Hitmaker of the Month: How Producer Dylan Graham Helped Bring Air and ‘Authenticity’ to Muni Long’s ‘Hrs & Hrs’

The hit “Hrs & Hrs” takes its time winding its way around Muni Long’s sultry, breathy, subtly repetitious chorus of “I could do this for hours / and hours and hours.” Before she reaches the crepuscular chorus’ climax, Long has rhymed out everything from “giving you your flowers” to “champagne showers” to ordering “shrimp and lobster towers,” not to mention her “superpowers.”

Certainly Long knows how to craft a song. As Priscilla Renea, her given name, she has penned tracks for Rihanna, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, among others. Helping her realize “Hrs & Hrs,” and its slow, cool, looped production and slithering beat, was Dylan Graham, who co-produced the mid-tempo R&B track pulled from Long’s 2021 EP, “Public Displays of Affection.”

Prior to “Hrs & Hrs,” the Orlando-based, Canada-born Graham — Variety’s Hitmaker of the Month for April 2022 — honed his glassy, breezy sound working with such singer as Summer Walker (“Toxic”) and Jill Scott (with Conway the Machine on “Chanel Pearls”), as well as rappers Wale (“Let It Go”) and Young M.A (“No Love”).

In fact, to get to the gossamer, soulful sparkle of “Hrs & Hrs,” and its romantic subtext, Graham had to log miles in rock music.

“I started playing guitar at 11, and did the whole metal-grunge band thing similar to, say, Nirvana until I was 15,” says Graham. “I stopped that to produce hip-hop and R&B and never looked back.”

Graham was a fan of Timbaland and Dr. Dre, but found other mixologists to obsess over by digging into Soundcloud and going deep on SoundClick, where studio heads park their best stuff. “You could find so many unheard-of greats there, really talented people such as Epik The Dawn and Tone Jonez,” says Graham. “They are truly inspirational to what I do as a producer. Even more recently, there is Robert Glasper and D’Mile, who worked with Silk Sonic.”

Graham started selling beats, piano loops and drum breaks and posting them on YouTube, through BeatStars, or on his own Flash site store. His first name production placements came in 2018 and 2019 with Wale and Young M.A.

Says Graham: “With Wale, it’s actually pretty funny. Someone had taken my drum loops and my chord progressions, put them together and placed it with him. We didn’t find that out until six months after the track came out, then had to track that down and handle the business on that.”

One way that Graham is now able to exact more control over his work is by owning and hosting his own sample and online drum/beat store, SampleStash. “Rather than have somebody randomly find or buy from me, I figured why not start my own site?,” he explains. “I play keyboards and write and post my progressions and drum beats. Sometimes, I’ll do my own guitar parts or get someone else to play or sing after I’ve sent them voice notes. They’ll replay it, I’ll put packs together of 10 tracks and sell them on my site. That’s been lucrative: not only the pack sales, but just getting placements and production jobs from there. I hear from big name industry types all the time for gigs and collabs.”

Among them are hitmakers like London On Da Track and PartyNextDoor. “A lot of artists and producers are digging online for samples, loops and beats — original compositions — that are unique and fresh,” adds Graham. “I’ve got them.”

When it comes to working on vocal tracks for Summer Walker and Muni Long, the air that Graham brings to his production is its own special sauce, perfected by years of practice.

“Giving a vocalist room to breath is 100% my goal,” says Graham. “Like so many novice producers, I spent the better part of my start over-producing, adding way too many instruments and layers to the mix. If you wonder why you’re not getting cuts, that’s it: you’re just doing too much. You need to leave room for the artist. Especially when it comes to R&B.”

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He does acknowledge using some AutoTune, but cautions, “You don’t want to sound like T-Pain. There has to be a balance between the vocals sounding natural, and correctly pitched. At the end of the day, it’s not about your beat or sample. It is all about the artist and their whole product.”

Summer Walker and producer Active By Night found Graham through YouTube, bought one of his sample packs through SampleStash and “Toxic” was born. A similar progression occurred with Muni Long and “Hrs & Hrs” co-producer Ralph Tiller.

“Ralph got the sample from me, flipped it on YouTube and got a million streams with his beat before Muni found it,” says Graham. “The interesting thing, though, is that other artists wanted to cut to that track with me specifically. We almost sold it to another artist — like signing for it that day — when Ralph called me right before Christmas and said how Muni Long had posted her version on TikTok and was doing really good numbers. I thought what she had done with the track was great. I called my manager [Mike Heron] who suggested we sit on the deal for a minute. Next thing you know, Muni’s TikTok blew up, as did her streams. Halle Berry reposted the lyrics. That sealed it.”

As of this writing, the song boasts nearly 40 million views on YouTube and 75 million streams on Spotify (150 million streams overall, according to Def Jam, with whom she signed in March). “Hrs & Hrs” also peaked at No. 1 at Urban and Rhythm radio, reached the Top 5 at Apple Music and the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.

What about Graham’s track brought out the best in Long’s passionate vocals and the 6/8 timing of the composition?

“Hrs & Hrs’ is a very authentic-feeling and -sounding R&B record,” Graham offers. “There is not that much authenticity out there right now. Plus, the hook, it connects with people if they happen to be in a relationship. Muni is an incredible songwriter, and this lyric, in particular, is just so relatable. It doesn’t sound like a single, but, the combination of her song and our track just worked.”