Toronto's decisive teen prodigy makes this shit look easy
The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. For today we spoke to Ebony "Wondagurl" Oshunrinde, the 16-year-old producer who landed a Sizzla sample on a JAY Z album. Here, she talks about piano lessons, hacking her childhood computer and senior year.
You’re the youngest producer on JAY Z’s album, and the woman who won Canada's big production tournament, Battle of the Beatmakers. Does the task to represent young, female producers feel like a lot of weight on your shoulders? No, not really. A lot of people ask this, but I never feel that way.
Why do you think there are so few female producers working? I don't know. I feel like some female producers just feel like they can't do it sometimes. Maybe, that's probably why? I don't know many female producers and I would like to know more. I have no idea. Everything is just really easy for me, but I've seen a lot of female producers struggling.
What's easy for you? I'm not good with people, but I’m really good with programs. I started fixing computers at like age 9. I would go on my computer and try and fix the viruses and stuff that it had. The computer was so slow—I just tried to make it faster and it worked. Then I started learning how to use software and all that stuff. I'm a fast learner.
Have you ever been able to share those interests with other women? I think part of the reasons that I am the way I am today is because I didn't have any friends. I wouldn't talk to anyone, I would just go home and do stuff. A lot of people hit me up now, though. I've seen a lot of people post pictures of their daughters, saying “You inspired this girl to make beats.” That makes me feel really nice.
Now that you're making music professionally, do you find that you're better at making friends? I guess. I'm pretty quiet though. I’m more social on the internet, or text.
"I'm not good with people, but I’m really good with programs."
How’d you start making beats? I made my first beats on this really small Casio keyboard. There was these little tiny circle drum pads, these turbo drums on it, so I’d just make drum sounds and loops. It was kind of weird how it popped up and I just started. My mom was surprised, because when I was smaller I didn’t like music and I always went away when someone was playing music loud.
Your mom seems really supportive. Is she a music person as well? She doesn’t do music, but she loves music and she’s part of the reason why I do what I do right now. She used to listen to R. Kelly, so I started from R. Kelly, then went on to Aaliyah and to Timbaland, her producer. He’s my biggest inspiration.
What’s The Remix Project? I got into The Remix Project last year; it’s this big program for photographers, designers, rappers, singers and producers and a lot more. They just mentor you and they just teach you how to be successful I guess. They’re really supportive. Having all those people around me, helping me, I got so much better from when I started out.
Where did you start? I didn’t know how to do anything, but I was making beats. I had this thing called Mixcraft: there’s different loops in this part of the software, and you just put them together. So I was making beats and releasing them onto SoundClick and posting them up on Facebook. Eventually I started using FL Studio, and then I mastered FL studio, or sort of mastered it. [In 2010] I saw a pop-up on FL Studio that said Battle of the Beatmakers; they have this little internet spot when you’re making the beats that shows updates. I clicked it and I tried to join but they said I couldn’t join because it was 19+, so I emailed the guy. He said that he’d change the age restriction to all-ages. So that’s how I joined the Battle a year later, when I was 14.
What compelled you to send that email? I felt so ready for people to hear who was. I really felt like I was good.
When you returned to Battle of the Beatmakers in 2012, you won. Did Boi-1da, a former winner, give you any valuable advice? He gave me little tips for FL studio; the little tips helped a whole lot. And he told me what type of beats I needed to take to the battle. All he said was “bangers.” That’s it. And that really helped.
Did you always make bangers? No. I started off making like, techno. Then I went on to house, R&B and hip-hop. Now I try to mix everything into one. Or I try to do something that no one else is doing. Or I do something that someone else is doing and do it 100 times better. That’s it.
JAY Z used your “Crown” beat after Travi$ Scott played it for him. Did you envision that beat for Travi$? No, I sent that for Pusha, and he didn’t end up doing it. I didn’t know who else to send it to, so I just sent it to Travi$ and said, Maybe you can add something to this and we can get it for Pusha. Then Travi$ sent it to JAY Z, I guess. I wasn’t ever like a big, big JAY Z fan. I never liked lyrics, so I didn’t like rappers. I like instrumentals.
How did you meet Travi$? I met him at Hit-Boy’s house last November. One time, I tried to find Hit-Boy to get him to listen to my beats. I went and found every single person that was on his team, messaged them, told him to listen to my beats, and hoped they would play them for Hit-Boy. A few guys got back to me, but no one played the beats for Hit-Boy except one guy, his photographer. The photographer got back to me and said Hit-Boy loved them. That was like, one of the best nights of my life. Later, Hit-Boy’s friends Audio Push had hit me up for some beats. They passed on one beat, the “Uptown” beat, to Travi$ so he could get a feature on it, but he ended up wanting the whole beat for himself, so he messaged me.
After placing a JAY Z beat, is is tough to sit around in school? No, everybody in my school is pretty cool. But now when I’m walking outside, one person might scream, “Hey WondaGurl!” and then another person may hear that and start screaming “WondaGurl,” too. Randomly someone will say, “I like the beat on JAY Z’s album." Just randomly. I don’t know them. I get a little bit more attention now, but no one bothers me. I don’t really talk to anyone. I sort of just go and do my work and go home.
Do you work at a studio as well as at home? Usually on Fridays I try and do like 12 hour sessions. That’s the only time I can go to the studio, because of school. But most of the time I am working at home, in my bedroom. At 10:00PM, I have to stop making beats though. It is getting harder because right when I'm about to make a beat my mom says, "Ebony you have to stop now!" It's the worst.
You worked a little at Drake's studio, too. I was working with him when it was like crunch time for the album, so I had to get something in really really fast. Nothing of mine ended up on the album. He said he really liked a few of them and that he'll definitely use one of these beats later on in life. He's a really nice guy. He would come and check up on me because I was staying in the studio till like 8AM. He goes to sleep at like 8. He would come in and be like, “You're still working!”
What do you want to do after graduation? I'm gonna go to college at some point. I don't know if I'm going to take a year off, but I know I am going to school. I hope to go to LA again, even though I'm not really a fan of planes and stuff.
What are you focusing on learning this year? I want to teach myself how to play the piano. I am taking lessons, but I have no time for that. I need to learn the piano, though. It will help make my beats a lot better, on the melody side. The melodies will get a lot better if I know what I'm playing.