In advance of Times Roundtable, producer-songwriter Alex Da Kid talks Eminem, Grammy-nominated breakout year
Alex Da Kid fast-tracked himself to one of hip-hop’s most-sought-after producer-songwriters after crafting two of last year’s biggest singles: B.o.B’s “Airplanes” and Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie.”
But the 27-year-old, born Alexander Grant, didn’t follow a typical path into music and was working toward a much different career goal.
Born and raised in Wood Green, north London, he originally had his sights set on becoming a professional soccer player. Grant played for England’s Bristol City youth team before distractions — and an injury — sidelined his foray into the big leagues.
“To cut a long story short,” he jokes while lounging in a Beverly Hills office suite. “My friend gave me a program, Fruity Loops. I had just finished playing soccer, and I decided to start making tracks.
“I didn’t know anything about [making music], and I hadn’t had any experience with it before … but I just fell in love with it.”
Grant, who will join fellow hitmakers RedOne and Ari Levine (of the Smeezingtons) at the Los Angeles Times Music Producers roundtable on Saturday at the Grammy Museum, went from tinkering on the amateur computer program to chasing a music degree. During university he snagged a number of internships before making the trek to New York, where he continued to network (he even got face time with one of his idols, Swizz Beatz). He eventually landed a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group in 2009.
When asked about his meteoric, seemingly overnight rise, he’s a little coy ("It’s been a steady climb," he says), but those connections came in handy.
“I was friendly with someone at Atlantic records. They had this hook they liked, but they hated the track it came with. They gave me the hook along with a bunch of other producers,” he said. “It wasn’t originally for B.o.B. at first. They didn't know what they were going to with the track. But at that time ‘Nothing On You’ was really breaking and becoming a huge hit, so they gave it to B.o.B. for his second single and he killed it. The rest is history.”
With “Airplanes” a megahit, the producer found a fan — and an offer — from Eminem, who loved the song so much he jumped on a sequel.
“He was looking for a new sound and wanted to work with new producers on his album. I was sending tracks and ideas, and Em liked the tracks I was sending,” he said. “We were trying to figure out what would make sense and not go too far out of his comfort zone, but he wanted something different. So I sent him ‘Love the Way You Lie.’”
Grant said the dark rock/hip-hop hybrid anthemic track — which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, logged more than 4 million downloads in the U.S. alone and snagged five Grammy nods (four of which Grant is eligible for), including Record and Song of the Year — almost didn’t land on “Recovery.”
“It happened really late on the album. He recorded it in two days, and I went to mix it with him in Detroit, and that’s when I first met him. Soon as he heard the song he said he wanted Rihanna,” he said. “They had to turn in the album nearly a day after we had finished. She almost didn't make it, since she was on tour. She was in Dublin at the time and was able to record it as we were mixing it. We had no time. If she didn’t kill it the first time, it wouldn’t have made the album.”
With a Grammy-nominated breakout year under his belt, Grant isn't looking to slow down soon. He has Diddy-Dirty Money’s newest single, “Coming Home,” T.I.’s upcoming Christina Aguleria assisted “Castle Walls,” Rihanna’s sequel to “Love the Way You Lie” and Dr. Dre’s anticipated lead single, "I Need a Doctor." He is also slated to serve as a mentor for the revamped season of “American Idol.”
“My thing for  is working with big iconic bands. I want to try to expand on what I’ve done. In terms of what hip-hop producers do in general, I want to take it to the next level,” he said. “It would be great to work with people like U2, Coldplay, George Michael, things that are a bit different.”
As for all the attention that’s come with the past 12 months, he’s unfazed by it all.
“I don’t want to be a celebrity, I think it takes away too much time from what I want to do,” he said. “I’ve always just wanted to be respected by my peers.
— Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Alex Da Kid Credit: Natty Photo.