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Rogét Chahayed on Producing a No. 1 Hit For Jack Harlow With ‘First Class’

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Over the past several years, songwriter-producer Rogét Chahayed has played an integral role in crafting memorable hits for some of music’s biggest names. Despite studying classical music, his work spans genres including pop, rap and R&B — and often blends all of them together, as has been the case with songs including Travis Scott and Drake’s “Sicko Mode,” Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” and DRAM and Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli.”

His ability to create sticky melodies has also led to working with Halsey, Calvin Harris and BTS, among countless others, and in 2021 he earned his first nomination for the Grammys’ producer of the year, non-classical. But in 2022, some of Chahayed’s greatest success came instead from sampling decades-old and recent hits alike, leading to another banner year for the Los Angeles native. He worked extensively with Jack Harlow, executive producing the rapper’s Come Home the Kids Miss You album, which yielded the Fergie-sampling “First Class” that spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Fergie’s “Glamorous” also reached the top of the chart in 2007). Soon after, he teamed back up with Doja Cat to co-produce “Vegas,” paying homage on the Elvis soundtrack to Presley’s “Hound Dog.”

“Coming from a guy who never really uses samples, it was a very interesting approach for me musically to be like, ‘Oh it’s not all about you. Let’s just make some this sound good and amplify that,” says Chahayed.

Below, the Grammy-nominated hit-maker tells Billboard about the creation of “First Class,” the moment he knew it was going to take off and why samples and interpolations have defined the charts for so much of 2022.

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How did the idea to sample Fergie’s “Glamorous” come about?

Around April 2021, Jack presented us a list of songs and was like, “I want to find ways to chop these up and put them in [Come Home the Kids Miss You],” because they’re a big reflection of the stuff he grew up listening to. One day, Angel Lopez, who was also an executive producer on the album, pulled up Fergie’s “Glamorous” because Jack had sent it to him and chopped up the main hook where she spells it out. We basically just had the sample and some drums to start, and Jack came up with that hook. We added everything else after, which is sort rare — most of the time, people have the entire beat done and then write a hook. We dissected it piece by piece and took our time to find the right groove for it.

Do you remember the first time that you heard the original? What was your instant reaction to the idea of sampling it?

I remember being a senior in high school or a freshman in college, and at the time, I was studying classical music, so I wasn’t really in my “I love hip-hop” or “I love pop” phase yet. But I remember hearing the song at that time and then when they pulled it up again, it was a crazy flashback. That was a really cool thing to be able to bring something familiar back and not only get people who grew up listening to the song but also put the new generation onto the stuff that we listened to when we were younger.

You’ve said previously that you wanted to make “First Class” feel like it was “going somewhere.” What was the process translating that idea into a finished product?

When the sample was being chopped, it was pitched down, so it gives it this older kind of texture. Jack had such a specific mindset about structure — every single sound and drum and snare that you hear on the entire album, he approved. In the beginning, it was a struggle to find what we wanted. I tried a bunch of different synths and then, with the help of [co-producers] Jasper Harris and Charlie Handsome, we inspired each other. Jack loves organic instruments. You hear a lot of piano, strings and real bass lines on the album because we really wanted to bring the idea of having riffs in a song again. That’s just identifiable music. We didn’t want to make another album with a bunch of trap beats. We shot for something different.

When we started finding the groove of the song, we had the idea of making it feel like a rap song, but the structure is very pop: You have your verse, your pre-chorus where you put those beautiful strings in and give this little classical touch, and then it goes into the hook. So when the second verse happened, Jack was like, “I want to do something different here. I want it to switch up.” We made a new section where we took the kick out. It’s cool because it leaves the listener waiting for that hook to come back. It pulls you in.

Were there any other notable challenges throughout the process?

The sample clearance was actually smooth. Jack has such a good reputation, and between his team and everybody’s connections, it was pretty easy to get that part of it cleared. The worry was there for every song that had a little sample in it, even if it was an interpolation [or] a melody, but luckily, everyone involved in the original — Fergie, [co-producer] Polow da Don, [co-writer] will.i.am — was so cool and grateful to be a part of it. I think the biggest concern was in the beginning, before we found what the song was going to be. Every day something different was being added and things were changing. I was like, “I don’t know, this song just feels so smooth, almost laid-back in a way. Are people really going to party to this?” I had my doubts. Over time, the more we kept listening to the finished product and getting other people’s opinions on it, I was starting to see the big picture. And then, when Jack filmed the little snippet that he put on Instagram that went viral — so viral that people were ripping the audio off the post and making TikToks with it — that’s when all my worries went down the drain. We were so proud of what we did and that we were able to take that smooth groove to the top of the charts.

You’ve mentioned how hands-on Jack is in the studio. Tell me what it was like working with him.

I told him, “The way that you operate in the room reminds me of when I used to work for Dr. Dre.” He thinks and operates like a producer. I’ve worked with a lot of artists who are very passive; Jack is concerned about the outro or the intro and we’ll sit there and contemplate for months, like, “Is this right? I don’t think this is right. Okay, let’s switch it.” There are songs that we liked for 2-3 months, and then 6 months later, he’s like, “I can’t believe we had that in there.” It was an unbelievable thing to experience such a talented young artist like him. He was very accepting of everybody’s process and combining it with his own view.

You also co-produced Doja Cat’s “Vegas” from the Elvis soundtrack. How much can the process of making a sample work vary from song to song?

The situation has to be good. You gotta do justice to the [original] song. You don’t want it to be some kind of meaningless, whatever attempt at making a hit. It’s like having a weapon: You have to use it with the right intentions and only in the right circumstances. You don’t just want to go out there and show and tell everybody about it. With “Vegas,” we were luckily set up in that situation by Baz Luhrmann, who directed the Elvis movie. He had gotten in touch with Yeti [Beats], who is one of my close friends and production partners working with Doja, and he hit me up the day I found out that I got the producer of the year nomination last year.

Baz is such a cool dude. He was like, “I don’t want it to be an Elvis song. I want it to sound like a Doja Cat song.” Yeti had the sample chopped up and he put a beat to it. I put in the staccato piano and little cool twangy guitar things and little bells and stuff that make her feel like this is her world still, but we’re living in that universe of Elvis. When you’re in the situation of sampling a song, you’ve got to honor the content in the sample, somehow. Jack plays along so well with “First Class” and dances around the spelling of “glamorous,” and that’s what makes it so cool — he’s not trying to steal the show. And with Doja, it was playing with the [lyric] “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” but switching it up to her thing. Coming from a guy who never really uses samples, it was a very interesting approach for me musically to be like, “Oh it’s not all about you. Let’s just make some this sound good and amplify that.”

Why do you think that samples and interpolations have had such an impact on popular music and the charts this year?

It’s an interesting time because it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. We hear samples all the time, we hear interpolations, we hear melodies from the past come back to life in a new form. But I think something about this past year … so many songs are being brought back. I think it’s fun and refreshing to tap into that. We were locked away for a year, and I feel like during that time, music and life was kind of this stale, uncertain moment. Once everybody was back outside, it was very energetic. Everybody wants to be reminded of the good times, because when you hear a song that you grew up loving, you’re instantly taken to another place.

Do you think the trend will continue into 2023?

I think it’s going to continue on for even longer. I’m an avid listener of everything that comes out just to hear, “What are people thinking, what are they doing?” I feel like I’ve been hearing a [sample] every week. I think it’s going to keep going. And I think it’s going to be another great option [for creating] something that’s going to hit right away. Tap back into your past. Tap back into the things that you love — with your own twist.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Dec. 10, 2022, issue of Billboard.

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