We had the pleasure of sitting down with NYC based musician Key Billz to talk about his craft, and his latest album, Diamonds Over Roses, how that came together and what his creative process is like. Although he’s still fresh in the world of putting music out and making a name for himself as an artist, singing and making music isn’t brand new to him, and he hopes to use his sharpen his singing talent into raw musical skill as he grows with his craft.
Interview by Matthew Loyd
20XX: Key, tell me about yourself, where are you from and how did you realize you wanted to begin making music?
Key Billz: For those that don’t know me I’m Key Billz, also known as Keyshawn Belle. I’m 23 years old from Queens NY, and I’m an aspiring guitarist and musician, but I also produce. So how it all started, you know, we grew up in church together; I never knew I had a voice like that, to keep it a buck. I wouldn’t say I considered myself a good singer. Growing up in the church, there were a couple of singers in the church, so I got feedback from them. Then moving on into high school I started doing talent shows, going to Six Flags for statewide talent shows and people would tell me “Oh you have a great voice!” and I never really saw it.
After getting into college, me and my friends from high school started getting into FL [Studio] and we started making beats. The beats were trash, obviously, because we were just starting out. We made beats, I had a voice, it ain’t nothing to write something, so we decided to start making music! It was me, my friend Mateo, and Eman (AKA Obi Agwamm) who were making beats, and I got in touch with people I knew from middle school who were making music as well. They were already in the game since the beginning of high school, producing and stuff. I got in tune with them, we started making tracks and the first track I was ever on was a feature for a song, I wasn’t singing I was rapping. The song is called Drip Story, I heard it after we mixed it up and I was sitting there listening like “yo this is actually kinda hard!” I couldn’t believe that was me and my voice on a track.
I have an EP out now called Diamonds Over Roses and it’s not studio standard quality since I’m still up and coming, but if you tap in and listen to my stuff, it’s quality. But even from way back then I was like “yo this sounds dope, this sounds fire.” Since then I just wanted to do more, and I wanted to see how far I can take it. I really enjoy making music and I enjoy using my voice; I’m glad I have this gift.
I actually really enjoyed the sound and production of Diamonds Over Roses. Was it you on the beats?
I dropped that this year but to be honest, most of those songs were 2–3 years old. I have a whole bunch of songs that are waiting to come out. I did produce the majority of the tape, but there’s this song Bounce, that was produced by VividJay.
I was listening to that on the way here, I was like “Wow this is really a great song!” It’s bouncy, it’s dancy.
Shout out to KCamp, he’s one of my inspirations when it comes to artistry. That song I wanted to have a KCamp vibe, definitely. I didn’t want to copy his whole style, but I wanted to have that cool, collected but still smooth sound, and I feel like I got it with that song Bounce. Yo, Jay made a perfect beat. When I heard that beat and I hit him up he was like “yeah bro I know you, so you can just have it, we just gone see what it does.” I could’ve done way more on the beat, I showed him the finished product and he was like “I feel like you could do more vocals,” but I was okay with it. I really like that song, it’s one of my favorite songs. Whenever we talk about a specific song I’ll say “oh yeah that’s my favorite song” but in reality I really like all my songs. I really do like all my songs because of the energy, the emotion, the process that went into it. To answer your question, the majority of those songs were produced by me. Money Crew my boy Mateo, he goes by Miko Burnell, made that beat… I don’t think I know anyone that makes beats better than him, hands down. We all started at the same time but Miko, he’s mad nice. With Benevolent, my boy Kyi Solo made it. We met in middle school and we’re mad close, we have great synergy on songs. I know my strengths but I definitely do sell myself short… the majority of the album was on me and I’m pretty proud of what I did with it, but I definitely feel like I have room to improve. I’m not yet where I want to be. You heard it [Diamonds Over Roses], it has some RnB elements but I would say it’s more like hip hoppy and poppy. I definitely want to tap into RnB more, I’m really trying to hop into that bag.
What’s your favorite Genre of music to listen to?
My favorite genre I would probably say is neo-soul, the new stuff. I’m not really an old head, and I feel like that’s where I’m hindered. A lot of the new is definitely inspired by the old, and I’m learning that now. Me personally, I don’t want to go back and listen.
But you gotta do the due diligence.
I do, I do. I definitely have to go back because you’re going to learn a lot of things. RnB is definitely in my top three, don’t ask me my fave artists but I definitely am trying to change it up. I would say my sound is unique but I’m still fresh, the world doesn’t even know who I am yet. But I’m coming.
You’re really talented with both your singing and your rapping, what’s your favorite part of the process when making a track? Is it the writing, the recording?
I would say the hardest part of my process is writing. Only because I have a lot of stuff that’s taking my attention. The hardest part is writing but the most enjoyable is recording. Here’s my process, I don’t really even write first, I would say I start by making beats, I’ll probably make a couple beats or whatever. But I probably know if I’m going to make it into a song once I hear the sample. I don’t always make melodies but I do use samples and if I hear a sample and I start singing to it before I make a beat I kinda know “alright this is probably going to be something I can work on”. I would say the most enjoyable part is after the beat is done, and making the beat is a very fun thing too. It’s like a map that you’re creating as you’re going along, so I can’t even really express how fun it is to make the beats.
