Super Producer Killah B Talks Making History With ‘Texas Hold Em’ and His Vision To Change Pop Music

The Chicago native has produced hits for Usher, Summer Walker, Chris Brown, T-Pain, Ariana Grande, and many more.

Brian “Killah B” Bates is one of the most prolific producers in the music industry. The Chicago native and three-time Grammy Award nominee has crafted mega hits for some of the biggest artists in music.

Most recently, Killah co-produced/co-wrote Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold Em” from her critically acclaimed album Cowboy Carter. The hit landed in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The achievement made Beyoncé the first Black woman and Killah along with Raphael Saadiq, the first Black producer/songwriter to top the Billboard Hot Country Charts. spoke with the noted producer about developing his passion for music and the challenges he encountered growing up in the “Windy City.”

“There were a lot of gangs in Chicago and I was raised by my grandparents. They saved me and my brother from some of the harsh realities that we had with my parents who both struggled with drug addiction,” Killiah stated. “My grandparents adopted me and my brother and moved us into a better environment. They took care of us and put us in everything they could to distract us from the street sh*t because it was always there.”

“My grandfather saw a special talent in me at the age of six and he asked me if I wanted to play drums. He also put me in piano lessons and I was classically trained from the age of six until I was 14,” he continued.

While nurturing his dream and talent, his grandfather moved the family from Chicago and they settled in New Mexico of all places. The new surroundings would serve as a testing ground for Killah’s burgeoning musicianship.

“When we first moved to New Mexico, they found a church where the pastors were originally from Chicago and grew up in the same project as my parents,” Killah said. “It just so happened that the church drummer was leaving and my grandfather signed me up without telling me. He said, “You're gonna do this” [Laughs].

Eventually, Killah would discover his true creativity when he began to make tracks on the keyboard at church. He combined his classic training with his love for hip-hop—that morphed into his own unique sound.

Beyoncé's 'Cowboy Carter' Marks 1 Billion Streams on Spotify

“At the time, I didn't know you could make beats on a keyboard and when one of the church’s musicians showed me how to do it, my life flashed before my eyes,” he recalled. “I knew what I was going to do in my life and that was like a “Matrix” moment. I became a student of music and I fell in love with the technicalities of what it took to create it.”

Several years afterward, Killah relocated to Atlanta and maneuvered through numerous obstacles. His undeniable talent and musical acumen was discovered there. Killah went on to produce Elijah Blake's The Neon Eon album, Keyshia Cole's "I Don't Wanna Be in Love", Tinashe's "Touch & Go" Usher & Zaytoven’s "Birthday" and many more. His reputation as a producer/songwriter, would eventually land him in a session where Queen Bey was at work on a secret project.

“After working with Ariana [Grande] on Positions, I was at a party with my friend Nathan and he said he was looking for a pop writer for a publishing company and we exchanged information,” Killah recalled. “He sent me some records that were fire and he invited me to come up to APG (Artist Partner Group) when Mike Carren was working at the label.”

“When I got there, I worked on one idea with an artist named Bülow who was signed to Republic Records. The second idea we did was “Texas Hold Em.” He leaned over and said, ‘I'm working on Beyoncé’s new album. If you have any country ideas, let me know,’ he recalled.” So I sent the song to Mariel Gomerez who works at Parkwood Entertainment.”

Shortly thereafter, the demo for “Texas Hold' Em” was heard by Queen Bey and she was immediately drawn to Killah’s work.

“Mariel played it for Beyonce and she got her to record the song. A couple of weeks later, I got a call to come up to Parkwood and they made us sign NDAs,” he said. “They put us in a room to work on more ideas. We did like two or three more fire ideas that they loved. Then, I didn't hear nothing about the song for the next two and a half years [Laughs].

Little did he know that “Texas Hold' Em” would be a part of one of the most creative rollouts ever and would be lead single to one of Beyoncé’s defining works.

“Because I didn’t hear anything, I didn't take it as serious as I as I should have. I would have been doing more country ideas and kept sending them over,” he said. “But when you’re in this business, people always cut records, and never put them out.”

“I got a call from one of my colleagues Elizabeth Lowell who’s an incredible songwriter and one of the co-writers on “Texas Hold'em”, she said, “Beyonce wants to go back in and do some changes,” he continued. “Mind you, Sony played me a version of the song last year and it was fire. But I wasn't too sure if it was going to ever come out.”

With Super Bowl LVIII around the corner, Killah said that Queen Bey’s team began to accelerate the process to ensure that all business-related matters were taken care of. And they had good reason for expressing their sense of urgency.

“The lawyers from Parkwood started pressuring us to get it done. Come to find out, they were pressuring us because it was being set up for the Super Bowl. We finalized the contracts three hours before her Super Bowl commercial,” he said. 

“I'm watching the Super Bowl, thinking it's coming out next month or something. Then she does the whole thing and at the end, she says, ‘Drop that.’  I opened my phone and it said “Texas Hold'em” on her page,” he continued. “That was one of the greatest marketing strategies ever in history. I was floored.”

The runaway success of “TEXAS HOLD 'EM” has sparked a renaissance (pun intended) in country music and put a spotlight on some of the many Black artists who have been making incredible music. Killah is proud that Black artists are getting their long overdue recognition in the genre.  

“Black people created country music. All the elements and instruments that were used to create country music were created by Black people. So I think that us doing country is no different than us doing hip-hop and pop,” he argued. “A lot of white people think that it’s their job to be gatekeepers and that’s laughable. I’m honestly just grateful and happy that I was used to helping usher in this moment and the Queen allowed me the opportunity to be a part of her movement. I hope to keep changing pop music with each production.”

In addition to producing music for various artists, Killah is currently working on a book and documentary about his life. He believes he has a God-given mandate to share his story and music with the world.

“I'm working on an artist named Anitta from Brazil and I’m working on ideas for The Weeknd. I’m also working with Monica and Jourdin Pauline. We've been developing her for years,” he said. “She has millions of followers on Instagram and every label is on our heads about her. We did a record that is going crazy viral on TikTok right now called ‘Concentration.’ “I’m so excited about what is coming in the future.”

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