Though Twenty88, the duo of Big Sean and Jhene Aiko, didn't exist (publicly, at least) until last week with the release of their self-titled debut, the two had been working together for the past few years. And if they had an in-house producer during that time, it was Key Wane.
The Detroit native helmed all but one collaboration between the two artists leading into Twenty88, as the man behind "I'm Gonna Be," "Beware," and "I Know." In addition, he's worked extensively on Sean's solo work; they first met as teenagers in high school, and have since joined forces on every solo Sean album, as well as mixtape favorites like "Memories" and "Higher." Plus, he's produced for Jhene, including on 2014's Souled Out.
That continued on Twenty88, where he produced "Déjà Vu," "On the Way" and "London Bridge."
You also may recognize his name (or at least his sound) from production credits on Beyonce's "Partition," Drake's "All Me" and Meek Mill's "Amen." And there's plenty more on the way for the Tennessee State graduate, who started making beats as an 11-year-old and hasn't slowed down since.
Here, he talks to MTV News about the stories behind his work on Twenty88, Big Sean's new, even "crazier" music, unreleased music with Jhene, and chocolate chip cookie preferences.
MTV: You've worked a bunch with both Sean and Jhene, and now you're all over this project. What is it about their collective sound and your sound that you think works together?
Key Wane: I think we know melodies. Sean, low-key --- not even low-key, high-key --- got a great melodic ear. Jhene can sing her ass off. I think it’s just that n---as got that connection.
She cold. Our sounds match. I remember I used to go to the studio and play her shit, and she automatically connected with it. She got an ear for it. We got some shit that never came out that’s laying [around], too. We got the same vibe, melodically. It’s the same thing with Sean, too.
MTV: When did you first hear an inkling about this project, that it was something that was going to happen?
Wane: I heard the idea about them becoming a group a long time ago --- it had to have been a year, a year-and-a-half ago. I thought that shit was really tight, because no one was going to see that coming.
He started playing me records that was getting cut, and I was giving him beats. Around the Grammys [this year], I made this beat, for “On the Way,” and I could hear that n---a all over it. I played it for him and he was like ‘Damn, this shit hard!’ Two days later, it was cut. Jhene was on there going crazy.
[To make it], I was just going through samples, and I chopped up this one joint and it sounded sweet. Then I went out [to Los Angeles] two or three weeks later, and I played him the beat and I saw his face. He laid a reference to it instantly. I started working on the beat more --- I did like three different versions of it.
MTV: Was there a certain sound they asked for?
Wane: No, I just make beats. Or [if] I’m in the room, I may chop up some shit in front of Sean. The stuff I make, if they fuck with it, they fuck with it.
[But] I do sometimes specifically make stuff for Sean. “London Bridge,” I made that for Sean and Jhene. I had a feeling they was going to end up doing it. I made that beat a long time ago, though.
MTV: Before the project was even a reality?
Wane: Hell yeah. I made that beat back in college. That’s how it was with [Beyonce’s] “Partition,” I made that in college.
For “London Bridge,” I had just got this new sound pack, and I was fucking with these choir sounds, around the same time I made “Dumb” for Jazmine Sullivan.
“Déjà Vu” was new as fuck, too. That was around the same time I brought “On the Way” through. There’s a young dude named Cam [O’bi], he was bringing about crazy sounds --- little sample shit that he was making, with his voice on it. Sean was like, ‘This shit sweet!’ So I chopped it up, I threw my drums on it, and then n---as was vibing with that for a minute.
Around the time we was working on this, we was working on some other crazier shit. Man, this n---a Sean be working, and the shit is sweet, and the shit he’s working on that’s coming out, is hard as fuck, if n---as fucking with this. I’m not even out there yet. I’m just telling you off of what I’ve been hearing. Shit!
MTV: So you’ve been sending him some stuff or working on his next solo joint, as well?
KW: Um, yeah. We’ve been working on it. And it’s sweet. I don’t know when it’s coming out. But just know that n---as is working on some really dope-sounding shit.
MTV: A couple of these we co-produced, right?
Wane: There’s another kid that be making beats on [Twenty88], his name is Amaire [Johnson]. He’s like 19, 20 [years old], he’s a really good keyboardist; he produced on “Déjà Vu,” as well. He did “London Bridge” with me, too, he did some background string work, and on “On the Way.” He’s really good, you gonna hear more about him. He did “One Man Can Change the World.”
And Da Internz, they did some beats on there, too. Detail produced on [the project], too.
This is one of my favorite Sean projects.
MTV: Were you in the studio at all when they were both recording? Or do you have memories of that for the previous songs? What are they like together in the studio?
Wane: When we did “Beware,” that shit was hype. Me and Sean sat in a room with the engineer and we watched whatever cartoon --- that’s how we record, though, we cut a movie on in the back and just vibe the fuck out --- and just bouncing ideas. Jhene come through and we do the same. Great idea-bouncing sessions that turn into really good songs.
And cookies! Hella cookies.
MTV: What kind?
Wane: Chocolate chip. Sean’ll probably do some sugar shit. I brought like two, three Krispy Kreme doughnut boxes through.
MTV: Soft or hard cookies?
Wane: You can’t eat hard cookies. I don’t know who does that. We don’t. They gotta be soft and chewy.
MTV: You put out "Go Without Her", with Ty Dolla $ign a few months back, you and Diddy put out "More Work" earlier this year, "Holy Moly" with French Montana dropped in February, and now there's this Twenty88. What's next for you?
Wane: For the most part, it’s all surprises. Just know that Sean is working on something cold. I’m not saying that just ‘cause he’s my man; I’m really fucking with what Sean do, it’s a step above every time.