In just four years, Naughty Boy has experienced an incredible career trajectory.
From his parent’s tiny shed in Watford to his own state-of-the-art studio in Ealing, Shahid Khan has crafted compositions for everyone from Tinie Tempah, Wiley, Professor Green, Rihanna and Emeli Sandé. The latter’s debut album, ‘Our Version Of Events’ produced by Naughty has sold nearly two million albums in the UK alone.
Over the last 12 months, Naughty Boy has become one of the UK’s most sought-after sound creators. Reintroducing the charts to the sound of garage beats, house and trip-hop, his work also boasts an epic, dramatic, ethereal quality. With a distinctive feel to his compositions, he has won the acclaim of his peers, while the likes of Tinie Tempah, Professor Green, and Emeli Sandé will all appear on Naughty’s forthcoming debut album, ‘Hotel Cabana’ due later this year. “I want it to be an album for our time; it has a concept to it, so it’s more like a film in some respects,” he says. “I view it like I’m not just a producer – I’m a director too”.
Unusually, Khan only began making music six years ago. Before that, he merely dabbled distractedly with music, teaching himself to play on the school piano during lunchtime or unconsciously creating compositions in his head. “I didn’t have any tuition, I just seemed to know how to play, which is weird,” he notes. “I thought that was totally normal, to be able to play piano or to hear in my head how the piano should sound, the drums, an idea for a top-line. I didn’t realise most people don’t spend all day composing in their head.”
Naughty’s musical diet at home was Pakistani films and music, in particular the works of Yash Chopra. Bollywood isn’t necessarily musically an influence, but the emotions, grandeur and drama that it inhabits has been a big reference point. “Because that music is so epic, that’s why I do such anthemic stuff I think. Bollywood is all about love and destiny and rich and poor and I constantly heard that throughout my life. I applied that idea to making English music rather than Indian music or British Indian music.” While he was aware of Western sounds at school, it wasn’t until after he left that it really made its impact. In later years, Timbaland and Aaliyah’s ‘Try Again’, which he heard at the age of 17, became his impetus to really consider a career in music. “I remember hearing ‘Try Again’ and that was when I became amazed by music and its possibilities,” he says. “It took four years before I sat down on a computer, but that day is when I really started thinking about how I wanted to make music.”
Bought up on an estate in Watford by his homemaker mum and taxi driver dad, Khan simply didn’t consider a career in music would be viable. “It was nothing I would have dared to have thought to do seriously; I just assumed I shouldn’t go into it.” After doing A’Levels, he embarked on a serious of temporary jobs, including a shop, a hotel (where he spotted Dizzee in the spa wearing a cap) and at Watford General Hospital doing data. “They never lasted long; I either left or got fired,” he laughs. In 2005, he decided to try university, but the theoretical Music Tech course only held his attention for a few weeks; he left and successfully applied for a grant from the Prince’s Trust. With the £3000, he bought a copy of Reason and an Apple Mac and persuaded his parents to let him use their shed as a studio. He came into more money soon after; a friend’s mum persuaded him to enter Deal Or No Deal, and after spending three weeks in Bristol, he walked away with £44,000 from Noel Edmond’s mysterious dealer!
Calling a friend who knew a friend who knew a friend who knew someone who knew the rapper Bashy, he persuaded the north London MC, at the time himself a bus driver, to travel to Watford where they recorded the seminal track ‘Black Boys’. One of the first UK urban tracks to be playlisted on MTV Base with a video paid for by Naughty, and used to promote Black History Month, the remix featured future chart-toppers Chipmunk, Tinie Tempah and Wretch 32. Since its 2007 release, Naughty Boy has risen rapidly through the ranks from novice beat-maker to in-demand drum programmer. After creating further hits for Wiley and Chipmunk, Naughty signed a publishing deal with Sony in 2009, followed by an artist deal with Virgin Records last year.
Another chance meeting with an upcoming Scottish singer called Emeli Sandé, who was in London to perform at industry showcase I Luv Live, became an incredibly productive pairing. On their very first session together, the pair wrote ‘Heaven’ and ‘Never Be Your Woman’. In the next session they created ‘Diamond Rings’. Now their symbiotic sonics have gone on to sell millions.
Naughty Boy's sound, always changing, retains a unique and profound Britishness. Completely uninterested in emulating the US, or trying to create a American bubble gum pop style hit singles, his extravagant, epic soundscapes play to a completely different sensibility. “I grew up admiring the likes of Timaband, and I’m still inspired by him and Pharrell, as well as the Bollywood soundtracks,” he says. “However, I want to bring the sound back to the UK and prove that the US sound has become somewhat stale, the same sound is being recycled over and over again for the same acts. I want to show that in Britain we make vital, innovative sounds that are as, if not more, valid than the big American producers.”
Having left the shed for Hotel Cabana - complete with bar and a cat called Bob – Naughty will release his conceptual debut album in 2013.