From humble beginnings to YouTube superstar. From the world wide web to hot Producer everyone wants to work with – So So Def’s Mike Kalombo tells Musicvein his story.
MV: Tell us who Mike Kalombo is
“Who am I?” he repeats thoughtfully while relaxing back into his swinging armchair. “Who am I? I’m just me, a regular guy doing what he loves. Producing music, being creative, being inspired and trying to pass that inspiration on to others growing in the business.
There’s a lot of influences out there for people and they’re much more accessible now but for me growing up I didn’t find my influences in people, it mainly came from nature and life. The music I made and still make is me expressing my emotions at the time.
One person I do admire though at the moment is a gospel artist called Kirk Franklin. It’s the way he connects with emotion that I can relate to myself as a musician. I also guess admiring Kirk stems back to the fact that everything started for me in the church when I was around 11 years old – I had been self-teaching myself to play the keys at around the age of 9 but the pinnacle moment was when I was in church.
I remember I never had any piano lessons or anything but I was inquisitive to know and understand what the keys were that I was touching, the sounds I was making. I started asking a lot of questions like ‘when I hit this key what is it?’ I now know it as C, and ‘when I press these keys, what chords are they?’ I then started playing by ear and getting really good at it. The other musicians at church did give me a hard time and didn’t really have much time spare to keep answering my questions because we were in a big church and Time was of the Essence. I really just had to learn while they were playing. Thinking back they only let me play because another musician was sick. I don’t think they really cared about having a keyboard player as I noticed my keyboard was turned down, (he lets out a fit of laughter) so I just kept turning it back up! (more laughing between the 2 of us) Eventually they noticed I was actually playing well so they gave me more solo pieces to do. They were hard on me but that made me learn quicker as I felt under pressure, however I work great under pressure and it made me more determined to succeed – I’m still like that now.”
So now you’ve gone into Producing, how and when did you get into that?
“That came naturally for me over a course of time. I used to be in my room playing chords on the keyboard and I never had a thought of what I was doing or even wondering how others produced work. It just went from being self-taught on the piano, to writing music. Even when I started writing songs it was a natural process for me, I didn’t know for a fact what the structure of a song should look like i.e verse, chorus, verse, I just did it as it felt and sounded right. You could say it was down to me listening to a lot of music, so at the age of 16 that was when I really started producing. I kept the songs I had written to myself for years though, it wasn’t until around 2003 when I made myself public and began showing people what I could do.”
Tell me then, when you’re working with an artist, how do you get the best possible creativeness out of them?
“It depends on the situation, sometimes it’s just a quick studio project, working on a single in which case I have to learn the artist in the fastest way possible, but if I’m working with an artist on an album then that’s different. The thing about me is I love to know the person I’m working with inside and out, really know them as a person, so in that case we’d hang out for a few weeks. I’d see their characteristics, their goofy side, everything – that’s when the magic can happen. For some people when they’re producing work they go by the law, i.e if they’re making a track for Usher, they will make a track based on what they know an Usher song to be like. For me, I want to write whatever vibe Usher gave me that day or time we spent together. The artist may not know we’re connecting, but I do! I’m feeding off their vibes and that’s where the creativeness comes, I see my work as an art piece.”
And just exactly who have you worked with?
“Ahhh” he says shifting in his chair, eyes lit up in thought “You know what? I’ve worked with so many that names escape me and I know I said I work well under pressure but you’re really tasking me! (he laughs) I’ve worked with Usher, Jermaine Dupri of course, Monica, Bow Wow, Mariah Carey! Those are the big brand names. But my real passion comes from working with the new and industry fresh artists. I tend to forget the big names I work with cause my excitement comes from working with someone from the jump. Currently I’m working with Cravetay and man she’s exciting. She’s only 15 but boy is she talented. Then there’s Juliette Ashby from the UK, that’s my girl right there, I have so much time for her as an artist and we might be working on some stuff together real soon, watch this space!
Cool, I will do. Are there any other Brits that you have your creative eye on?
“Yeah, there’s one called Yana Toma, she’s doing great right now, there really are some dope musicians in the UK. To be honest I’m open to working with anyone exciting and new. Y’all just hit me up!”
In Part Two tomorrow read about the crazy stunt Mike Kalombo pulled to work with Jermaine Dupri, his part in Lifetime TV‘s The Rap Game and his new toy for Producers – Golden Keyz