‘If everyone’s wearing a blue hat, make sure you’re wearing a red one.’

Nana Rogues has spent the last decade producing and co-writing songs for the likes of Drake, Dave, J Hus, Wizkid, Skepta and Stormzy.

He’s a BRIT Award winner (for Dave’s UK No.1 debut, Psychodrama), a two-time Grammy nominee (for his contributions to Ella Mai’s self-titled debut and Drake’s Scorpion) and is gearing up for the next stage in his career after signing a worldwide publishing deal with Concord.

Prior to that, he had actually been without a publisher for the best part of six years. But, as he explains, he now wants the muscle of a company to support his creative and business ambitions, which include launching a producer society for young talent. “Concord came at the right time,” he says. “It’s a great team and signing the deal was
a no-brainer.”

As a child, Rogues remembers being infatuated with the production of songs like late 1990s and early 2000s hits, Caught Out There by Kelis and Southern Hospitality by Ludacris, both of which were produced by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, aka The Neptunes. “I’ve always been interested in producing without knowing what producing was,” he says.

“I was infatuated with the sonics of those songs and realised they were made by the same people as I got older. That’s when I was like, ‘Ok, I want to get into producing, this is cool.’”

After doing classes in music tech production, Rogues started taking his craft seriously in 2014 when he had a hit with British hip-hop collective Section Boyz’ (who are now called Smoke Boys), Trapping Ain’t Dead. Then, he produced Link Up by Wiley, which was featured on EastEnders (“A big thing for me at the time,” he says).

One thing led to another and opportunities continued coming his way. Today, a typical 24 hours in the life of Rogues is all night in the studio, sleeping while his daughter goes to school, spending some time with her after pick-up and then doing it all again.

Prior to Concord, Rogues was published by Tinie Tempah’s company Imhotep and he previously had a deal at Virgin for his work as an artist (he’s currently unsigned, but will be looking for a new label deal).

His A&R at Concord, Harri Davies, calls Rogues “a true record producer with an infectious aura.” He continues: “Artists love being in his company and he always brings the best out of creatives.”

Davies is planning on putting Rogues in session with artists who span pop, R&B “and beyond” and will be focusing on continuing “to build on his already successful international profile as a writer and producer.”

Here, we chat to Rogues about production, finding inspiration, dealing with creative blocks, and much more besides.

What do you think makes a good producer?

A good producer needs to be open-minded sonically. You have to have a great ear for music and be versatile. Being versatile is very important in order to avoid boxing yourself in and to bring the best out of artists. 

Producers are like the painters, so we have to make sure our canvas has all the different colours, which is the artist, and we have to make sure it’s the brightest we can make it, to make the best product.

How do you get the best out of an artist you’re working with?

Conversation, understanding and just knowing that I am here to assist the artist. I’ll have my own vision, I can have my input, but what vision does the artist have? What can I do to bring that to life and make it the best I possibly can? 

I am here to assist the artist. What vision do they have and what can I do to bring it to life?”

Also, listening to the artist’s music from the past and the unreleased stuff they play, and being like, ‘Ok, what can I add to this? What’s missing?’

What are the qualities or skills that make a good songwriter?

You have to be able to tell the story, number one, you have to be good with words. Not overthinking is a very important quality for songwriters. When you overthink a lot, you end up not making the best song you can.

Also, being able to listen to other people’s stories and translate that into something that the world can listen to and appreciate.

Where do you find inspiration when it comes to creating new music? Do you have a particular process?

My process is not one process. I can not be inspired and then put on the radio or Apple Music, hear one song and then I’m inspired. Experiences inspire me; people I meet, things I hear of people’s stories or travels. They can inspire me to make something that can be the soundtrack of what that person just told me.

“Other producers inspire me a lot.”

Other producers inspire me a lot. When I hear beats from other producers and I’m like, ‘Yo, this is amazing, I need to step my game up and go into the studio.’

Do you have any most memorable studio sessions or favourite artists that you’ve worked with?

All the sessions with Wizkid are memorable. I’m mesmerised with his effortlessness when he’s recording and coming up with ideas. He’s amazing. Rihanna pulled up to a session when I was in one of her writing camps. That was pretty surreal. She was lovely, had a great personality, respectful and very welcoming. A lovely, nice lady.

Kelly Rowland was cool, just because it’s Kelly Rowland. I think every session I’ve been in has been memorable because I’ve had a good time and I’ve learned something.

Do you have a worst or most challenging studio session? And if so, what did you learn through that process?

I haven’t had a bad studio session in terms of how the person I’ve been working with has behaved or made me feel. Any studio session that I didn’t like is because I feel like I’m taking too long to make the beat or that the beat isn’t good enough. Or maybe the people haven’t liked it and I’ve had to make more than one.

What I’ve learned from that is that, when I go into a studio session, I like to prepare myself. I like to have things ready to play or know what I’m going to make and take to the artist, so there’s a high chance they’re going to like what I play or what I make for them.

