Whoever your favorite rapper is next year, MadeinTYO probably already knows them. The charismatic, nomadic MC blew up with 2015’s “Uber Everywhere,” a viral hit that presaged the SoundCloud era, and as he’s released a handful of infectious, hook-heavy EPs, the rapper born Malcolm Davis has proven to have a tastemaker’s ear and a commitment to empowering the rising talents around him.
Case in point: Juice WRLD. In 2016, long before "Lucid Dreams" and "All Girls Are the Same" began tearing up the charts, Juice WRLD first made contact with MadeinTYO. In February of 2018, TYO teased a collaboration with Juice on Instagram, weeks before the rapper’s Interscope deal was announced and even further in advance of him becoming one of music’s most engaging ascendant stars. Per Davis, the pair have four tracks banked.
A post shared by MADE IN TOKYO 🧟♂️🧟♀️🧟♂️ (@madeintyo) on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:31am PST
“This industry, it’s all in the knowing. I’m a student of this shit, I watch this shit. I really pay attention to what my fans say and what they’re tweeting. I follow them on Twitter,” says Davis. “I see the little things and I see the big things, so it keeps me grounded to know what’s popping.”
Thumbing through Davis' Instagram reveals a who's who of fellow rhymers from royalty (Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott) to the rapidly rising (Wifisfuneral, Rich Brian). While Davis blew up in decisively modern fashion, with "Uber" emerging as an out-of-nowhere streaming behemoth, his style is tough to pin to a subgenre or region. He sounds equally comfortable atop a drizzly Harry Fraud beat on "BBS" as he does on the hard-edged bounce of new single "Ned Flanders" with ASAP Ferg. He rides the cloudy and melodic "Summer With Santana" with ease.
And while he doesn't identify himself as a part of the oft-discussed emo rap movement, he found his way onto the remix of Fall Out Boy's "The Last of the Real Ones." More than anything else, the story of how Davis wound up with that unlikely collaboration illustrates the kind of artist and person he is, one as interested in putting those around him in positions to succeed as he is finding the right lane for himself.
"I jumped on that record when it came my way, but instantly I told my management, 'I want to link Juice WRLD to do this.' Then, at the same time, they were like, 'They really want you to do it,'" he recalls. "I don’t want to block my blessing, so I'mma do it. I never told anybody that, but it was on some me being cool with Juice and wanting to hear him on a rock song because it makes sense."
Davis has an album on the way—which he says may be his only traditional album, though he fully intends to keep releasing music—and he's been working with Billie Eilish, 070 Shake, Roy Woods, Ty Dolla Sign, and more. After an appearance in New York for Pro Era’s Steez Day Festival, MadeinTYO discussed how he manages to always stay in tune with trends, his listening habits, and how fatherhood affected his approach to music.
Do you think that because you moved around and you didn’t grow up super deep in a single scene, you’ve always been able to see beyond a specific regional perspective? Has that helped you?
Yeah. Because when I was skateboarding, nobody was really skating at the next school I went to where there was a whole bunch of black kids. Moving from San Diego where it was all kids that skateboard—everybody and their mom skateboards—to a city where nobody skateboards, they play basketball and stuff like that. You look weird skating, but it’s like, fuck it. Oh well.
It’s interesting that you never got branded as a skater-rapper, which I feel is pretty common.
Yeah, but they try to do it. I feel like they try to brand that. Like I, as a real skater, real rapper, I understand that if you halfway skate, you’re a poser. So with that, I don’t really glorify that because I respect it. Maybe one day here and there I’ll skate, but I’m not trying to get sponsored and be a pro skater. I don’t have nothing to prove to nobody, because once you know it you’ll always have it.
Do you think the fusion of rap and skate culture is pretty permanent at this point or could you see them separating somewhat?
I feel like rap is taking over rock. I’m just hearing it more. Right now, rap is taking a bite out of alternative rock. It’s coming to a point where rap will be chewing it up and rebirthing it into something new.
