- Nick Lee is a 24 year old jazz musician and producer who recently worked with Lil Nas X.
- He told Insider about his contributions to “Industry Baby” and “Dolla Sign Slime”.
- Lee created the trombone loops used in the songs, which were partially inspired by “Shrek 2”.
When he was 12, Nick Lee picked up a paperclip just because he thought “the slide was cool”.
The spontaneous decision kicked off a series of events for the aspiring musician, culminating in the triumphant energy that runs through Lil Nas X’s latest top 10 hit.
Yes, despite the skepticism you may have seen online, these are real brass which form the base of “Industry Baby”. Each individual part is performed by Lee on the trombone, layered to create the illusion of a multiplayer brass section.
âWe wanted this to sound like a fanfare,â he recently told Insider via
. “We would put the mic in different positions in the room to get different sounds. We even played some layers outside.”
The “we” in question includes the song’s main producers, Denzel Baptiste and David Biral, also known as Take A Daytrip. The duo attended the same college as Lee’s manager, who put them in touch last year during the “peak pandemic.” Lee was working on building horn loops to stay productive and creative during the industry-wide lull.
âCoincidentally, Lil Nas was specifically looking for paper clips, which was perfect,â Lee explained. “So I sent Denzel my whole horn loop folder. And then one day he texted me, ‘Oh, Nas likes this one.'”
He then received another request, hilariously more specific than the previous one. Baptiste asked Lee to do an intro for the song and make it sound “like a king entering a stadium”. He joined a scene from 2004’s “Shrek 2”, when the titular hero and his new bride are summoned to the kingdom of Far Far Away.
With all the determination of a seasoned vet, Lee simply replied, “I’ll do it.”
Then, in late October, Lil Nas released a snippet of an yet to be released song, built on a familiar nest of paper clips.
âIt was the first time I heard it, but I recognized the horn loop,â Lee said. “I was like, ‘Oh shit. This is my song.'”
He texted Baptiste, who invited Lee to help with some finishing touches at their studio. All three producers perfected the song’s regal vibe, with chart-top âOld Town Roadâ himself chairing the session, suggesting tweaks here and there.
âLil Nas, he’s a super nice guy, and I had a great first experience working with him,â Lee told Insider. “He’s really funny. He’s got his feet on the ground. He’s not really ‘Hollywood’ like that.”
It was one of the first in-person sessions Lee had ever done, and it gave another impending blow: ‘Dolla Sign Slime’
Lee had included a playful staccato track in the sound folder he sent to Baptiste, which eventually became “Dolla Sign Slime” with Megan Thee Stallion, the ninth track from Lil Nas’ debut album “Montero”.
The song was tweaked during the same in-person studio session as âIndustry Baby,â when Lee added a series of âaccent hornsâ and live frills to the mix.
Upon the album’s release last Friday, âDolla Sign Slimeâ was described by Rolling Stone as a âcheerfully arrogantâ star with particular praise for Lee’s âcourt jester fartsâ.
Indeed, Lee had tagged the original horn loop “Jester” on his computer, directly inspired by Baptiste’s request “Shrek 2”.
âIt got me thinking about doing more curls with that regal flair,â he said. “So I named this one ‘Jester’ because it’s really weird.”
In order to create the instrumental, Lee played with counterpoint, a composition technique that uses multiple melodic lines occurring at the same time.
âThere are five or six trombone parts that each do something different – don’t harmonize with each other,â he explained. “It really helped me to have studied Bach and counterpoint theory. Even though it was so weird I didn’t think it would ever fit anywhere.”
“I thought to myself, ‘This will probably stay on my hard drive for the rest of my life. “But I guess the weirdness is what Lil Nas liked about it.”
The 24-year-old Los Angeles native originally planned to become a jazz trombonist
After high school, Lee enrolled in New York’s prestigious performing arts college, The Juilliard School.
Soon after, however, Lee learned to use the popular Logic music software. When his grandfather passed away during the winter of his freshman year, he decided to produce a song for the memorial service.
“That’s when I had a revelation, like ‘Oh, this is what I want to do, and I don’t really see myself going down the jazz path anymore,'” he said, noting that he had dropped out of school the following year.
âTo me, it seemed like the only choice,â Lee said, despite âa lot of tensionâ with his parents overnight. “I had all these lessons and homework I had to do, but I wanted to focus on the production. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t really like having to do things for the notes, et cetera. , because I just wanted to be in the real world, to work. “
He returned to Los Angeles to focus on making connections with the industry. He spent his time sending direct messages to artists hoping to collaborate, and creating “hundreds of songs” himself, before his manager could arrange a meeting with Scooter Braun’s management company. Braun is famous for handling superstars like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
Lee had recently started co-writing and co-producing songs with BabyJake, one of Braun’s most recent signatories, including two collaborations with Dillon Francis called “Touch” and “You Do You”.
âScooter wasn’t even supposed to be at the reunion, but he just came over and asked me to play him a few songs,â Lee said. “I played it a couple that I did with Jake, and a fair bit on the spot he offered to sign me up for the post.”
“I was panicking,” he added. “This is Scooter Braun – a tycoon and a legend.”
Within the first month of signing, Lee said, Braun had him take part in a studio session with Demi Lovato: âRight off the bat it was clearly ‘Oh, there it is. work begins. ‘”
Since then, in addition to his work on âMontero,â Lee has composed music for various TV shows and worked closely with K-pop stars like Stray Kids and CL.
Lee, who is Chinese and Japanese-American, spoke reverently about the “meticulous” creative process of South Korean idols.
“I have knowledge of K-pop, but I can also approach it with an American sound, so I feel like it’s the ability to cross both worlds that helps me produce this music. “, did he declare.
âOriginally my mindset was, ‘I don’t even want them to notice I’m Asian. I just want my work to speak for itself,â he added. “But I think success means a lot more to be an Asian in entertainment. I think you have to work twice as hard.”
Perhaps taking inspiration from his still-online and fiercely ambitious collaborator, Lee has indicated no intention of slowing down. He expressed his frustration with the “handful of Asian producers” in the limelight, “and even then you don’t hear about it as much as you hear about a Max Martin or a Dr Luke.”
âI just want to help put Asians on the map,â Lee said. “I want to show other Asian American kids who are learning to produce that it can be done, and it is being done.”