Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!
Jeff Bhasker, has worked with everyone under the sun from Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Young Thug to Beyonce and Alicia Keys.
Bhasker is a producer and songwriter, keyboardist, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist who first fell in love with jazz before discovering his musical abilities in other areas.
Bhasker is a Grammy Award-winning superproducer from Socorro, New Mexico, whose father is from India. He’s lived and worked in LA for 15 years now. Describing himself, “Jeff Bhasker is a pianist. Jeff Bhasker loves modernism and Igor Stravinsky. I grew up on jazz and wanted to be a jazz pianist, that’s what turned me on to music, period. My mom was playing those jazz chords and I asked her, ‘what is that?’ That got me going.”
To date, Bhasker has worked extremely closely with Kanye West on his standout albums: 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Watch the Throne, and Donda. In fact, the opportunity first arose when Kanye needed a last-minute keyboardist for his Glow In The Dark Tour. Ye was so impressed with Jeff’s musical ability that he asked him to be his musical director for the tour.
Most recently, Bhasker was featured on Young Thug’s “Love You More,” alongside Nate Ruess, Gunna, and Metro Boomin’. Additionally, he’s been shifting his focus to his own solo projects, as he looks to re-release his Billy Kraven, Born on the Fourth of July project, along with a piano-based album titled Ashes and Ghosts.
Jeff Bhasker: You actually got your start with Goapele, can you touch on that?
Jeff Bhasker: It was on her first album, which was called Closer. I did a couple songs: I did “Salvation,” “Butterflykisses.” I met her in Boston, her brother managed me for a hot second. He’s the one that got The Game track placed.
AllHipHop: All-time favorite song you’ve done with Kanye?
Jeff Bhasker: Man, that’s too hard. “Runaway,” there’s something really special about that and how iconic that is. It’s also how we cracked the code on a late night, doing that and seeing the smile come on his face. Everyone went to bed, we stayed up and worked on that. It was a special moment of figuring that out. It really came together, encapsulates all the great things of our collaborations. Just super musical, minimal, very emotional, uplifting but sad. It’s very complex, you know? It has a lot of complexity.
AllHipHop: Thoughts on that Taylor Swift moment?
Jeff Bhasker: That’s right. The original cancel — the beta version of getting canceled, how he responded to that and triumphed over it. I mean, I love that about Kanye’s work. He really reaches into his soul and his emotions, and puts it all on the table for you to see. He’s bringing very difficult, honest and uncomfortable things about himself personally into the light, that’s a very brave thing to do. That’s what makes great art, is people revealing that.
AllHipHop: Loved seeing you featured on Young Thug’s “Love You More.” How did that come about?
Jeff Bhasker: It meant everything. I’m so grateful to them for giving me that opportunity to show my artistry. When I play the piano, it has a resonance and energy and emotion that CHECK THIS PART out over time. From “Runaway,” to Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason,” to “Love You More,” that’s an artistic voice unto itself so I appreciate them for recognizing that. It’s the beginning of bringing that into the light and bringing what I bring to the table. Even for myself, acknowledging that for myself, that’s my artistic voice. Doing more and more with that is going to be really exciting.
AllHipHop: How was performing SNL with Young Thug? How’d it compare to your previous experiences on SNL?
Jeff Bhasker: You know what? It’s funny you asked that because it was really special. It was really special to get the shoutout at the end too from Rami Malek. It was so effortless with the group. We’ve never rehearsed before. We just did that soundcheck and it came together so effortlessly.
AllHipHop: You didn’t rehearse beforehand?
Jeff Bhasker: You know what, they had some rehearsals. I was working on another project but since I produced it and I wrote it, I think I knew my part. I could just jump in there. It was cool because you do a number of soundchecks on SNL. You do a first day of two or three soundchecks, then the day of, you end up running it a number of nine or 10 times. It evolved and shaped up to all this, we peaked for the performance so that was super special. Got to take a picture and say hi to Lorne Michaels. It’s so fun. It’s such an iconic show to be there and do it after all these lockdowns and the whole year we’ve gone through. It’s my first time back in New York in a long time so it was really, really special for sure.
AllHipHop: You mention leaving Kanye’s band to focus on your own artistry. How difficult was that decision for you? What was his reaction to it?
Jeff Bhasker: Man, it was super difficult because he’s my mentor. He’s my teacher. He’s family at that time. We were rolling so deep to go out there and see that, I think he was kind of hurt by it. We had a pretty close inner circle. There were not a lot of people around. It was Plain Pat, me and a number of people, but not like it is now. It’s such a huge organization. I don’t know, I can only speculate. I haven’t really talked to him about this and I don’t want to speak for him, but he was upset [laughs]. I did not get the call to go to the next studio sessions, and that was it for a while. And then gradually, he called me again.
AllHipHop: How long is a while?
Jeff Bhasker: I don’t remember exactly, maybe a year or two. I think it hurt him, I’m gonna guess, but for all the right reasons. Because it means I’m grateful, so grateful for all the opportunities he gave me. Most of all for believing in me. For taking what I had to offer and bringing it into the world, just rubbing off some of the magic that he has on me. It was a tough decision but ultimately, it was the right decision because I can’t live for someone else. I gotta live for me, even if it is the almighty Kanye West.
AllHipHop: What did it mean to have a song on Donda?
Jeff Bhasker: Well there ya go, it all came back full circle. To come together and feel the love from him, there’s a lot of mutual respect and love there. He’s one of the greatest people and most inspiring people in my life. He’s in my dreams. I don’t know if it’s PTSD or some psychic connection, but I’ll dream about him, then he’ll call. I’m not a weary person like that. I’m a pretty science-based thinker, but that stuff happens. He means a lot to me in my life and always will.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let the people know?
Jeff Bhasker: Man that’s it, just keep your eyes peeled. I’m grateful and humbled everyday to be in this amazing industry. There’s a lot of negativity, a lot of corruption or backstabbing. To aspiring producers or composers, pay attention to the red flags. Get around and work around positive people. If there’s a red flag or something doesn’t sit right with you, there’s a reason for that. You also need a family and a team and a circle that feels positive, then you might need to move on from that too later. But you’re going to keep growing. Find your tribe and find your people. Find your collaborators that challenge you and inspire you.