WondaGurl Made Big Sean and Eminem’s “No Favors” in Five Minutes
From a tweaked custom sample to some perfectly placed drums, here’s how a hastily composed instrumental turned into a Billboard-charting hit.
At age 22, Toronto-based producer WondaGurl already has a resume of production credits that many producers would only hope for in their wildest dreams. After producing a cut for Jay-Z at age 16, she has provided instrumentals for the likes of Mariah Carey, Drake, Ryan Leslie, Rihanna, Travis Scott, and Bryson Tiller, with her remarkable discography growing in size and scope every year.
Having spent much of the last 13 years of her life making beats, the path that led WondaGurl to the highest levels of the music industry began taking shape when she was only 9 years old. “My grandma bought me a Casio keyboard,” she told Genius in a 2017 episode of their Deconstructed series. “There were drum pads on it too, so I would just make beats and stuff without even knowing what I was really doing.”
Inspired by a video of Jay-Z and Timbaland working in the studio together, WondaGurl tried to make coherent compositions for hours at a time with little assistance or mentoring from an experienced producer. From the beginning, working in solitude was her go-to method. “I’m not good with people, but I’m really good with programs,” she explained in a 2013 Fader interview.
“I am inspired a lot just by how I’m feeling that day. I go and make a beat and kind of let out everything in that beat. It’s kind of weird, and I feel better afterward.”
Though WondaGurl tried to push herself out of her comfort zone with some proper music lessons, the experiment only lasted a short time before she pulled the plug and went back to working solo. “I went to training a few times, but I got bored,” she told Noisey in a 2014 interview. “I don’t like having a teacher — I’d rather watch Youtube.”
This preference for working alone or with a select, small group of trusted collaborators was reiterated in another recent interview. “I’m not really good at working with people, as weird as that sounds,” she told Fader in 2016. “It’s just more about being comfortable. I can’t work with a random person. I have a hard time doing that.”
The hesitancy to let too many people into her creative circle may stem from the deeply personal and therapeutic role music seems to play in her life. Often guided by her general mood while in the studio, much of WondaGurl’s catalog is a direct reflection of her emotional state at different points in her career. “I am inspired a lot just by how I’m feeling that day,” she told Genius. “I go and make a beat and kind of let out everything in that beat. It’s kind of weird, and I feel better afterward.”
“I’m not good with people, but I’m really good with programs.”
Beyond helping her filter through life experiences both good and bad, WondaGurl sees her instrumentals as a way to share different narratives with her listeners. “When I go to the studio, at the end of the day I want at least one finished nice beat that kind of tells a story,” she told Genius.
Though studio time with limited human contact is her preferred way of crafting stories, WondaGurl made one of her most recent successes in the midst of a more active Travis Scott studio session. Having already played Scott a slew of beats, she had some time to kill and no real agenda for what to do next. Naturally, she took the opportunity to flex her creative muscle.
Messing around in FL Studio while Scott continued to work on his own material, WondaGurl started out with a sample titled “Canvas” that was given to her by fellow Toronto producer FrancisGotHeat. Altering the speed and pitch of the customized sample to her liking, she told Genius she “kind of made it faster and higher.”
“It took me five minutes to make it to be honest. After I brought it to Sean I added a little bit more and then he took it out.”
After chopping one section of the sample, WondaGurl laid out a skeletal beat and added drums — regular hi-hats, open hi-hats, kicks, and snares. Paying careful attention to the energy of Francis’ altered sample, she felt that slow drums fit the vibe of the song best. “The sample kind of felt slow when I changed it up a bit,” she told Genius. “So I kind of tried to make the drums kind of slow.”
By the time she completed each step of beat construction, WondaGurl had cooked up what would soon become Big Sean’s hit “No Favors” in record time. “It took me five minutes to make it to be honest,” she told Genius. “After I brought it to Sean I added a little bit more and then he took it out.”
According to WondaGurl, her decision to play Sean her five-minute creation during their studio session was a spur of the moment choice done with little expectation. To her surprise, Sean ended up selecting it for his Eminem-assisted song that wound up reaching #22 on the Billboard charts. “I was in the studio with him and it was just one of those ideas that I played randomly and he was feeling it,” she told Genius. “But it was so rough.”
“I dream about completely taking over the game, in a Timbaland kind of way.”
As often seems to be the case with musicians and producers, WondaGurl was very critical of her creation and didn’t see the value in it that was readily apparent to others. Due to the song’s simplicity, she felt it was less noteworthy than her more complex and nuanced work. “At first, I didn’t care for the beat because it was just simple,” she told Genius. “I usually kind of go in and I don’t make a lot of simple beats. This one was super simple.”
Now, with her “simple” composition morphing into a Billboard-charting record, it seems like a jaw-dropping list of album placements is just the beginning for WondaGurl. She has much bigger plans in store for her incredibly bright future. “I dream about completely taking over the game, in a Timbaland kind of way,” she told Fader in 2016.
Based on her output thus far, she’s well on her way.