Blue Lab Beats: Out Of The Blue
Comprising NK-OK (aka Namali Kwaten, son of Kwame Kwaten of D’Influence/Laura Mvula fame) and Mr DM (aka David Mrakpor), young London production duo Blue Lab Beats are currently offering the public a first taste of their creative talent via their critically-acclaimed, largely-instrumental debut EP “Blue Skies”. Which, by combining NK’s slick hip hop beats and production dexterity with DM’s multi-instrumental wizadry, showcases the twosome’s mutual admiration of jazz, hip hop and neo-soul while simultaneously encompassing a broad range of their genre-spanning influences which in turn range from UK grime artists like Wiley and Wretch 32 through to North American jazz legends Milt Jackson and Oscar Peterson.
Indeed, with Blue Lab Beats’ quest being to produce a sample-free sound contrary to today’s status quo while ensuring their eclectic vibe is ever-evolving by operating an open-door policy to musicians, rappers and singers from all over London and worldwide via the internet, musical moods on “Blues Skies” range from the smoky brass sound and understated, downtempo piano riff of its gently-percussive instrumental title-track and the cool, broken soul/R&B/jazz blend of the hypnotic “Sweet Thing” (featuring the sensual female vocals of Melo B Jones) to the chilled-yet-funky opener “Movement” and downbeat head-nod vibe of “Skippy” which boasts the talents of pianist Joe Armon-Jones and guitarist Sheldon Agwu.
…Which in turn brings us to today. As an affable NK-OK and Mr DM meet up for the first time with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Central London’s fifteenth-floor restaurant/bar The Heights to discuss the raw-but-sophisticated feel of their aforementioned debut EP as well as their prolific musical background. Which to date has already seen them working regularly with the likes of UK teenage foursome The Age Of L.U.N.A, upcoming London-based songstress Ruby Francis and Otha Soul rapper Louis VI in addition to remixing for more-mainstream-embraced new British acts like Jodie Abacus, Dua Lipa and Rag’n’Bone Man.
PETE: Let’s start by discussing what you wanted to achieve musically with your debut EP “Blue Skies”
NK-OK: “I think the main thing Mr DM and I wanted to get across was, instead of only working with just vocalists, to instead create a kind of hip hop-slash-jazz-slash-soul vibe where we’d have soloing and like proper musical instruments but all still within a hip hop format. Which I guess is something you can most obviously hear on the title-track.”
MR DM: “Yeah, as NK just said, we both really wanted to have like this independent project where we could express ourselves in the hip hop format while at the same time combining it with jazz and soul elements. Which is why I ended up bringing on board several friends of mine that I’ve met on my musical journey. Like Ashley Henry the piano-player who’s just simply amazing. You know, I like where he goes harmony-wise, his technique is almost flawless, there’s a lot of soul in his playing… Then we have Daniel Casamir on double-bass, we’ve got Sheila on trumpet, LeShawn on guitar, Piers on sax… Basically they’re all people who I decided to use because to my mind each one of them takes it to another level in terms of musicianship.”
PETE: So how did you actually go about creating something that was different from what’s going on in today’s music scene?
NK-OK: “For me I was looking at what was going on chart-wise and what was coming in chart-wise. Some of it was really good pop, but then with other stuff it was like ‘This is too forced’ and I was especially thinking ‘Where’s the soloing on it and where’s the instrumentation in this music - I want it back so badly!’. And so having first started working with Mr DM like three years ago on other projects like Age Of L.U.N.A, around a year ago I called him up and was like ‘OK, let’s just try and make a track in the hip hop format that has soloing on it at least’… And it was pretty much straight after that phone call that the track “Blue Skies” was born!”
PETE: So let’s talk about your individual backgrounds in music and how they’ve helped mould you into the artists you are today…
NK-OK: “It was really my parents that first got me into music. Like with my mum being a DJ she always used to play a lot of funk, disco and hip hop in the house. While with my dad being a keyboard-player he also helped me out a lot at the beginning, especially in terms of production and teaching me arranging. And then I guess the moment I fell I love with hip hop specifically was when my dad took me to my first hip hop gig, which was Public Enemy. You know, it was like this small gig-slash-talk event where they were signing autographs and I had the chance to meet them straight after, which was mind-blowing. Because they shared the best information ever, to where I was like ‘OK, I really wanna get INTO this music scene - how do I DO it?’. And they were like ‘Just believe in yourself, work as hard as possible, and always give your 110%!’… I mean, this was when I was 13. And then what happened after that was like three years later - last December - me and my group Age Of L.U.N.A out of the blue actually got an e-mail asking if we wanted to support Public Enemy! And so after that gig I then had the chance to meet them again and they recognised me! You know, they were like ‘Wow, you’re that kid we gave that information to! Seriously, well done - keep on going!’… And so here I am today talking to you!”
The EP “Blue Skies” is out now through Believe Recordings
You can read more from our interview with our cover stars in the current issue of Blues & Soul Magazine - click the link below to order straight from our shop or read on for high street retailer details.
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Words PETE LEWIS