As one of hip-hop’s foremost producers, Xavier Lamar Dotson––better known as Zaytoven––is recognized for his innovative collaborations with Southern artists like Gucci Mane, Migos and Future. Additionally, his sound has powered tracks from artists including Drake, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Rick Ross and Lil Yatchy.
For 2018, this ultra-productive, Grammy-winning, Atlanta-based producer has a dizzying set of projects in the offing. In this exclusive interview, the affable Zaytoven—who often speaks of himself in the third person—lays out the methods and philosophies that he has employed to consistently stay at the top of his game within the ever-shifting panoramas of modern music.
Music Connection: You have so many projects happening at once: a label deal, your own forthcoming release, mixtapes, work with 21 Savage on the Issa album and Future ft. Lil Uzi Vert with “Too Much Sauce,” plus a new movie that you’re producing and acting in. Clearly, you have mastered the art of time management.
Zaytoven: I like being busy. When I don’t have a lot going on I feel like I’m not moving, like I’m stagnant. I like chaos––I’ve got to do this over here, I’ve got a movie over there, I have producer camp I’ve got to run, I’ve got an album on the way. All of these things going on at the same time make me feel like I’m working hard. That’s how it’s been in my career.
MC: We’ve been reading your book From A-Zay: The Indie Guide to Music Production. You reference this verse from Proverbs 17:24: “An intelligent person aims at wise action, but a fool starts off in many directions.” How does this philosophy guide you?
Zaytoven: The focus is the thing. With the book I wanted to help people when it comes to working hard and being consistent, no matter what your dream is, whether you want to be an actor, or a rapper or a producer. I still wanted to make a book focused on becoming a well-rounded good person. I feel that’s one of the reasons I’ve been successful. That’s why there is a lot of scripture in there.
I wanted to give it from that standpoint; not that I’m a workaholic and that’s why I made it. I wanted to use the other values. You can work as hard as anyone else, and have as much talent as anyone else, and it still doesn’t mean you’re going to make it and be successful and blow up. It’s got to be God’s plan. That’s why I formatted the book the way that I did.
MC: You come from a stable family background and you are married with two children. How does being a family man fit into the Zaytoven dynamic?
Zaytoven: Oh man, I feel like that’s the number one thing you’ve got to do.
MC: You’ve dropped a new track with Young Dolph called “Left Da Bank.” What was the purpose of this release at this time? Is it a sonic prelude to your forthcoming full-length?
Zaytoven: “Left Da Bank” is one of the records I wanted to put out for the streets and for the core audience that’s into the Zaytoven sound and the type of artist that I’m known for working with. That’s a present to let people know I’m working. It’s a warm-up so people know what to expect. I’m going to hit them with all kinds of combinations they’ve never heard me do. I had to give them this so they know I’m still going to put the Zaytoven on it, but we’ve got a lot of surprises.
MC: We note that many producers have a short shelf-life; that is, they are known for creating signature sounds within a short span of time. You’ve been crafting tracks since 2004, yet you never sound dated. Is this because of the depth of your musical background?
Zaytoven: Being a musician has kept me rounded in different areas. When I need to find another source of inspiration, music does that. I still play organ at church every Sunday. I listen to a lot of gospel music and I have to learn chords and different songs with breakdowns. So that inspires me in different ways. A lot of other producers don’t even know how to play instruments. They don’t use hardware; they use computer programs, so it’s robotic. They can’t add different feels. Being a musician has helped me stay relevant and to stay current. That gives me an extra edge a lot of producers don’t have.
MC: You work with a number of emerging artists. While we would imagine that you mentor them, do they also keep you in touch with what’s coming up?
Zaytoven: These newer guys I work with, like Little Yatchy and Lil Pump––these guys keep me young. They’re talking with a new flavor in a different way. They show me a lot of love and respect.