Ayo & Keyz just received the biggest win of their career: producing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP. Coming up as one-half of production duo Ayo & Keyz alongside his best friend, Buffalo, New York native, Keyz compared the placement to winning the NBA championship. All his hard work led up to this moment, and “WAP” will forever go down in history as the bad bitch female anthem of the century.
Real name James Foye III lists his biggest influences as Teddy Riley, B Cox, Sean Garrett, and Polo Da Don, which means he knows a thing or two about hits. Last year, Keyz took him a Grammy win for his work on Cardi B’s “Bickenhead” off Invasion of Privacy, which won Best Rap Album. When it comes to working alongside Ayo, he compares the two as if Steph Curry and Kevin Durant were on the same team in the NBA — two incredibly talented individuals who together take over the music industry one smash at a time.
Their biggest songs to date include “Self Righteous” by Bryson Tiller, “To My Bed” by Chris Brown, “I Like Girls” by PnB Rock, “Something New” by Wiz Khalifa, and Eric Bellinger’s “Drive By.” Three words to describe Keyz’ production: exquisite, sexy and fun. Their studio sessions are always lit, and they pride themselves in the creative process being nothing short of a good time.
Flaunt caught up with Keyz via Zoom and briefly spoke with Ayo a bit as well on how they found their true love in music, studio essentials, passion for fashion, and the importance in family.
Being from Buffalo, what was the household like growing up?
[laughs] I’m a PK, my parents are pastors. What I’m doing now, they don’t listen to it at all. For real, they don’t play no games. I fell in love with music in church, I learned how to play instruments like the drums and keys. Then I took it on my own and did my thing. Growing up, I couldn’t listen to what the church people call secular music. I had to sneak to watch BET and 106 & Park. At a certain age, they weren’t really trippin’ but something was grabbing my ear listening to that music. I’d listen to it on my little mp3 iPod, downloading songs and listening to it on the way to school. I developed a love for R&B and hip-hop, and now we’re here.
When did you both realize you wanted to produce for a living?
[Keyz] In high school, I was very focused on sports: basketball, football. As a young teenager, it’s all we really cared about. My junior year, I had a coming of Jesus moment. “Bro you’re not going to the league, it’s time to focus on something else.” Everybody’s trying to tell me “you aren’t the best, keep it moving.” I started getting into music production senior year. After high school, I decided to move to Atlanta. My parents weren’t okay with me coming down here if I wasn’t going to school, so I had to go to school. I went to Atlanta Institute of Music first, then transferred to The Art Institute Atlanta and got my degree.
[Ayo] I think it really hit me when I saw the passion that my oldest brother had for music. I remember him staying up countless hours just working on music and I just wanted to be like him.
What did you learn from The Art Institute?
I learned about hustle and grind. I learned about the music business, somewhat. I still had a lot to learn even after I graduated, but I learned a lot. Made a lot of relationships. It helped me get to where I’m at for sure. People say you don’t have to go to school for music and I definitely agree, but for me I needed it.
How did you & Ayo first come together?
[Keyz] We met through a mutual friend who’s actually from my hometown of Buffalo. He moved to Orlando to go to school there. Somehow him and Ayo got connected. I was in Atlanta, he said “yo I got this producer Ayo, he’s super cool. We’ll come to Atlanta this weekend, come kick it with you.” I said “cool,” so they drove up and stayed at my spot. Me and Ayo kicked it off, we’ve been brothers ever since. It’s crazy.
When was that?
We met in 2010, started working together officially mid-2011. Ayo had been producing for some time, he’s two years older than me so he had a headstart. I was fresh into it.
How did you first link with Omarion? I know he played a huge part early on.
That was our first placement together, back when he first signed to Maybach Music. That’s my first one period, Ayo had one or two prior to us teaming up. That was a big moment. I’m a dead broke college student, I’m in class trying to watch the release. They did a press conference announcing Meek, Wale, Omarion. I remember we’d got wind they’re going to play the song and video at the press conference. I’m in class, looking at my phone. It pushed me and showed me I could really do this for real.
What other records were pivotal to your career?
[Keyz] “Proof” by Chris Brown was super big. Our first Chris Brown record, he’s the biggest R&B artist. We were on Bryson’s first album, that was big. We’re on the last three Chris Brown albums: “Trust Issues,” “To My Bed” and “Covered In You.”
[Ayo] For me, it was mainly Let’s Talk by Omarion ft. Rick Ross. That song will always hold a special place. It being the first placement that me and Keyz had together solidified that we were headed in the right direction.
