An interview with Vayda

The Atlanta rapper/singer/producer on sped-up songs, marching bands and the gift and curse of SoundCloud.

Vayda. Art by Tyler Farmer.

Everybody’s speeding up songs. Major labels, Florida DJs, your favorite rappers, dedicated TikTok blogs. Attention spans are getting shorter and our appetites for content, audio, video, anything really to fill the void are getting larger. 

But let’s take off the sociologist goggles for a second. Have you ever played with the pitch control on a turntable? Have you ever experienced the visceral thrill of turning Chief Keef into what I imagine a Runescape imp would sound like rapping ‘cause why the hell not? Shooting a song into hyperdrive is fun!

For Atlanta rapper/singer/producer Vayda, it’s paid dividends. She initially started raising the BPM of her tracks to compensate for limited studio gear and poor recording quality. But it’s now her signature, maybe even an addiction (her words not mine), transforming her sultry chord progressions and grooves into snappy, club-ready dance rap. Her most successful track to date “bingo” is delirious, squeaky shit-talk frothing out of producer Wav’s languid keyboard and Detroit-ish groove. 

Listening to Vayda’s music, I hear the 10,000 hours that go into conjuring an illusion of effortlessness. This is a student of Atlanta’s long lineage of rappers and beatmakers; of internet rabbit holes and music scenes well beyond her hometown; of marching band culture and, maybe most importantly, her first love, piano, channeling all her influences and energy into creating the zippiest sub-2-minute songs she possibly can. Her rise this past year, fueled by viral posts, colorful visuals and a style that fits into the “all rap music is dance music” zeitgeist, reminds me of one of her inspirations, Inland Empire rapper HOOK, who was impossible to ignore during her 2019/2020 run. 

I caught Vayda at maybe the worst time you can possibly hit somebody up: on family vacation. Still, she was generous with her time and we connected on a lot of unexpected internet-fried reference points, namely Nollywood, the SoundCloud app sucking and why Dani Kiyoko is the GOAT.

Catch Vayda TONIGHT with Popstar Benny and friends at Mi Sabor Cafe in Brooklyn. Tickets here.

Mano Sundaresan: What’s the earliest memory of Atlanta you have?

Vayda: I remember just hanging out, playing outside type shit. I remember hearing Lil Wayne, “Mrs. Officer,” like, one of the cars was blasting it and I was like, “Oh my god, I love that song” [laughs].

Were your parents into hip-hop?

My dad was a rapper, so he was into hip-hop heavy. He was part of a rap group.

What rap group?

Imma keep that discreet [laughs].

[laughs] Gotcha! Did you hear a lot of his group’s music growing up?

Not really, he didn’t really play it that much ’cause it wasn’t kid friendly.

What’s some of the music besides hip-hop you were hearing around the house? 

Probably just, like, old jazz piano, like Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock.

I’ve seen some older videos of you playing piano. Did you start on that before trying any other type of music?

Yeah, that was my first love. Piano my first love. You know how the kids got the little toy keyboards type shit?

Yeah.

So I would just keep, like, fuckin’ around on that. And then I got an actual keyboard for my birthday. That set it off. I just was always learning new songs.

What birthday was that?

It had to be like…middle school, so maybe like 6th, 7th grade?

Were you taking lessons?

I was just playing by ear. My dad would always play music, so I would just pick out certain notes, pick out certain stuff, and just figure it out. And if I couldn’t figure it out, go on YouTube, you know? 

I grew up with really strict parents, so I wasn’t able to go outside. I was able to play outside like a little kid, but by the time I got to high school, I wasn’t able to just be outside, type shit. So a lot of my time went towards learning a lot of stuff on piano.

So when you started playing piano, I know you were really young but were you thinking about taking music seriously at all?

I don’t know. Everything just kinda led to one another. Like, I was a band kid growing up too. When I grew up, bands were a really big thing in Atlanta, like marching band type shit, so I learned how to play the French horn and stuff. And then when I was in band, I had a friend—it’s kind of crazy, he’s a pretty big producer now, he done produced for Travis Scott, hella other people—but he gave me a flash drive with FL Studio on it back in high school.

What’s his name?

His name’s Jabz. Shout out to him.

What was the moment you were like, “I want to be a producer.” What sparked that?

I think it was Soulection. Soulection was this radio show. You know how they doin’ it on TikTok now—like, they’ll have the vocals to a song, but then put a whole ‘nother song behind it?

