A Conversation with Sevn Thomas: Toronto Music Scene, Working on ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’, Musical Inspirations and More

A reoccurring theme here on Lyrical Lemonade, is speaking in regards to the importance of producers and songwriters. They are some of the individuals that will never not get the respect as some of the most important individuals in the music industry. Songwriters specifically, are amongst the many individuals in the music industry that are almost always in the shadows. Sometimes by design, other times by choice. For Grammy-Nominated songwriter and producer Sevn Thomas, he has the talent level and the resume to prove that he is one of the most diverse and versatile producers in the game–and his songwriting pen is even stronger.

Hailing out of Toronto Canada, Sevn Thomas would spend his earlier days in life inside of various recording studios–navigating his way though them all to find his craft and master it. After many trials and tribulations in his life, the singer turned producer’s efforts eventually lead him to linking up with the legendary producer Boi-1da–most known for his contributions all throughout Drake’s career. Sevn’s musical abilities afforded him the luxury of producing and/or writing for a wide-ranging pool of musical acts such as Mac Miller, Travis Scott, Kehlani, Nicki Minaj, and even Drake himself. He is most notable for his contributions on “10 Bands” from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, “WAKE UP” by Travis Scott, and most recently–collaborating with his fellow producer mates OZ and Foreign Teck on “Losses” from Dark Lane Demo Tapes.

In my efforts to learn more about Sevn Thomas’ musical journey, I spoke with him about it all. We discussed his initial introduction to music, his tradition from a singer to a producer/songwriter, the current stance of the music scene in Toronto, and so much more. Read our conversation below!

 


 

Going through your production credits, you have worked with tons of very prominent artists, but I feel like your story is still in the shadows. Tell me a bit about how you began as a producer?

SEVN: I started off as a singer at a very tender age. I remember I had my first studio session at only four years old. I kind of just grew up in the studio and worked with many producers and songwriters just working on my own artist’s careers. By the time I got to middle school, I was already messing around with FL Studio. As my career was blossoming, I met Boi-1da along the way. We reconnected around 9th grade when I was working in the studio in my hometown Scarborough—he was like “yo bro, I really wanna work with you, your beats are dope”. A few years later we linked up and made it official and 1da has been a very instrumental part in my career as a producer.

There are some producers who are more behind the scenes and don’t like the spotlight, and some would prefer it–I think this can kind of complicate things when it comes to giving producers their recognition when it’s due. Are you someone who likes to be seen or stay hidden?

SEVN: I believe recognition will always be due. When you’re a part of these amazing moments in history, that respect as a producer is always due. As far as being in the spotlight, I’m more of a laid-back type of person. I don’t really like being in front of the cameras and all that. But I will say that I noticed that a lot of the producers back in the day like Jazzy Pha, The Neptunes, they had to do so much in order to gain that recognition. There wasn’t any social media, and people weren’t really talking about the liner notes on songs and albums as much as they are now. I see that a lot of the newer guys have tags and all and they’ve made it a point to brand themselves.

I have noticed that some of the producers that put tags on their music, kind of inadvertently put an expiry date on themselves. Sometimes people feel like they’re being fed the same thing by this one person and then they just want to move on to the next. I feel like there’s a healthy balance, you know. Things like this where you guys are reaching out to producers to do interviews, then we have Behind the Boards, I love that kind of stuff. However a producer wants to go about their branding, more power to them. Personally, I like being behind the scenes. I would like for my name to kind of reverberate in the circles that I would like them to, amongst peers and artists and such.

Seeing as producers are so active, why do you feel that they don’t get that recognition that they deserve?

SEVN: I just kind of feel like that is artist and producer relationship based. I saw something interesting from TM88 and he tweeted that artists don’t support producers like producers support the artists. I really feel like the production is the meat and bones of the song. At the end of the day, if it wasn’t for what we do, music would just be spoken word. The importance of the producer should be promoted a little bit more. There are certain artists that look out for their guys and shout them out and all that. It’s really just about artists talking about producers amongst themselves and shouting them out in the music and things like that. There are a lot of guys who put in crazy work, and I never had my name shouted out in a song. I think something like that would be a big boost for me.

