As a 9-year-old, Ebony Oshunrinde used to watch YouTube videos in her Mississauga bedroom of her favourite hip hop artists – Timbaland and Jay-Z – working in their studios.
This week, one of those heroes – Jay-Z – became a collaborator, after a beat produced by the now-16-year-old Ebony was included in the rapper's new record.
"I listened to it last night in the studio, and I honestly felt like crying," Ebony said in an interview. "It was a big moment in my life."
And though the track, titled "Crown," is earning Ebony attention from music industry heavy-hitters, Jay-Z and his high-flying rapper lifestyle is still worlds away from the teenager's life in Brampton, where she now lives and has just finished grade 11.
Raised by her travel-agent mother, Ebony taught herself as a 9-year-old how to produce music by watching instructional videos off of YouTube.
It took her a few years before she started to feel comfortable producing her own music – or, as she described it "until I was about 11."
A few years after that, she began competing in local music competitions, where the competitors closest to her in age would sometimes still be 15- to 20-years her senior.
Still, she made a big impression, winning local competitions, and signing with a local management company.
From then on, she began working with local and U.S. producers, sending audio files back and forth from her Brampton bedroom in between classes and homework.
But a couple of weeks ago, she received a surprising message. It came from Travis Scott, a U.S. producer she had worked with in the past, and whom she'd sent a beat she especially liked the week before.
"I'm gonna change your life," the message read.
"A few days after that, he called and said that I was on the album."
Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Scott had been working with Jay-Z when he received the beat, and the rapper liked what he'd heard.
"Crown" earned the teen a production credit on Jay-Z's highly-anticipated album Magna Carta Holy Grail, released Thursday.
"I didn't believe it at all, because it's pretty crazy news," Ebony said. All of this happened during her twin siblings' birthday party, so she said she "was just, like, hugging everybody at my house."
She described the beat she created as "dark," and her overall style as "hard – knocking drums, and cutting samples using different filters and stuff."
Ian Stanger, a representative at her management company Black Box, said that from what he's heard, Jay-Z had no idea of Ebony's age when he selected her beat for the track. "What she's doing is world-class," he said. "Not world-class for a 16-year-old, but just straight-up world-class."
She's yet to meet Jay-Z, but said that she'd heard that the rapper is interested in meeting her soon.
In the future, she said, she'd like to continue producing music, and eventually one day start her own label.
She's started learning how to play the piano to make her beats "sound more full," and said she'd like to study studio engineering or audio engineering one day.
But first, she'll have to finish high school – something her mom is strict about.
"If I don't pass a class, she takes my whole studio away," Ebony said.