Why Kanye West chose to record Vultures 1 in a luxury villa in Dubai

US rapper, now known as Ye, traded America for The Palm and called on the skills of one of the city's finest sound engineers and producers

November 12, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) Kanye West (CQ), performs live at Yas Island, Friday, November 12, 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
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When Ye arrived in Dubai in November he was in a hurry.

His already delayed album Vultures 1, a collaboration with hip-hop artist Ty Dolla $ign, was nearing completion but Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) needed a location, recording equipment and studio hand to finish the project.

Two villas on Palm Jumeirah were secured and converted into makeshift studios.

New laptops, microphones and production equipment were sourced and thus began a heady two-week period completing what became Ye’s latest chart-topping album.

Amid his entourage of musicians, including hip-hop star Lil Durk and Grammy Award-winning producer Anthony Kilhoffer, was a veteran of the UAE’s hip-hop scene.

Indonesian rapper and producer Swerte, a member of hip-hop group The Recipe, recalls his surprise when asked to join the recording sessions on The Palm as an assistant studio engineer.

"There was definitely a sense that it was crunch time when it came to the album," he tells The National.

"They wanted an extra engineer to help and I guess through Ty Dolla $ign’s local contacts here in Dubai, they found out about me."

Another reason Swerte, real name Lucky Schild, was offered the gig is his mastery of audio-production software Pro Tools, courtesy of his 18 years as a senior audio engineer at Dubai Media Incorporated.

"They were specific in that they wanted a Pro Tools operator as well as someone knowledgeable in hip-hop," he says.

“Then Ye's engineer called me directly and when he asked how well I knew Pro Tools, I said: 'Some people paint, some people ride bicycles, I work on Pro Tools because that's my thing.'"

When arriving at the villa, Swerte says he was put straight to work.

“My role was to record and do quick mixes for certain song ideas. I also helped chop samples and was basically the hands-on person in the studio,” he says.

“The best way to put it is the creatives – like the songwriters, the musicians and the producers – are the brains and I'm the hands. So whatever they wanted to happen audio-wise, I would make it happen.”

That said, Swerte describes the recording process as being calm and collaborative and he would dart between each room where producers and songwriters worked on different tracks.

Amid that creative flurry was Ye, who Swerte recalls as being in a congenial mood throughout the Dubai recordings.

"He was in good spirits. I remember when I told him that I lived here, he was surprised and said how cool that was,” he says.

“He is also very humble in that he walked into the recording session, would come straight to me and say: ‘Hey, I’m Ye.’ I have been in situations like that before where celebrities pay no notice to you and you're just somebody in the room.

"But with him and his team it wasn't like that at all and it all felt like we were family and no egos were allowed.”

Swerte, who will release a solo album later in the year, says that approach yielded creative breakthroughs in Vultures 1.

"There was a moment in the recording where people were throwing ideas around and this young artist looked like he wanted to say something but was hesitant," he adds.

“And then he was encouraged by one of Kanye's producers to speak his mind.

“I remember this young artist being told that he was here in this room, in this villa, for a reason and that no idea is a bad idea. It may not be the right idea but it may be the one that leads us to the right idea. That was the vibe throughout the sessions."

Swerte says part of that optimism filtered through to recordings.

"This is why some of the songs on the album like Back to Me, Burn, Beg Forgiveness and Good are my favourite ones," he says.

"That's not only because I was in the room when they were being mixed and finalised, they were also the most positive-sounding songs in the album.”

While international musicians have long used Dubai studios to record, Swerte hopes a high-profile project like Vultures 1 will shed more light on the venues and studio talents in the city.

"To have someone from Dubai credited on such a major album can open the doors for many more of us," he says. "It shows that there is talent here that can really work with the best."

Updated: February 16, 2024, 5:03 AM