88-Keys counts rap A-listers Kanye West, Jay Z, Mos Def, The Pharcyde and Talib Kweli among his impressive list of collaborators, so picture our surprise when, in their recent NME cover story, Marcus Mumford, frontman of banjo enthusiasts Mumford & Sons, revealed he was working with the much sought-after producer on a new hip-hop project.
We tracked down the New Yorker who confirmed the team-up is real and described their collaboration as “dope as fuck!” Chatting from his studio, Keys recalled meeting Marcus for the first time, working with the band on an as-of-yet unreleased track, potentially hooking them up with defunct girl group 3LW and instrumentalist Winston Marshall’s love of ’90s R&B.
How did you and Marcus meet and how did that progress to working together?
One fateful night, around 11.30pm, when I was heading to bed I got an email from a really good friend of mine called Izzy [Izvor Zivkovic], who also manages my best friend Kanye West. He sent an email saying that he had a really good friend himself who wanted to know a little bit more about hip-hop production and sampling and just the whole gambit of what producers do. He said he couldn’t think of a better person than myself, so he emailed the both of us and asked if I was up to meeting with his friend the following day. Any friend of Izzy’s is a friend of mine so I agreed to it. He told me Marcus is part of the band Mumford & Sons. I’ve always seen their name around but I’ve never actually listened to any of their music, only because I’m really completed tuned out of pretty much anything current, music wise.
What happened next?
I met up with him, he came over to my studio. We wound up talking for literally like three and a half hours [laughs]. I just completely brought him into my world of genuine quote unquote purist hip-hop from the golden era – sampling and stuff like that. I showed him what I do with old records and how I manipulate the sounds and flip them. We started kicking around ideas of us joining forces, if you will. I was thinking in reference to what he was thinking of doing outside of his group Mumford & Sons. A little under a week later I get an email from him if I would be down to help them with a project they were doing, I don’t know if I’m able to mention what the project was. I did co-production and programming for the song that they were all working on. They were pleasantly surprised, I’ll say that. From what I gather, they were all taken back. Winston [Marshall] specifically said that they wished that they had met me earlier, while they were working on this current album because, out of his mouth, he said I would have saved them about three months of work.
Just to clarify – you worked with them on a song but it’s not going to be on their new album ‘Wilder Mind’?
I’m not sure if I’m at liberty to say, because I don’t know they have going on as far as press wise and stuff like that, but I can and I will confirm that I did work with them on a song in the studio, which is also documented on their Instagram page. And, also, I have a very strong feeling that we’ll all get together again sooner rather than later to work on some more music. I’m sorry if I can’t spill the beans just yet.
In our interview with Marcus he said you had taught him how to chop up beats for a hip-hop project. Is that something that is coming up as well and can you tell us what it’s going to sound like?
I can tell you what it’s going to sound like, it’s going to sound dope as fuck [laughs]. It’s going to be he and I involved in it. Not to toot my own horn but pretty much everything that I’ve put my hands on production wise is pretty top notch material, with the exception of maybe my first beat that I placed in life, which was back in 1997 or so. He obviously brings a lot to the table as well. The masses obviously love what he does. Not to sound cliché but I would say that the possibilities are endless. I understand at the moment they have a new album to promote, so I’m pretty sure they’re going to be locked on the road, but hopefully he and I – or them and I – could get some dates in to try to get some work done.
What’s Marcus’s hip-hop knowledge like?
He knew a little something, but I gave him a crash course in golden era hip-hop, or really dope hip-hop, in my own opinion because I’m not authority figure in what hip-hop is and who hip-hop is. He was pretty stoked to listen to what I had to share with him.
Is Marcus going to try to rap?
You know what, I’ll encourage that [laughs]. Anything that I feel I’ll be able to bring to the table, like maybe I could patch him in with a feature suggestion here and there. As far as like actual rapping, at this moment who knows. We may just go into the studio and literally start from scratch and just get crazy. I’m up for doing anything challenging. The one thing that I could 100 percent guarantee is that people will love it. People may not expect it, but they will definitely love it once it’s made and available for consumption.
Yeah cool, maybe a Mumford & Sons/3LW track. That could be good.
[Laughs] Man, that would be amazing, especially considering 3LW broke up years ago. But hey, you never know. If anyone can get them back together… In the studio Winston was singing a Montell Jordan song word for word, so you never know.
Oh really? Which one?
[sings] “This is How Weee Dooo Iiiit!” That actually shocked me, I don’t even know the entire lyrics to that song and he knew every word. I just know the chorus like everybody else but he went in and did the whole first verse. It was pretty comical.