Vancouver-based artist/songwriter/producer Chin Injeti has worked on three Grammy-winning projects, has two JUNO Awards, and is perhaps best remembered in Canada as a co-founder of the ‘90s R&B trio Bass Is Base.
And in typical Canadian fashion, he’s a homegrown talent who came from elsewhere, and now carries the banner for Canada’s diverse musical mosaic on the global stage.
Injeti came to Canada from India at the age of five. Stricken with polio at a young age, he had spent most of his early childhood in a wheelchair. But his mother, Ellen, was determined that the disease would not get the best of her son, and the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto so Chin could undergo treatments and surgeries. Injeti eventually walked again, but it was while in hospital that he discovered something that would support him and lift him up for the rest of his life: his love for music.
“We’re more concerned with the quality of the song rather than the temperamental pop culture of what’s going on.”
Photo by Robin Miller
He realized then that he needed to make music his life. As he opened up his ears to all kinds of music, it was Geddy Lee’s playing on the Rush album Hemispheres that inspired him to take up the bass. His first success came in the early ‘90s as one-third of the R&B trio Bass Is Base with Ivana Santilli and Roger “Mystic” Mooking (now a restaurateur and Food Network celebrity chef).
Their 1994 debut album, First Impressions: For the Bottom Jigglers, won a JUNO Award. The follow-up in 1995, Memories of the Soul Shack Survivors, included the top 30 hit “I Cry.” But the band ultimately disintegrated, and Injeti headed west to Surrey, B.C. to get a fresh start.
From his new base, Injeti has produced such artists as Esthero, Kinnie Starr, Bedouin Soundclash and The Canadian Tenors. He’s also spent years traveling to Los Angeles to scope out the music scene there.
It was in L.A. in 2008 that Injeti met fellow producer DJ Khalil. The two discovered that they shared many musical tastes. With Khalil often as his production partner, Injeti began working with an impressive parade of A-list artists is the States.
His work with rapper Eminem includes the Grammy-winning 2010 album Recovery and 2013’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, as well as the track “Survival” from the video game Call of Duty: Ghosts. He’s worked with Dr. Dre, 50 Cent (Before I Self-Destruct), Virginia hip-hop trio Clipse featuring Kanye West (“Kinda Like a Big Deal”), not to mention Toronto’s own Drake on the mega-star’s So Far Gone mixtape/EP. Another album he worked on picked up a Grammy as well – Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae’s Gravity.
Then there’s his work on 2012’s Grammy-nominated The Truth About Love by pop powerhouse P!nk, and the 2014 album Lift Your Spirit by acclaimed L.A.-based R&B/pop/hip-hop artist Aloe Blacc.
“We don’t chase hits. We don’t chase the sound,” Injeti says of his partnership with Khalil. “We’re not the kind of producers where [we say], ‘Okay, this is what’s happening on the Top 10 – go work with those guys.’ We just try to do who we are, and we’re more concerned with the quality of the song rather than the temperamental pop culture of what’s going on.”
Injeti and Khalil sometimes work in the context of the writing/production team Injeti put together called The New Royales, which also features Erik Alcock and Liz Rodrigues. The team’s more recent work involved co-writing for another Eminem project, including the track “Kings Never Die” (featuring Gwen Stefani) from the movie Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
When we spoke to Injeti in late November 2015, he’d just been in the studio with Mr. “Uptown Funk” himself, Bruno Mars, writing and producing a batch of demos for the singer. He wasn’t able to reveal very much about the project, however: “Basically, we got into a studio with him and we just knocked out some ideas, really.”
And even though working with such big global stars south of the border is a Yankee Doodle feather in his cap, Injeti’s take on it shows some Canadian homeboy awareness.
“What I take away from working with those kinds of artists is that they’re incredible, but also from me being from where I am – which is Vancouver and Toronto – that we bring something to the table, too,” he says. “We bring something to the table that’s really our musical identity, which is quite international, I think. So we kind of have our own take and our own perspective on what they do.”
And what is that, exactly? “Just changing the soundscape, I would say; bringing a whole new cultural relevance to it,” Injeti says. “Culturally, R&B music has changed so much in the way that it’s expanding; it’s not just, like, funk and soul – it’s going to so many different places. People are sampling rock records, people are working with artists they would never have worked with before.”
“It’s so amazing that SOCAN has the ability to connect people and it’s really doing that right now. It’s like a dream record company. It’s just really, truly nurturing artistry.”
What he learned from working with these artists is to simply be who you are. He’s quite secure in the knowledge that his homegrown roots and identity are plenty enough to bring to the party.
“Don’t try to be them. Just stick to who you are and what makes you you,” he says. “Before, we used to have to look outside; we used to be like, ‘Gotta go to L.A., gotta go to New York’ to do our thing. But now it’s kinda like, we can do us.”
Injeti got actively involved in “doing us” not that long ago when he joined a gathering of other Canadian songwriters, producers and artists in SOCAN’s inaugural k?.n?kt Song Camp, held this past September in Nova Scotia.
Over the course of a week at the pastoral Shobac Cottages in the town of Upper Kingsburg, the camp brought together experienced songwriters such as Jully Black and David Myles, up-and-comers like Sophie Rose and Levi Randall, and accomplished producers including Injeti and Young Wolf Hatchlings (a.k.a. Jarrel Young and Waqaas Hashmi).
Photo by Chin Injeti
The goal of the Song Camp was to provide a fertile environment to cultivate the creation of music and the cross-pollination of musical ideas and skill sets. Each morning the participants received a briefing and group assignments for the day.
“It was incredible,” says Injeti. “We worked daily with each other, and at the end of the day we would present our songs that we worked on with the rest of the camp, and it was an incredible camaraderie that was happening. Just so many incredible artists that I never would have been able to connect with if I didn’t go to that camp.”
On the final day of the camp, about 20 music-industry representatives joined them for a listening party to review the week’s work.
“It’s so amazing that SOCAN has the ability to connect people and it’s really doing that right now,” says Injeti. “It’s like a dream record company. That’s what SOCAN feels like. It’s just really, truly nurturing artistry.”
As for Injeti’s own artistry, he’s recently released a new solo album, The Reverb. In keeping with his diverse tastes, it’s an eclectic affair featuring everything from trip-hop and funk to rock and dreamy ambient sounds. And he’s very excited about a brand new project called The Lifetimes, a band comprised entirely of fellow Vancouver musicians.
“I never get to do this, because I’m away all the time working on other projects,” he says, “but I’m really a fan of working with people in Vancouver, and with this project I get to do that.”
He’ll be going into the studio again very soon with Aloe Blacc, and he’s also scheduled to work on some new tracks for P!nk.
Having grown up in the diverse weave of the Canadian music mosaic, Chin Injeti is continuing to bring that sensibility to the world of global popular music, while also cultivating sounds and visions in his own backyard.