There’s been a lot of talk in the US about producers lately. Producers not getting paid when they should, or, how much they should. Mixtapes being used as a cute way to subvert proper credit and profit. Streaming services not doing enough about crediting songwriters and producers whilst they reap most of the reward. In the UK, it’s not much different. Producers mastermind some of our favourite rhythms while retaining a near anonymous existence. But, slowly, things are changing.
Over the last three years we’ve seen more attention being placed on the creators behind the soundtracks to our lives. Jae 5, G.A. The Producer, Nana Rogues and Steel Banglez may be the first names that come to mind when we think of beat makers who have had a hand in pushing the needle of conversation forward. But there are a raft of other names – both seasoned and breaking through – that have all played their part in creating the flourishing climate in UK music at present.
Finally, Spotify have conceded they should be doing more to support creators. In a move that is sure to have other services following suit (although, TIDAL already does) Spotify will now be displaying producer and songwriters credits of each stream. Spotify’s Global Head of Songwriter Relations, Tiffany Kumar said: “we aim to increase songwriter and producer visibility and, in turn, foster discovery among new collaborators, industry partners, and fans”.
The move by Spotify, although welcome by many, has come a little too late to be useful in clearing up the kerfuffle that surrounded Michael Dapaah’s 2017 viral hit ‘Man’s Not Hot’. The track plays with an instrumental that was first used by Drill group 86. Produced by GottiOnEm and Mazza, 86 released their single ‘Lurk’ in January of 2016, which was then reincarnated, first by 67 who released ‘Let’s Lurk’, before getting a third lease of life through Michael Dapaah’s ‘Man’s Not Hot’ smash. Questions of ownership came to the fore, with many concerned that the creators of one of the UK’s highest grossing (parody) rap songs had not been properly credited.
The issue of recognition and compensation is finally coming to the fore, making this the perfect time to dig into the heart of the UK’s beat culture.
In our first instalment of BEAT CULTURE, we feature Poté, Bamz, and Rebel Kleff and ask them what is means to be a producer in the UK. Finding out what inspired them to start making beats, Nation of Billions take readers behind the curtain for an up-close-and-personal look at the Beat Culture that drives our scene, and the personalities tied so closely to the music we love.
In our accompanying new video series THE METHOD, we take an even closer look at each producer, as they break down the technique and inspiration behind their craft.
‘Life in general. Everywhere I go, I’m always hearing something that inspires me to make a new piece.’
In Jamaican culture, riddim is life. The early noughties in the UK underground were characterised by a swathe of Dancehall hits. And everyone had their favourites – from Sean Paul’s take on the ‘Bookshelf Riddim’ with ‘Deport Them’, to Mad Cobra’s take on the ‘Buzz Riddim’ with ‘Press Trigger’ and even Elephant Man’s infamous take on the ‘Liquid Riddim’ with ‘Log On’. Each riddim had countless reincarnations, with several artists bringing their own perspective to each sound.
When I sit down with Bamz, music producer and regular collaborator with Nadia Rose, we dig deeper, to examine this idea of rhythms and Beat Culture. “You’re not going to hear flows and riddims like that anywhere else,” she tells me with a broad grin “you’re only going to hear that in Bashment, you’re only going to hear that in Dancehall. You can be from anywhere, but as soon as you hear that riddim tumping you’re gonna be like ‘I’m inside! And I’m ready! Tek position!’ I’ve been enjoying playing and producing it recently. Especially my recent single with Nadia Rose – ‘Big Woman’ – I started that riddim on the bus, I sent it to Nadia the next day, and I was like ‘this is for you! And this is going to be banging!”
When it comes to making riddims and stuff – riddim culture is a big thing
Bamz is a strong advocate of recognising and incorporating the backbones of black music when innovating contemporary culture. “When it comes to making riddims and stuff – riddim culture is a big thing. The riddim is the car and the lyrics is the passenger so [from] riddim culture, you can hear those kinds of things incorporated into other genres like, Garage, D’n’B and so on. We can’t deny era, after era, decade after decade Jamaican music – Reggae, Ska, Dancehall, Bashment – it’s had a huge influence for years. And, I think it’s important nowadays, we’re recognising it. It’s getting the shine that it deserves, at the same time it’s a bit scary because a lot of people are out to dilute it. Especially this whole label situation. If they want you to create a song that’s sounding like that [particular trend] they’ll go for it. But it can’t be too much of the sound that they originally heard – which I find quite backwards.”
