Boonie Mayfield is a producer, multi-instrumentalist, mentor, filmmaker, and more. Gaining serious traction a little over a decade ago as one of the pioneers of uploading beatmaking process videos to YouTube, Mayfield has since evolved his sound and his style into an unclassifiable genre all its own. From early years of sample-heavy boom bap to a life-changing studio robbery to learning multiple instruments and creating a unique fusion sound, every step of the way for Mayfield has been a learning experience. Along with an exclusive playlist made for this feature, we chatted with Mayfield about his sound, his recent releases, his history, and how to handle the weight of the world one day at a time.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview! To begin, can you explain your surroundings / your day? Where are you right now?
Right now, I’m sitting on my living room couch with the TV on. It’s just me, my fiancé and our dog staying home during this pandemic. The past 4 months, we haven’t really gone anywhere besides taking the dog out and running a few errands. We’re working from home, being creative and living life one day at a time.
You chose 25 songs for this featured playlist. What made you pick these tracks in particular? Maybe you can select a few to speak on some more.
Well, the main reason I made the playlist was to showcase the aesthetic and variety of styles that my current music is influenced by and “fits into”. So, I’m bringing listeners into my world to better understand what makes me tick musically. It’s basically what it would sound like if you went on a road trip with me.
The songs are all personal favorites of mine that I’ve regularly listened to. There’s some common themes listeners may notice. I’m more of a down-tempo kind of guy, so I’m naturally attracted to slower songs that have an “inner bounce” that I can still groove and dance to. Songs like “What’s A Telephone Bill?” by Bootsy Collins and “Greatest Show On Earth” by Macy Gray tend to make me bounce. My song, “Dream a Mile High” is also intended that way.
Based on the wide range of songs, styles and eras of music that I personally love, I don’t think anyone else would’ve came up with this playlist. It’s like a sample of my inner-radio station [laughs].
You kickstart the playlist with a Dungeon Family track with an opening Andre 3000 verse, and as it expands, the playlist becomes more and more eclectic. Different decades, different genres. Pink Floyd, Cuco, The Black Keys, Timbaland, Portishead. Are you constantly listening to and finding new music?
It might sound weird, but I actually don’t listen to music that often nowadays, except for when I’m driving or creating my own. So, it’s always happenstance when I find new music that catches my interest; whether I’m out somewhere or at home watching TV.
I first heard “Hole in My Life” by The Police while I was waiting in line at a coffee shop in the mall. I asked a couple standing next to me in line if they could Shazam the song because I didn’t have the app. I heard “Feelings” by Cuco playing in an ice cream shop and asked the employee behind the counter who it was. There’s also several songs I heard for the first time in movies, TV Shows and even a video game.
I think the whole structure of genres tend to limit so many people’s taste in music. Oftentimes it prevents us from discovering more amazing artists and songs, just because it’s labelled as a genre we don’t typically listen to. There’s rock songs that hip-hop heads who never listen to rock would love, if only they were exposed to it and vice versa. The same goes for old school songs/artists and younger generations.
Moving toward your own music, what have you been working on as of late?
I released an EP in January titled, Black Floyd: The One Man Band. I just released a single titled, “While Black (Red Light, Blue Light, E’s and R’s)” based on some of my personal experiences with racism as a Black man in America. I’ve also been in the process of re-releasing a lot of songs and projects that I originally put out under different names 5-7 years ago.
You have a release on our upcoming Essentials compilation. Can you speak a little on this track and how it came to be?
I produced “Just Wanna Be Free” during the time we were shooting the first episodes of Boon Documented in my new studio, after my first one was burglarized. It’s actually one of the last instrumentals I made in this style. I wish there was a sentimental story about the track, but to be totally honest, I made it solely to sell along with the other beats on my website. My only source of income back then was selling drumkits and leasing beats online. At the time, I was still investing in new gear and instruments for my studio, so I made a batch of new beats to sell on my website. “Just Wanna Be Free” was one of them.