First of all, rap is the biggest genre right now. It’ll always be there. Skating goes with music and goes with fashion. Rap plays a big part in fashion. All these skaters like Paul Rodriguez and Eric Koston kind of meshed in urban culture, and it’s not even just black skaters—it’s different races that are like, “We listen to rap. We want to put rap music in our videos.” Some of our favorite skaters are fans of some of your favorite rappers. I’m friends with a lot of people out here killing it, like skaters of the year and shit where I’m like, damn, it used to be a dream to be skater of the year, and these are my friends now. I respect it and I think I understand the culture enough to not jump on it and put my whole skateboarder outfit on and ride and drop hammers every day on Instagram and really be on my skate life shit. It’s a culture and you've got to respect it. So I like when they mesh it with the music and shit like that, but as far as it goes with me, I’m not trying to be an X Games pro skater.
Yeah, and you look at Odd Future, some of those dudes skate and inspired L.A. skate culture heavy, but not all of them did and the music all works for that.
For them, because they lived in Cali, all the kids skate out there, so it’s just like jumping on the board. They don’t even have to be the best, but that was their aesthetic. Tyler [the Creator] and all them, being Cali black kids that are too black to be in the crowd with all the white kids but too white to be with the real ratchet kids. That’s the lane that people had put them in, and as far as it’s gone, Tyler has become a staple for that type of kid.
And now there are way more of those kids.
Now there are more kids like that and they feel comfortable doing that. Shit, it made me wanna wear box logos, like Supreme. It was Tyler. He had that Pharrell kind of swag, but younger than Pharrell, and more random than Pharrell. Pharrell’s more sex-symbol-cool, light-skinned skater swag, well-polished. Tyler’s like, "Whatever, let’s throw this on with a ski mask and some long socks." I respect that. I feel like it’s always gonna be in the mix. I feel like rap is taking over rock. I’m just hearing it more. Right now, rap is taking a bite out of alternative rock. It’s coming to a point where rap will be chewing it up and rebirthing it into something new. It’s a new thing now where you’ve got your Lil Uzi Vert, your Trippie Redd, your Juice WRLD, your Lil Peep. That’s a whole genre.
And it’s the genre right now. So it's emo-rap-rock, but at the same time all of those dudes will beat your ass if they had to. I love it, because it’s becoming something else, but it’s still aggressive like the alternative rock kids that didn’t give a fuck. It’s becoming a thing and it’s dope to watch.
You got in on it, too. You're on a Fall Out Boy track.
I jumped on that record when it came my way, but instantly I told my management, "I want to link Juice WRLD to do this." Then, at the same time, they were like, 'They really want you to do it,'" he recalls. "I don’t want to block my blessing, so I'm going to do it. I never told anybody that, but it was on some me being cool with Juice and wanting to hear him on a rock song because it makes sense. He probably has something on his next project like that, but it makes sense with the way it’s going. Me and Juice did four songs before his shit starting cracking off like that.
I was about to ask, because I remember seeing in April or something, you posted on IG with him, and then three days later, he signs that crazy deal with Interscope, and then two weeks later “Lucid Dreams” is the one of the biggest songs in the country.
And it’s crazy because “All Girls Are The Same” was the one everyone was rocking with.
All the way back, last summer.
It’s wild. This industry, it’s all in the knowing. I’m like a student in this shit. I watch this shit, I really pay attention to what my fans say and what they’re tweeting. I follow them on Twitter, so I see the little things and I see the big things. It keeps me grounded to know what’s popping.
How do you find artists? What are your listening habits?
I run into some of these artists, or they end up running into me. We’re in the same circle. I’m a student of music. Before I was on any of these blogs, Complex, Pigeons & Planes, any of these, I was a fan. I was a fan of these blogs. So I looked at these artists, and went from them to see similar artists. Went to their websites, went to Last.fm and searched an artist’s name and click “similar” and I’d look at all those artists. That’s my routine. Or I’ll click my name and see who’s similar and then go look at their page and I’ll just keep going.
When you hit a certain level, you must be inundated with new music. It’s cool that you’ve kept that discipline about it.
