The Rascals Interview: The Beauty of Creating Full-Circle Moments

We are currently in the era of music where lots of the artists that are out now have all been making music for various amounts of time in their life. Some artists have been writing raps since they were in middle school, some artists may have had a musical background as an adolescent, and some maybe even have just started making music literally months before becoming discovered. No matter the case, there’s a beauty in all of it. However, the artists that come up with the musical background potentially have some of the longest-spanning careers, and in result, may even have more “war stories” to tell. The ever-so-talented producer/songwriter duo known as The Rascals have been deep routed in music for much longer than we may have thought, and it truly shows in their art.

Leon Thomas III and Khris Riddick-Tynes (also known as The Rascals) have been instilled in the music industry since they were very young, and have been a duo for seven years already. Many people may recognize Leon Thomas as he played the character Andre Harris on the Nickelodeon show Victorious alongside Victoria Justice and superstar Ariana Grande. Since then, he has been making tons of moves in the game and mastering his craft–breaking free of the “actor artist” stigma that may have been placed on him. Khris Riddick-Tynes linked up with Leon at a very early age and have been collaborating ever since. Their love and passion for music ended up landing them in music studios with the legendary Babyface and Toni Braxton on their Love, Marriage & Divorce album, which resulted in both of them bringing home their very first Grammy award for said album. Also having working with Ariana Grande very early on in her career, they reunited with her for her brand new album Positions, which just hit number 1 on Billboard 200 Charts.

I had a three-way call with both Leon and Khris as I got to learn a bit more about their musical paths, how they eventually ended up forming their duo, affiliations with their Isla Management team, collaborating with Kehlani, Ariana Grande, Ella Mai and more. Read our conversation below!

**LT= Leon Thomas  KR= Khris Riddick-Tynes


Even though you guys have both created careers individually, many people still are unfamiliar with the collective you guys formed. Tell me a bit about how each of you came up.

LT: For me, my journey definitely started in New York on Broadway, you know. I was ten years old and I started doing Broadway plays like three in a row from age ten to thirteen. Then that journey brought me to television and film and got me out to L.A. I was on a show called Victorious with Ariana Grande and that was around the time that I met Khris and started working on music together. That ended up transpiring into us working on music together and eventually we started writing for a lot of R&B artists like Toni Braxton, Babyface, Chris Brown. Before we knew it, we really caught ourselves a nice amount of work from production to writing, and The Rascals was born. In that, we just continued to hustle. We won our first Grammy with Toni Braxton and Babyface from all of our hard work. A lot of hustling and slow building, but a very progressive start for the both of us.

The Rascals collaborated with Toni Braxton on her

Grammy-winning album Love, Marriage & Divorce

KR: That was summed up pretty well. We have been at it from a very young age and it shows well. The name The Rascals actually stems from us being young kids around Toni Braxton and Babyface and that name kind of just stuck with us. We were around for a lot of major hits like “Best Thing I Never Had” by Beyonce, and a lot of older Justin Bieber material too. It was amazing to be able to come up and be mentored by the greats because it’s kind of like what we are doing now with a lot of the younger guys coming up as well. A lot of it is about just paying that forward

One thing that I love about the both of you is that you came up together and put two minds together to make one. What was it that made you two want to emerge as a duo rather than individuals?

LT: Well one of the obvious connections there would be LA Reid and Babyface. Just being around them so early on and seeing the masterminds that they grew to be, that was kind of the motivation for us to want to come up that way as well.

 

KR: Another thing is that a lot of the best producers in the game always have come up with a duo or a group. You think of The Neptunes, Organized Noize, etc., it’s always a partnership that ends up blossoming into something beautiful. It’s amazing because it’s not just one person focusing on everything—everyone has a role. Whether that be one person is the super creative one, one person brings the business, one person executes the business, you know. It allows you to cover more ground that way rather than trying to run the race on your own.

 

LT: There’s definitely a left brain/right brain thing going on between us as well. There are so many interviews that I love from The Neptunes, but there was one in particular where Pharrell really went into detail about how impactful Chad Hugo was with just coming up with some of the super left-field creative ideas. That’s what I feel is so amazing about us is that we just get to come together and form new connections and it all comes out so great.