Now in her early 20’s Bamz is reluctant to be boxed into any one genre, choosing instead to draw from her Caribbean heritage as much as UK rave culture or American Hip-Hop. “Even just trains moving, the sound of a horn, people walking down the street.” she says when I ask what things form inspirations for her music. “The idea of sound and matching it to a feeling or a mood, that’s more my inspiration [rather] than assigning it to a particular genre or particular person.”
Bamz dipped out of state school education, preferring instead the freedom that came with homeschooling “being homeschooled was a challenge. But I definitely preferred it in secondary school – I just found myself to be very disconnected with people; so it just became very mundane and daunting at times. So I did decide to come out of state school education because I just wanted to pursue more of my music career.”
Humble, mature and hugely ambitious, Bamz is the first producer to take us behind Beat Culture in our new video series, THE METHOD watch the first episode below;
“I just wanted to see snow” – Poté
Poté’s first EP ‘Over The Water’ told the story of his childhood journey to London. Raised on the idyllic beaches of St. Lucia, he explored ideas of growth and travel. ‘Fire For Fire’ quickly followed and Poté continued to refine his ability as craftsman and narrator of the story of his life.
“For me personally, what summarises my upbringing is the beach for one, and I think that brought a lot into my music.” Born in St Lucia – the Caribbean island that first coined the motto ‘The Land, The People, The Light’ when it obtained total independence from England on 22nd February, 1979 – Poté found himself in London trying to scratch the itch of adventure and make sense of life as it was through the music he was making. “[my music] was mainly influenced by a lot of the Haitian music I used to hear in the morning at my grandmother’s, she used to play the radio I think it was called Kompa? If I remember it correctly? But, yeah, that brought a lot of influence into what I make.”
First popularised in 1955, Kompa had an accompanying meringue, ballroom dance and ‘in the late 1950s Nemours and the Sicot Brothers from Haiti would frequently tour the Caribbean, especially Curaceo, Aruba, St. Lucia, Dominica and mostly the French Islands of Martinique & Guadeloupe to spread the seed of the méringue-cadence or compas’.
“The energy is raw, it’s really authentic, and can’t really be faked.” Poté was almost subconsciously integrating the heritage sounds of Kompa into his music. Trying to make sense of the endless cold and life in London, he found himself drawing upon the musical foundations of his childhood to create something entirely new. “I like to play around with bass, and a lot of melody, and of course drums. I think drums are kind of a key essential in what I do. Some of the tracks come from literally hearing like a word or coming up with a track title first and then going, ‘I wanna make something to kinda bring the feel of that word’.”
As a person, Poté is calm. He smiles often, and carries a distinct aura of happiness. His music, often plays across an entire spectrum when it comes to emotion, and with Portuguese label Enchufada, Poté found himself free to delve deeper still into the African music heritage that underlines much of his production. Located in Lisbon: ‘the city where the African, South-American and European continents meet to eat, drink and dance the night away’. Enchufada first came to being in 2006 when the ‘Buraka Som Sistema founding members João ‘Branko’ Barbosa and Kalaf Ângelo decided to create a label.’
I’ve actually never sold a beat – that’s not actually my world
“What I loved about [Enchufada] is the freeness and the kind of pure joy that came out from every single release of the label, and the experimentation. They gave you space to do whatever the hell you want. There’s no ‘oh we want this’ there’s always scope to do whatever the hell you wanted and just send it along.” Having found a home at the label of his idols, Poté became immersed in the North African sounds of Angola. “A lot of it was basically me trying to be like Buraka Som Sistema but in my own sort of way. They were a huge influence on me personally, what spoke to me was what was happening in Angola and in Portugal, the influence that they took from Angola is the percussion work – once again it was so parallel to what I was hearing in St. Lucia growing up and I didn’t realise some of the rhythms sounded the same, and I didn’t realise those were the backbones.”
