As far as radio play is concerned, Tay Keith’s producer tag—“Tay Keith, f*ck these n*ggas up”— is currently on its way to becoming as ubiquitous as DJ Khaled’s emphatic adlibs. Part of that similarity is a result of happenstance, as the 22-year-old beat-maker stumbled his way into multiple hit records with Drake in 2018. Yet a more tangible measure of Tay Keith’s success can be found in his Khaled-esque ability to leverage relationships, as the young artist’s pristine reputation throughout the industry is what landed him his placement on Beyoncé’s HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM earlier this year.
Though despite his steady flow of chart-climbing singles (or perhaps emboldened by it), Tay Keith is looking to develop another skill set altogether: DJ-ing, and the art of live performance. Backstage at Red Bull Presents: The Underflow in Nashville, three hours from his childhood home in Memphis, the Tennessee native tells BET, “[DJ-ing] is still a learning process, because I’m still developing who I am outside of producing.”
There’s a certain irony in the fact that while Tay Keith has at least a handful of songs in every DJ’s Serato, the producer-turned-performer is still testing the waters with his own music. Tonight will be his first time playing “Wish Wish,” his DJ Khaled-assisted banger featuring Cardi B and 21 Savage. While the hit-maker is confident songs like “SICKO MODE” and “STOOPID” will send his fans into a frenzy, he’s most curious to find out how his newer work will be received live. For example, as he performs before a raucous crowd constructed of mini mosh-pits this evening, Tay’s omission of his and Beyoncé’s wholesome “Before I Let Go” cover is noticeable.
“The first lesson I learned [in DJ-ing] is know your crowd,” he says. “It gets tricky sometimes, but knowing your crowd and how they perceive you is important.” As he attempts to ascend to a level of stardom occupied by his most famous collaborators, the bright-eyed upstart is both reflective and optimistic. Below, Tay speaks with BET about transitioning from producing to DJ-ing, the potential for a joint project with Drake, and everything he’s learned while being mentored by hip-hop super producer DJ Khaled.
BET: For those who mainly know you as a producer, when did first start pursuing DJ-ing?
Tay Keith: I want to say like 2016, seriously. When I got to college, there was this promotional group. They wanted me to DJ for them. [By then] I already knew how to spin. At the time, it was paying bills and it came with a lot of popularity. It helped my name grow within the Nashville area, coming from Memphis. So I stuck with it, and as the producing progressed, so did the DJ-ing.
BET: What’s your favorite non-Tay Keith produced song to spin right now?
TK: One of my favorite songs right now that I ain’t produced is that Playboi Carti and Young Nudy song “Kid Cudi,” even if the real name of the song is “Pissy Pamper.” Whatever [it is], that’s my favorite.
BET: As you continue to build and play more underground shows, what’s been your favorite show thus far?
TK: I had a real good show at UMass. That’s one of the top party schools, so that sh*t was lit as f*ck. I had like three events. I had [my own] party, then I played a friend’s house party, then the next day I played for the actual school as their guest for homecoming. So I got to experience different types of crowds.
BET: Have you made the transition to DJ-ing festivals yet?
TK: No, not yet. That’s going to come, though. I feel like I’m still growing. If the opportunity presented itself [now], of course I’d do it, but [I know] it’s a process. It took me a while to get where I’m at with producing, so I know it’s going to take me a while to master something else.
BET: Tell me about how your latest hit “Wish Wish” came about with DJ Khaled.
TK: Me and Khaled just have a good relationship. He’s one of my mentors. Khaled is always giving me advice. He’s always telling me what I can improve on. More than anything, we have a good relationship outside of music. I feel like that’s helped a lot of producers [like him] in the game—having great relationships with artists.
BET: With Khaled being your mentor, do you ever see yourself crafting and releasing your own albums the way he does?
TK: Yeah, for sure. I got sh*t cooking up.
BET: Could one of those albums be a collaborative project with Drake? After he snapped on those four songs you did together, that’s what people are waiting for.
TK: I mean, it’s all about timing, you know? We got dumb songs back to back to back, but [most of] those weren’t even Drake songs. Only “Nonstop” was a Drake song. All the other songs were features. When the time is right, that’s when [an actual project] will come.
BET: So that’s a yes? It’s something we’ll possibly see in the future?
TK: I wouldn’t doubt it. That’s what I want.
(Photo by Prince Williams/Wireimage)