Written by Daniella E.
Music Producer Agajon talks his debut album nag champa, he shares what biggest conflict is making music today, why he wants to work with Jonas Lindstroem and what he wants his impact to be
AgaJon is a music producer of Afghan and German heritage who at just 21-years-old is already making his mark in the music industry. He currently resides in Hamburg, Germany. His discography so far is an extension of the music he was exposed to growing up, from his brother being a big Ryan Leslie fan, to his mum who played reggae music throughout his childhood and his dad who played the djembe. AgaJon grew up with an awareness of rhythm, which led him to develop his ear for music by teaching himself how to produce and eventually reaching listeners far and wide on SoundCloud, Spotify and other streaming platforms.
He has produced for the likes of Giggs, Selah Sue, Naomi Scott, Lou Phelps and has collaborated with talented musicians like Jay Prince, Ninja Kidsoul and LAYLA.
Taking a break from creating in the studio with Ninja Kidsoul, AgaJon sat down for an in-depth conversation opening up about his journey so far, his influences, choosing commercial success over authenticity and much much more…
Daniella: It’s interesting that there are so many career paths that music can take you to. I love hearing stories of how music has played a role in helping people to find what they love doing, what they want to be and contribute to society. I recently had a conversation with the Managing Director of a creative agency that started in Tokyo. He was telling me about how the founders were two bass players who started the creative agency, because they love music. Where did your love of music come from and what drew you to producing?
AgaJon: I would actually say, it came from my mum, cause she used to listen to like a lot of different types of music, like reggae and funk. All types of stuff really. And my dad used to play the djembe. That’s where everything started. And then my brother started rapping and beatboxing and it just came somehow.
And I started beatboxing. When I was like 15 or 16, I realised that I wanted to make music. And then that’s when I started making beats.
Daniella: Oh, that’s really cool and interesting to hear the different musical influences your family had. What software did you start using then and how has your production process changed over time then?
AgaJon: So, I think I bought it in a grocery store…it was called Magix Music Maker. And it was just like loops. I could like put loops in the program and just f*ck around with them. And after like a few months, I switched to Reason, that was the first program I really worked in – like a real producer. After like a year, I switched to FL studio. That’s where I’m at still.
Daniella: Nice to hear your software progression as you got better and picked up new skills.
AgaJon: Yeah, every time I changed my software it opened up new doors, because the approach was different with every new program. It was needed to switch around a little.
Daniella: I definitely relate to that, but I would say more in a visual sense for sure. I started off writing, but when I studied journalism, I learnt how to video edit using Adobe Premiere Pro. Then, I taught myself a lot of other editing skills using YouTube and now I’m trying to get good at After Effects. It’s like once you get good at one software, there’s just this desire to keep leveling up, expanding and evolving. I think it’s really healthy to be honest, smart and just makes you more efficient and employable I guess too.
AgaJon: Right! It’s really exciting. It’s a journey – exploring new things and sh*t. Yeah, that’s dope and really cool!
Daniella: Oh, that’s really cool! Moving to your influences, in past interviews you cited the legendary J Dilla, who is my favorite producer –
AgaJon: Yeah! J Dilla, that’s the legend!
Daniella: For sure…and you cited Kaytranada also, as some of your musical influences. That’s was very cool for me to find out, as those two producers especially experimentation is such a big part of their impact and big a part of their discography in general…even seeing how J Dilla is respected amongst classical composers and musicians across various genres who marvel at his genius and legacy. What do you love most about J Dilla and Kaytranada’s style and what helps you to keep experimenting with your own music?
AgaJon: That’s such a good question. Cause like with J Dilla, it’s just the way he used sounds. It feels like he had this approach to make himself feel good while making music.
And that’s what I feel when I’m listening to his music. Not just his produced records, but also his beat tapes and bootlegs and stuff. It always has like this feel where you can hear that he’s always trying to go somewhere else with the beat. Even if it’s just like the same bounce, it just sounds different all the time! And that’s what inspires me so much. And I would say Kaytranada just took that to another level, like with the modern sound…with the house. For me, J Dilla and Kaytranada…it’s like the same thing to me – just the new version of it. But I really respect that, just to do it like this is…it’s just insane.
Daniella: I remember when Kaytranda said on Twitter that J Dilla is the inspiration behind his sound, why he’s here and why he makes music in the way he does. So yeah, it’s really cool that you picked up on the connection.
