Born Charles Misodi Njapa in New York to West African parents, he was raised in the Eastchester section of the Bronx and later in West Hempstead on Long Island, where he attended high school.
88-Keys first took a deep interest in hip hop after hearing A Tribe CalledQuest's 1990 critically acclaimed album People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm. In the early 1992, 88-Keys met A Tribe Called Quest's frontman Q-Tip who would then introduce him to legendary MC/producer Large Professor working for the late vinyl records broker John Carrero in Malverne, NY. It was Large Professor who gave Charles his 88-Keys moniker from a freestyle after witnessing his skills on the Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard.
However, 88-Keys' parents were strict on education and less enthusiastic about his interest in the then-newly emerging cultural phenomenon of hip hop. 88-Keys' father & mother was a registered nurse & a nurse administrator (respectively), his brother an OB/Gyn, one of his older sisters is a nurse and another sister is on her way to becoming a doctor & one sister a college dean. Upon considering a serious career in music, 88-Keys' parents and older brother began trying to point him into the field of medicine because it was a more "professional field" and the music industry didn't seem like a lucrative move. After attending Lenoir Community College in Kinston, NC and then moving back into his parents’ home in West Hempstead, NY to attend Queens College & later Hofstra University, 88-Keys dropped out to pursue his dreams of being a record producer. His decision was fueled by an opportunity to record some tracks with The Pharcyde who were initially set to record in California but later wound up recording at The Cutting Room Studio in SoHo... Manhattan, NY. 88-Keys currently reside in Harlem, New York with his wife and two daughters.
In addition to his passion for music, 88-Keys has expressed his love for Ralph Lauren Polo. During an interview with Metro 88-Keys revealed that he has worn Polo Ralph Lauren every day since the early ‘90s.
According to the article, 88-Keys began wearing Polo Ralph Lauren as a Long Island high school student in 1992 when he developed a liking for its classic, preppy style. Since then, he's worn a complete look from the brand every day, without fail. His wardrobe includes over 700 Polo pieces.
Since his days as an assistant engineer in West Hempstead professional recording studio The Music Palace where, as a young teenager, he assisted in half of Busta Rhymes’ debut album The Coming as well as recording sessions for the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, DAS EFX, Keith Murray to name a few, 88-Keys has produced records for numerous artists including Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Beanie Sigel, The Pharcyde, Kid Cudi, Macy Gray, Musiq Soulchild, Mumford & Sons, Consequence, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z & Kanye West amongst a host of others. Recently, 88-Keys extended beyond his production credits to highlight his skills on the mic as MC, singer and collaborator, most notably on his solo debut album The Death of Adam released on November 11, 2008. Executively produced by 88-Keys's best friend Kanye West, the concept album tells the story of a man named Adam who has been lead to his “death” in pursuit of a woman. In August 2008 a fifteen-track mixtape titled Adam's Case Files was released as a prequel to The Death of Adam. The album's first single titled "Stay Up!
(Viagra)" was officially released through iTunes on September 9, 2008. In December 2008, 88-Keys was highlighted as Spin (magazine) Artist of theDay. In 2011, 88-Keys’ production for the song which became “No Church In The Wild” by The Throne (Kanye West & Jay-Z) which featured Frank“
I try to stay true to Ralph's vision. I don't want to bastardize his vision — no offense to the urban community — because we all know what happened to Tommy Hilfiger once the hip hop community embraced it. I'll walk out of the door dressed in loafers when everyone else is wearing Timberland boots. I definitely stand out. I'll tag along with Kanye on shopping trips and look at clothing by designers whose names I'd need to take French lessons to pronounce. He'll ask me what I think and I'll be like, whatever. I've turned down paying gigs because they've tried to dress me in clothing by other designers. Besides record shopping, the only other place I need is a Polo store. I'll go to Paris and they ll be like, 'here's the Eiffel Tower' and I'm like, 'whatever, where's the record store and the Polo store.”
Ocean & The-Dream went on to win a Grammy AwardTM in 2012 for Best Rap Sung Collaboration making it 88-Keys’ first Grammy win. He has received several Grammy nods since then for his work with Kanye West.