Speaking on the Verzuz battles, that’s a big thing for the guys that don’t really play the forefront like that, especially Boi-1da. A lot of people don’t even realize that he’s responsible for a lot of their favorite songs. I feel like producers sometimes don’t get that access. I’ve worked with a lot of A-list artists and to be honest, I don’t think some of them even know my name. If I was walking in a crowd, they may not even know what I look like or even if I was in a room with them, they probably wouldn’t even recognize me. Producers just don’t get their just due on so many levels.

Sevn has co-producer credits on Rihanna’s “Work

Earlier, you stated that you started out as a singer, and now you’re a writer and a producer. What exactly was it that fueled that transition?

SEVN: I felt like at that point in my life, there was just a major turning point. There were many events in my life that kind of lead me down that path and had me step behind the scenes a bit. Also I just felt like my personality just fit it more. Like I said I’m a really quiet and laid-back guy. It’s kind of exhausting handling the media and being under scrutiny. I kind of fell out of love with that aspect of it. You know, I grew up in the booth and I never really got to live that childhood life that many other kids got to have. I missed a lot of school growing up. I think subconsciously it was kind of that aspect of it that made me want to just live a normal life.

Your musical sound is very diverse, and I feel like you pull from many genres. How did you learn to become so versatile when it comes to your production and writing?

SEVN: I credit a lot of that to my upbringing. Jamaican background and I’m from Toronto, and the city is sort of a melting pot of many cultures and different nationalities. I grew up to a lot of reggae music. Back in the day, BET’s 106 & Park was huge, and I used to rush home and see what was going on every single day. I had a cousin that was an avid rap music collector, so I was learning a lot from him. I was listening to a lot of Mobb Deep, 2 Pac, Wu-Tang, you name it. It was just something that was instilled in me, and then growing up in the studio messing with different types of beats and sounds, just experimenting. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught–it was always something that was within. I use production to just express myself and I feel like it was just a gift from God.

You mentioned coming up in Toronto, you were exposed to many genres and styles of music. Was it difficult for you to adapt and figure out what you style was going to be—seeing as there were so many genres to pull from? 

SEVN: I always looked at it as black music regardless of the genres and how people placed it in categories. Whatever I heard that sounded good to me is what I wanted to do, as long as it felt good. If you go down my catalogue even from last year, you’ll see I have reggaeton songs that came out, I have Giveon who’s an R&B artist to the core, you know I executive produced his entire project. I got street shit with Drake and I’ve worked with Travis Scott. I was never the type to put limits on myself and I always believed in everything that I did. I never felt like I was appropriating anything or anyone, I just always felt like it was a part of me. Having all of those sounds in my pallet made me who I am and made me original.

Sevn has co-writer and co-producer credits on “Wake Up” and “Houstonfornication” from Astroworld.

Out of all of the musical acts you’ve produced and written for, who was your favorite collaboration and why?

SEVN: I would say Giveon for sure. I just feel like he’s a sponge and such a fast learner and we’ve only been working together for about a year now. Last summer around this time was when we really got in the studio and put our heads together and we really developed a synergy and chemistry together. He’s one of my favorite people to be around cause he’s just a naturally humorous dude, like one of the funniest dudes I know. We just developed a bond and a brotherhood.

It’s also a really satisfying feeling to send music to Drake and have him cut something up. I feel like he’s one of the greatest of all time, if not THE greatest of all time. It’s an overwhelming but a positively overwhelming feeling. Also sonically, I feel like Travis Scott is someone I connect with as well. Just his beat selection and how he approaches the sonics of his music—I love  everything he does in that aspect. Those three guys I love working with them the most.

Building up that chemistry with the artist is one of the most important factors when it comes to executive producing a project, and you managed to master that with Giveon on Take Time. Would you ever EP projects from him in the future?

