Malibu Babie is rewriting the definition of overnight success. Within the space of one month, the budding producer has co-produced tracks with two of the biggest rap stars on the planet - Nicki Minaj’s chart-topping Billboard Hot 100 track Super Freaky Girl and Megan Thee Stallion’s hip house track, Her.
Now, the rising hip hop producer is stepping out with music of her own. Following the release of viral singles Barbiegurl and Emojis, Malibu Babie offers another playful, witty blend of hard-hitting hip hop beats and sugary vocals on her third single, the laid-back party anthem GOODTIME. Shattering expectations and earning respect amongst her peers, we talk to the self-taught songwriter/producer about her unconventional path to hit-making.
As a high-achieving academic, did your heart rule your head when it came to wanting a career in the music industry?
"Oh yes, 1000%. I was a first-generation college student who went to university on a full scholarship, graduated in the top 10% of my class and was all geared up to go to law school when my heart definitely took over. I’d been interning and working on music for a while and was a very musical kid, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it until I lived in Music City. I’ve spent 22 years ticking all the boxes to make other people proud so I thought I’d give producing a couple of years to see what happened, which definitely shocked my friends and family."
Do rap and hip-hop hold the most interest for you?
"They hold a significant interest, but the other part of my heart lives in pop music. I especially love what you might call ‘crossover’ records and that interest probably dates back to the age of five when I started doing competitive dance. I took every class from ballet to hip hop and acrobatics and had all these really cool teachers who constantly exposed me to a wide variety of music from many different cultures. I ended up being the best at hip hop so I was taught more of those classes, but that whole musicality became ingrained in me."
Did you study production before leaping into it?
"I studied political science at school and when I interned at Music Row I had my laptop from college and spent $200 to buy Logic. I was on YouTube all the time and every morning I’d try to spend a couple of hours learning a new skill, but I got the best results when I threw myself into the fire and started collaborating on sessions. Experience is the best teacher."
Who were you collaborating with?
"Mostly different writers and producers based in Nashville or LA. Before I even had a publishing deal, I’d get together and make songs with people who were at a similar stage to me. Back then, I was just using a laptop, some software and a Native Instruments Komplete keyboard. I’m a Native Instruments geek and have literally every plugin and piece of software of theirs."
Were there any challenges to face in a male-dominated industry?
"Honestly, one of my strengths is that when I go into things I’m a little naïve and unaware of any roadblocks, which allows me to go into them with an open mind and without fear. Music production looked so badass that I really wanted to do it and didn’t give anything else a second thought, but my eyes have been opened over the last couple of years. For sure, there are specific challenges that come with being female that I’m really glad I didn’t know about when I started."
What advice would you give to female producers hoping to circumnavigate some of the obstacles you’ve faced?
"There’s definitely something that happens where you’re not heard in a room or taken seriously because of your gender. People would automatically think I wasn’t good or wouldn’t do a session with me until I’d worked with someone of a really high calibre, so when you do get in you really have to show up 200%.
"My advice is to just present yourself as being fully confident, take up space in a room and be vocal. If you have an idea or feel something isn’t right in a song, speak up, and if they don’t hear you the first time say it again. A lot of it isn’t always intentional, it’s just that certain people aren’t always used having female energy in those spaces."
What gave you the confidence to start producing your own tracks and did you have a vision of how you wanted to present yourself?
"When I start something I’m always delusionally confident. I just thought to myself, I’ve accomplished all this other stuff so why would this be hard? From the jump I was out there doing my own thing, partly out of necessity because I was broke and didn’t have anyone else to lean on. When it came to creating Malibu Babie, after producing for a few years I noticed that when I was my full, authentic self the songs and the voice began to represent who I’d always been. When I went into studios, I’d always get comments – they’d say, you’re such a beat Barbie but your beats are insane."
Was the Aqua track Barbiegurl a song you remembered from childhood and deliberately wanted to put a twist on?
"Yes, that was one of my favourite songs when I did competitive dance. I was with a bunch of girls at our dance recital and was assigned Malibu Barbie, so the obsession began way back then. My mom always called me that and the song stayed with me. I held the idea for years and thought that if I flipped the song it would perfectly represent what I am and what I do."
What audience are you looking to attract?
"If I look at other artists who I admire or an audience I think I could fit into it would be Doja Cat or even Nas. They blend genres and can do a little bit of everything, but the music still sounds very unique to them. That’s how I saw my second single, Emojis, which felt a little R’n’B/hip hop. Originally, the top line was over a pop chorus, but something didn’t sound right so we switched the whole instrumental and made it a little darker. I just made something that I loved and thought let’s see who likes it too?"