When it comes to vocalizing, it’s something different. It’s not even while I’m doing it, it’s more so when I hear it when playing it back it’s like “dang that’s me?” I’ll be honest I do use a lil autotune, I’m not like Tory Lanez and all these other people– I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using autotune, first of all. Everyone uses it. Will I end up using more in the future? Probably. Besides that, you can be so free, and that’s coming from me; I feel like I’m the most caged person when it comes to creating. I never want to do something wrong so much that I kinda stay in my own box. But when I say you’re so free, you can just hit a note and then if you hear that note being played back over and over, you can add so much stuff to it that you wouldn’t have heard when you were first making it. That’s the magic of producing, you can always go back and edit, you can make something you think is done and listen to it the next day and say “nah wait I can add something,” you never know when you’re going to get inspired. That’s why I would say the most enjoyable part is vocalizing and when I’m done, because then I get to really hear it and say “this is my product, this is what I made”. Nothing beats that.
Recall those times when you reached that flow state, maybe you were making a beat or singing along to a melody, what helps you get into that zone?
To be honest, I’m still walking that journey learning how to tap into it on demand. I only tap into that flow state randomly, and when it happens I try to keep it as much as possible. I try to really drain every ounce of that flow state because sometimes I get tapped out. Sometimes I get tapped out making a song in the middle of the song, and then I probably won’t return to that song for a couple of weeks. By the time I’m in the flow state, I probably have something laid down already that sounds good. Once I’m in that, if I’m having issues I keep replaying it, or I just keep going to the mic and doing foolishness, because something within that rubble is going to click to me like “oh I can do this, I can do that”.
I’m starting to realize too, the more tools you have, whether it’s producing a song or actually fixing something, the more tools you have sparks creativity, in any kind of situation. In the music situation when I’m producing, I can have so many vocals there, and I can do so many different things with those vocals; I can do different effects, I can pan it this way or that way, it’s not a linear thing. And that’s what’s so beautiful about it. I think that’s what taps me into that flow state, because I have all this stuff here, I can just do whatever I want to and now it’s literally “let me get creative and see what’s going on.” I definitely love when I’m in that flow state; I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what’s on my mind per say, it’s just when I’m in that state I know I’m in that state and I just want to finish and get it done because once I’m done, I’m done.
I have this habit where after I create a song, I don’t try to make anything for a while. I be trying to push myself to get outta that habit where I’m like “I made a song, I sat with it for a bit, let’s get back to the drawing board”, but it’s not that easy for me. I don’t know about anyone else but it’s really not that easy for me, sometimes I really have to take that break and just bask in it. I’m the type of person when I hear a song, especially when I make a song, but if I hear a new song that I really love I’ll play that song out for months. I’ll play that song, ONLY that song for a long time, so when I make a new song it’s just like that. I’ll keep listening to it and listening to it and listening to it, maybe I hear something different, just until I feel like it’s where it needs to be.
So you were saying when you make your music you can do anything. Where do you think your music as a whole, genre-wise or even where it exists, is going? Where do you think you can take it?
That’s an interesting question because I know my potential. As modest and as humble as I want to be, I can’t doubt that I have talent, sometimes I have to tell myself that to really remember. Honestly I would love to see it go where I can be an artist full time. Elaborate on that question because to be honest I have a hard time doing that, thinking that far ahead.
Maybe the next project, the next few songs. What types of vibes are you dipping into and how do you feel about your music and the types of music you want to make going forward? What do you think your work will be like after Diamonds Over Roses?
Like I said, those songs specifically were kind of old. Definitely the quality of anything I drop now will be better, that’s for sure. The most recent song I made, it’s unreleased, it definitely has a pop-esque sound, it’s definitely upbeat, uptempo… I honestly think that song could go viral, Imma keep it a buck. Y’all will know when it drops, I definitely feel like that song could go viral, I feel like it’s TikTok worthy.
I’m a singer, but I feel like I dont sing that much. I’m not like Lucky Daye, or Chris Brown, I’m not riffing and running like nobody’s business. Like Tank, those guys are legends in RnB, and I feel like because I have this voice, not saying I need to, I don’t want to put it on my shoulders like “I NEED to be the next RnB star” but I do want to be able to use my voice to its extent. I know I can do those things that these artists are doing because when I sing along to their songs I’m doing it. In terms of bringing it out of myself and putting my own spin on it, my own kind of RnB, I definitely want to see how RnB I can get. The pop stuff is cool, the hip hop/trap stuff is definitely fire, but I feel like RnB is a timeless genre. I’m not the biggest RnB head but that’s where I want to sit, I want to be amongst the names of the RnB artists. Especially because who’s doing it for Queens NY in RnB right now? I definitely want to be one of those names.
If there was one thing you could tell all of New York City right now, what would it be?
Stop sleeping on Key Billz! Stop sleeping on Key Billz! That’s what I got to say. When it comes to the music industry and public in general, people will generally gravitate to the person that has a lot of social media pull. I’m not one of those people yet, I don’t be out there like that. So when people judge me or judge my music and say “oh he’s not that popping” I feel like you’re really missing out! I’m not going to say I’m a lyrical miracle but my music definitely has substance, and you can’t tell it unless you listen to it. So just stop sleeping on Key Billz, go bump Diamonds Over Roses. It’s good music over here.