Editor's Note: This story first appeared in its original format in the new issue of Variance. Click here for the full version.
Photo courtesy Rebel One
When Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar joined forces onstage at the GRAMMYs this past January, the two acts not only created the night’s biggest buzz on social media (what the Recording Academy refers to as a “GRAMMY Moment”) but their collaboration also signified a major victory for their young, once-underdog record labels—KIDinaKORNER and Top Dawg Entertainment, respectively.
In many ways, it was yet another sign of the changing landscape in the music industry. Just two years prior, neither act was anywhere near “Music’s Biggest Night,” much less performing on music’s biggest stage in front of 29 million viewers.
While all eyes were most definitely on the elaborate performance on stage, mega-producer Alexander Grant (aka Alex Da Kid) was behind the scenes immersed in his own victory, his own GRAMMY Moment.
Of course, Grant’s no stranger to the GRAMMYs. He produced Eminem’s GRAMMY-nominated "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Rihanna, who earned an Album of the Year nod for 2011’s Loud, which was co-produced by Grant. He also garnered a Best Rap Song nomination with Dr. Dre, Eminem and his own artist Skylar Grey for "I Need a Doctor."
This year was different though.
“It was insane,” Grant tells Variance. “The last few months really. It’s been a real roller coaster. And of course winning with an artist that you’ve helped build and develop. It’s not like the others. That journey.”
Not everyone, however, was thrilled about Imagine Dragons’ big night, in which they also beat out Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zeppelin for Best Rock Performance. Grant isn’t bothered by some of the negative feedback though.
“If you put something out into the world, you have you be prepared for the critiques,” he says. “And I think the band understands that. Not everyone is going to like it. But the fact is, a lot of people do. I’ve never had so many texts on my phone as after the GRAMMYs, the performance. Overwhelmingly, it was a positive experience. The whole thing is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
This coming from the guy who counts 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, T.I., Christina Aguilera, Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B and Hayley Williams among the artists he’s worked with. But despite his superstar-filled resumé, he says “there’s something special about what I’m doing right now.”
Remembering a time when he couldn’t get the time of day from the people he now calls his peers, Grant finds himself now on top of the world. “I still remember sending the ‘Love the Way You Lie’ beat around,” he recalls. “I sent it to everyone, but nobody wanted it. It’s crazy to think about that now. But I don’t like to look back, only forward.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing, looking ahead. Despite massive success with superstar acts, Grant is focusing now on his imprint and cultivating his roster of rising artists. But he’s certainly not closing the door on the big names. “If there’s someone I really respect and if it makes sense, then I’ll do it,” he says.
Fortunately, the young producer no longer has to endure collaborations “simply for the sake of getting your name out there. I’ve been in situations before where you get with an artist and you’re on two different pages, but you still try to make it work because they’re a ‘big artist.’ So if I’m going to work with a bigger artist now and I understand what they’re trying to do and we’re on the same page, if they’re pushing music forward and doing something different, I’ll work with them outside of my label.”
One such exception already in the works is Grant’s forthcoming collaboration with Rihanna, having been in the studio with her earlier this year. “I already know I like working with her,” he admits. “So it’s familiar. And she’s been consistent with releasing albums every year, just not last year. She’s already got a lot going this year.”
As he finds himself further embedded in the careers of his artists, what separates Grant from many of his colleagues is not only his determination to achieve personal success but to help others do the same.
“If someone has entrusted me with their career, it’s a massive responsibility,” he explains. “I just don’t take that lightly. I know in my own career, I take it very seriously who I work with and what I put in their hands. I do everything humanly possible to help the people I’m working with, I just don’t know how to do it any other way.”
Ultimately, Grant says his main goal is simply to maintain a certain level of happiness. “Like I want to make sure that I enjoy my life. I guess I figured out early on that creating music and being involved in all these strategic decisions and things like that—these are the things I love. I would do it for free because I just love it. And even if something doesn’t work out the way I wanted or hoped, it’s not a failure. It’s never a failure. I love the journey of it.”
As Grant’s journey continues, he’ll be focusing on his artists such as Jamie N Commons and Candice Pillay, the latter of whom has an EP expected later this year. Meanwhile, New York rockers X Ambassadors seem to be brewing KIDinaKORNER’s next big hit record, with a small but stunning catalog already in place.
“[They] have been doing the groundwork for a while and we’re getting a lot of great feedback,” he reveals. “You’re going to be hearing a lot more from them for sure. I’m really excited for what they can do and what they can become. They just have that something special.”
As for Imagine Dragons, Grant suggests they’ll lay low for a while but return next year with new material. “They’ve been on tour for a couple years and it’s been hard to really sit down and get new stuff,” he explains. “But we’ve been working and doing stuff when we get time. As we get through April, May, we’ll start focusing more on the album. The idea is for it to be [out] next year.”