AgaJon: Yeah! He posted something something, uh, the song was called, Make It Hurt by Busta Rhymes.
AgaJon: And that’s like one of the J Dilla joints, he started off with this like – weird house bounce, yeah.
Daniella: Yeah, that’s the one! I love that Kaytra wrote that on Twitter, it’s just like a note to his new fans as well (who may not have been introduced to him through SoundCloud) on where his influences come from. For me, with your music, I can hear those elements of neo-soul, jazz or hip-hop and sounds from other genres too. So, how would you describe your sound if you had to put it in a few words?
AgaJon: I would say, I don’t really like to explain my sound, cause I’m still not sure where I want to go with it.
But yeah, it’s versatile…it’s inspired by sampling, by hip hop. I would say it has roots in hip-hop, but I’m going everywhere with it.
Daniella: I like that answer, it’s not limiting too and I’m really excited to see where you take your sound as well.
AgaJon: Me too! It’s always a journey in the studio.
Daniella: Your discography is growing, your collaborations are growing too and as someone who enjoys listening to your music, it’s been great watching your journey so far. What rappers, singers, instrumentalists or music producers would you like to work of in the future?
AgaJon: Ooh, there are a lot! If I’m looking to the big ones…I would definitely say Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, Frank…like the goats, of course the goats! But also, I just met up with Gaidaa from Amsterdam. She was on tour with SABA and yeah, she’s really great. We just had a session. I wanna work with her more!
Yeah…there are too many, I think I just gotta make a list. But, there are definitely a lot of people I wanna meet in different countries. That’s on the list, traveling a little bit more to have sessions.
Daniella: Oh, awesome! So, for me one of the ways that I discover music is through films and TV shows.
I’m currently watching Mo on Netflix and I like the soundtrack for that show is really cool. I also really liked the soundtrack for Insecure.
AgaJon: Yeah. It’s crazy!
Daniella Are there any shows, films, movie franchises or cinematic universes even that you would like to hear your music in?
AgaJon: Definitely, but I don’t know what kind of stuff, because I’m not watching that much. But, I would love to support something like that, but it’s not something that I’m working for actually. It’s more about like making projects like albums and singles for now, but we don’t know what’s coming in the future.
Daniella: Congratulations on the release of your debut album nag champa! It’s a great album and a great project overall to introduce your work, your discography and your sound to new listeners. Some of my personal favourites on the album are intro, plants, back to basics featuring Jay Prince…oh, and soldier that track is crazy!
AgaJon: That’s crazy that you’re saying that these are your favourites. Nobody has said that before!
Daniella: Oh wow, that’s crazy! Yeah, I think soldier and intro, are my two favourites if I had to choose two. The production on both those tracks are crazy!
AgaJon: I love that!
Daniella: Yeah, it’s a strong body of work with great features too. Can you talk us through the process of this album and how it came about?
AgaJon: Yeah, so in 2020, I started making an album, cause like I had to do this project and I just tried to be in the studio as much as I can, finding vibes and songs that inspire me. But…at some point I just stopped, threw everything away and started from the beginning. I used to listen to J Dilla a lot. It was the first time that I started studying his beats and listening to his stuff, like over and over again. So, it got me inspired on another level. So, I started from the beginning in 2021 or mid 2021, I would say. And that’s where I started sending out some of the beats I did to artists.
And I told them like, ‘yo, I’m trying to do this project’. At this point, I didn’t even know what kind of project I wanted to do. So, I was just thinking about what could it be. What am I doing right here? And actually, I was just in my bedroom making music. And that’s what the album is about.
It’s just about like, the safe space that I had. That’s why I called it nag champa, because nag champa is something that makes me feel at home. And I used to light up a nag champa every day when I’d make the album. So that’s why it’s called nag champa.
Yeah, it’s just a producer tape, where a guy was sitting in his bedroom, sending out beats and just trying to arrange and do whatever with the sounds.
Daniella: Oh, I love that. I really like hearing the stories about producers who started making beats in their bedroom. I just feel like your bedroom sometimes where like the greatest ideas come from.
Daniella: Also, I love the music that you’ve made with Ninja Kidsoul –
AgaJon: He’s actually here right now!
Daniella: Oh, my days, so cool!
AgaJon: He’s in my studio right there –
Daniella: He’s amazing. I love the music that you guys have made together from Wednesday to No Rush to Romeo & Juliet. I love it all.
AgaJon: I appreciate you, really!
