Dallas-bred, Miami-based producer Ape Drums is no newcomer to the dancehall or electronic music scenes. He's been addicted to those Caribbean riddims since he was a young'n, and ever since he learned to produce, he's been on a mission to help those classic sounds boom bigger, hit harder and entrance the whole world.
About six months ago, his management team got a call from Major Lazer. The trio's longtime member Jillionaire was leaving for undisclosed reasons, and the hit-making crew wanted Ape Drums on its team. For the artist born Eric Alberto-Lopez, joining one of the biggest acts in dance music is a chance to live his dream of taking dancehall around the globe. This summer, he'll test his vibes on some of the biggest festival stages from Los Angeles to Paris, Las Vegas, Germany and more.
Fans first caught wind of the change when he replaced Jillionaire on stage at Governor's Ball in New York City this summer. It was shocking, but if you go through Alberto-Lopez's history, the switch-up is kind of a no-brainer. Ape Drums first worked with Diplo in 2014 on the tune “Duttiest Wine,” and Major Lazer hopped on his single “The Way We Do This” in 2016.
The relationship runs deep, and before he takes the stage as the newest member of Major Lazer at HARD Summer outside of L.A. this weekend, Billboard Dance caught up with Ape Drums to get the inside scoop on this next chapter.
Billboard Dance: Welcome to Major Lazer! How do you feel?
I feel good. Before, I was thinking, “How can I take Ape Drums to the next level?” It happened out of nowhere. This is better than what I was expecting. Now that this hard part is out of the way, I've got to think on the next level for everything that I do; music, my stage presence, everything. Every day, I think, “What can I do bigger and better?”
You've worked with Diplo as early as 2014. How did you first meet?
My first supporter in Major Lazer was actually Jillionaire. He was the first to put my song in a Major Lazer set. It was the song I did called “World Boss” [with Vybz Cartel]. Dillon Francis helped push that song a lot for me as well. DJ Snake reached out, like, “This is the craziest song I've ever heard.” It was a lot of support, and Jillionaire reached out, just helped me get my music to bigger stages. We had a lot in common. He's obviously into Caribbean music and really liked what I was doing.
Around 2013 or 2014, they did a Mad Decent Block Party in Dallas, and I told him I was going to be in town. I showed up, I went to their trailer, and he introduced me to [Diplo] and a couple other guys. That was the first time I met Diplo. We had small talk, and after that, we kept in touch Instagram and Twitter. He would be like, "Yo, I'm looking for a remix. Yo, I need help on this. We're working on Major lazer stuff. Do you want to come out to this four-day studio session?" I've run into him more and more throughout the years. We hung out a little bit more, then, here we are.
And then Major Lazer got on your song “The Way We Do This.”
I want to make dancehall songs bigger, and one of my favorite riddims of all time is “Bookshelf Riddim.” Most people know that beat, so I was like “lemme remake it, make the sound bigger.” I sent it to Diplo and he was like, “Yo, this is our song. We need it." We had this song for a year or two, and finally it leaked. Everybody was playing it, all the radio and club DJs. We ended up getting Busy Signal on it. We put it out on my EP that released on Mad Decent. It was dope. That was another song that got us closer. It was just an idea that we knew made sense.
How did it go down when they asked you to join?
Well, Jillionaire is a good friend of mine. He still is. We hang out in Miami. We both live here. When they reached out to my management, they just asked. I wasn't gonna ask any questions. Maybe it's personal reasons, maybe it's just different interests. I don't know what it was. I never asked. I'd rather not talk about it.
As far as that, it was all cool. They reached out to me, made sure to tell me everything was cool with everyone. I hung out with Jillionaire. We talked about it subliminally, just makin' sure everything was cool and that there was no negativity or hard feelings. That was the first thing that I told my team. I don't wanna step on his toes. Jillionaire was the first person and big supporter from my early days. Walshy reached out me because he lives in Miami as well, so we hung out and talked about it. He told me they could use me, and I said alright. Everyone did their part, and everything was cool.
And the first show you did with them was Governor's Ball?
Yeah, that was the Major Lazer show for a big festival that we did. We actually did EDC Tokyo first, but those weren't soundsystem shows, which means we didn't have the production and dancers. It was just a DJ set, but that was good practice. It was good to see how the vibe was, how we were on stage, the chemistry and stuff. Those shows were good to prep me for a big Major Lazer Gov Ball show. That was the first time all the articles came out. They didn't see Jillionaire. They saw me and people were going crazy, like, “What happened?”
What's it feel like to be up on stage and be a part of Major Lazer?
It's awesome. These are by far like the biggest shows I've ever played. When I'm by myself, I never did the whole stand-on-stage and run-around-with-a-mic thing. I was always letting my music and my DJ set speak for itself. This is helping me be more confident working the stage a bit more. Trying to back up Walshy a little on the mic and hype up the crowd. It's definitely been a huge plus for me being more comfortable in front of that many people.
What's going on behind the scenes? Have you guys worked on songs?
I'm definitely a lot busier, and I try to be as productive as I can for everyone. They feel like I'm a plus as far as production, and I really appreciate that, so I want to do my part and make sure I do my part well. We all text and talk about the album coming out, talk about ideas of how we're going to do it. I just got a text a couple days ago to rework this other song, and that's what I was working on right now.
Every day I try to learn things, try to make myself a better producer. I don't want to feel like I let everyone down. They believe in me, so I want to make sure I execute every way that I can. How can I help Major Lazer? They already have enough help, but if I'm on a team, I've got to be productive.
They're successful, but they also asked you for a reason.
Exactly. It's like, you guys have a great team. You have the knowledge, but I guess they wanted was a fresh mind and newer ideas. I've been trying to dig deep in my brain every day to come up with new fresh ideas for a Major Lazer song.
Dancehall became very commercial, but I still want to bring it to bigger stages. There's a lot of dancehall pop records out there, and they're cool, but they're too pop. I want to go back to the old '90s to early 2000s authentic vibe. To this day, any event or party I go to, dancehall always has the best reaction. You're playing hip-hop or dance music, and somebody plays an old Sean Paul record? People still go crazy. I want to bring that vibe back.
Also I want to add in that myself and Silent Addy have a project together called Vision Sound that we put on hold because of this whole Major Lazer thing. I had to focus more on that, and he had his own stuff going on, but the whole reason behind this project was to do that same idea for dancehall. We're going to start working on that hopefully in a couple months again and release some stuff.
And what about Ape Drums solo?
As far as Ape Drums now, I'm just gonna do everything. I talked to my manager about should do an alias for other kinds of music, but they were like, “Nah, everything you make you put under Ape Drums.” Everybody's doing pop music, dance music, latin music. That's what I've always done anyway. I haven't released a song in so long, but it's only because I'm super hard on myself. I want everything to come out perfect. I want it to be the next thing. I have to get over that. As far as Ape Drum, I have a couple of dope songs I'm working on. I'm trying to get crazy features and put it out there, because I feel like people are going to really, really like it.
I first talked to you in 2014, and told me you wouldn't say you “made it” until you was got your mom a house. Have you made it, yet?
No, but we're getting closer. It takes time for certain things, but I'm patient. Ever since everything happened, people came up to me, like, “This is crazy, congrats, you made it.” It's surreal, and I still feel amazing, but that's my biggest goal in life. Until that's achieved, I still have a lot to do. I still have a lot to go.
Well, your mom's gotta be hella proud.
Oh, 100 percent. I flew her and my sister out to New York to the Gov Ball show and they were on the side stage screaming the whole time. It was great.