The AfroTech conference returned last weekend with its first in-person event since 2019 in Austin, Texas. The technology and entertainment conference was originally launched in the San Franciso Bay Area and was held there for nearly a decade. Highlighting the synergy between technology and music, the conference launched its first music summit featuring Grammy award-winning producer Zaytoven and rapper BIA, and panelists including Mark Cuban, Bubba Wallace, Charlamagne tha God, and more.
Conference founder-CEO Morgan DeBaun says, “As our attendees have continued to grow, we searched for a host city that is accessible to our diverse audience. Austin is that home.”
BIA headlined the music festival portion of the summit with a high-energy set featuring her hits “Whole Lotta Money” (featuring Nicki Minaj) and “The London” with J. Cole. Like the networking people at AfroTech, BIA used social media to connect with her idols.
“Me and Nicki came together through Instagram – we were DM’ing and I’ve always had so much respect for her. She’s one of my favorite artists. With [J.Cole], he just came through to the studio and dropped a lot of knowledge.” BIA also spoke about women in hip-hop working together. “I love women in rap, I actually consider myself a mentor to some of them because I’ve been in this game for awhile,” she says. “It’s cool that we show up in places like [AfroTech].” Other artists that performed at the inaugural music portion included DJ Millie, Mélat, Chief Cleopatra, DJ Moma, and Bas.
Grammy-winning producer Zaytoven (Future, Usher, Migos, Gucci Mane) provided attendees with a masterclass in producing and entrepreneurship, even producing a song in front of the audience in real time. Variety caught up with him after the panel.
During your fireside chat you spoke about staying current and utilizing innovative technology to create. How do you achieve this with rapidly growing technology?
I started with my standard MPC [production equipment] and brought in new elements over time. The type of person I am, I when I see something new, I just have to learn it. It’s a part of me and the creative that I am. I’m hungry and I have a desire to learn, and I still enjoy producing. So why not be the best?
Who were the artists you brought onstage during your real-time song session just now?
The two artists were Young LA and Mo Told Em. I always consider myself the leader because even if I’m quiet, I’m observing and noting what works and what doesn’t. I’ll let the artist be vocal and then come back and support them or speak up in the moment. Knowing the energy and moving accordingly is key when working with artists. That’s also why I’m particular about who I work with.
Who are the most talented artists you’ve worked with?
Oh man, I can’t just choose one [laughs]. I would say Gucci Mane, because we came up together and my first hit was with him. Then I would say Future – he’s a genius and really knows his craft. Highly underrated.
What’s it like working with Future?
Future is a lyrical beast. He’s the type of artist that can get on a beat that feels like a throwaway and turn it into your favorite song. He also hears elements of the music that other people can’t hear and he’s able to bring in a unique perspective. He can work with anybody. I’ve worked with a lot of artists and not everyone is like that. I’d say he’s the Michael Jackson of rap. He doesn’t get enough credit for his impact.
In 2023 I have movies coming. I’m creating and producing my own films, so that will be a big focus. I’m always making new music so you can expect some big things — I have a couple of artists I’ve never collaborated with before, so a lot of new things are on the way.