Daniella: You guys work so well together –
AgaJon: Yeah. He’s my favorite artist to work with for, for sure. I love that guy!
Daniella: So sweet! What do you enjoy most about working with him and how did your friendship begin?
AgaJon: I would say he’s one of the only people I can have this magic in the studio with. It just feels natural to do whatever, even if it’s just like a piano…sound, we’re just adding shit to it.
And at some point, it just sounds like something. And that’s what I love. Like, we’re just in the studio and something is happening. We both can’t really explain what it is, but, yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s really beautiful.
We met…I think it was in 2017 or 2018 – yeah, 2018. That’s when I made my first project and I just sent him a text, because I heard his verse on the Serious Klein album and I was like, yo, this shit is tight. So, I just sent him a text and then we met in Hamburg, recorded the first song and that’s where everything started. Now we’re like really, really, really close friends.
Daniella: Wow. It’s so like cool for me to hear, about friendships that blossom, where you are even able to have a both a working friendship and make great music together.
I think that’s actually quite rare. I come across tweets that producers will put up where it’s like, they’ll get messages from people saying like ‘let’s work’. And it’s just like, it doesn’t work like that. You have to build a genuine friendship before you work together.
AgaJon: I mean the game has really changed. I’m still a youngen, I’m just 21. But when I talk to like older people, I’ve realised that the game has changed. Like these days you just be texting a lot of people like, ‘yo, what’s up, I love your stuff, let’s work’. And sometimes you don’t even know if you can like trust these people. But yeah, it’s beautiful to meet people and really connect on this level and as you said, it’s rare. I wish it wasn’t that rare though.
Daniella: So, what would you say then that you look for? Let’s say a producer, musician, rapper or singer is reading this and they actually do love your work and they want to work with you. How would they go about building that genuine friendship? How should someone reach out to you and what do you look for in their character?
AgaJon: I think it’s actually just about how it feels to be with the person. Like, what your first call or first impression of that person is and then it just develops from there.
I like if somebody texts me saying, ‘yo, I f*ck with your stuff’. And send me something of their stuff, so I know what they’re doing. If I like it and it’s natural, then of course! I would say, ‘yo, this is dope’. Why wouldn’t I? So yeah, I like when people just send me stuff to listen to. Cause I get a lot of messages, like, ‘let’s work’ as you said. But, that’s like really dry.
Daniella: Right so, if you’re reading this and you wanna work with AgaJon, there’s a few solid tips. So, I’m quite curious about this, I understand that you are of German and Afghan heritage. Does that play into the music you make in any way?
AgaJon: I would actually say there’s no connection.
AgaJon: Yeah, my music has no connection to my heritage, because – I wouldn’t even say I feel like I’m Afghan or I feel like I’m German. So, no, it has no connection. It’s just me trying to do what feels right.
Daniella: That’s interesting!
AgaJon: Yeah, I would say, over the past few years, I’ve got better and my ear is getting better. I understand more about how to layer things, how to change the base notes and stuff like that. My style is getting more versatile, because I feel like I’m more fearless when I make music.
Daniella: I like how you use the word fearless here. Especially thinking about the time we’re in at the moment. I see a lot of conversations happening between producers, beatmakers and musicians today around this feeling of being conflicted. By that I mean, having this conflict of, ‘should I make something that, you know, gives me commercial success or should I make the obscure and unique music that feels authentic to who I am’.
Do you feel like you have that conflict? And if so, like how do you overcome that?
AgaJon: It’s my biggest conflict actually. Nag champa is one of the reasons of this conflict. It’s really the first step into another world. Going away from chasing placements and not trying to make people like your stuff. It’s just about making the stuff and putting it out.
I hope people understand what I do, maybe like it and then just f*ck with the stuff that I do. And not like me trying to do something that they would like. Nag champa was like one of the steps into like another direction from this conflict, because it’s a big conflict. I would say everybody who who’s trying to live from music has this conflict somehow these days.
Daniella: Yeah, super valid point. So, I’ve seen your Twitter bio [Laughs]. I know you’re not too fond of social media. I thought maybe like you could elaborate on that. Cause I also get that social media can be a powerful tool for musicians to express their art with the world, but I definitely understand the pros and the cons. What would you say your relationship with social media is like at the moment?
AgaJon: It has up and downs. But I would say without social media, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve connected with everything through social media, like all the artists I’m working with…instrumentalists, piano players, bass players and everything has been from social media.
