Known for his unwavering curiosity and variety of accomplishments in music production and film scoring, it’s no surprise that Stephen “King Luck” Williams is keeping busy. As one-half of Jaabu Music Group, Williams rounds out the year with high praise for scoring the socially conscious HBO drama The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.
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“Nobody built like you, you design yourself.” Jay Z
Don’t let the nickname fool you – Stephen “King Luck” Williams has rightfully earned his place as an industry leader. The RAC alum boasts over two decades in the business, with expertise ranging from multi-genre production to artist development. Inspired by a commitment to artistic integrity, Williams navigates his compositional work with an aptitude for human emotion. We caught up with the “King” to discuss his artistic values, his latest projects, and the importance of making time for wellness.
The art of doing business
Williams first came up as a hip-hop producer, taking inspiration from the creative diversity and integrity of artists like Trent Reznor and Timbaland. Realizing the value of industry education, he found his footing at RAC, where he studied production and music business. These early influences taught Williams the importance of versatility. “A lesson I wish I had learned earlier would be that there’s no art without business”, he reflects. “No one is going to do it for you, so you gotta focus on the art of juggling being an entrepreneur and a creative”.
Williams built his brand as a multi-talented freelancer, gaining experience across a wide variety of genres and mediums. He racked up production credits with major labels like Sony ATV and Universal Music Canada, and counts industry greats like Bill Banham, former President of Virgin Records Canada, as valued mentors during this time.
His career history demonstrates a sustained hunger for growth and survival. “When you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have the luxury of saying no”, he tells us. “It’s given me more depth as a music producer and business guy. One of my mentors and business partners, Ali Dee Theodore gave me the best advice when I first got into the industry – ‘it’s better to be working than not working’. Seems simple, but it’s become a mantra for my business growth”.
New digs, bigger visions
In 2015, Williams shook things up with a move to Chicago. This adventure has opened new doors, but he’s still got his eye on the Canadian scene. “Chicago doesn’t have any of the major record labels situated like Toronto does,” he remarks, “and with Netflix planting the flag in Toronto, things are about to heat up in Canada”.
Williams has reached new heights since his move Stateside. In 2017, Williams and colleague Garrett Beelow formed Jaabu Music Group – a music production company focused on film, theatre and artist development. The duo is dedicated to establishing creative partnerships without any compromise of clients’ artistic integrity. Most recently, they have worked with Armenian-American singer-songwriter Murad to hone her hypnotizing sound.
Getting better by growing together
In describing Jaabu’s philosophies, Williams calls upon a popular reference: “My creative partner Garrett Beelow and I are big Marvel fans. We loved the concept behind the Avengers and allowing the best people we work with, whatever their expertise, to flourish without any micromanaging or disruption of their strengths. We believe in growing with our creatives”.
Changing the conversation with The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
Among their latest compositional projects, the duo scored The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, which will be released theatrically and on HBO this month. The film is based on the death of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., an African-American veteran with bipolar disorder who was killed during a wellness check. “The story of Kenneth Chamberlain is a tragic and, sadly, common story in America”, Williams remarks. “His murder had complexities that added more nuances to the discussion of police brutality. I came across this story when I was in Toronto and was blown away by the lack of mainstream coverage”.
The film’s score is drone-driven, with subtle musical accompaniment to capture the tension of the tragedy. Williams emphasizes the gravity of this project: “Scoring the film was one of the most challenging moments of my career emotionally. There were several moments in playback where I cried and struggled.” But against these emotional difficulties, the duo came to produce a score that has gone on to receive great recognition. The film has made a bold impact and scored top marks across America’s festival circuit, ensuring that Chamberlain Sr.’s story lives on.
Testing the limits with immersive experiences
Williams has also applied his skills to the unique world of immersive experiences, pulling participants into augmented realities and heightening their senses like never before. Jaabu Music Group has composed two mind-bending experiences – the haunted house THE UNINVITED: AWAKENING and the live-action game Variant 31. “These projects were a lot of fun”, Williams remarks. “Definitely out of our element, but they are the future of immersive entertainment, in my opinion. The creators of these projects had us scoring an experience as opposed to a visual”. These projects represented another chance for Williams to act on his values and expand as a creative.
There’s no hustle without mental health
Williams’ hustle is unparalleled, but it can be challenging. In the past year, he’s worked on prioritizing mental health awareness through his growth. “There was a lot happening in the US last year with COVID and the George Floyd protests”, he reflects. “It made working virtually difficult for me and my partner. We overcame certain obstacles for the most part. Making music is a human thing for me, and we figured out how to make time for wellness before diving into work”. He also credits loved ones for their role in maintaining his energy and successes. “My close friends and family are my inspiration in their pursuits of being good humans and their passions. Good synergy has always fuelled my inspiration”.
Up next for Williams is awards season, where he’s hoping that The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain gets some major nods and continues to generate important conversations. He shares that Jaabu Music Group has been enlisted for Charlottesville, a film detailing the tragic 2017 killing of Heather Heyer. He also notes that Jaabu is continuing to work with Big Dreamer, the production company behind Variant 31, on another immersive experience slated for next year. 2021 may be drawing to a close, but Williams is growing by the day and making every moment count.
Written by Rebecca Judd
Illustration by Malaika Astorga