With [Juice], I didn’t see [his messages] until later on, and then we worked. I’m not one of those, “I fuck with you because everybody fucks with you.” It has to make sense. Nowadays, you don’t know who’s hitting you up, so you’ve just gotta keep an ear out there and still be hungry for it. You've got to still listen to music like the first time, like a fan. You can’t just be walking around like you don’t have to listen to shit with an honest ear. I’m listening to everything, because I’m a businessman. I might end up signing somebody. You never know what the case is.
You said this record that you’ve got coming out is going to be the only album. Are you still feeling that way?
It depends. When I say “only album,” that doesn’t mean music won’t be released. There’s always going to be music. I've got a kid. But until I find other means where I feel comfortable and I’m making as much as I’m making with music, then I’ll stop. Until then, other things are coming in—Fall Out Boy remix, Sprite bottle, all of this is great. I’m really creating. Who knows. But, it’s going to be the project with the most records on it. It’s going to be dope.
So will you eventually sign more artists and develop talent?
Of course. I already have my label type shit and all of that. I’m not with a major, I have my label and distribution. I have artists under me.
Is Private Club your label?
Yes. Me and my brother, we have that to the point where I have a record that’s supposed to come out with Billie Eilish produced by an artist I signed. DWN2EARTH produced some of the records on my last project. He produced the track with me and Billie. I’m working with Billie, 070 Shake, Roy Woods, Ty Dolla. It’s the homies. I’ll post a picture and someone will be like, “Yo, you gotta put Joey [Badass] on it!” So many people are willing and they really rock with me right now, and it’s just a blessing. My dream features are still there, but I don’t think I’ll have my dream features on this album. My dream features are like Pharrell, M.I.A. type of vibe.
You've got to still listen to music like the first time, like a fan... I’m listening to everything, because I’m a businessman. I might end up signing somebody. You never know what the case is.
Did you link with her the same way you did with Juice, through social media?
No. Me and Shake have been working since 2016. Before Kanye and all of that, that’s the homie. We would have super deep conversations. She deserves that shit.we linked in person way before we made music. I called her the day I found out my son was coming. Shake is low-key True’s godmom. That’s the homie. Shake and I are on some “pull up to the studio right now,” on some normal family type shit. And we laugh and joke about relationship shit or whatever, we talk about it all the time. Billie’s the same way. Billie’s 17, she’s like, “I been listening to you since I was 14!” Super down to earth, could probably tell her anything, she doesn’t take shit mad serious but she has a serious side.
She came into the industry making music with a really defined identity. Same with Juice.
Yeah. I’m looking at both of them and I’m like, the wave comes so much where people thought it was young and it was coming fast, that it’s becoming very fast and it’s coming well established. The artists are coming with the branding, everything. It's really well put together. These labels don’t really need us. "You got it all together? Boom. Cool." Me? I was like, super underground, right when I feel like SoundCloud was popping people off, and “Uber” really cracked in there.
Yeah, I feel like “Uber” is one of the staple tracks of SoundCloud rap. Not SoundCloud rap as a genre, but as a medium.
That’s like the OG SoundCloud record. If they had SoundCloud awards, like for the top 100? It’d be top 100.
Do you think you take a more active role in bringing people into your orbit than other artists do?
I think about, “Yo, are they cool together? Does this make sense?” Like, I told K Swisha he should link up with TM88, who did “XO Tour Llif3,” and he should link with Southside, who does all of Gucci [Mane’s] and Future’s beats. Swisha’s now making beats with TM, Wheezy, who did shit for Baby and Drake, and Southside, and just making beats with all of them in the studio. I remember both of us first starting out and him telling me those are the people he’s always wanted to work with. These are the people that made me want to make beats. Now I’m pulling up on him, and he’s over there smoking, chilling with TM88 and Southside and it’s normal. And they laughing like, “Yo, we’re cooking.” And I’m like “What beats you got for me?” And it’s to the point where he has a Southside beat he didn’t even give me, on some like, “I wanna hold this.” It’s the first one he made with him.
So is your album everything? The full picture?