I’ve spoken to quit a few producers and I like to ask all of them this question just to kind of get multiple takes on it. In relation to the current conversation of producers not feeling credited enough, what do you guys think can be done to kind of restore that feeling of satisfaction when it comes to credit?

KR: I think to start off, everyone needs to be educated on the pot. People need to realize that 100% of nothing, is nothing. I think people just need to be aware of what’s a fair split and be aware of what’s a good percentage of the pie. I think for us, if you cover more ground in the collaborative space, that in turn results into more work. You could have a 7% split on a number one record, and that hit record will turn into you getting more work for you or your crew and you grow from there. It’s all about strategy. You give a little bit to get a little bit, and it’s important to get that lesson instilled in the minds of the creatives at a young age. Having a great mindset is everything. Attitude is everything when it comes to being a writer and a producer. If people don’t like you, then you’re gonna have a really hard time. If you look at our guys like Boi-1da, and Jahaan and all of them, we can come around each other and chop it up whenever. It’s a business of course, but there’s a friendship there underneath so we all are here for one another. Look at the collaborations that our team has been able to make with Boi-1da and Vinylz, OZ and Vinylz, etc. It’s all collaborative and about unifying.

 

LT: Most definitely. And in the world of producers coming together, we got apps like Clubhouse that is at least cultivating and creating these new communities. It shows that it doesn’t have to be this crabs-in-a-barrel mentality that a lot of people may think. There is power in numbers and it shows that we can come together and own 100% of something great rather than x percent of some bullshit.

 –

Leon I know you spoke earlier about how you got your start in Broadway, but of course one of your biggest breaks came from your acting role on the show Victorious—how did you manage to shake that actor image and show the world just how talented you are in the music realm?

LT: It was definitely a very tough thing to shake early on. That’s part of the reason why we wanted to create a very dope alias just so that when we start to creative with other artists and producers and such, they don’t already have a preconceived notion about us. It was a very smart thing for us to do and kind of rebrand and stay under the radar for a little bit to build up a catalogue. Breaking through that actor barrier, me getting the Grammy with Toni Braxton was a major stamp for me and really showed the world that I was serious about this and it isn’t just an over glorified hobby. It’s crazy because getting that Grammy that year was super random. Khris and I both didn’t go that year because we didn’t think we were gonna win. I remember I was making dinner at the time and my phone just started going up with texts, calls and tweets. But yeah, it was definitely a lot of heavy lifting that I had to do to show the world that I’m not just an actor and I have more tools in my toolbox.

Leon & Victoria Justice joined forces on “Song To You” from their TV show

What is it that keeps you guys’ chemistry so strong?

KR: I think honestly like we said earlier, just knowing who plays what role between us. It’s a Kobe & Shaq thing, it’s the Splash Brothers mentality. I always like to relate it to sports—if Leon is in the paint, then I’m not gonna step on his toes and I’m gonna let him do his thing. When you do that, and you know how to work the offense, it just works.

 

LT: We both play very significant roles in what we do. Khris is very good at drum programming and coming up with really great concepts for songs. Me, I have an amazing talent for coming up with chords and melodies really fast. Khris and I will come together with the lyrics of the song for the artist, and at the end of a 6-hour session, you have yourself a unique song that’s tailor made just  for you.  Khris is also a very good conversationalist. So before we record, we aren’t just having those surfaced-level conversations, we’re digging deeper into who these artists are as people, and that shows in every single record that we do.

One of the earliest production credits you guys received was for the work you did on Ariana Grande’s debut album Yours Truly. Did you guys feel any sort of pressure for seeing how much she has grown and feeling as if you need to follow up your work on that project?

LT: I definitely wouldn’t say there was pressure, but I was there from the very beginning since we came from the same show. She’s always had that pure love for music and the talent was always there. Not only that, but we worked with a ton of other artists very early on in their careers. On top of Ariana, we worked with Kehlani and Post Malone very early on. That process is something that Khris and I have developed over time and really made it a priority in our recording process. We may not be on the side of artist development, but we are very big on friendship and relationship development.

The Rascals collaborated on Ariana Grande’s debut album Yours Truly

 

KR: I said this in another interview recently, and I stated that we are the conduit for whatever the artist wants to say that day. Our job is to help deliver the best final product of their thought and their emotions and whatever they’re feeling.

