Growing up, Aaron Bow didn’t have a model for the life he wanted to live. “Nobody’s ever even made it up out of where I’m from doing anything like this,” the 26-year-old producer explains. Placing beats on the Grammy-nominated Black Panther soundtrack or on a DJ Khaled record weren’t aspirations — they weren’t even on the radar for the young music lover growing up between small-town Missouri and North Carolina, where he has family. And yet that’s exactly what he’s done.
“Celebrate” is perhaps the most musically distinctive song on Father of Asahd, Khaled’s latest, and Bow says it’s the song that is the best introduction to the kind of music he wants to make. “Nobody’s done anything like that on a DJ Khaled album,” he says, excited by the way Post Malone and Travis Scott brought out the psychedelic elements Bow carefully baked into the beat.
Working closely with a fellow Missouri born producer, Teddy Walton, Bow now resides in Los Angeles. He’s maintaining the expansive listening habits his parents instilled in him, using that as inspiration to further develop his skills. Over the phone, in his first-ever interview, Bow told Billboard how he got his start and where he wants to take it.
How did you first get started with music?
I started out at the age of 12, picking up the guitar and trying to play songs that I was hearing. I tried to do the whole band thing and it never worked out. Then I started making beats on my own at the beginning of high school, and stuck to it. I was the type of kid to stay home on Friday and Saturday nights to work on beats, and I got better and better, putting my stuff out online.
Someone from out of state reached out to me asking for one of my beats, and they introduced me to the world of LiveMixtapes and all that. It let me know that I could actually do this, because I didn’t have anybody to look up to around me attempting to do anything outside of Missouri.
Did you grow up around music? Did your parents play music in your house?
My dad always played music in the morning, when we’d be driving and stuff. He definitely had a big influence as far as introducing me to music. He listened to a lot of Biggie, OutKast, classic soul stuff like the Isley Brothers. Then outside of that, on the radio in Missouri all they play is alternative rock and top 40. But my mom is white and my dad is black, so I connected to all of it. I’m influenced by a lot of different artists: Phil Collins, Gucci Mane, Pink Floyd, Sade, Blink-182, Frank Sinatra, Nelly, Cyndi Lauper, Young Jeezy.
When I started making beats, my parents liked that I was into something, instead of getting into trouble. But as far as me making a career out of music, they had no idea that that was even possible.
Do you remember the first time you became interested in a producer? A song that made you wonder, who made this?
Pharrell and Jay-Z “Frontin” was the first song that made me think about producers and producing. Pharrell is a huge influence to me, and that song made me wonder: how did he make this? All these different sounds and textures.
What was the first beat you placed?
I got Gucci on one of my beats back in 2012, “Throwing Racks,” from Eastside Piru. Around that time I met Teddy and we’ve been like family ever since.
Placing that Gucci beat let me know that I could make something serious out of it. At that time, I also started composing and scoring short films. One was called 117: The Darius Glover Story, which is about a parapalegic motocross rider, and it made it into a couple film festivals. I was sending beats to this video director named Lamar McPherson of M-Vision Films, who did a lot of the Gucci and Waka Flocka stuff, and he was like, “I really love your beats, I hear something different about them. I’m working on a couple films, you should try something new and compose original music.” It opened up my musical horizons, as far as creativity. For scoring, I’m still in SL Studios, using the MIDI keyboard, and then timing with the scenes and the cuts to get at the emotions.
How would you and Teddy work together?
We made the “Pop Another” beat for Maxo Kream at my garage studio in Missouri. It was a dope creative zone. It was a semi-truck garage with an upstairs office, and I turned that into a studio area, and the bottom area you could skate or play pool, go outside and shoot basketball. It was somewhere to stay creative in a place like Jefferson City, where there’s nowhere else to be creative like that. This was right after I had graduated from high school, and I was working part-time and cutting grass, trying to stay dedicated to music.
How did you end up on Khaled’s album?
I was working on a background that Frank Dukes gave Teddy and I wanted to add some crazy psychedelic elements to it. Then Teddy came in to do the crazy drums. There are certain sections of the song where there’s just guitar with no bass, that keys in with the rest of the elements, and I feel like that’s really new. Me and Teddy definitely have the most different song on the album.
So you didn’t know at the time it would be for Khaled.
Nah, I didn’t know at the time of working on it that it would end up with Khaled. Frank Dukes sent it to Khaled. I thought it was dope that he got it. I didn’t know how he was gonna go about using it, but I knew it was gonna be something amazing. Shortly before it came out, I found out Post and Travis were on it. I was completely happy with it. They brought out those psychedelic elements that I was telling you about.
Who else would you like to work with?
I’d love to work with Miguel, Kid Cudi, Jorja Smith, Playboi Carti, DaBaby, Tame Impala. I’d love to work with Post and Travis some more.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a couple big things I can’t really talk about. I’m working on Teddy’s album, Mental Health; I’m working on an alternative rock album, and I’m working on developing a few new artists. This new guy Tylr — me and Teddy are doing the whole album.