It’s a mixture of everything. This is the first “album,” all the other projects were EPs or things I put on SoundCloud or mixtapes. This is the first studio album. It has more records than any of the projects. It will have features on it, because a lot of my stuff is a solo record that become remixes. These will be records where you’ll get the first time me and Ferg are dropping a record and it’s not him remixing “Ned Flanders.” It’s “Ned Flanders” with Ferg.
I’m always featured on people’s shit. I haven’t put out [anything] where it’s MadeinTYO featuring people. I’m going to start doing that and giving back—give back to the culture, give back to the fans that supported for so long. They want to see you work with certain artists and work with their favorite artists.
I'm working with Shake and Billie, working with people where it opens your eyes and you’re like, “What’s this? Let me click this.” I know what a record with [Playboi] Carti and Tokyo would sound like. It’s expected. I would do a record with Carti or Uzi or any of them, but as far as records like this, it’s like, you don’t go get two centers for a team. You’ve got to be the best center for your team, so with me, I’m grabbing other people, other talents to win this game. Kanye grabs 10 other people and you’ll see no features on a project but they help him put this shit together, everybody gets their credits, everybody is getting paid. And you put together a good record. You got Ty, Post Malone, Kanye, you got “Faded.” I want to show my fans that I grow and I evolve, because most of my favorite artists evolved.
There are always rumors of collaborative albums with you, like the one with Metro Boomin everyone thought was in the works, but that the two of you said was unconfirmed. I know there was a rumor that you and Roy [Woods] had something coming. Do you like having that out there, that something always might be coming right around the corner?
I would do a record with Carti or Uzi or any of them, but as far as records like this, it’s like, you don’t go get two centers for a team. You’ve got to be the best center for your team, so with me, I’m grabbing other people, other talents to win this game.
I love for people to see that I’m always working. Now, as far as the project with me and Metro, we're both busy. We’ve always put that out there saying it was going to get done, but I feel like we deaded saying that. Here and there we probably recorded like four records, but the album didn’t get done. So we’re up in the air—will [the songs] make my album since me and his album didn’t get done? Me and Roy, there’s a record that didn’t make the project that we are working on. That’s not deaded. That’s something we still talk about. Me and Roy have a record that’ll for sure be on the album. Me and Roy, that’s gonna happen. Me and Metro, I'm going to see if they get cleared then there’s a chance there’s going to be two Metro-produced records on the album.
You’ve built up this reputation where the Metro album could just come out on a Friday unannounced. I feel like you’re not the kind of artist who needs three months of lead time for an album.
I want people to know it’s coming, but at the same time, everything is a reaction. I wish I could be one of those guys where you can post a picture of a fingernail and it goes viral. I just post normal shit, like family shit. If it’s good music it’s good music, and I feel like people know that the music speaks for me. It’s really just word of mouth as far as the music. People that know me, they won’t tell you there’s one thing that stands out about me. They’ll be like, “Did you hear the music?” It’s not like, “Oh, he’s got that one thing.”
How has your focus or approach changed since you had True? Obviously you did the True’s World project, but has that changed your long-term mentality about things?
Yeah, having a kid changes everything. It changes the way you think, but to the world it doesn’t look like it changes everything. It’s different from you as the person to you as a brand. It changed me completely as a person but it didn’t change my brand. It’s making me learn how to move. Having a kid really made me appreciate my time that I have. This week you’re doing this, next week you’re doing that, a month from now you won’t be doing that.
Time goes by so fast, and it makes me appreciate time and realize how fast time goes. To think, my son will be almost two years old. It’s like, what? A two-year-old? I remember when I was single, no kid, woo woo type-shit. I’m in a funny place right now. My son motivated everything, and I think he motivated people around me. He shifted everything. He’s making people smile who weren’t smiling. He makes me see that even when things are fucked up, everything is actually really good. Everything is blessed.
Can you tell me about the producing you’ve been doing? I like the two loosies you put on SoundCloud.