Creative process-wise, do you prefer to work with artists in the studio?
[Keyz] Before, it was about getting the song to them early on. Now where we are, we got to lock in. Our whole entire career has taught me how to become a producer, not just make beats. I know how to guide the artist and get the best song possible, I’m very confident. At this point in my career, we have to get in the same room, feel the energy and go crazy.
[Ayo] yeah – It also really depends on the artist preference and what helps them work best. But as of lately due to COVID, it’s been a lot of zoom sessions and emails with them.
What are the most memorable in-studio moments with artists?
That’s the crazy part, a lot of artists we’ve been in the studio with but the song hasn’t come out. Usher, K. Michelle, Meek Mill, Ne-Yo, T.I., Rotimi (another one of my best friends). Bryson, those songs came out of course. Wale, Lecrae, Teyana, Teyana was a project we were super hands-on in the studio with her and making these records, we did four songs on her last album: “Wrong Bitch,” “Shoot It Up” with Big Sean, “Lifetime” with Erykah Badu, and “Bad.”
I love The Album, how did the Badu collab happen?
Shoutout to Tuo Clark, our big brother. He told us “Teyana’s locking in, she’s getting ready for her album. Send some vibes.” We sent them. We both were in LA for the Grammys. Ayo’s last day, I stayed a day extra. We pulled up to the studio, she had just done the record. Played it for me and said “I’ma get Erykah Badu in it, can you add some changes? Boom, we did that. That night, I gave her “Wrong Bitch” and “Shoot It Up.” She was just in Atlanta, we linked up. Love Teyana, an artist we’ve really locked in and been in a creative space with.
Three things you need in the studio?
[Keyz] I’ma big energy guy, having fun in the studio. I like to have my wine, maybe a little hookah, some food. I like it to be a vibe. All my sessions gotta be vibes, especially if I’m working with songwriters. If I’m at home working or in the studio by myself, I can tap in and do what I need to do. When I’m with other people and creatives, I like to set the vibe so we’re in here having fun. I hate boring sessions. If you make this feel like work, you might as well work at something else. This for the love, I like to have fun. We’re in the studio last night, we got back 5 in the morning. That’s why I’m so tired, but we had fun. Did a couple songs. If we’re having a good time, I’m staying there all night.
You have a love for fashion, how would you describe your style?
[Keyz] I like to be creative, fashion is what I love doing. A lot of people are good translating it online, on Instagram, but I hate taking pictures. People say “you need to take picture, your outfit’s fly.” I don’t care about that. I put a little drip here and there. I started really falling in love with clothes in high school, looking fresh and looking neat. I like experimenting, I like having things that nobody else has. I’m always online looking at stuff overseas. When people see it, you gotta do some research. You can’t go to the mall and get this.
What are your favorite brands?
[Keyz] It really doesn’t matter. To be honest, I hate people who has to be designer head to toe. I don’t think that’s fashion at all, you’re putting on a bunch of names. Don’t get me wrong, I mess with designer. I love Balenciaga. If it’s fresh, I’ma wear it. I don’t care if my homeboy made it or something I found online, if it’s hard, I’ma put it together and wear it.
Talk about investing in real estate.
[Keyz] Real estate was a decision I made, I didn’t really understand it at first. My boy told me four years ago, ”yo get into real estate. I’m buying houses and getting rental properties, come join me.” I said “nah man, I’m cool right now.” The thought of having my money possible sit somewhere for 3, 6, even 12 months was difficult. It didn’t hit me until two years ago, I’m like “I get it now.” I love it. My goal’s to become super busy with real estate like I am with music, it’s a process. We’ve done two projects, two new built homes. They closed on the second one last week. It’s pretty cool seeing your hard earned money work for you, for real.
What can we expect music-wise?
A bunch of projects. Of course Chris Brown, Jacquees, did a couple songs for Rick Ross that I’m tryna get to him. Doing all the mainstream stuff, but also focusing on new artists at these labels who need songs and need that heat. We have an artist named Asia Graves, she’s amazing. Super talented, we’re really focusing on her. She’s signed to our label, we got 8 or 9 songwriters and producers signed to us. My goal is to push and make them be better than we ever were. Of course, family, life, having fun and traveling.
What does family mean to you?
[Keyz] That’s my life. It hit me too last week, this the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family because of COVID. It’s tough. Family’s everything to me, I won’t be here without family. That’s part of the reason why Ayo and myself are working so hard, to take care of them. We don’t want our family to ever want for anything, super important.