SEVN: Definitely. Giveon is actually signed to my label “Not So Fast”, we got a joint venture with Epic. He’s actually my first artist. It’s something I’m very proud of and I’m looking forward to the future and this debut album. I’m really excited about all of the music we have in the tuck. We got some great things and amazing surprises on the way. He’s been growing super-fast–Ironically enough, the label is “Not So Fast”, so it’s kind of a play on words and just about letting music take its course and playing out how it’s supposed to be.

Me being in the states, it’s easier for me to see who the rising acts are out of let’s say Chicago or LA—but as far as up north in Toronto, I’m not as well-versed as I’d like to be with those rising stars to look out for. Who are some of the people currently making noise up there in Toronto?

SEVN:  Definitely got to look out for Savannah Re—she’s like a sister of mine. She works very closely with Boi-1da, so that’s someone to look out for. Recently someone put me on to this kid named Northside Benji, I think he’s dope. R.I.P. Houdini, he just passed away not too long ago—I was really fuckin’ with his shit. It’s a really sad thing, being a young rapper out of Toronto and trying to make it out. I really feel like we have a lot of untapped talent and we just got to do better at bigging each other up and building like they do in Atlanta. I look at Atlanta as a shining example of what we can do as a community and collaborating with one another.

Do you feel like there’s a sort of secret competition amongst the rising artists in Toronto?

SEVN: I feel like a lot of it is just deep seeded and some is just misplaced animosity. Sometimes people just don’t even know why they tear down others or don’t want to support others. A lot of it is insecurity and that’s okay, cause a part of that is just human nature. Sometimes we want to just protect our own space and we have to realize that there’s enough space for all of us to win. Everybody is kind of afraid that they will lose the opportunity to someone that may be better than them or more well-versed than them but that’s not how It goes. I just think that everybody can eat, and we can break the cycle and reinvent it. Seeing all the violence just kind of pushes all those potential investors away. All these young kids are dying before they reach their full potential and its painful for me to witness. I would love to be a benefactor and change and hopefully in the future there will be an opportunity for me to make some moves in doing that.

I’m sure you’ve seen everything that’s been going on in the media about police brutality and social injustice and all that. Has any of it affected you in any way coming up in the entertainment world?

SEVN: It’s definitely a touchy thing, but I saw an article that said that the music industry was built on discrimination. I feel like a lot of our founding forefathers weren’t given the credit they deserved or put in the position to benefit from, and we were just put in a position to be robbed from. It’s something that transpired through many generations. Most recently we’re seeing them try to cancel the term “urban”, but I don’t feel like that’s the problem. That’s really just eliminating what’s on the surface, when the problem really lies beneath the surface. Racism is a big thing in the music industry and it’s systemic and institutionalized. I feel like if that’s what it is, then that’s exactly what it is at the core, and changing a few terms around isn’t really going to solve anything. There has to be some real effort when it comes to who’s at the helm of the infrastructure if we really want to make a change, and some of these people need to be removed. I tweeted something recently where I was basically talking about how EDM producers were getting paid more than hip-hop producers and black producers, and how unfair it is.

A lot of this shit is just being unmasked and they’re just trying to put on a new mask over it. I feel like with other genres like pop or country, it’s really one big country club. They have a big wall put up and they don’t really let anyone in unless you have a cadence they want to take from or some hi-hats and 808s that can add a bounce to their record. Sometimes I feel like the only way to really combat it is if we did the same thing. Like what would happen if we put a wall up and didn’t let anyone in. We have a few “guests” in our genre. But hip hop is always so welcoming and accepting to all kinds. We are one of the only genres that really welcome these guests into our culture and become successful and even win some of our awards. This is one of the craziest periods I’ve experienced in my life. At the end of the day we have to put our best foot forward and be welcomed to change, and now is the best time to do so. Everything happens for a reason.

So you spoke about working with Drake a lot in the past—most recently producing on “Losses” from Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Talk to me about what it was like meeting him and working with him on a lot of his work?

