movement Vol. 1], and I didn't expect people to. Soul Movement Vol. 1 had been out for some time and people wanted more so [I said], 'OK, let me just slap together some music, tunes that I really loved.' But people really loved it. I'm like, 'OK, people actually do like my music,' you know? And 'Something Forever' really connected with people. The funny thing about 'Something Forever' is it was just really me vibing in the studio. The vocals on that track are on one take, I'm not even saying anything. I'm pretty much mumbling and I left it in there just because I liked the way it sounded. It made the album and it still connected with people."
Track: "Love Controls the Sun" featuring Justin Nozuka
Project: The Other Side of Tomorrow, the Slakadeliqs
"I had been a fan of Justin Nozuka for some time, but we had never met. When I made the music for that song, I was like, 'Oh man, Justin has to be on there.' I found some connections and I reached out to him, and he was down. It was a really cool session because it was our first time meeting, and we just really connected and vibed in the studio. It's one of those things where there's certain people you come across and where you're on the same wavelength, and when you get into a creative space together, it's really special. We challenged each other and the end result was really cool."
Track: "Dear Lucy"
Project: The Other Side of Tomorrow, the Slakadeliqs
"I am still the Slakadeliqs. The Slakadeliqs still exists. It's my alter ego, it's my vessel that allows me to do whatever I want without even thinking too hard about it. And whatever happens happens, you know? So that project [The Other Side of Tomorrow] was four years in the making because I experimented, I was trying things I've never tried before, and it still had to sound good to me. I always had this battle where, when I performed it, it never felt right. So I wanted to create an album where I could perform it with basic instruments, and this Slakadeliqs project was a turning point for me because that's when I realized that that's what I can achieve, and that's what I needed to achieve. 'Dear Lucy' kind of represents a starting point in a way of creating music that I had never before tried. When I look back to these records, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought I did. They're starting points. There's things that I did that I still go back to. I still refer back to what I'm creating now. I'm just building on what I started, and I still need to do that to this day. I don't want to get stuck in a rut creatively."
Track: "Keep Up" featuring Ayah
Project: Soul Movement Vol. II, Beatchild
Beatchild and vocalist and songwriter Merna, formerly known as Ayah, released a collaborative album under the group name Sandie Black in 2017.
"[Merna and I] were both kind of frustrated in [the] music [industry]. We've known each other for years, and I called her up like, 'You know what, who cares about the industry? Let's just make a song tonight and release it, like just out of pure love for music. Let's just do it.' And that's what we did. She came over, created the music. We wrote the words and were like, 'What about structure and all that?' Whatever. We just made it for the sake of making art and we put it out that same night. It felt so good and the end result was good. And I think that it's important to remind ourselves as creatives that that is truly what music is supposed to be. You know, we've only monetized it because we can but in that process, it can dilute what the true purpose of creating art is, and to us that was like an exercise. It was a really great exercise because the end product was beautiful. It actually goes to show how intention can affect art."
Track: "Someone Like That"
Project: Soul Movement Vol. II, Beatchild
"I'll tell you my favourite song from the [new] album Nostalgia. It's not actually one of the newer songs. I went through the album last night on a drive. It's 'Someone Like That' and it never gets mentioned by anybody. But that's actually one of my favourite tunes. I don't know why, I'm just proud of that one. But I hear the different layers and it really came together really naturally."
Project: Nostalgia: Beats of 2008-2020, Beatchild
"'Macheeto' is really special to me because I made that beat when I was 18, and I'm 35 right now. It was the era when I was just making beats, making beats, making beats. And some time later, DJ Mark Farina reached out to me and he's like, 'I'd like to put this on Mushroom Jazz [Volume 7, 2010].' And I had been a fan of [the] Mushroom Jazz [compilation series] so to have him reach out to me, I was blown away. That really inspired me, and it reached a lot of people who then became fans of me. So 'Macheeto,' from an instrumental standpoint, was a nice little catapult."
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