“BongoByTheWay!” When you hear this producer tag, you already know the song is a smash. Hailing from Nigeria and growing up in Rhode Island, Bongo describes himself as “the last super producer, the last of a dying breed of producers who can really do every type of sonic amazingly and can touch the game in every different sonic.” His diversity is infinite, doing everything from the most ratchet to the most pop to modern-day R&B.
Moving to Los Angeles after winning a Grammy for his work on Lecrae’s Gravity album, Bongo found himself locked in with The Game (working on The Documentary 2) and began building his catalog. While anyone can make beats, he likes to see through the record all the way to the end. From AM to PM, Bongo is probably locked in the studio creating that heat.
Last year, Bongo produced “Selah” off Kanye West’s Jesus Is King project. This year, he lands 2 records on Teyana Taylor’s The Album (“69” and “Lose Each Other”), as well as Pop Smoke’s posthumous album Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon (“West Coast Shit” featuring Quavo).
Now, he shifts his focus to his forthcoming album titled Care Pack, in conjunction with Jeremih and Ant Clemons. The project caught the ears of L.A. Reid who signed him to his HitCo imprint. Flaunt caught up with BongoByTheWay at his crib in the valley to discuss his upbringing, working with all the greats, his forthcoming album, goals, and more!
What does it mean to be a super producer?
No shade, but a lot of producers nowadays are very good at what they do to the point of being one dimensional. For me, I like to touch on every different sonic. That’s what a super producer does, not only musically but songwriting-wise and putting the records together. Not just making beats but making the full song, the whole record in multiple genres.
Talk about being born in Nigeria, and coming to the States at 3 years old.
I was born in Port Harcourt, which is a certain section in Nigeria. My father had a PHD in nuclear physics. Because he’s in school, he was able to bring his family over in ‘92. That turned into us being in Providence, Rhode Island, it was a super diverse experience because it’s different people from every walk of life. You don't even really experience racism to be honest because everyone’s there: black, white, Cambodians, Hispanics, Asians, everything. That’s where I got my love for the mechanics of making beats. I used to listen to Pharrell a lot, Just Blaze, Timbaland. Halfway through high school, I moved to Jacksonville, Florida. That was a big culture shock.
How was growing up in Florida?
It was dope, different from the Northeast. Especially going out seeing people party and listen to music, they didn’t vibe to the same stuff we vibe to up north. It was more a feeling. I learned that a big part of making music is not overthinking it because people want to feel. No one’s going to be in the club thinking “oh man, that snare’s crazy. That hi-hat pattern is ridiculous.” They want to feel good. I learned that in Florida because that’s the ratchet of the ratchet. Coming out here, it was putting it all together and really fine tuning how to make hits. Make stuff that everyone can digest while still having my niche pocket.
What was your breakout moment where you realized you could do this for a living?
I was working at a car dealership after I graduated in Jacksonville, I got nominated for and actually won a Grammy working on Lecrae’s album Gravity. It’s upstairs. [laughs] It was crazy, one of the defining moments like “okay, I got to drop everything.” After that, I moved to California. I never visited, never been here before. Fuck it, I’m dropping everything and moving out.
How did you land with Lecrae?
Shout out my boy Dru Castro. I sent him a beat and a chorus I’d written for my boy Roger, he played it for Lecrae. Had another singer come in and re-sing the hook, the rest is history. There’s certain moments in my life I call a ghetto blessing. I put in enough work and God takes the rest. The song made it, then the album came out. Dru called me periodically like “it’s charting on Billboard, it’s #1 in Rap, it’s #1 in Gospel.” It did #1 in several categories. When it was nominated, even then “man that’s dope, gotta go sell these cars.” When we won the Grammy, okay God I’ma stop playing. [laughs]
How’s it feel to have a record on Pop Smoke’s Shoot For The Stars posthumous album?
It’s crazy, I was actually in the studio with Mustard working on Ty$’s album. We worked on 2 songs for Ty, knocked it out super quick. Once we finished, Mustard’s like “yo, you got some hard shit?” I said “hell yeah.” I literally picked play that piano loop and in 2 seconds off the top [hums melody]. Did a couple extra sounds and let Mustard do his thing. Typically when I work, I like to be hands-on. I like to be in the room, I like to help with the shaping of the record.
You say it does happen overnight, can you expand?
Well, it’s not one night. [laughs] That’s a double entendre because for me and my life, it’s a lot of late nights. A lot of not sleeping, a lot of seeing the sun come up. If you aren’t willing to put in those hours, that’s what makes it happen. We’re not sleeping overnight, we’re working overnight.
What time do you start?
