Naughty Boy is an absolutely powerhouse producer. Born Shahid Kahn in Watford, Hertfordshire, he’s racked up major hits with artists like Wiley, Emeli Sande, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole to name a few. When an artist has a catalog like that, it’s easy to picture them having always lived steeped in musical glory. However, a few short years ago he was working at Dominos pizza and studying business and marketing at London Guildhall University.
Naughty’s rise in the production world almost seems unreal. In this case, adversity begets success. He overcame hurdles in the form of dead-end jobs, being a college dropout, and using his parents’ garden shed as his home studio to get where he is today. After cashing in on the UK’s show Deal or No Deal, he was able to reel in £44,000 which is equivalent in $70,000 USD. From there, he segued from his garden shed to his home-built studio and started his path to greatness.
For three years, he diligently worked on his debut project entitled Hotel Cabana. It dropped on August 23, 2013 and spawned hits internationally. His first single, “La, La, La,” featuring UK star Sam Smith, garnered over 240 million views on YouTube. He would also partner up with fellow UK star Emeli Sande to deliver hits in the form of “Wonder” and “Lifted,” which were both successes. Before he brought his talents to the US, he added Wiz Khalifa and conjured the heavy-hitting banger “Think About It” – to the delight of hip-hop purists.
The fervor behind Naughty’s stardom overseas has America pondering whether he can go global seamlessly. He is confident that his album will cause tremors around the world. The UK producer sat down with us and spoke about his days of working as a waiter, delivering pizza, cashing in on Deal or No Deal, the ways he’s similar to Iron Man, honing his sound in his parents’ garden shed, and of course, his new album Hotel Cabana.
When did you fall in love with music?
I don’t think there was a realization to be honest. It probably happened when I was in the womb. You know, that’s probably why I didn’t start making music until I was in my twenties. You don’t see it as talent growing up. It makes me think that I should have started earlier. But, in a way, when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. There was no moment when I realized when I loved it. It just had been there naturally.
Your story is pretty crazy because we know you were in college before you decided to pursue music full-time.
I dropped out. I was doing sound and engineering. I’m not much of an engineer, I think I’m better creating. I thought that I had to be practical. I thought I couldn’t do this four-year course and then start looking for a job. Within those four years, I kind of had to get hands on. Now, it’s not something I would recommend. But if you’re taking one course and you’re really a creative person, I think it kind of helps to be practical with music and to start making it.
That must have been a tough decision for your family to take. What was their reaction to your decision to leave school?
It wasn’t great to begin with because I was kind of the first to go to a university. I think now in hindsight they understand. But, at the time, my parents weren’t necessarily supportive of that. But, the good thing is, the minute they knew how passionate I was about really wanting to pursue music, they showed their support. Of course everyone is like, “Oh. It’s going to be hard to get in or make it.” So, that support definitely helped.
What made you decide to run with the moniker of Naughty Boy?
Well, basically, whenever you want to do anything, it’s easier to become someone else. You take up the roll of that thing and use it as an alter-ego. I think with Naughty Boy, it was more of a superhero type of thing because I wasn’t actually naughty when I was younger. I was good. This is probably my rebelling stage when I turn into Naughty Boy.
It’s just like Iron Man.
Yeah it is! Because you’re using music to fight the bad energy.
Shifting gears, how would you compare the music scene in the UK to the US?
It used to always be American music. Now I think Americans look to us [UK artists] just as much as we look to them for innovation. “La,La,La” is about to be released in America. It’s heading to a lot of radio stations quite early. Because the sound of the song isn’t conventionally American, it would be good if it charts. Hopefully, I can open the doors for different types of music to come on the radio. Ultimately, as a producer, what you want to do is the change the game.
Is it true that you honed your sound in your parents’ garden shed?
It is absolutely true. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. When I went on Deal or No Deal I was broke. This was in 2006. I knew I wanted to be a big producer. But, in my head, I knew I didn’t know how to get from A to B. I just knew I had to and money was a big part of it because I had no equipment. I knew I had to do something crazy to get this money. So I went on a game show. And I won 44,000£. That’s like $70,000.
We know you have to be relieved knowing now you can record in million dollar studios.
Oh yeah. To be honest, it doesn’t actually make the experience better because it took me a long time to get out of the shed and into the studio I built. I pretty much still do it the same way. And I don’t want to lose that. All you need is what’s in your head and what’s going on with what you’re hearing. Translating that should be the biggest concern. Sometimes it doesn’t cost as much as you think.
We like that. Pretty much you still try to keep that same hunger intact.
Yeah! I never use the same sound twice. I never use the same drum style twice. I never preset anything. Every time it’s a different experience for me. And that’s what I think makes my songs sound different is because of the variety. Everything starts with a clean slate. Every song. Every beat.
Now give us your five favorite producers.
Timbaland. Clams Casino. Lazy Jay. Dr. Dre. He’s my favorite. Dr. Luke.