Yeah.

They was doing that shit back in the day. So I would be listening to them and I was like, “I would love to do that.” ‘Cause I like a lot of music, but I don’t really be liking the beats behind it. So that’s what kinda made me wanna start producing. I was like, “I wanna chop up some Gucci Mane vocals, put a beat behind it,” type shit.

What was the first song where you were like, this needs a new beat? (No shade to the producer who made it.)

[laughs] Yeah I don’t wanna throw no shade to the producer. It’s just my taste. I remember Splurge, he would have songs with like, an 808 and a clap and that would be the whole entire song! And I’m just like, I fuck with the 808 and the clap, but this is nothing but empty space and opportunity for me to just add extra shit on top of this. Add my own taste to it. 

Do you remember the first time you tried rapping?

Yeah, it was after COVID for real. I cut off all my friends and I was really bored in the room. So I was like, I’m just gonna buy me a USB mic and start fuckin’ around. At first, I started singing and stuff. I would post the songs—some of them are privated, some of them are still out—but I started singing, and then I started rapping. And then, I don’t know, that just kind of took off, so I was just like, “ok, let me just get to rapping.”

How did you link up with Dani Kiyoko for your 2021 tape? That’s someone I’ve known from SoundCloud for years.

I’ve known him for years, too [laughs]. It’s crazy. He knew me when I was just a producer, I was a producer for a long time. It was just through internet, through Instagram. I think Dani’s a lot younger than me. He hit me up and he just wanted to do a project. At that time, producers wasn’t really reaching out to me, like I was producing all my own shit. So he literally produced the whole project, sent me hella beats, got somebody to do the cover art, all that good shit. And yeah, that’s my dawg now.

How has your approach to mixing your own voice changed over the years? 

I didn’t really like the sound of my voice [earlier in my career] but one thing about me is even if I don’t like it, I’ll still put it out. I don’t really care. So I think I was just trying to get the hang of it. And then, of course, it’s equipment—like, I record myself. So I’m not getting a studio quality mic every single time, you know what I mean?

Yeah.

So you kinda gotta work with what you got, type shit. So to compensate for the equipment, I started speeding up my songs more, cause I’m just like, they’re not going to notice cuz the song’s gonna go by so quick [laughs]. They’re not gonna notice all the flaws in the song. And then I kinda got addicted to it. I feel like I’m kind of going back into my regular sounding voice on the newer stuff and the stuff I put out on SoundCloud recently.

I think just the way I rap has changed too. Like, I’m rapping with more confidence now and really speaking what’s on my mind, instead of trying to be a Rapper, if that makes sense.

Yeah totally. Who were you listening to when you first started rapping?

I was deep into the SoundCloud world because I was working with everybody as a producer. So of course all the girls, like Biskhit, Staysie [Atoms], mazirati [ventura], HOOK, CLIP, like I was listening to all of them. And then even the guys too, like Tony [Shhnow], Bear[1Boss]. I feel like that was right before I started rapping. But then once I started rapping, my SoundCloud app really started glitching for real. It would play one song and then just exit out of the app [laughs]. 

Janky ass app.

I really took that as a sign like, I don’t need SoundCloud anymore, just post my songs and go. So I kind of stopped listening to everybody that I was listening to when I was [just] producing. And I think that made me focus more on developing my own sound instead of trying to fit into a box.

It was kind of like a blessing in disguise. I can’t even open up SoundCloud, so it kind of forced me to listen to, like, ’70s music, old music. Like, go on Spotify really and just go through a deep dive type shit and kind of discover my own sound for real.

Does having all that piano background help you make melodies as a producer? 

I think it’s a plus side and a downside, because when you know too much piano and music theory and shit like that, your shit can start sounding really boring because you’re doing it the way it’s supposed to be done. Everybody’s heard that before. As opposed to when you don’t know anything about that, you’re really creating your own sound because you’re just putting shit together that might not match technically, but it matches in the soundscape and stuff. 

Yeah. How do you go about cultivating that, like, “not knowing” for yourself?

I think just always listening to new stuff. I’ve been trying to venture out into, like, the jazz world. I know a lot of R&B, but like, actual jazz music—for real for real jazz music? Some of that shit can get really weird and freaky to where you can’t pick it out. 

