The producer behind hits tied to Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Travis Scott, and more talks music and moves with Boardroom.
In streetwear, the symbol used to denote collaboration is the lowercase letter “x,” representing the multiplication of minds to make something bigger and better.
In modern music, the common denominator for emotion-evoking hits is DVSN.
For the last decade, Paul Jefferies, better known as Nineteen85, has served as one-half of the R&B duo behind “With Me,” “Too Deep,” and “If I Get Caught.” It’s a high profile side-gig that’s taking him on tour in 2023 from Copenhagen to Cologne.
Since signing to OVO Sound as an artist and in-house producer, the Toronto native has been busy behind the boards for the likes of Drake while also outfitting Travis Scott, Mariah Carey, Future, and more with sought-after sonics.
Casual listeners might not know Nineteen85 by name, but they certainly know his work.
Still move like a meme every time “Hotline Bling” comes on? Yup, that Diamond dance record was 85.
Bob your head and bust out bars when “Truffle Butter” booms? Once again, 85.
In the last decade, Nineteen85 has taken fans from the romance of “Hold On We’re Going Home” to the tough talk of “0 to 100.” He has become the master of moods — real quick.
However, he’s not an overnight success nor is he stopping anytime soon.
“I come from the era of a lot of unpaid work,” 85 told Boardroom. “You do it for free, try to make connections, and hope your music falls in the right hands. I did that for years, too many years.”
Two decades deep in the game, the tune has changed for Nineteen85. In 2023, the OVO hitmaker has his sights set on new sounds.
“This year, I’m trying to really let people know I’m back,” 85 says.
In a rare interview with Boardroom, the down-to-earth producer responsible for astronomical hits talks about his role in OVO Sound, Drake’s desire to always go left, and why 2023 will be the year of Nineteen85.
Cameras & Connections
Toronto hustles harder is not a phrase commonly sold on T-shirts, but maybe it should be.
For decades, the massive melting pot just north of New York was sizzling with talent, hungry to get on but overlooked based on locale. This included 85, once a music-obsessed high school student doing whatever it took to get on.
“My early years were working with a lot of local artists,” 85 says. “In Toronto, we had an urban station called FLO935. I was a pest to all of the DJs and program directors. I did everything I could to be around the music scene from every angle.”
In 2023, 85 has Diamond records and the ability to play guitar, keyboard, and program drums.
In 2003, though? His biggest looks came from snapping shots of partygoers posted up with Red Bull and vodkas.
“I was making more money doing club photography than selling beats,” 85 says. “There was no real path in Toronto then. I’d talk to the older guys I knew that rapped or produced to be in the mix. Being that annoying kid that was like, ‘Do you need beats? Do you need beats?'”
For the better part of a decade, 85 made his rounds from radio stations to the club scene, handing out burnt CDs filled with his beats. Occasionally they’d end up in the hands of managers that backed Toronto talents like Nelly Furtado or k-os. More often than not, they’d land in cluttered company demo drawers.
As the 2010s started and a spotlight began to shine above the border, 85’s luck began to change. All the hustle and hard work were recognized by one of the most powerful players in the game.
“He was working multiple jobs,” OVO Sound President and M3 Entertainment Founder Mr. Morgan told Boardroom. “I got him a situation where he could quit the jobs and just focus on what he was doing.”
Welcome to the Family
In 2013, Drake released his third studio album, Nothing Was the Same.
True to its title, the first Champagne Papi project put out by his new label, OVO Sound, would change everything for numerous people to include Nineteen85.
As the album’s fall release date approached, 85 was leaving the bus stop to pay a parking ticket. Turning his head — as owls do — he heard a convertible blasting the project’s second single, “Hold on We’re Going Home,” which he produced.
Not only would the song go four-time Platinum, reaching No. 1 in the US while charting in the Top 10 in six different countries, but it would also be indicative of the lens the former club photographer would bring to the OVO family.
Being managed by Morgan and close with the likes of 40, Boi-1da, T-Minus, and Supa Dups, 85 was surrounded by friends and hitmakers at his new gig. To be right, he had to look left.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to build my own space and find my own lane,” 85 says. “It comes with a lot of awareness of self and awareness of what other people are doing.”
Just like “Hold on We’re Going Home” sounded nothing like the album’s first single, “Started From the Bottom,” 85 had to keep that same spontaneity even when trying to outdo himself. When sending beats to The Boy, the next lands were the Soundcloud smash, “0 to 100,” followed by the English house informed “Truffle Butter.”
Both confidence and opportunities came from challenging himself to always do something different.
“Drake’s manager Future [the Prince] told me, ‘You’re one of the most talented producers I know. But just make sure when you’re sending beats to Drake that you don’t sound like the other guys we have,'” 85 says. “Me being so close to those guys? I couldn’t do what my friends were doing.”
Proving himself among peers while separating himself from the pack, Morgan’s management and OVO opportunities afforded 85 the space for DVSN: his R&B group that’s gone on to chart and tour.
From multi-million video views on YouTube to Pitchfork praise, the side project’s provided the canvas to paint passionate love songs that resonate with fans and friends alike.
“DVSN was just another creative outlet for him,” Morgan says. “Him and Daniel were just writing records to give other people. But it was too good to just sit there.”