Since you both are very big on artist relationships, is that what the beginigng of the creative setting starts with in the studio?

KR: Yes exactly. All of our studio sessions always start with conversations like how their day is going, how life is going. And then from there, it kind of turns into a bit of a therapy session. Based on the emotions of that conversation, whether it be happy, in love, sad, thankful etc., we begin to create the sonics around it.

 

LT: Another thing we are really big on is creating loops in the studio and collaborating with other producers as well. We get those loops out for others to use and collaborate on, and we can potentially gain multiple placements at one time.

What is one production credit that each of you are most proud of and why?

KR: I think working with Ariana Grande on her new album Positions really means something after collaborating with her the first time. It’s a full circle moment, and those moments are very important in people’s careers because they normally don’t happen to often. A lot of times it just doesn’t get to transpire again. Either one party goes up and the other party loses touch or something, but to come back and know that we’re doing it at the highest level possible is really saying something. It’s kind of that return to Cleveland moment where you come back and bring home that championship. Everybody went and got their separate wins and grew and came back and delivered the world more bangers.

The Rascals reunited with Ariana this year on her latest offering Positions

LT: In relation to the new Ariana album, one of the greatest joys for me was being able to work with an up and coming producer on the song “Safety Net”. This guy Keys Open Doors is amazing, and this was one of his biggest placements of his career thus far. Having that ability to create that opportunity for other producers is definitely a major thing for the both of us.

Both of you were up for two Grammy’s this year for your work on “Gold Roses” by Rick Ross & Drake, as well as “Body Count Remix” by Jessie Reyez, Normani and Kehlani. How did that make you feel being up for another Grammy this time?

LT: It’s definitely one of those moments that you don’t really get hit with until you’re there. This is actually our first red carpet that we have been on together as a producer duo. We both showed up in our best fits and it really felt like we reached a new threshold of what we can do as a team.

Gold Roses feat. Drake was one of two Grammy nominations The Rascals received this year

We don’t really get to see much of Ariana’s recording process and her in the studio too much. What was it like creating the joints you did on her new album?

LT: It’s so amazing—she has a whole process to it and how she creates. I remember being sixteen years old with her in the dressing rooms on set of Victorious just talking about our dreams in music. I helped her build her home studio back in the day too. Really seeing it go from that to where it is today, is such an amazing thing to see. I remember going in for one of the first sessions of working on Positions, and I noticed that she was operating Pro Tools. It was just crazy to see how involved she is and just her songwriting ability growing as well. It was great being able to learn each other creatively again and be able to present exactly what she needed at that time.

Another one of your recent production credits is on Ella Mai’s new single “Not Another Long Song”. Talk a bit about how that came about.

KR: We actually started the foundation of that beat and ended up passing it over to Boi-1da and the gang. It transpired just from us actually having a relationship with her over the years. Her and Kehlani came up really early on together so we knew her from around that time. It’s kind of another full circle moment because we have been wanting to collaborate for years but we never actually locked in. Her career took off and it was kind of like us meeting at the mountain top. We did the musical number that you hear in the beginning and all throughout the beat. Boi-1da and the gang did their thing, so it was a full collaborative effort.

The Rascals link with fellow Isla Management producers for

Ella Mai’s “Not Another Love Song”

If you could collaborate with one artist on a whole project, who would it be?

KR: I really want to tap in with Drake. A whole entire project with him would be so crazy bro. If I could lock that project in with Boi-1da and Jahaan, that would be amazing. It would really be a lengthy process, but I would be down for it the entire way through.

 

LT: For me, it would definitely have to be Beyonce. Just seeing her level of stardom and how much of a perfectionist she is, it would really push me and my creativity in ways that I never would have imagined. So working with her on a project would really take things to a whole new level.

This year has been a year for many moves, as well as a year for a lot of planning. What are some of the things you both have planned that we can look forward to in the near future?

LT: I have some solo music that I’ve been working on, so I’m getting prepared to drop that really soon. Besides that, just be on the lookout for more great music. We built a foundation and we know how to make this thing move so we’re gonna continue to do that on a bigger scale.

 

KR: We’re gonna get more into the executive bag for sure pretty soon. Trying to expand and continue to grow as a team and expanding our horizons. More money moves for sure. Just more greatness overall—that’s all we hope to accomplish.