Wontel’s journey to executive producing Rapzilla’s Freshman 15 album
Rapzilla.com’s collaborative album featuring its 2015 freshmen artists will be released soon, and the project is being spearheaded by Wontel.
Wontel, 21, has worked with artists spanning from Adrian Stresow to Wale and promises to bring a unique perspective to the collaborative project, as well as the future of Christian hip hop.
Around the age of two, Wontel was introduced to the Christian church under tragic circumstances.
“My dad was threatening my mom, so she took [our family] to a women’s shelter,” Wontel said. “At that time, she got reached out to, and she started going to a Christian church.”
His mother stayed active in the church for years but fell away about a decade later, leaving Wontel to choose whether or not he wanted to continue on in the church at a young age.
“She said, ‘Whatever you want to do, that’s up to you,’” Wontel said. “Around that time I said, ‘Forget it. I’m just going to do whatever I want.’ So, I just started smoking a lot of weed, doing a bunch of different things.”
Wontel continued along this path until he reached age 15, when a neighbor reached out and taught him what it truly meant to be a disciple of Christ.
“I always thought I was a Christian until I studied the Bible with that [neighbor] and a few other people,” Wontel said. “They really went over discipleship and what it is to be a disciple, and they asked me, ‘So, do you feel that you are a disciple?’ And I was like, ‘No, not at all.’”
It was at this point that Wontel made the decision to truly follow Christ.
Similar to his introduction to Christianity, Wontel was also acquainted with music at a young age. He pulled influence from his mother’s love for old school funk and soul, and he received lessons in the different components of music from his father, despite his absence throughout most of Wontel’s life.
“My dad, when he was around, would play a lot of hip hop,” Wontel said. “He used to sell drugs and stuff, so he had some money, and he spent a lot on his sound systems… At an early age my dad taught me what an 808 was and why it was important for music.”
Wontel continued to listen and fall in love with music into his teenage years. However, he never thought to start music production until watching the music video to “Snap Yo Fingers” by Lil Jon, which shows Lil Jon playing the melody of the song on a keyboard.
“They were playing it on the TV, and my friends and I were like, ‘Oh! So that’s how they make beats,’” Wontel said. “I asked my mom to buy me a keyboard, and then from there she bought it and I learned how to play the piano by myself. I just fell in love with it.”
Wontel progressed from playing the piano to beat-making, mixing, mastering and songwriting. He was able to further exercise these skills around the age of 16 when he joined a rap trio consisting of himself and two of his close friends.
Following the disbanding of the group, Wontel continued to pursue a career as a rapper. His decision to focus on music production came after dropping his first solo project and realizing that his beats may be something other artists would be interested in using.
Wontel proceeded to become heavily involved in Christian hip hop quickly as a producer. He attributes the majority of his success to many chance encounters, as well as intentional networking.
“I just realized that it’s really possible to meet people and really network… and I just began to build up clients. I remember about four months ago I literally had about 40 clients at one time, and I was like, ‘Woah, this is really possible to do full time,’” Wontel said.
Wontel has had the opportunity to work with artists such as John Givez, JGivens, and, more recently, on the newest Rapzilla.com collaborative album featuring its 15 freshman artists of 2015.
Although Wontel had built a relationship with much of the leadership at Rapzilla through working with Infiltrate Music artists Skrip, HillaryJane and Asaiah Ziv, his first interaction with co-owner Chad Horton came out of the most unlikely of circumstances.
“I didn’t even know who he was,” Wontel said. “I just happened to be bored in the airport. I’m going to the Unashamed Conference … And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m just going to talk to somebody.’ First person I see is wearing a King Kulture shirt, and I was like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you. Do you like Christian rap? I see you have the shirt.’ And he was like ‘Yeah, I’m the co-owner of Rapzilla.’”
Wontel continued to stay in touch with Horton, and upon Rapzilla’s decision to release a new collaborative album, Wontel was offered to executive produce the project.
“He has a unique skillset as far as a producer,” Horton said. “I wanted someone who wasn’t really known — that was also close to being like a freshman on the producer side — but that was also dope enough to produce a full project.”
As executive producer of the album, Wontel was responsible for the production of all tracks on the project. He also brought producers Anthony Cruz and MPax on board for assistance.
As the new album prepares to be released in September, Wontel shared a bit of what listeners can expect from his production throughout the project.
“Expect the beats to knock, but, as well, expect switch-ups,” he said. “One thing I love doing for beats is when you think the song is done — or when you think it’s going to sound the same — halfway through, out of nowhere a complete switch-up comes in. I did that on at least five of the tracks.”
Horton also weighed in on what listeners can expect from the project.
“It’s going to be more raw and less polished than what you would get from a bigger artist,” Horton said. “[The artists] are young, so they are being affected by things in life, and then they are expressing those things more so than someone who is older and more established. And just more of a current sound — a current sound that everybody is going to be in to, instead of someone older trying to do a current sound.”
READ MORE: Rapzilla.com’s 15 Freshmen of 2015