Nineteen85 breaks down the making of some of Drake's biggest beats

Nineteen85 of the R&B duo Dvsn is the Grammy-winning Canadian producer behind Drake’s Hotline Bling and other massive hits. He joined Q’s Tom Power to share the stories behind some of his signature beats.

In a Q interview, the OVO hitmaker reflected on his journey to becoming a Grammy-winning producer

Canadian music producer Nineteen85 sitting in the Q studio in Toronto.
Canadian music producer and songwriter Anthony Paul Jefferies, known professionally as Nineteen85, in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

The full interview with Nineteen85 is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power, where he also talks about his musical roots and his work with his Dvsn collaborator, Daniel Daley. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

From the very start of his career, Drake has tapped into the Canadian talent pool to help engineer his sound. Among his most frequent collaborators are the Toronto-based producers Noah "40" Shebib, Boi-1da, T-Minus and Nineteen85 of the R&B duo Dvsn.

Nineteen85 has quite a few Drake hits under his belt, including the Grammy-winning smash Hotline Bling. He sat down for an interview on Q with Tom Power to look back on his musical journey, so we asked him to share the stories behind some of his signature beats.

Here are a few things we learned from Nineteen85 about the making of Drake's Hold On, We're Going Home, One Dance and Hotline Bling.

WATCH | Nineteen85's interview with Tom Power:

Hold On, We're Going Home (Drake featuring Majid Jordan)

Drake's 2013 hit Hold On, We're Going Home was originally conceived of as a house song with a tempo of 124 beats per minute (BPM).

Nineteen85 said the track is a testament to his style as a producer, which "comes from taking things that don't normally belong together, whether it's tempos, different styles [or] different samples."

The making of Hold On, We're Going Home was the first time the producer had ever worked with Toronto R&B duo Majid Jordan, who co-produced the song and also feature on it. Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman are still among Nineteen85's closest friends.

"We started working on ideas, not really knowing what we were working towards or where it would go," Nineteen85 told Power. "We stumbled on this idea, and it sounded completely different before this.…

"Out of nowhere, Jordan plays a house version of the song with, like, 124 BPM. Like that speed. And I'm like, the music is so beautiful, but I think it's a little bit too fast for people to get into. I was like, 'What if you bring it right down to, like, 100?' Which, normally, for a house song, you wouldn't even think of that because it's way too slow. But when we did that … it was like the aha moment because it just felt so different.… That's why, to this day, people still reference that record. I think so much of it's because it wasn't meant to be at that speed."

One Dance (Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla)

Aside from being one of the most talented artists he's ever worked with, Nineteen85 said Drake is also "one of the best producers in the game, hands down." That became obvious during the making of the artist's 2016 song One Dance.

"When we did One Dance, I had made a full version of the record, worked on [the beat] for hours.… And I'm like, 'Oh man, this is it,'" said Nineteen85. "I call [Drake] into the room. I'm all excited — I'm like, 'He's going to love it for sure.' He listens. He stops. He kind of, like, looks away blankly, and I'm like, 'This isn't the response I was expecting.' So I'm like, 'What's he gonna say? What's he gonna say?' And he's like, 'The music is perfect. The drums are wrong.' So in my head, I'm like, 'Damn.'"

When Drake made that comment, Nineteen85 said he recalled a passing conversation they once had about how, in other parts of the world, the success of a song is tied to its ability to make people dance.

"Instantly in my head, I'm like, 'OK, well, what would make people from many different places of the world dance simultaneously?'" said Nineteen85. "And it's so funny that the song ended up becoming called One Dance because we never … spoke about it being a song for people to dance to or any of those things."

Nineteen85 said One Dance played a big role in pop music embracing different styles like R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, reggaeton and Afrobeat. He also credits Drake's artistry and vision as a producer.

"The way he's able to see where a song should or shouldn't go and then articulate that to a producer is incredible," said Nineteen85. "Drake really could produce his albums, you know. Like, that's the thing about Drake. That's why he can keep making these hits, because it sort of doesn't matter who's involved as long as that person is able to, like, follow his vision enough. He'll get it there for sure."

Hotline Bling (Drake)

Hotline Bling, the lead single from Drake's fourth studio album Views, became one of the most memed and parodied songs of the year when it dropped in 2015. It also received two Grammys for best rap song and best rap/sung performance.

The song sampled the 1972 hit Why Can't We Live Together by Timmy Thomas, who died in March of last year at age 77.

"I actually had the pleasure of talking to him on the phone a couple years ago," said Nineteen85. "The first thing he says to me is 'Thank you. You changed me and my family's life.' I'm like, 'Wow.'… At the time, I think he was a recently retired schoolteacher. And then you technically end up having one of the biggest songs in the world out of nowhere, which is, like, the beauty of music because it never expires.… It's forever connected to the original creator."

When Nineteen85 passed the beat along to Drake, he thought the artist would make a rap song. "I remember the first time he played [Hotline Bling] for me, I was almost confused because I was expecting him to just rap," he said. "So I'm like, 'Oh, this is different.'…

"He plays it one time, and I almost had, like, no reaction because I was digesting it. Because I was literally going into it expecting to hear something completely different than what he did.… We're in the studio, and then there's a bunch of us in the room. Everybody's talking — everybody continues to do whatever they're doing. I leave to go to get a drink from the kitchen. As I'm walking to the kitchen, I'm singing the whole song back and I'm like, 'Ah, he's a genius!'"

The song really started to take on a life of its own after the music video by Director X was released. "With the video it became interactive for people," said Nineteen85. "It became memes. It became almost like a social moment culturally.… Still to this day, [it's] probably one of the most talked about songs of the last at least decade for sure."

For Nineteen85, Hotline Bling also has personal significance because it makes him reflect on how far he's come. "I made that record in my parents' basement," he said. "So every time I hear the song, it literally makes me think, like, 'Whoa, look at where my life has taken me.'"

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Ty Callender.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.


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