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Tay Keith: Rap’s hottest producer is graduating from MTSU

December 15, 2018

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — When Drake came to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena earlier this year, there was one name the rap star couldn’t stop saying on stage. He told the sold-out crowd that as soon as his tour was over, “I’m going right back to the studio with Tay Keith.”

22-year-old Tay Keith, if you’re unfamiliar, is a hip-hop producer. And in his field, no one’s had a bigger breakout year.

In 2018, the Memphis native supplied the spare, pummeling beat for Drake’s “Nonstop,” which debuted at No. 2 in July. He quickly followed that up with “Not Alike,” a standout track from Eminem’s platinum album “Kamikaze.” And earlier this month, a song he co-produced became the number-one song in the country: Travis Scott’s multiplatinum “Sicko Mode.”

On Saturday, Tay Keith will hear his name called out again — in a slightly more formal fashion.

Brytavious Lakeith Chambers will walk in the graduation ceremony at Middle Tennessee State University, and receive his Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, with a concentration in media management.

Chambers’ platinum beats have made him famous, but he’s gained almost as much notoriety for staying in school while earning those plaques. Fans on Twitter constantly express their surprise, and his classmates ask to take pictures with him.

“I just feel like if I didn’t finish (school), I was going to feel incomplete,” Chambers tells The Tennessean.

“You get a sense of a respect, and I just want to live up to the respect. I want to prove that you can go to school and still chase your dream, too. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs out here who are in school, who just don’t know what’s next, or can’t figure out what direction they should go in. And me graduating motivates them.”

‘Music was my way out’

And there was a big motivator for Chambers to stay in school: He’s going to be the first person in his family to graduate college.

“It was rough,” he says of growing up in Memphis.

“You gotta grind, you gotta make your way. Everybody’s got their grind mentality in Memphis. Music was my way out. School was the plan B, just in case music didn’t work out. I didn’t know it was gonna work out. I just felt like, ‘If I’m doing these two things, something’s going to get me up there. Something’s going to make me successful.’”

He started making beats at age 14, and soon crossed paths with Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB. In the summer of 2017, their song “Shoot” took the internet by storm.

You may have never heard “Shoot,” but chances are you’ve seen the dance. The leg-kicking move BlocBoy performed in the music video was mimicked in the video game “Fortnite,” and soon spread to schoolyards across the country.

But rap’s A-list didn’t call Tay Keith right away. He and BlocBoy had to prove they weren’t a flash-in-the-pan, and, in January, they scored a huge follow-up hit, “Rover.” Things haven’t slowed down for Chambers since.

“It took a lot of getting used to the spotlight,” he says. “A year ago, I didn’t have as many fans, but I also didn’t have as many critics. It took awhile to get used to that. Also, I didn’t have this pressure (at the start of the year). It was just kinda like, ‘I’m doing this for fun.’ but now it’s like, ‘You gotta keep up. You gotta go. There’s no playing around,’ and balancing that with school.”

‘Showing there’s more out there’

At times, that’s been a challenge. Chambers was originally supposed to graduate in May, but his production work and DJ gigs got in the way. He wrapped up his four remaining courses this semester.

His concentration in media management wasn’t quite what he expected, either — MTSU materials say majors “study how to lead, supervise, and motivate employees in the media industry” — but he says it taught him valuable networking and communication skills.

While one of Chambers’ professors didn’t catch on to his success until the last day of class (“You could just pay off your student loans,” he recalls her saying), he has been on MTSU’s radar for a while now.

Last month, he met with the school’s president Sidney McPhee, and Recording Industry Department Chair Beverly Keel is among those who’ve applauded his success and his commitment to MTSU.

“He has a national fan base that is growing daily, and he will inspire many of his young fans to enroll in college and graduate,” Keel says. “No matter how many No. 1 songs he writes or Grammys he will win, I believe this will remain one of the most important accomplishments of his life.”

And there’s a lot more Tay Keith wants to accomplish. He’s talked with McPhee about establishing a scholarship fund for students in Shelby County. He’s putting together his own “producer label” called Drumatized, with Memphis’ Denaro Love as his first signee. And it sounds like Drake has made good on his promise to get right back in the studio with him, too.

“In my journey in life, I’m just going to keep discovering and showing there’s more out there,” Chambers says. “This is just a stepping stone.”

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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