Since starting DVSN in 2015, the group’s grown in reach over the course of four studio albums and one collaborative EP with Ty Dolla $ign. Still, it’s the friendly competition inside the OVO stable that keeps 85 on the edge of his seat and forefront of music. Inspired by the blockbuster bangers of Boi-1da and the 40’s R&B-infused flavor, the signature sound of Nineteen85 has become whatever everyone else isn’t doing.
Filling in the blanks was precisely where he fit in among OVO artists, particularly Drake.
“I think it’s that willingness to take things in different directions and not be afraid of how crazy it might look or sound,” 85 says. “With Drake more than other artists, he always wants the thing that you don’t expect him to want.”
Case in point? “One Dance,” an afrobeat banger that’s gone Diamond in the US and Canada while reaching No. 1 in 13 different countries. Leaning into Drake’s desire for risk and love of off-kilter has kept 85 on his toes the whole way.
“I feel like I’m one of the few people that he’s been comfortable enough to lean on in different ways to paint that picture for him,” says 85. “I feel super blessed with that.”
However, that doesn’t make his job any easier.
“You can play him 20 beats you think are perfect,” 85 says. “And he’ll be like, ‘Nah, nope, next.’ Then you play him one thing when you have nothing left? He’s like, ‘Yo!!! Send me that!!’ Clearly, he has the ear.”
While his elevated status in music might feel miles away from the scene he started in as an eager kid, it’s the same city of Toronto that he still calls home. Because of the success of himself and his friends, OVO Sound’s made The Six a destination for all artists globally while providing a new path for locals.
“It’s a unique world to live in,” says 85. “It’s family and I’ve been working with them for at least 10 years. Signing with OVO almost felt like we didn’t sign because we didn’t have to change anything. The process has always been so in-house and the support has always been there if necessary but never forced.”
The same buddies that brought him in are the ones that push him. Just the same, they’re the ones who hold him down from champagne popping to creative blocks.
“I give a lot of credit to 40 for that,” 85 says.
In 2023, Nineteen85 will continue to shift shapes and sounds, providing the zag modern music needs and superstars crave.
Old Friends, New Music
In a sense, the Nineteen85 story is in its third chapter.
Taking 10 years to arrive from high school hopeful to OVO family, the second season of his ascent saw Grammy Award wins and greater expectations. Still, like any artistic person, self-doubt can be an obstacle.
“There was a time during Nothing Was the Same where he called me saying, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this what I should be doing?'” says Morgan. “I said, ‘Yeah, just keep at it.’ He did and it became incredible.”
Incredible may be an understatement.
While all producers look to reach the stars and sell records, few have been able to score moments and soundtrack people’s lives like that of 85.
All of his accomplishments on the charts with Drake double down in meaning when considering the feelings fans can connect to life events like weddings, workouts, and the club nights 85 once photographed.
Just the same, what DVSN may lack in Platinum plaques, they more than make up for in arousing actual romance. Having an impact in not just modern music but multiple spaces is a skill Nineteen85 has mastered but not one he’s resting on. His recent resume spans the uptempo excellence of PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “Not Nice” to Travis Scott‘s self-reflective “Coffee Bean.”
In 2023 and beyond, Chapter 3 ensures more of the same success without using any of the same sounds. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.
“When he did ‘Hold on We’re Going Home,’ I told him, ‘Hey, this is amazing but just know you might not have a moment like this ever again. You’re setting a really high bar and it’s okay if you never accomplish that again,'” Morgan says. “But then he did ‘Hotline Bling’ and then he did ‘One Dance.'”
Living life behind the boards, 85’s set on building his brand and expanding his sound.
The latter half of that equation is a proven process. However, the self-promoting side is far from natural for the man once asking clubgoers to pose in photos.
In music, behind-the-scenes stars have to vouch for themselves. Even in a state of confidence and success, navigating the record industry is a terrain full of highs and lows with no GPS or even guarantees of ROI.
“It’s crazy because even as successful as I am now and as fortunate and blessed as my career has been, there’s still a real lack of stability on the artist and producer side,” 85 says. “When things are going great, they’re great in the moment but there’s no next step. You might get paid once a year or two or three times. Because it’s taking so long to get paid, it’s hard to budget your next six months because you’re paying catch-up.”
Even with Diamond records on his resume comes the necessity to make more hits. Even with certified classics, the same doubt that plagues all artists finds 85 and his peers.
Just as always, he gets by with a little help from his friends.
“Me and 40 have conversations all the time where I’ll be like, ‘Yo, I don’t think Drake likes my beats anymore,'” 85 laughs. “I definitely have those moments! And he’ll be like, ‘Nah, don’t worry. I was going through that too last month, that’s just part of it.’ I have those conversations with 40 probably every few months.”
Laughter and love illuminate 85’s approach to music, and it’s probably based on his humble beginnings.
From working for free to making “For Free,” 85’s record resume goes on and on. His life’s changed, but his heart’s remained the same.
“85 is one of my absolute closest friends,” Morgan says. “Raising his daughter alongside an incredibly busy schedule and overdelivering? Through it all, he’s the exact same guy. At the core, he has the same drive in regard to what he can do next.”
Next means making this year his.
A glance at 85’s Wikipedia page provides a gap from 2019, focusing on DVSN albums instead of producing songs for the likes of Future, Drizzy, Bleachers, or even Jessie Ware.
This year, the world will become fully aware of just who Nineteen85 is and all he can do.
“2023? I have to reintroduce myself as Nineteen85,” he closes. “I want to put my spin on a lot of different things whether it’s house, rap, pop, whatever. I want to be everywhere. All the different worlds at once.”
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