Xavier “Zaytoven” Dotson has been one of the leading production minds of the Atlanta Hip Hop sound for a decade. His early contributions on Gucci Mane projects such as Trap House, Hard To Kill, and Trap-A-Thon led to Zay’s later work with Rocko (“4 Minutes”), Lil Scrappy (“Bad”), Migos (“Versace”), and many more.
That extensive discography also includes tracks for another high-profile A-Town native – Future. To start off his 2015, Zaytoven connected with the Freebandz founder for their collaborative project Beast Mode. The 9-track digital release features appearances by Juvenile and Young Scooter adding to Zay’s list of recent artistic partnerships.
Other noteworthy tracks over the last few weeks sporting the Trap music visionary’s tag include Nicki Minaj’s “Want Some More” and Usher’s “Still Got It.” The pianist also extended his expertise beyond album work by providing the score to his own 2014 film Finesse.
AllHipHop.com caught up with Zaytoven to discuss Beast Mode, his other production efforts, and what else he has planned for the rest of the year.
How did the project with Future come together?
Future reached out to me. He was in the studio, so I sent him some beats. He ended up recording on all the beats, and he wanted me to come in and hear them. I went to the studio and listened to what he did. It sounded so authentic, so I made some more beats for him right then. It seemed like every beat I made, he wanted to rap on it.
It really went from that. We did more songs, and then it went to, “We need to just do a tape, me and you.” I said, “I’m with it.” We had done so much work together in the past. It was almost spontaneous.
Are you planning on doing videos or touring together?
Most definitely, we almost made it like Beast Mode is a group. We’re going to do some dates, and we’re definitely gotta do videos to hype up the project.
There’s a song on the tape with Juvenile called “Aintchu.” Who came up with the idea to kind of recreate Juve’s “Ha” delivery?
Believe it or not, when I made the beat, I didn’t make it with any thoughts of Juvenile in mind. Future came with the hook, and he almost sounded how Juve did on his song back in the day. As soon as he did that, Future said, “Juvenile would sound good on this.”
I had been rocking with Juvenile for the last couple of years, so I said, “I’m gonna call him right now. He’d love to hear that.” We sent it over to him, and he jumped right on it. Juvenile sounds how he did when he made 400 Degreez. He sounded perfect on there.
You have a record on Nicki Minaj’s new album. Were you in the studio with her when she recorded “Want Some More”?
No I was not. Me and Nicki had worked together a long time ago – back before she got as big as she is now. They reached out and wanted some beats. I was working with Yung Berg. He was working with her on [The Pinkprint] album. He was the one that called me and said, “Hey man, this one track that you gave me, we’re doing it with Nicki for her album.”
What was your reaction when you heard the way she tackled that beat?
That’s the Nicki I think most of her fans fell in love with. Her rapping her bars that way, putting her characters on it. I was so happy she went that direction with it, because the track is already bumping and sounds like it needs to be in the club. She came and ripped it up. I was very happy with how that turned out.
The Migos “Versace” track came back up recently, because Logic did an interview where he talked about other people like Drake and J. Cole using that “Versace” flow. It started a debate on whether that is consider “biting” or just part of the Hip Hop game. What’s your opinion on that?
I would really say it’s biting. Guys like Migos – what made those guys popular was their flow. That’s what made them stand out. I know last year after the song came out, every rapper that’s in the game was using that same flow. So I almost see it as biting, because people will wear it out.
It will make Migos seem less special when everybody else is doing the same thing they did. It starts getting watered down when everybody uses it, so I think it’s a form of biting.
Speaking of Migos, who decided to put Migos and Usher on a track together?
I did a song for Usher – “Papers” – a few years back and it went number one faster than all his other songs went number one. So when his people reached back out to me this time they said, “We need a track for Usher. We’re working on his album and we want you to give us the same kind of music you’re giving to Migos.”
So when I sent them the beat they hit me back like, “We got one. Now what we need you to do is get Migos to get on the song.” I was thinking that anyway. To me, that was the perfect combination.
You played a really big role in the Atlanta sound over the last decade. How do you feel about Trap music extending beyond just Southern Hip Hop? It’s even been heavily incorporated into EDM.
It’s flattering to see something that I feel I helped create is so much a part of music right now. Even R&B, all these people want Trap music. It’s almost the dominant sound of music right now.
When people call for a track, they’re calling for something that’s heavy bass hitting. The biggest artists want Trap – from Beyoncé on down. They’re not really looking for soft, subtle R&B music right now. They’re looking for something that can go in the clubs, something that can play on the radio, something the younger people can identify with. So it’s flattering to me.
You did the score for the Finesse movie. How is that process different for you as opposed to producing an artist’s album or song?
It’s me just composing my own music to what I see. An artist is almost 50% of a song, so it’s up to them to finish the song. They’re the last instrument to go on the track.
When I’m scoring, it’s all me. I’m creating the atmosphere. I’m creating the tone for whatever’s happening in the movie. I treat it like that. I sit and watch a scene over and over and then give it a mood whether it’s funny or dramatic.
What else can we expect from you this year?
Definitely more music. I’m shooting another movie this year. I got a book coming. I’m going to be touring with the movie. A lot of cities want me to do a screening for the movie. I’m doing Q&A’s with different colleges. I’m going to do a tour with the book. So I’m going to be moving around a lot this year.
Stream/Download Future and Zaytoven’s Beast Mode below.