West Coast’s finest on being discovered, Diplo and more.

Santell is the West Coast songwriter behind countless, current pop and dance hits. A key influencer on the West Coast new music scene, Santell DJ’s, collaborates and produces 24-7, creating post-internet sound montages to theme his daily feels.

Working alongside Major Lazer, Lido and Diplo, Santell previously worked behind the scenes, creating under aliases and turning down song credits. More recently he dropped debut track “Do Dat”, a preview to the highly anticipated, forthcoming EP.

Now, get to know Santell in his own words, with this essential guide to our new favourite R&B songwriter / old school garage producer.

A lot of people don’t know this, but the first person to ever discover me was producer, turned solo artist Jermaine Dupri (TLC, Mariah Carey, Usher). He signed me when I was 16, during the early Bieber era. I was a kid who grew up on Usher and 90s R&B, I felt like I hit the jackpot when Dupri approached me. I was lucky with how the whole experience benefitted me, helping shape the music I make today. Dupri is responsible for naming me Santell. 

Mad Decent was also a key player in helping me carve out my solo career. The first time I met him, I was working with Lido. We were working on a song for our project “Lady’s A Hoe”. Me and Lido felt stuck lyrically and kept trying to feel out the perfect concept, then all of a sudden Diplo peaks out from under a blanket on the couch in the studio and gives us the idea that I should be having an affair with Lido’s girl and confessing to him in the song. I had no idea he was in there the whole time. Since then I’ve written a lot for this Chinese pop star, Luhan. It’s pretty crazy how phenomenally popular he is, his fans are on another level. 

I really hate the term ghost writer. My voice is actually on a Madonna record, but it got credited as MNEK! Songwriting is an honourable career, people dream of writing songs that others can sing, to bring a new energy to. I want to be able to make music that inspires people. I respect everything that is happening with R&B right now, but I do feel there’s a lack of variety in the sound. The vibes are so calm, there’s a time and place for that but, sometimes, I want to feel charged up when I listen to music. That’s what I’m trying to achieve through my music.

I think what we are seeing in chart music right now is really interesting. I feel like, for the first time in a while, we’re creating music that the younger generation want to hear. With Spotify and other streaming services, music is so available. People choose what they want to hear instead of being force fed by radio. I’m excited to see cultures mesh and blend. With the internet, everything is possible. You can be a kid in middle America somewhere, with no money, and discover something like Coupé Décalé. It’s really opened the doors for people like me in music. 

Most the time I work from home. I’m always hearing songs in my head at random moments, so it’s easiest for me to be based in an environment where l have access to write sporadically. Sometimes I work out of Diplo’s studio, when I’m collaborating on sessions with artists. I have a team of go to people that I feel really understand the vibe. Like Golgotha in Paris, Louby of OKGrl and James Orlando. I feel like when you’re working with like-minded people there’s less chance of crossed wires or confusion. It’s easy to make something dope when that is the common goal. I like to work with people that just want to make good art. LA is the perfect community to do that in, there’s so much going on. [The club night] Brownies and Lemonade has been a cool thing to pop up over the past couple years. My favourite event is my friend Hoodboi’s night called Comfort Zone. It’s just a big hang out for all the homies to mess around and DJ together, without trying to play for an audience. There’s no real set times, anybody who wants to play can just go up.

Making music has its ups and downs, I’m alone a lot of the time, whether I’m traveling or in a studio. It’s great seeing new places and experiencing different cities but there’s always moments when you’re searching for something familiar. I feel like I’m constantly disappointing friends or family, and there’s a song on my forthcoming EP which touches on those feelings. I’m excited for audiences to hear how dynamic my aesthetic can be, from R&B to NU-skul garage and Hi-NRG.

Sami Drasin

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