People don’t know, but I had hip-hop shit out way before turnt shit. Before “Uber,” I had real hip-hop shit out under another name where I was rapping. I respect people like Mac Miller, Big Sean, J. Cole, Joey Badass. That was the wave I was on. Most of those people are my age—I’m 26. I’m at the age where I can have a real conversation with Mac Miller or Big Sean and we click. There’s shit that we both don’t understand, like why kids do certain shit out here. But damn, I can’t show my age. Before I had a kid people were like, “This guy is young, wild, ratchet. He looks like he’s fifteen.” I’ve got to be different.
But you’ve found a space that’s between those two lanes. You’ve got tracks with Mac and Sean and you’ve got tracks with Juice.
My energy is not like shoot-up-the-club, so it put me in that mix. The first time I heard Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi was around the same time I was hearing Thug with “Stoner.” When I first heard both of those vibes I was like, “Wait, this is ratchet, but it’s not. They’re not talking about anything incriminating. It’s still fun, it’s still turnt, it’s a trap beat, it’s Mike Will. This is lit.” I'm a dad, but at the same time I’m still with the homies. It works. It’s a blessing to do that, because there was a moment where I was trying to find how I want to put this out. Does it have to be different because I’m a dad? But it’s whatever, I want to be known as a good dad, but still, don’t get it fucked up. Just because I’m a dad doesn’t mean that I don’t go through the shit that real niggas go through. People get it fucked up when you’re an honest person.
So the result of that was True’s World?
I’m still trying to figure out with this album, because it’s not going to be all the way based on True, but there will be references. We’re back in our bag. It’s summertime, and I don’t even know if it’s coming out in summertime. They told me a certain time to have it in, but I’m glad they haven’t given me a date, because I told them I don’t want to give my fans a date. My fans will know when they see promo. When they see it everywhere, they’ll know it’s coming. Right now there’s no date, but I will turn my album in before August.
There’s one more track I want to ask about, which is the Bhad Bhabie remix. Because now people are starting to recognize she’s got some talent, but were you worried that that song would be looked at as a gimmick when you got on the song?
All the kids now in the lane people put me in are like 17 or 18, and they’re young and doing wild, reckless shit. I’m of the age where I can have a real conversation with Mac Miller or Big Sean and we click. There’s shit that we both don’t understand, like why kids do certain shit out here.
I genuinely respect anybody that can take nothing and make it something. I really listen to music for what it is, not the background, and I think she makes good music. I’m not going to comment on every career choice, because it’s not my career. There are certain things I wouldn’t want my kid doing, but at the same time that’s the shit that makes her. That’s her vibe. That’s Bhad Bhabie. Everybody has their own brand. My homie Ronny produced that record, Ronny J, I work with him heavy. So it’s a no-brainer, on top of how she’s shown me love. And the fact that they reached out for me to get on it, I thought, “Dang, they want me on it? That’s dope!” So I did the verse, I showed up to the video shoot, Prada shirt, and it goes down. She was cool. Asian Doll, all of them were super cool. Everybody was cool. I knew Rich The Kid. Me and Rich have songs together, me and Ferg were on the first version of “New Freezer.” Rich is the homie. It was that moment when I was first coming up, Rich wanted to sign me. Rich is hip to everybody.
He’s kind of established himself as a bit of a tastemaker in his own right.
He’s in the mix. My older brother [24hrs], and my oldest brother who does videos, they used to pick him up and stuff in Atlanta before he was Rich. They all used to kick it.
This world is so small, you never know who you’ll run into or who you’ll have to work with again. It’s just dope, you never know. Jinx and Speedy [of Complex], they’ve been at big important moments. I remember Jinx taking a picture of me and Tekashi when I interviewed him at the first ComplexCon. My son wasn’t even born yet. I remember when he used to do his news and mentioned “Uber Everywhere" by MadeinTYO. I was like, “Oh shit! I’m on Complex News!!! I’m lit! I’m on! Jinx posted me, nigga it’s lit!” That’s how I was. First time I was on Pigeons & Planes, I was like, “I look at this all day, every day.” You be so hyped for that shit. I can’t stress enough as an artist to have that blog support, it really can take you over top.
Anything else you’d like to say?
The album is being worked on, my son is being taken care of. Don’t believe everything that you see online. And, I’m lit as fuck!