SEVN: Drake and I are kind of a part of the same alumni in a weird way, you know. We were both coming up in Toronto around the same time and kind of on similar paths to music in the city. He was always someone that I would see around. I don’t even think he would remember, but there was a time where we were in the studio and I was rapping some shit, and he heard it and was like “come in here and spit that verse for me”. This was a long time ago—I was probably 14 or 15 years old at the time. We have a lot of mutual friends, Boi-1da being one of them. Along the way just seeing his overall growth has been one of the most inspiring things to me. It’s always such a pleasure working  with him. Boi-1da has always been an amazing vessel as well relaying my music to him because they’re very close . A lot of the times I was involved in Drake projects, it was through 1da. Those were some of the most fun memories I have as far as making music.

Working on Dark Lane Demo Tapes, we have a team of many producers under Isla Management and we all have amazing talents. I’ve known OZ since like 2013, and Foreign Teck was with us as well. We were all chilling in the living room of the spot and we had a little set up in there. I remember they asked me “Yo why don’t you ever use your voice? You should use your voice more”. So they handed me a mic and I started just messing around and singing different notes. Then OZ chopped it up, started cooking up the beat and all that. That voice that you hear in the “Losses” beat is actually my voice. I followed it up and added some drums and all that. That was actually another one of my favorite moments in my career.

For the longest, it seemed as if Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da were really the only producers that can really get Drake in his bag. But now with OZ and yourself, it seems like you guys are beginning to master that Drake sound that Boi-1da and 40 created.

SEVN: Yeah man, I just feel like it’s our time now. OZ is definitely having the moment of a lifetime right now, and I’m so proud of him. I remember when he was living in Switzerland and I was in Toronto, he would always Facetime me randomly and play me beats and stuff that he was working on. To see him blossoming right now is just so amazing to see. I honestly feel like him and I are kind of the elder statesmen as crazy as that sounds. Right now, I’m 28 and about to turn 29, and I think he’s 28 as well. We kind of feel like the OG’s in the game and it just goes to show how fast these generations move. The cycle has just been moving so fast lately and it seems like it changes every two or three years now.

Who are some of the acts you’re still eager to write or producer for?

SEVN: I would love to work with The Weeknd honestly. He’s always been one of my favorite artists. I was put on to him super early on. I would love to work with Kid Cudi—he’s one of my biggest inspirations as well. He helped me through aery dark period in my life. Listening to Man on the Moon II was very therapeutic for me. If I were to ever meet him, I know I would thank him. I’ve met so many of my friends through Kid Cudi’s music and how relatable it is and how he just lets us all know that we’re not alone. Kendrick Lamar is another one that inspires me, and I see a lot of myself in him too. Just being the good kid in the mad city. Growing up, I had friends that were out doing this and that, but I was always the kid that wanted to help. Childish Gambino—he’s super talented across the board.

I’d love to work with Beyoncé, and I’d love to work with Rihanna again. Kanye and Pharrell—those are two of my idols as well. Even if we never got the chance to work, I would love to just be a fly on the wall of a room that they’re in. I would love to just have a conversation and just chop it up and exchange information. I would love for them to just sit me down and just school me. I would be their intern—I do not care. That’s how much love and respect I have for them. Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean too. Frank is really a life changer for me. Nostalgia Ultra was really the soundtrack to my life when it came out. That definitely changed my mindset when it came to songwriting and it just made me feel like I have to really say something when I write songs.

What projects are you currently working on and what can we look forward to form Sevn Thomas in the near future?

SEVN: Definitely Giveon’s debut album. I feel like I’m going to treat that like my magnum opus. Working on his EP Take Time was my first time working as an executive producer and working on an artist’s debut body of work. Working with someone so organic and someone who has really worked their way up like he did is just amazing, and I’m super protective over his next project. I just want it to be the greatest thing ever. It’s sad that were going through so much right now with the pandemic and the disparity in the world. I wish we were able to just focus on good music right now. The time will come soon where people will be receptive and eager to hear some new shit. There are other artists projects that I’m excited to work on and I’m kind of positioning myself to be a part of. I don’t want to necessarily name them but I’m hoping to be a part of some of these major releases that are coming up, and hopefully it works out for me.  I believe in everything going as organically as possible and never forcing anything. Just making good music and trying to connect with the people is my main focus. Even if they don’t know my name and they know my music, that will forever mean the world to me.