It’s a great tool to connect, but also it could, it can be like the biggest distraction of all time if you start comparing your sh*t with others. You just think about too many things when you see all those people moving. And sometimes I feel like I need to take a break from social media to refocus on what I really wanna do and not what I feel like I need to do for the people.
And that’s what I feel like is the biggest distraction, not knowing what you’re doing this thing for. So, I would say, as I said, it’s up and down. Sometimes I feel like just chilling on the gram for hours and just exploring people and checking out this and that. And sometimes I’m just like, no, I don’t really wanna see anything. Just deleting the app and I’m good.
Daniella: Yeah, I totally get that and relate too. It makes me think of like Michaela, Coel. When she won her Emmy, during her acceptance speech she said something like, ‘Don’t be afraid to disappear for a while’ and there being inspiration in the silence.
AgaJon: Definitely. Definitely.
Daniella: Yeah, I think about the greats a lot, you know even people, like J Dilla and so many people that I admire, I think about the way they operated now and in their prime. And yeah, I think, you definitely could say J Dilla was quite introverted. He didn’t really do a lot of interviews and stuff like that and also was source inspiration from outside sources.
AgaJon: Yeah, it’s just energy. I don’t even know how to explain, but yeah, it’s as you said the silence can be inspiring.
Daniella: And for me, I would say I’m quite a visual person. So, when I listen to music, I think about how I could explore it visually…the rhythm, the beat, the melody…what they would look like a short film or visual interpretation or something. Cause I’ve filmed videos of dancers and stuff before.
So, when I’m travelling around or in a café or in my bedroom even, I’ll think about how can I film a dancer kind of freestyling to this beat and other visual ideas like that. A random idea will come in my head and I’m writing it in my notepad.
Where does your inspiration come from and what do you do when those creative thoughts and ideas come into your head?
AgaJon: In the last couple of months, it didn’t really happen that much. But, when it happens, I always try to like go straight to the studio or just try to do a voice note. But most of the times I get inspired by listening to records I haven’t been listening to. Exploring new music inspires me a lot. Or I listen to NTS Radio a lot, they just have crazy shit on their channels. When I listen to this stuff, I just feel inspired. And sometimes, I flip those samples too. But most of the time, it’s just like having melodies in my head and adapting something from another song. I don’t even know. It’s, uh, random, it’s really random. Sometimes a picture can inspire me too, or like a movie or everything, but most of the times it’s like old records.
Daniella: Wow. That’s cool. Going back to social media, my saves section on Instagram is full of inspirations and people I hope to work with one day.
AgaJon: Same, same!
Daniella: Yeah, people doing really cool things. From like choreographers to photographers or illustrators..etc. Are there any illustrators, filmmakers or photographers that you would like to work with visually in the future? Maybe even for like a music video or cover art for a future project?
AgaJon: I think there are quite a few. I can’t think of the names right now, but I would say Jonas Lindstroem. I think he did the ELEMENT. video by Kendrick and he’s from Berlin also. That’s actually why I wanna work with him actually, because I wanna have this German connection too. And I think he’s dope. And there are quite a few in Canada and in LA. So, it’s just about meeting up and trying to get some sh*t done. I would say.
Daniella: Do you feel like you are gonna stay in Germany or can you see yourself like going abroad and if so, where?
AgaJon: I definitely see myself going somewhere else. And I wouldn’t say a specific location. I would say I need to travel more, just to explore where I feel more connected to. But for now, it’s just me being in a studio and trying to get better. The next stop for me is LA definitely and of course London too! I need to visit.
Daniella: That would be cool! And yeah, everyone talks about LA, it seems like a great place for making connections in the music industry to be honest.
AgaJon: That’s true. It’s kinda mainstream, right?
Daniella: Yeah, some people are like, ‘ah if you go to LA you’ll blow’…etc.
AgaJon: Yeah, there are just like some crazy connections you that you can’t miss. So, I think I just gotta do it.
Daniella: For sure…you should! And finally, what dreams do you have in terms of your career then, what would you like your impact to be?
AgaJon: I would love to have an impact on the producer game. Just getting people to do what they want. Like just do you. If you like to do this, then just do it! And I feel like producers’ not having this mindset and that’s what I would love to have an impact on. And also, my dream is just being able to make music for my whole life. However, that’s gonna be. But yeah, that’s my dream. Just making music and not having to work somewhere else would be fire, yeah…