premiere: a twisted take on rihanna’s ‘kiss it better’ from mess kid
The buzzed-about LA producer talks to i-D about "RIH-MIX," his forthcoming love letter to "ANTI," and discovering Detroit’s Ghettotech scene at 14.
Someone get Rihanna on the phone because there's a new producer in town. And, like anyone with good taste, he's got a thing for Bad Girl RiRi. Meet LA-via-Detroit producer Mess Kid, who releases RIH-MIX, his twisted take on ANTI, on January 23. With a resume that includes DJing for LE1F and A§AP Ferg, Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, and Rick Owens — as well as working with Giorgio Moroder — you might expect bangers-only vibes from Mess Kid's latest effort. But his multi-track deconstruction is dark, seductive, in-your-face, confident, and complex, which makes sense when you read his description of the project: a "sort of a music diary entry from my personal life post-heartbreak." We talked to Mess Kid about his formative years in Detroit, his new life post-heartbreak in LA, and his sonic love letter to Rihanna. Before RIH-MIX drops Monday, i-D's got your weekend needs covered with the premiere of Mess Kid's "Take It Back," his dizzying reinterpretation of "Kiss It Better." Take a listen. (You too, Rihanna.)
You got into DJing growing up in Detroit. How have your experiences there influenced you as a DJ and producer?
I started going out in Detroit when I was 14 years old. My Russian friend would sneak me into Ghettotech clubs when I was super young and I fell in love with nightlife. The DJs in Detroit are the best and most consistent out of anywhere I've been in the world. I was a shy kid at 14 and didn't really know what I wanted or liked in life. School bored me, the kids at my school bored me and were all the same… I came from another country [Latvia], so to them I was so different — they called me boater or immigrant boy. They all listened to the same music and dressed the same. I guess I didn't want to be that at all. Something about coming to America and going to public schools showed me how much every kid wanted to be the same, and anything different was considered weird and silly. But the club and nightlife felt different to me and it let me be myself. I felt like it was a place where everyone could coexist. It didn't matter where you were from, what you were wearing, who you hung out with — for a moment you just had the DJ to guide you through the night like some sort of religion that I never knew about. I fell in love with that, and I haven't left the club since. Those early days in Detroit inspired me more than anything — the way I DJ, the way I produce music... The warehouse parties, the way the DJs would play sped-up R&B records mixed with jungle breaks and Ghettotech would forever stay with me.
After ten years, you recently left NYC for LA. Why? How's that going in terms of your work?
Honestly I wasn't the biggest fan of LA before I moved here. I moved to NYC by myself when I was 18 and lived there for 10 years. You don't really love LA being a "New Yorker," but that all changed for me. I produced music in NYC, but kept it to myself. The first time I actually put something out was a record I produced with Giorgio Moroder. This is the record that got the attention of a publishing company in LA. They reached out and asked If I could come and produce records for them for a sort of "trial period," and at first I wasn't into it. But I showed the email to a really good friend of mine and he said, "You're going," and he bought my ticket. So I went and within two days they asked me to move there and offered me a publishing deal. LA has changed my life, my lifestyle, the way I look at my career and myself. I feel like I'm way more productive and positive living here.
What is it about Rihanna for you? How long have you been a fan?
Honestly, I've always been a fan. Even though I wasn't always a fan of pop music she always stuck out to me. She seems so clever with her decisions and just seemed super moldable, but also she had a total say in what she was doing behind the scenes, which is rare for a pop artist. I love that she doesn't give a fuck, and she's open to work with so many different types of people to push her sound forward.
When you first started getting buzz, it was all about your spinning skills and style. But when did you get into producing?
I started producing when I was 12 years old. I would speed up R&B instrumental records via my turntables and rap over them trying to emulate what I heard in the Detroit Ghettotech clubs and I would record everything to cassette tape but never show anyone. I always did it for myself. I wish I had those tapes still. It took me forever to actually collab with singers to be honest... I never thought of myself as an amazing producer or good enough to do so. I just kept piling up tracks, never releasing them.
Can you elaborate on "Take It Back," your reinterpretation of "Kiss It Better"?
My version is about a dream I had of the person who broke my heart coming to me and asking me to "take it back" — like to take her back after years of not seeing or speaking to her. Then I would suddenly wake up. I kept having this dream. This song is my best effort to recreate the vibe of this dream with the looping of "Take it on back, boy" and then it ends with "Can't take it, can't take it back."
Besides Rihanna, who else would you love to work with?
Well, I would've loved to work with Amy Winehouse. I miss her. Sade would be a dream come true. Love Deluxe was the first CD I bought when I moved to America.
What's next for you?
Putting out my first EP. And hopefully working with Rihanna.
Text Alex Catarinella
Image courtesy Mess Kid