Do you feel like you’re part of the Atlanta music scene specifically, or are you more of an internet person? How do you navigate those two worlds?

I feel like I’ve always been a part of the scene. I know a lot of people, probably work with a lot of people that people just don’t know. I’ve been around for a minute. But I think the internet is where stuff started taking off for me, for real for real. The internet gets me more shows in Atlanta, or them just seeing me lit in New York. They’ll be like, “Oh, they fuckin’ want her out there so let me fuck with her back here,” essentially.

What was the first moment in your head where you were like, Oh, shit, this is happening for real? 

Probably when I made “v1deog1rl pt. 2.” I did the music video for that, produced it. I feel like that’s the first moment where I really found what sound I wanted to go for, for real. I feel like that was the first song I was like, that’s Vayda right there, you know? 

I think I came across your music through “Gummy Vaymix,” which we posted on No Bells and then might’ve gone viral on Twitter like a week later.

It’s weird, like, everything’s building up on top of each other. So before then, it was “lovy dovy,” that kind of took off bigger than I expected it to. So then with “Gummy Vaymix,” I didn’t expect it to go that crazy, but like, it wasn’t out of reach. I think that was just a new level, and then “bingo” took that shit up to even another level. I know the next time I go crazy is gonna be crazier than all this shit anyways.

Yeah for real. What’s the most surprising co-sign you got recently? I saw Veeze posted you, that’s pretty crazy.

I heard PnB Rock Instagram page liked the Trsh Mag thing.

Oh, wow. P—Wait, who’s running that?

I don’t know! [laughs] Like somebody in the comments was like, how did Pnb Rock like this?

How did you lay down the tracks for “bingo?” Cuz it’s sped up but even then feels really fast.

Wav did that. Wav the producer. We were at Hundo’s house. He recorded me. It was to a beat he already produced. Wav is really the producer/engineer god. [laughs] I just sped it up.

Do you listen to any 454?

Yeah I listen to 454.

People have been speeding up songs for years but I think when he started dropping the FAST TRAX series, I was like, damn, this is about to be something crazy. “This should just be how songs sound,” is what he was trying to say, I feel.

I think everybody got short attention spans. I got a short attention span. I barely have any songs that reach, like, two minutes. And then I speed them up because I personally don’t have the attention span to listen to my song. Even if it’s my song, I don’t have the attention span to listen to it for that long. So I just speed it up just to make it easier.

I was talking to our mutual friend Swoozydolphin about this. He was saying that when you speed up a song, sometimes you hear a new song.

True, and then sometimes I be simpin’ in my songs. I be, like, emotional in my songs. So I feel like when I speed it up, they can’t hear how emotional I really am. It’s lit regardless, type shit, you know?

What do you like to watch? I think I saw a video of yours where you have this Nollywood clip in the background. 

Oh yeah, I do watch Nollywood! Like, every now and then when I need some drama and there’s no good Bad Reality TV out there, you could just turn on a Nollywood film. [laughs] And they got everything, they got every topic! They got witches, they got Beyonce versus Rihanna, they got everything.

You self produced your recent tape Dawn. What made you wanna go back to rapping on your own beats?

I don’t know, people just be playing with me for real on the internet and shit. I mean, not to toot my own horn but yes to toot my own horn, I do a lot of stuff besides just rap. People was putting me in boxes with other people, and I’m just like, “They don’t even do half the shit I be doing.” I was receiving a lot of hate too on the internet, and it don’t really bother me much, but I’m just like, I just do a lot of other stuff other than being a rapper. So I was like, I gotta just produce this tape on my own just to prove to myself that I can complete a whole project by myself and this shit’s gonna have nothing but bangers. I’m not just a fucking rapper, you know? 

Bonus question: What does Popstar Benny mean to the Atlanta music scene?

He really did his own shit. Like him and Bear, they really built that shit from the fucking ground up. So I’ll always respect them for that. I knew Bear before I was even a rapper. Me and my friend would just be around in the studio type shit.

Me and Benny got some new shit coming out, we just started collabing. But it’s more of a respect thing because they really built that shit up from the freaking ground up. That shit did not happen overnight. I feel like I’m doing the same thing in my own little way too, now. But they were the first people that I’ve seen do it.

Tickets to Popstar Benny’s headline show in Brooklyn tonight featuring Vayda, dazegxd, Niontay and more.

Thoughts? Let us know