Now head of his own imprint ‘Versicolor’, 2017 saw Poté playing alongside Annie Mac, as well as a live set at West London’s Metropolis Music studio and his first ever solo live show at Brazil’s Sim in São Paulo. His most recent release ‘Flirt’ was even played for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they recently visited Brixton’s Reprezent radio. But Poté is not quite ready for the ascension to superstardom. Instead, he’s staying focused on personal evolution. “I kind of feel I’ve got to grips with the percussion side of stuff. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it by any stretch at all, but I kind of got what I want from it. Next, is a lot more melody and a lot more vocal-led stuff. And being able to mix the two together to make something really cool.”
Led by a love of his art, Poté gives me a final insight into what it means to him to be a producer, “I’ve actually never sold a beat – that’s not actually my world. I work with you because I genuinely like what you do.”
“I think I’m drawn to the style because it hasn’t got a style – if that makes sense?”
– Rebel Kleff
Being successful as a producer often means having a wide ranging sound palette to lift references from. For Rebel Kleff, inspiration comes from plenty of sample based East coast American Hip-Hop. “It draws from every sort of, type of music. Elements of Jazz, Funk, Soul – even Folk music. It’s a lot more organic sounding, and I prefer that over, like, more electronic based stuff. I don’t really like the term ‘old skool’ because it’s like a bit of a broad way to describe it. But, yeah, [my style] is quite throwback, but it’s also quite modern.”
Timing is everything, and we manage to sit down for a chat just before Rebel Kleff is due to fly out to Singapore and Australia as part of Loyle Carner’s upcoming tour. He tells me more about the components that knit together to create his musical aesthetic, a style that is proven to resonate with audiences worldwide. “Shuffled hi-hats sometimes or, like, snare drums that let [go] a little bit early. It’s all about – especially with electronic music – if you’re using electronic sounds, it’s to make it sound as human as possible. So you add a little human element to it, put your kind of spin on it.”
Having grown up in London all his life, Rebel Kleff is used to the pace of the city. 2017 was the year he became a Mercury Prize nominated producer for his work on Loyle Carner’s debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, a deeply personal account of his life and times and as one of his closest friends, Rebel Kleff remains in the midst collaborating, touring the world and creating music with heart. I cut to the chase and ask whether he feels, as a Mercury nominated producer, his value has increased and more importantly, when a producer knows it’s time to increase their fee. “I kind of just went for it one time, when I got asked to do a remix – and, prior to this I hadn’t really done much work – this is when I just started to do some work with Loyle. Things were getting a bit more, kind of busy – I got reached out to do a remix for Sony. And that’s when you kind of start to think ‘okay,’ again; you don’t really know your value but you have to kind of test the waters and negotiate ‘okay this is how much I’d be willing to do it for’. But it’s very difficult, because again, going back to how you start, you don’t wanna kind of – if you think you’re worth more than you are at the beginning or if you’re so money motivated – it’s going to be counter productive, you’re not going to get much work.”
Bass is a nightmare to work with, but I love it
For both Poté and Bamz, creating music means finding new ways of layering sound. Converting city life and club culture into their production, they find new ways of weaving percussion and bass into new productions. I ask Kleff how he goes about capturing emotion and creating those intimate soundscapes “bass is a nightmare to work with, but I love it. Because I mean, UK music right now especially, is very bass driven. It’s very much bass and drums. Coming from Grime, D’n’B that’s a very prominent style and it’s kind of what the UK is becoming known for. Very bass heavy music. As much as I like it a lot in my production I kind of use it in a more subtle way. I don’t think it’s a stand out point of my beats.”
As a producer of contemporary Hip-Hop, at a time when the pendulum of attention seems to be swinging definitively in the direction of Drill music I ask how Kleff is able to keep things fresh; with sampling as central an element to the Hip-Hop genre as any strings or bass, where does he look for fresh inspiration? “It’s difficult, people have rinsed to hell. Everyone’s used all the samples, so you’re forced to be a lot more creative. You gotta look at different record labels, then, you look deeper into the musicians that play on the record. It’s like a massive puzzle piece – a scatter graph, you know? It never stops.”