The producer behind three standout tracks on Stalley’s album, Pariah, talked to me about linking with the Ohio rapper and how St. Louis guides his artistry.

In the early days of 2020, before the coronavirus grappled the entire world, before politicians began to weaponize “Black Lives Matter” (again), Brandon McCadney received a text. At the time, McCadney had just released his debut album, Balance, under his stage moniker Mad Keys. Shortly thereafter, he was sending beats to rapper Stalley, a process that would eventually hear McCadney take over a three-track stretch on Stalley’s April 2020 album, Pariah.

A multi-instrumentalist producer from St. Louis, McCadney’s artistry is defined in part by his musical intellect. He grew up in a household in which, “the only music that was ever played in the house was gospel and smooth jazz.” Those influences, as well as the hip-hop he was introduced to in middle school, led him to figuring out how to craft his own sound, the foundation of which is bolstered by his soothing violin and keyboard melodies. In addition to being featured on Stalley’s album, McCadney is also the subject of filmmaker Jon Alexander’s short film “Nature of Sound,” which will be released digitally on July 28.

On Pariah, McCadney’s production brings an understated complexity to Stalley’s work. McCadney helps Stalley walk to the beat of his own drum, which has been a hallmark of the rapper’s career since leaving Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group label in 2017. I spoke to McCadney about how he was able to earn a spot as the most prevalent producer on Pariah, and how the spirit of St. Louis influences his artistry.

How did you get to work with Stalley?

A good friend of mine connected me with him. At the time, I had just released my first album titled “Balance” and he had shared it with him. Next thing you know, within a matter of five minutes, I was in a group chat with him. I did a lap around the house and pulled myself together so I could respond and share some music with him.

Stalley was looking for instrumentals and has a goal of releasing a bunch of music this year and he really enjoyed my project. I’m extremely honored to be a part of that mission. Through all of this and just a matter of months, we’ve grown to really know each other and I’m proud to call him a friend; a brother.

What was your process working with him?

So back in January, after we connected, I sent him a batch of beats. About a week after that, he chose a beat that I didn’t even think he would use that he would later title “F What They Say.” I’ve never heard anyone ride a beat like that, let alone on any of my music! I was geeking out when I heard it because it sounded so different and unique.

Towards the end of January, we connected in person and we created together at his spot. Before I came down, I had sent him a few more tracks which came to be “Whurrr the Top Go” and “FA.” When we linked in person, I had a chance to really connect with him and his family and made some amazing music along the way.

Prior to working on Pariah, did you have a favorite Stalley project?

It’s funny because before us working together, I had heard of his music, heard a few songs, and really enjoyed what I heard but had never taken the time to take a deep listen to his works until recently when he dropped Reflection of Self: The Head Trip. That project made me go back and dig even deeper to his other music. Tell the Truth: Shame the Devil is another favorite of mine and his Saving Yusuf album. He did that 808z joint with Chuck Inglish which took me back to my high school days. I recently came across his album The Autobiography and I never knew that he worked with some of my favorite artists like Melo-X and Jesse Boykins III.

The instrumentation “F What They Say” is super unique. What instruments went into that track?

Man! First of all, thank you for the words! F What They Say is a song that I’m extremely proud of. I really wanted the instrumentation of this track to be really open and to have minimal elements that give it life like the bass and the call-and-response instrumentation when the hook comes in. The sample after the hook was from the end of a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode. I wanted to speed up the tempo and give it some bounce and introduce some jazz and house.

I’m a sucker for a good sample — what’s your process for crate digging?

Sometimes, I get lost in YouTube listening to funk, soul and jazz music. Before auntie Corona came around, my best friend/brother Mario and I would visit record shops around St. Louis like Record Exchange and Vintage Vinyl. We would find records from the greats like Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Passport, Spyro Gyra, The Singers Unlimited, Parliament, Janet Jackson, and so much more.

I saw that you are from St. Louis, is that where you currently are located and work from?

Yes! I’m currently in St. Louis! Born and raised from North County.

Does the city play any influence in your music?

It absolutely does. I feel like my city has always set the standard in terms of creativity, culture, and influence. St. Louis has always had an extremely rich history in music and creativity. My city has definitely inspired me in more ways than one to create the music I create. If anything, being from St. Louis has taught me how to approach music from different angles and perspectives because our music and art seems to be put in a box.

It’s a fact that most people who think of St. Louis who aren’t from there will think of things like the Cardinals, the Blues, Forest Park, and Budweiser. There’s a depth to the creativity and culture in this city that musicians, artists, and culture-movers that I know, personally, that tap into it every day; whether it be in the studio, through event curation (before auntie Corona pulled up), or, more recently, on the front lines of protests and using their voices to create change. In every aspect of the word “creativity”, St. Louis truly inspires me and has pushed me to make some of the best music I’ve ever made.

On top of violin, what other instruments do you play? Are you part of a musical family?

I’m actually the only one in my [immediate] family to play music and stick with it. In my extended family, I have quite a few musicians and a couple of producers. I’m blessed to be able to grow up with both my mom and dad in my life! I have a brother and a sister, too.

When it comes to music around the house, the only music that was ever played in the house was gospel and smooth jazz. Not the Ahmad Jamal/Coltrane-jazz — the Kenny G-jazz. In elementary school going into middle school, I had to secretly bump the Lil Wayne mixtapes on those little USB MP3 players and burnt CDs because my mom never really wanted us (more so, me) to get into rap. My sister and brother, who are both older than me, had a nice collection of CDs that I got a chance to really dig through in middle school. They got me into Outkast, Lupe, Kanye, Santigold, Pharrell, N.E.R.D., The Neptunes, and all that.

It was in middle school when my sister got me Common’s Be album. That changed my whole perspective on hip-hop and introduced me to J. Dilla, Slum Village, Nas, Mos Def, The Roots, and so much more. It was around that time I started making beats too. I said all this to say that even though I didn’t come from a musical family, it was my brother and sister who really introduced a type of hip-hop I wasn’t really used to. Those CDs, those artists, the gospel, hearing the timeless introduction of Kick, Push and how that song transcended through years and is still relevant today all shaped who I am today.

I love the “Got Next on Street Fighter” reference (I’m a gamer myself). Who do you play?

I love Street Fighter. My most memorable days growing up, and some today, came from whenever me, my brother, sister, and our cousins would bring out the SNES and play Street Fighter II. All of the wins and loses, debates on who controller not working; those were some nostalgic moments. My favorite player was Guile. A lot of people sleep on him, but you really have to know how to use him!

Moving forward, who do you want to work with?

I really just want to continue to work with people and creatives I can learn from and can build with in more ways than just music (I.e. — entrepreneurship, connecting each other with resources, etcetera). I find value in building quality and lasting relationships with creatives that have similar goals as I do and that move with purpose and intention. That’s how the best music gets made. In terms of “dream” projects, there are so many other artists I would love to work with. Too many. If I could pick just my top 3, it would be Childish Gambino, McClenney, and Solange.

Stream McCadney’s debut album here, or purchase a copy on Bandcamp.