Drake, Big Sean Beatsmith FrancisGotHeat Is Toronto's Next Big Producer
The Scarborough native talks melody, songwriting style in our monthly, in-studio Where I Play feature
Published Aug 29, 2017"After that first beat I made — I mean, it's horrible, but I've listened to it hundreds of times — I thought, 'This is what I want to do forever,'" 20-year old Toronto producer Francis "FrancisGotHeat" Nguyen-Tran says.
Sitting in his Scarborough Junction studio Terminal 16, FracisGotHeat comes across as someone who's shy yet calculated, and always fixated what his next move may be. That presence, whether consciously or subconsciously, also finds itself embedded into the music he makes. "Sometimes I don't really like anyone in my sessions, sometimes I want people there. It really depends on my mood," he says.
Born to Vietnamese parents, they quickly instilled a joy of music into the family. "My mom sings, my dad plays the guitar, all my siblings play piano or two or three instruments," he says. "I myself started playing piano at three-and-a-half. Then I picked up violin, saxophone, percussion, things like that when I got older."
Deprived of all bells or whistles, the studio is simple; black paint, blackout shutters, black furniture, black monitors and the occasional sprouts of colour that pop up on his keyboard. "This place is comfortable," Francis explains. "It's owned by some of the people I've known since I started making music. It's basically home to me. I can come here whenever I want, lock it down day and night, and it's more spacious."
As a multi-instrumentalist, FrancisGotHeat is a classical trained artist, but like many first-generation children in Toronto, Francis was immersed in his native Vietnamese culture from early, as well. "I was listening to a lot of classical music and jazz, and my mom was really heavy on the traditional Vietnamese stuff. I don't know what genre to specifically call it, but it sounds like older music. Like Vietnamese church music," he explains.
Traditional Vietnamese music is often rooted in catchy melodies and romance. It's a style of music that threads itself into Francis's contemporary style. Using FL Studio "like everyone else in Toronto," he jokes, Francis breaks away from monotonous production by using older sounding synths and "a lot of keyboard work."
"Generally, I'll start with melodies. I'll build a couple melodies, throw some drums on it to get a vibe, and from there, I'll either add more or it might be done. Or sometimes I'll just get stuck on it. A lot of people have good drums and other good things, but good melodies always win."
He also mentions that when he gets the chance, he often finds himself putting his musical knowledge to work, and rents instruments.
"Me and WondaGurl were in L.A., and were like, 'We need to record cool sounds.' She asked me 'What do you wanna rent?' And I said 'Let's get a harp.' The next thing you know, we got a harp, which no one has ever played before. She made me step in and play, and it worked — we made a fire beat. Hopefully it'll be released soon, and hopefully someone jumps on it."
In 2012, fellow producer WondaGurl and FrancisGotHeat, both 15 years old at the time, battled each other at Toronto's revered Battle of the Beatmakers;. It would be WondaGurl who'd win that year, but they've continued working together.
"We met when we were 13, and we went to the Remix [Project] together. She's from Sauga, and I'm from downtown, so the Remix Project gave us the perfect space to work together," he said. "Before that, we would just email each other a one-two beat. What we wanted to do together five years ago, we can do now. It's perfect timing for both of us."
"At the time, I didn't have a studio. I didn't even have a computer," he says about the Remix Project. "I have a lot of people who helped out when I was younger, but nobody really took my hand and said, 'Yo, this what you're supposed to do, this is how you do it.' I didn't really have a mentor, but everyone really just messed with my stuff.""
While FrancisGotHeat's first album placement was with Tre Mission in 2013, Francis became an officially gold-selling producer this past June, having working on Big Sean's smash hit, "No Favors."
"I met them in L.A., and we built a relationship before I even sent music to them," he tells me of the opportunity. "They were like, 'Here's this kid, cool,' but when I did send it to them, they were like 'Damn, these are good, we really want to use them!' That's basically how I try to work with artists — I try to build relationships with them before ever sending beats to them."
In a world where the internet has advanced production, it has also hindered face-to-face business and relationships. For Toronto artists and producers, this proves to be even more difficult, given the further proximity from major music hubs — but for FrancisGotHeat, none of this matters.
"I tell people, 'Why are you talking about struggling in Toronto, it costs $400 to make it out of the city.' The first time I left the city, I literally just graduated. I flew to L.A., I didn't know anyone and I was 17. To me, the industry doesn't seem so chaotic, I just do my thing. I'm just a calm person, and I make my beats. Whatever happens, happens," he states confidently.
"Whatever happens happens" has become a transformative saying in Francis' life, leading him to production credits with local talents like Roy Wood$ and Anders, but also Little Simz, Ab-Soul, Bryson Tiller, Isaiah Rashad and Drake, whose "4422" interlude on More Life featured Sampha.
"I actually made that beat in 2014. I was literally in my house making a beat, and I sent it over to Oliver [El-Khatib], and he was like 'Hold that for us.' Next thing you know, three years later I'm in L.A. chillin, and I get the call saying they're gonna use it. It's crazy," he recalls.
In just five short years, FrancisGotHeat went from a producer without a computer to work from to a producer credited on some of the biggest songs in hip-hop, but at 20-years old, Francis is far from retirement.
"I'm not trying to do a beat tape, but I want to do an album one day. I'm not sure what that means yet. Like how Murda Beatz did a compilation tape featuring all these artists? I want to do that."
As he lists off the names of potential collaborators, the originally-shy producer seems to have finally found his comfort zone again.