Say I’m working with Doja Cat, I’ll check all of her credentials, the recent stuff she’s put out, all of her hit songs, and I’ll be like, ‘Ok, what do I want to do for her?’ I’ll make a bunch of beats, a bunch of ideas before I even go into that session. I’ll have some templates that she might like. So when I go into the session, I have beats to play and if she doesn’t like those, I’ll have templates to start on.

How do you deal with creative blocks, if you get them?

I do suffer from creative block quite a lot. It sounds weird, but LBC radio. Not doing anything musical: listening to LBC radio and the news, chilling, watching Netflix, going for walks and watching documentaries.

I’m very big on history, wars and geopolitics so I tend to get my head deep into these things when I’ve got a little block. When I’m doing normal stuff, something is going to click and it’s going to come back to me.

Can you pinpoint what causes the blocks for you?

If I’m being honest, right now, I think it’s just because I’ve been doing this for so long and there are only so many ideas someone can have. There are only so many new ideas under the sun. I’m very wary of making the same sounds, so it’s easy for me to have a block because I’m not trying to make the same sounds.

What’s the best career-related advice that you’ve ever been given?

Don’t be afraid to change. Don’t overwork yourself. Work hard, but you have to take care of yourself. Rest. Sonically, do not put yourself in a box. You have to make sure you’re different, that you stand out. If everyone’s wearing a blue hat, make sure you’re wearing a red one.

Your career has come of age alongside music streaming. Would you change anything about it?

Music streaming is good and it’s inevitable – the world’s changing, so we have to change with it. I do feel they need to sort out the money, the splits. These platforms need to work on that and they have to include songwriters.

Us producers, we’re cool, we get a bunch of the splits and percentages when it comes to streaming, but songwriters don’t get anything. They need to incorporate the songwriters a lot more because they are integral in making a song. We need to make sure the creatives are being taken care of properly.

You recently signed a publishing deal with Concord, which followed a six-year period of being unpublished. Why is now the right time to sign a deal? 

I feel like I’ve been waiting for so long to do it, I’ve accumulated songs and everything I’ve been putting out has been mine, I’ve owned it, so I had enough to go to any company and talk about a deal. The right time is now because I’m gearing up to put more music out as an artist and as a producer.

I’ve got a few things I’m going to put out at the beginning of the year as an artist. As a producer, I’m working on some new Dave (pictured inset), Wiz Khalifa, Wizkid and some new up-and-coming artists. 

I’m working with producers as well. I want to start a producer society for young producers. I’m going to have a bunch, like 20, 30, under my wing and we’re going to create, takeover.

What might that look like? A mentorship programme or maybe your own publishing company?

A bit of both. It will be a publishing company that will offer managerial services as well, if they want to be managed, and a place to work. I’ve got two studios right now and I want to get a bigger building full of studios to house all the producers.

I want labels and creatives to come to us because we’ve got all the producers, all the tools, for you to come and get your hit song. I want to create opportunities for these young producers to own their own music, get some big cuts, be around good songwriters, other producers, and learn new things.

Are there any other artists that you’d really love to work with?

Of course, all the big artists, all the Adeles, the Ed Sheerans, the Beyoncés. I’ve been in session with Rihanna but we haven’t released anything, so Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar.

In the UK, people like Central Cee. I missed out working with him so I’d like to do that. Bad Bunny, Maluma, everyone. Anyone who I admire, I’d like to
work with.

What would you change about the music industry and why?

The fact that good songs can be overlooked so easily these days. It’s like a flash in the pan. That is very sad to me, because I hear something that’s very refreshing and new and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is dope’, and no one cares. I see that happening a lot more these days with very good songs and even artists that are doing well. It’s definitely getting harder for people to break through.

What do you make of the health of the British hip-hop scene in particular right now?

It’s not in a good space. Going back to what I said before, songs aren’t sticking. The hip-hop artists like Potter Payper, Stormzy, Giggs, people are releasing music but it’s just not sticking the same. I can’t pinpoint it, I don’t know why. Because the music is good, the quality
is good.

I’ve been speaking to a few people about this recently who were saying that, because hip-hop has had such a run of success, people working within the genre, on the industry side, are perhaps chasing TikTok hits rather than doing artist development to find something genuinely new.

I forgot about the element of TikTok, which is definitely a contributor to why things are not sticking. It’s like chicken and chips, it’s very fast. People are catering to release songs for TikTok because they know that’s a quick way. 

If your song does well on TikTok, you’re going to have at least one or two weeks of some traction. I don’t think that’s the right way to go about things.

What advice would you give to a young producer, songwriter or artist starting their career in music today?

Like I said before, if everyone’s wearing a blue hat, wear a red hat. Be very good at what you do. If you’re going to make music like everybody else, make sure you do it the best or be different. It’s one or the other.

It’s very hard to get noticed in music, full stop, but nowadays, it’s even harder. Versatility will save you and if you manage to make any songs or get one foot in, work hard, make sure you’re constantly making music. Make sure you’re constantly making new ideas as a producer, as a songwriter, because these ideas will save you when you do have these blocks.

Building and maintaining relationships in this industry is very important as well. If you’ve got those things covered, you should be alright.

This article originally appeared in the latest (Q4 2023) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK, which is out now.

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