Leaning back comfortably in his Toronto home, a gold gramophone peeks out from behind producer Nineteen85’s head. “I was hoping I was covering it, but I guess I’m moving too much,” he says with a laugh.
It’s not the Latin Grammy he won this year for best engineered album (C.Tangana’s El Madrileño), but an earlier win, as a writer on Drake’s hit, “Hotline Bling.” A fellow Toronto native and OVO Sound signee, ’85 co-produced some of the 6 God’s highest charting singles, including “One Dance” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
But that’s not what the decorated producer wants to focus on. In the last year, he has been pivoting from forefront to background, working alongside dvsn partner Daniel Daley on the duo’s upcoming album, and developing artists, writers and producers signed to his publishing company, Maya Jazz.
During his interview with Billboard, the dvsn producer is preparing to fly to Atlanta, home of the R&B duo’s management company, LVRN, and the scene of their next album. “[Daniel] seems to love it there and it’s a change of pace for us,” he says. “Atlanta is definitely going to change the perspective, I think you have a little bit more freedom when you’re not home.”
The album will follow their 2021 collaborative project alongside Ty Dolla $ign, Cheers to the Best Memories.
Daley and ’85, born Paul Jefferies, cultivated a “dark R&B” sound completely their own, which ’85 says was inspired by rap, R&B and growing up in the church. “We introduced people to a side of R&B that wasn’t necessarily as prominent when we started dvsn,” ’85 says. “ I don’t know if we did it to be different, we did it to be true to us.”
And with dvsn’s emergence came new calls. Soon after the release of the duo’s EP, Sept. 5th, ’85 was credited on projects from Future, Travis Scott and Mariah Carey, inspiring the burgeoning producer to bring other talented musicians into the fold. ’85 founded his publishing company Maya Jazz (named after his 14-year-old daughter), and has signed artists, writers and producers, who’ve gone on to work with Carey, Justin Timberlake and Ed Sheeran, among others.
“I like discovering new things and being part of other people’s discovery process,” he says. “From sharing new ideas to opening people up to different things from what they’re used to.”
It becomes clear that ’85 would rather gush over the artists he’s developing, rather than his own personal achievements, namely Harry James Jr. The British creative, who ’85 describes as his “young-R&B-pop-star-slash-producer-slash-director-slash-slash-slash,” has been on the scene for quite a while, and recently signed a deal with ’85.
Like the dvsn producer, James wears many hats, and has most recently been playing artist, director and producer. In the last few months, James released two singles of his own, both produced by ’85, directed Jesy Nelson and Nicki Minaj’s latest music video for “Boyz,” and produced on OVO Sound newcomer Smiley’s latest album, Buy or Bye 2.
“He’s been in so many different worlds at once [while] navigating the artist space,” ’85 says. “Most people aren’t okay with focusing on other careers as much as their own, that’s a unique quality he has.”
The pair were recently in Miami while working on James’s upcoming album (slated for the first half of 2022), most of which came together in a little over a week. “Before we started [the album], we sat down like, what do you want to get across? Who’s your demographic? What kind of records you want to make? Once we had a good understanding, everything else was easier,” James explains. “I’m working with some of the best people in the world because of ’85. I’m really happy with where we’re at.”
’85 first heard James’ music in 2014, when music publishers Tim & Danny Music played a song by James for ’85. Later, the two began working together through further recommendation from then-president of Sony/ATV Guy Moot (Moot now serves as CEO of Warner Chappell Music).
“’85 has taught me a lot in terms of what it takes to be a great artist,” James says. “He’s the only producer I’ve worked with who’s asked me, ‘How do you see yourself?’ And that’s how you make the greatest music.”
Towards the end of his interview, ’85 gives a peek into one of his less-known roles: father-of-one. The R&B savant was 21 when his daughter Maya was born, and says the two have been growing up together. “It’s definitely a juggling act,” he adds. “I’m really blessed to have such an understanding daughter — she’s giving me the space to learn as I go.”
Between smiles, ’85 recalls major career moments his daughter was present for, like the filming of the “Hotline Bling” music video. “I’ve been super, super blessed that I’m doing things she thinks are cool,” he says. “Like one day she FaceTimed me and without telling her I turned the camera and Ed Sheeran was like, ‘Hi!’”
With all of his endeavors, ’85 hopes to expand the possibilities for creative output. He aspires to enter the world of design, food, literature and NFTs, while keeping a hand in creating game-changing music.
“I think one of my biggest pet peeves right now is I have so many ideas and I haven’t felt [able] to bring them to life,” ’85 says. “I’m trying to create a space where I can do whatever comes to mind and just go with it. No boundaries, no restrictions.”