Matthew Samuels, a.k.a. Boi-1da, was a teenager working at clothing retailer Winners in Toronto when he received a lump sum of $500 for remixing Divine Brown’s “Twist My Hair.” That’s when he knew he could make a living making beats and producing. “If I wanted 500 bucks at Winners, I’d have to work full-time for two weeks or more,” he says.

The 23-year-old has since produced tracks for Drake, Kardinal Offishall, Eminem, Saukrates, Dr. Dre, Clipse, k-os, G-Unit and more. His most recent smashes include Drake’s “Forever,” which led to Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” “I’d give a lot of credit to Drake because we’ve been working together since Day One,” says Samuels of how he got his big break. “We were both 17 years old. We had no idea what to do — we went through it together. My friend had given me his contact and we always talked on messenger, but we officially met in this studio in Scarborough and did our first song, ‘Do What You Do,’ together.”

Veteran rapper Saukrates also recognized Boi-1da’s skills and acted as a mentor early on, opening doors and presenting opportunities. “I actually met Kardi throughSoxx,” says Samuels, who went on to produce Kardi’s song “Set It Off,” which featured Dre.

Born in Jamaica and moving to Canada with his family when he was five, Samuels began making beats “for fun” when his mother bought him a Casio keyboard at age eight. By 15, he was using the FL Studio beat-making program and ended up winning three consecutive Battle of the Beatmakers, Canada’s official producer competition. “I would study other people’s beats,” he says. “I listened to a lot of Timbaland-produced tracks, a lot of Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze and Dr Dre. What I used to do a lot is remake people’s beats to a T. By doing that, I saw what they did. I taught myself. They were secretly my mentors without even knowing it.”

Samuels still works in “a basement corner” with a laptop, hard drive and MIDI keyboard, but is now creating, not recreating, beats for some of the world’s top artists. He is currently working on new tracks for Drake, Keri Hilson, B-Major and Eminem. Why are they going to Boi-1da, does he think? “Because the beats I make knock hard,” he says. “People like that hard-hitting sound and they just want to feel their music. I don’t make music because this is the style of music being made now. I try to make my music with emotion in it. I think that’s what people feel about my music — and my sound is different,” he adds. “I try to experiment with different sounds. So people appreciate that.”

And if two or more artists like what he delivers, “first come first served,” Samuels says. “That’s how it works.”