When I wake up. [laughs] Ask anybody on my team, I get up and go. I’m making phone calls with management, different aspects. No one’s going to do it for you and you can't expect anybody to do it for you. I’ve had managers, been in situations, but it’s still me. The reason I had the session with Anderson yesterday is because I called him. “Yo, what you on?” He said “I’m in the studio, pull up.” So I pulled up. Same thing today, called him again like “hey the records from last night are amazing, are you back in the studio?” He said “hell yeah,” boom I pull up. No one’s saying “hey Bongo, you got this session on Friday.” No one’s making my schedule. Everything I’m popping up on is by the grace of God, putting in the work.
What's your relationship with Anderson?
I’ve actually known Anderson for years, since The Documentary 2.5. We did a song called “Magnus Carlsen,” he’s on the hook for Game. The first time I met him, Game told me “yo this dude’s special.” This is early, before Malibu and Oxnard. I remember we called it summer camp because everyone’s in the studio every night up in Chalice, in there vibing. It was crazy. I did a song with him and Chris Brown earlier this year, went up to New York with them and played live at Blue Note Club. It was super dope, played bongos and shit. [laughs]
How’d you tap in with Game?
Shout out Marcus Black, he introduced me to Game way back in the day when they’re working on Documentary 2. I actually have to thank him twice. The first day, it was still early for me being out here and I didn’t know exactly studio etiquette. When I walked in, nobody said anything to me except for Marcus. He dabbed me up and went back to where they’re making the song. They’re in that vibe, I didn’t know anybody. I’m sitting there in the studio, I got my laptop. One hour goes by, 2 hours goes by. “Alright fuck it, I’m out.” I literally took my shit and left.
He called me like “where’d you go?” I dipped, nobody was saying shit to me. He didn’t have to call me back, but the next day he told me to come through. He really sold Game on me. From that first beat I played, damn near every beat I played we made a song. I ended up with 13 on there. I really thank Marcus because he didn't have to call me back after that, this was 2015.
Saw you at the Teyana Taylor listening, how did you guys link?
I love T, another person I’ve known for a while. Lowkey, I’ve been on every album she’s put out. I worked on “Hurry” with Kanye West. The album before called VII, I produced the first song “Outta My League.” I met her through Stacy Barthe years ago. We were in Uganda together in 2018 with Kanye, working on the whole Yahndi, Jesus Is King thing. When you’re on the other side of the world with people, it’s always love. I fuck with her, Iman’s super cool. Junie, her mom, her dad, everybody. Shout out Ray Keys, he’s very instrumental on us being on this album. Really staying in touch with her pops. When we pulled up to the studio, everybody’s like “aye!!” One of those moments. We pressed play and it was over, the 2 joints we played for them that night made the album.
“Lose Each Other” is one of the most sentimental songs to me. Bibi Bourelly wrote that record a few years ago. We’re talking in the studio about my ex, pulling up pictures. I told her we’re not really cool, we don’t talk, but we didn’t have to lose each other. She looked at me like “oh my God Bongo, that’s it.” She gave me a hug, walked outside, smoked a cigarette, came back in, wrote that song in 13 minutes. Wrote my life in 13 minutes, so I didn’t want to give that song to anybody. Had to be somebody who can really deliver it, someone I really fucked with.
The loop in “69” was inspired by Australia's Hiatus Kaiyote, correct?
Shout out to my brother always putting me on the dopest music. He really is the reason I do music. Every time I link with him, he’ll play some Brazillian Bossa Nova jazz. Weird left crazy shit. He played the Nai Palm album which is the lead singer of Hiatus Kaiyote, mostly acoustic. That song was “Borderline with my Atoms.” Every time I meet up with him, he gives me new jewels.
What can we expect from your album, Care Pack?
This is a collaborative album, I masterminded it. Jeremih and Ant Clemons are obviously my friends and real collaborators. If I could sing like that and do an R&B album, this is what it would sound like. [laughs] That’s my vision. We were really having fun. Everybody was locked in the crib, bored as hell. I called Ant “what are we doing? Let's do something.” That was only 2 days of recording, we did more than 13 songs and cut down. One random day, we finished a song and had DaniLeigh come through to do a couple joints. Anderson .Paak hopped on there, but that’s after we did the original sets of songs. I’m super excited, it’s like a menu to me. There’s different types of sonics on there, it’s not redundant. The transitions are smooth, everything goes together cohesively. A variety of sounds, honestly think nobody’s fucking with it.
Goals for yourself as a producer?
There’s still a lot of mountains to climb, I’m not a household name yet. If we’re not trying to achieve those levels, what are we talking about? Because then the brand really carries itself. My goal’s to take the brand and raise awareness of what I’m doing to household name status.
Anything else you’d like to let us know?
Dream, build, prosper. That’s my mantra, my message to people. Whatever you're passionate about, connect your passion with your purpose. Dreaming, building, putting it together, networking, prospering, and living the life you’re supposed to live.