Nate Walka must be thanking his lucky stars that cellphone providers offer unlimited calling plans. Otherwise, this ASCAP writer/producer's telephone bills would have skyrocketed after the music community found out that he wrote the bones of Jamie Foxx's Grammy-winning "Blame It" and Trey Songz's R&B hit "Say Ahh" also featured his imprint. This Memphis-born music creator has capitalized on his phenomenal success by taking on a ton of new projects - he's since worked with Jesse McCartney and collaborated with Stargate, placed songs with Far East Movement and earned the attention of Rihanna and Blink 182's Travis Barker. With all that going on, Nate Walka somehow found time to work on a new mixtape, dropping this summer. And he also found time to answer a few questions. Read on for all the goods from this versatile star-in-the-making.
What was it like growing up in a musical household? What sort of music did you have buzzing around you when you were growing up?
Well, I wouldn’t say I grew up in a musical household. It was definitely a fun household though. My mom always played a lot of old school music when I was growing up—a lot of Motown. But I don’t know if you remember Columbia House; they used to send those flyers where you could buy like the twelve free CDs. I would convince my mom to do that for me. I would get to pick all these cool records from artists I was watching on TV and on the radio, so that had a big influence. I remember my sister had this old boombox where the speakers didn’t work, but the headphone jack worked, so I would use my headphones and sit there for hours listening to music. It was an escape.
As I understand it both of your parents were visual artists. Were you ever interested in painting, drawing, photography, etc. or have you always been a music man?
No, I was definitely interested in visual arts when I was really young, but I felt like it was a thing where instead of me growing into it on my own, like my parents were able to, it was pushed on me as something I was supposed to do. I felt the pressure of “What if I’m not as good as my dad?” So I just kind of stopped it all. I got into sports, and then into music. It was more natural for me. I never looked at music with the goal of being this big music dude, I just loved doing it. The situations and opportunities just kept arriving and opening up for me. I finally felt like “This is what I’m supposed to be doing!”
Given that your first cut “Blame It” hit the top of the Billboard R&B charts and won a Grammy, it might seem to the outside world that you became huge overnight. But I’m guessing your success was a long time coming. What were the most important things you did before "Blame It” to build your name and contacts?
Before “Blame It” I was really focusing on myself as an artist and making dope msuic. With that being said, I put together mixtapes and albums with my homie David Ballard starting back in high school. Making money and doing shows. I moved from Tennessee to Atlanta, gave myself six months to make everything happen, and it pretty much happened in three. I had done a mixtape and was performing off of it, opened a show for Shwayze, and he ended up asking me to do the rest of the tour. While I was on the tour bus I got the call from [ASCAP writer/producer] Chris Henderson saying Jamie Foxx wanted my song “Blame It.” Once my manager and I noticed how huge the record got, we realized it would be a good thing for me to build a career with the writing and let it help the artist deal later on. I’m sure God had a lot to do with it!
How did you connect with Jamie Foxx and Trey Songz for “Blame It” and “Say Ahh?”
“Blame It” was actually a song on my mixtape. I came up with the concept and wrote the hook. A lot of things happened after that point to make the song what it was, but it originated with me. Chris Henderson had reproduced it and used my hook and placed it with Jamie, so that was a surprise to me. But with “Say Ahh,” Young Yonny hit me up on MySpace and said how much of a fan he was of “Blame It.” He sent me like 40 tracks that night and the second one I heard was “Say Ahh.” I put my part down, sent it to my manager Askia Fountain, he sent it to [writer/producer] Chef Tone, and before you know it, [producer] Troy Taylor was calling saying that it was Trey [Songz’] record. What do you say to that but "yea?" One record pushed me towards the next record.
Have you been able to bring any of your battle rapping skills into play in your songwriting career?
Battle rapping is freestyling, it's being in the moment. You talk about everything, from what’s around you, to the crowd, what you’re wearing…so I always take that and put it towards writing songs. I try to do three freestyle takes on songs I do.
You’ve worked with so many good producers over the last couple years. How do you decide who to work with?
I’m open to working with anybody that’s dope. I invite people I hear about to the studio all the time. But overall, I like working with good people, so I trust my management a lot to connect with people that they feel I would click with. I guess you never really know who you’ll click with and create something special. But the difficult thing for me is I click with most of the people I work with. And sometimes you don’t have as much time as you want to create more. You may have another session or something. I’m definitely blessed though.
Just looking at your list of recent collaborators (Cobra Starship, Lupe Fiasco, Rihanna, Travis Barker) it’s clear that you’re a super-diverse music creator. How important has your versatility been to your success?
I think it’s probably the most important part of it. Music is always changing. It’s not necessarily like keeping up with the times, but at the same time if you have just one style of music, you might be hot for a season, but longevity is harder to achieve. I’m inspired by so many different things like movies and environments. Who wants to be a one trick pony? I feel like diversity is the key to longevity. Plus, it keeps it exciting. I never get tired of my job.
Is there one song you’ve written that you think best defines you and your personal style?
I like to party, so a few of my songs would actually fit. But I don’t know…maybe I should say that one song hasn’t come out yet. Stay tuned!
You released a couple mixtapes on your way to getting your first cut. Now that you’ve got no problem getting in the room with superstars, has the role of mixtapes changed in your career?
Yeah. I haven’t put out a mixtape in a long time. Now that I know that there’s money and a career in writing songs, I think about it more. Doing a mixtape is like throwing away your songs. I know they’re a marketing tool, but I’d rather do original music. It sucks if you write a hit record to someone else’s track, and you can’t do anything with it after that. And even now, there’s a lot more original content coming out on people’s mixtapes because I think they get it now.
Tell us about this new mixtape you’re working on – what’s it called, who’s on it, what does it sound like and when’s it coming out?
Look for Verses vs. Voltage around June. I’m not sure who’s gonna be featured on it yet. It may be all me, and it may not be. I want people to get to know me, so everything is still being debated. But if I do, of course I’d get my homies and people I like working with like Far East Movement, Bei Maejor and Mike Posner, to name a few, but as far as having features, I don’t know. On the sound, it's definitely two-sided. I want to stay true to battle rapping, but I’ve definitely grown from that. My talent has developed a lot more so there’s more to share. That’s why there’re two sides — to show my roots and my growth. Sound wise, it's loosely based on disco, 70's, electro, now, house…something really fun and new. Nothing like you’ve heard on the radio, but still familiar.
It’s amazing what you’ve been able to do by such a young age. What’s your ultimate musical goal?
To have 10 songs in the top 40 at the same time.
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