As one of the originators of beatmaking videos on YouTube over a decade ago, what do you make of the current resurgence of interest? What’s changed over the years with this style?
I think it’s really cool! I haven’t kept up with the scene much, but I often catch clips of random beatmaking videos on Instagram. It’s amazing to see how much the culture has grown. One thing that’s changed with the style is the terms that identify the sub-genre like “chill hop” and “lo-fi”. We didn’t really have a name for it back then. A lot of us were just trying to emulate J. Dilla at the time. So, it’s cool to be able to mention chill-hop or lo-fi to people outside of the music producer community and they know what it is.
Another thing that’s changed over the years is how accessible the style is now. It’s become more popular with listeners, and the style has become easier for producers to learn. When I was coming up, we had to figure out a lot of these techniques on our own, which took way more time, trial and error. We didn’t have anyone fully demonstrating how to execute the groove and feel of what we now call chill-hop and lo-fi. So in my case, I ended up becoming one of the first people demonstrating some of the techniques as I was experimenting and learning them myself.
In connection to the last question, what’s changed over the years with your own style?
Damn near everything [laughs]. Since the beginning, my goal as an artist/producer was always to develop my own sound. So, my music is very different now and really can’t be categorized. Although my style is rooted in hip-hop, funk, R&B/soul, blues, jazz, psychedelic rock, electronic, pop and other genres, I see it as its own thing. I honestly don’t know what to call it.
As a Black artist in America amidst racial and political tension, amidst a pandemic, amidst corporate industries becoming more fragile than ever, how do you maneuver through 2020?
It’s a lot that I’m still processing like everybody else in this same position, so I just try my best to maintain balance. Relying on my spiritual foundation has always been key for me personally. Otherwise, I’d be too overwhelmed with stress, frustration and fear. So, I’m just taking it one day and one decision at a time.
With so many stresses and worries and anxieties in the world, how do you continue to inspire yourself and create?
I’ve learned to not put so much pressure on myself to be creative, or else it just causes more stress. “While Black” is the first song I’ve made so far this year. I have another song lined up to finish writing and producing, but I’m not forcing it. I’ve been working on a lot of different things from writing a script and brainstorming new projects to practicing on my bass and curating this playlist. So, I can focus on something one week and shift the focus to something else the following week. I must say, the talks I have with the music production students and graduates at my job definitely keep me inspired as well.
You also assist at a sound production school? Can you explain this a little bit more?
Yes, I’m currently working as a Music Production Career Counselor at a music/film school. My department is basically the go-to professional guidance resource for our students and grads to help prepare them to navigate in the entertainment business. We have one-on-one counseling sessions; we help build their resumes and portfolios to apply for internships, gigs and job opportunities; we host cool industry-related workshops and networking events, etc.
Reading your bio on Spotify, I see: after his studio was robbed of almost all of his equipment, Boonie re-emerged as a multi-instrumentalist who no longer depended on samples. Do you see this moment in your life as a blessing in disguise? What instrument(s) did you shift to first?
It most definitely was a blessing in disguise. Although I was already transitioning out of sampling before my studio was robbed, I wasn’t as focused as I wanted to be. Things were starting to move fast for me that year, so I got distracted. Once the burglary happened, it forced me to slow down and reevaluate the next steps for my music. At the time, I was already playing the keys, so the first instrument I shifted to was the bass guitar. The bass is my absolute favorite instrument.
Although above it mentions how you no longer depend on samples, do you still find yourself digging and chopping up samples?
No, I don’t. The last sample-based beat I made was back in 2010. As a rapper, I did a few songs with just looped samples I had sitting years back. I didn’t add drums, chop the samples up or anything. Not even the tempos were changed. I just kept it raw and rapped over the loops for fun.
In closing, what kind of advice do you have for aspiring producers and beatmakers working on their craft?
It’s hard to trust in the process, but doing so will make life easier. And it’s easy to doubt the process, but doing so will make life harder.