On your latest releases the BPM range is quite mid-tempo, which means there’s no hiding place for your production aesthetic. Is that something you’re aware of?
"I don’t think it’s deliberate but you’re right that the BPMs do toe the line between being fast and slow. What’s maybe subconsciously deliberate is that I love clean, hard-hitting drums and sounds. I’m not a big fan of muddying up a track and I always notice how drum placement is a really big thing amongst the producers I’ve studied and want to emulate. If I commit to putting a sound in a track, I always make sure it’s polished, perfect and great."
GOODTIME is your latest single. Are the lyrics observational and related to female empowerment?
"I want this to be a song that people go forth and party to. In my mind, it’s a blend of Barbiegurl and Emojis – it has some of the dark pads and heavy hitting drums, but the post-chorus is a wave that you want to dance to. It’s short, sweet and intended to be a girls-night-out party anthem. In terms of female empowerment, all of the lyrics to my songs represent the boss bitches of the world and every lyric will contain a little wink to the independent woman."
How are your tracks arranged?
"Usually, I’ll have a concept or a hook in my brain and we’ll start puzzle-piecing things together. Typically, things will start with an instrumental that feels like me and then we’ll lay down some melodic ideas and pick out the ones I like from our collection of takes.
"With hip-hop you often have a beat and when it’s fully down you’ll freestyle in the booth, but with pop you might start with a lyrical idea or what we call the Scandinavian way of writing, where you fill in every single syllable to match the perfect melody that you’ve engineered. I’m probably a blend of those two styles. For Emojis, I wrote the top line in the bubble bath and had the whole melody and words, so when I came into the studio we just had to find an instrumental to fit."
How reliant are you on software to make music?
"Because my music is so programmed I’ve definitely expanded to have pretty much every plugin under the sun. If I track a live guitar, it’s usually somebody else playing it - I’m a fantastic pianist, not so much a great guitarist [laughs], but if you put me on the sidewalk with just my laptop and headphones I’d very likely be able to make the exact same songs.
"Hardware comes more into play with vocals. I’m a really big fan of hardware preamps and CLA compressors. There’s no substitute for a vocal hardware chain - I’ve tried using software, but the combination of analogue/hardware is it what does it for me."
What sound libraries are you using?
"I can’t live without Omnisphere, but I love creating my own patches in Serum. The whole Native Instruments Kontakt/Massive library is my top one to use, but I recently discovered some really fun free plugins that seem a little rough around the edges but do some really cool stuff sonically.
"TAL makes a plugin called NoiseMaker that has some of my favourite tones and Juno replications. For drum sounds, I’ve been in sessions with some amazing co-producers and we just pass around our drum folders and add our own processing. Those folders are really fun and special to me because everything’s been collected from my favourite sessions."
How did you find yourself working with rap idols such as Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion so early in your career?
"Oh my god, I don’t know. Even now I walk around my house thinking, how did this happen? To a lot of people it may seem like it happened overnight but in reality it was a chain reaction. Behind the scenes I was working with people who were working with people who were working with Nicki and Megan for years.
"What was so freaking awesome about the Nicki situation is that the whole idea started for fun with two of my favourite collaborators and through our connections it landed at Nicki’s feet, and I was suddenly in that world. With Megan, it was an outside pitch that my publisher sent to her team and she loved it. But that’s very rare. Honestly, it’s all down to hard work and networking."
We understand you’re going to be writing tracks for Nicki’s next album. How might you approach that task?
"Since Super Freaky Girl went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 I’ve been battling a little with the pressure of thinking about how to follow that up. That was three weeks ago and I’ve probably botched all my instrumentals up since then because I’ve been overthinking them.
"Now I’m trying to go back to making musical choices based on what feels good rather than guessing what mood Nicki might be in or the type of song she wants based on her past. You can’t engineer good magic; you just have to try and channel it. I’m hoping to work with her in person, but Nicky is such a phenomenal writer that you really have to earn your stripes to get into her circle. I’d love to go in the studio with her though– I think we’d really hit it off!"
What’s your master plan going forward?
"I love the idea of slowly tip toeing out of being this perfect, valedictorian cheerleader student and embodying what she really is. I want the music to come first, then as we get deeper into the project with more releases there will be more in-depth visuals.
"I really want to take over the music industry as a female artist/producer, release a bunch of music, tour and create my own ecosystem that allows me to give something back and sign left-of-centre creatives. A lot of music studios are painted in black and so manly, so what if we put some colour in there and make it look a little bit less like a science lab [laughs]? But that’s all way down the line."