what i play
HIDDEN IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF TORONTO, YOU CAN FIND A PLETHORA OF THE COUNTRY’S BRIGHTEST AND MOST INFLUENTIAL HIP-HOP AND R&B PRODUCERS. For many, including Jordon Manswell — producer of Daniel Caesar’s “We Found Love” and Mariah Carey’s “GTFO” — their biggest hits come out of their home studios.
Compared to many, Manswell’s Whitby, ON studio favours simplicity — it’s brightly lit and clutter free. Caesar’s Freudian vinyl sits on a record player ready to be played. Above him, a framed picture lists some life affirmations.
“It was a gift from my girl when I quit my job [to pursue] music, even though I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. It was a reminder that this is your passion and to continue with it, and if you really love it and you put all your work into it, it’ll figure itself out — and it’s figuring itself out,” he explains.
While gospel singers like Kirk Franklin, J. Moss and John P. Kee echoed through his childhood, Manswell reveals that “G-Unit was the beginning. They had the coloured du-rags, they had a whole clothing line — come on, you had to have loved GUnit,” he enthuses.
In 2014, Manswell, who still occasionally releases instrumental beat tapes, entered “Battle of the Beatmakers,” Canada’s largest producer beat battle competition.
“Even though we have the internet and you can put yourself out there by dropping beat tapes, or you don’t even have to wait for anyone to release your music, being in a room with so many likeminded individuals is so important. You build connections, you collaborate and you just become more comfortable around people doing the same things. I met Seven Thomas, WondaGurl, FrancisGotHeat — all these people through the ‘Battle of the Beatmakers.’ We’ve all collaborated, we all know and love each other, and it helps us progress in our careers.”
Before Manswell won the 2014 “Battle of the Beatmakers,” he was finessing his craft on Beatcraft drum machine software at home. “My cousin introduced me to making beats. We would always listen to Jeezy’s ‘And Then What’ and Jermaine Dupri’s ‘I Think They Like Me.’ It was such a simple beat, and I could wrap my head around that. I got Beatcraft, and started remaking that beat.”
Manswell, who credits “a coffee, a really good melody and good spirits” to get him into production mode, also cites the mall — yes, the mall.
“You know how people used to go to the record store and go digging? I used to go to H&M and Zara and all these places. They always had interesting music playing in the store, so I just went to the mall and started Shazaming. That’s how I found most of my samples — it’s like the new crate digging,” he casually explains.
While some digging enthusiasts would scoff at the method, for Manswell, it aligns with the comfort of his studio. It’s his method.
“I can’t just make beats just ’cause — I gotta feel it first. However I’m feeling that day always comes out on the keys,” he says. “I’m not a piano player, but I know the feel of the piano, so I’ll literally just put my fingers on the keys and figure it out.”
As a Toronto-based producer, that feeling is also instinctively dependent on the city’s cultural fabric.
“There are just so many different elements that make Toronto a safe place to make whatever the hell you want,” he says. “You can have Nineteen85 make a ‘One Dance’ and it’s not weird. You can have Boi-1da do ‘Mob Ties’ because there’s Scarborough. You can have a Daniel Caesar make a Freudian because there’s Oshawa — even though that’s not Toronto, we’re all in the city.”
In a nonchalant voice, Manswell slips in that he signed to a production house, Summer of 85, founded by none other than Grammy Award-winning and fellow Canadian producer Nineteen85, with whom he co-produced Carey’s single “GTFO.” Though that one was produced abroad, Manswell’s need to collaborate with local artists and producers brings the conversation back home to his Whitby studio.
“We’re the only ones that understand each other because we’re from the same place. When Drake and the Weeknd came out, there was this whole thing like the ‘Toronto sound’ or the ‘OVO sound’ and to us, that’s normal,” he says. “I think it’s really important that we stick together and fully see through the sound that we have here and the feeling in our music. [ When] we’re together, we can properly fuel more of this sound, and take it even further.”
“There are so many elements that make Toronto a safe place to make whatever you want. ”