There was a time when I was uninspired by UK underground music and I found myself slipping backward in my listening habits. Old Nas and Mobb Deep albums were in rotation and I wasn’t motivated to find new R&B music as new rappers were creating a new definition of the genre. I started using Soundcloud based on a recommendation in the hopes I’d find some new music. As I was led down the garden path of related tracks, I came across a 2-hour mix which had an array of songs that captivated me and made my 250-mile journey to Preston bearable.
Ralph Hardy, a self-titled human being, the man who dedicates a large portion of his life to the curation of music, actually started out as a presenter. “People used to say I was funny. That I had a way with words. I used to say I get away with words. I tried to capitalize on people’s perception of how funny I was.”
Starting with interviewing musicians and moving into hosting events, Ralph was one of the first hosts for the live music event I Luv Live. Finding himself comfortable on the mic and always happy to talk, an opportunity in collaboration with Bang Radio came about and the NANG radio show was born.
The NANG Selection is a radio show that isn’t produced like a normal show. There are no playlists. No common themes and no rules. Just the goal of presenting good music to the masses. You’ll often hear Ralph talking in between songs as if he’s spontaneously inspired to play the next song.
“I just wanna be a normal guy. I just wanna f***ing play music and talk sh*t and get bookings”
Being raised in a musical household, Ralph was always attracted to music and anything to do with it. This was quite similar to my own childhood and I would often make my own mixtapes and share them with friends. Ralph Hardy expands on how his own practice of wanting to play his playlists led to becoming a DJ, “The way I started DJing was so mad. I’m more of a visual learner. I like to be in the presence of whatever I’m trying to do. I can’t read about learning something. I have to be watching what’s going on. I grew up as a Grime kid. I use to go to shows and stand behind the DJ booth and see what’s happening. I saw the 1210s and how everything was patterned up. I learned by watching DJs. One of my bredrins bredrin was throwing warehouse parties and heard from someone that I was a DJ. These times, I had never actually mixed properly on decks, I used to practice in a youth club in East Ham called Yap, but nothing serious enough to call myself a DJ. But, before I knew it, I was booked to warm up at a warehouse party. Not a house party, a warehouse!”
Of course, his performance at the warehouse wasn’t his best. But this only fuelled the fire within and set him on a blazing path to becoming a DJ only playing music that he loves. Having his own radio show enabled Ralph to present music to the masses that was different than what was usually heard. The popular types of rap music, Trap, for example, can be heard on almost every urban radio station. Ralph used his platform to broadcast music from artists who create songs which can’t be locked to a specific genre. You could call it Trap, or Electronic or even R&B. His eclectic musical taste has resulted in a show that’s carried through Ralph’s own musical pallet. When you listen to his show on Radar Radio, you’ll find that you haven’t any idea what you could be hearing next. Mostly because Ralph doesn’t really know what he’s going to play. There’s something organic about his musical choices and working with his producer, Jackie Eyewe, also Marketing Manager for Atlantic Records, they create a show which is a stark contrast to the formulaic way that radio is normally approached.
As the NANG Selection radio show has gained popularity, the brand has grown and resulted in the creation of a compilation album named ‘Growing Pains’, started in 2015. Ralph Hardy is altogether a different type of person, “I’m all for the consumption of music. I went to the dance to hear music I didn’t know. It wasn’t really for the girls. Shout out the girls. But it was usually to hear music that I didn’t know existed. Before Shazam was able to tell me what the tune is, you only would hear these songs in these environments.” Making an impression on Ralph, it caused his radio show to be a place for the new alternative nice grooves (NANG).
The creation of ‘Growing Pains’ saw Ralph make connections with British artists and curate a selection of songs which showcased homegrown talent. Where other compilations consisted of the top 20 songs on the radio, Ralph decided to represent the unsung heroes of underground music. Taking care to compile the songs in such a way that they tell a story, he’s working with songs that aren’t made with others in mind and it also shows his dedication to the listener. “I love albums because of the sequencing of the track list. It’s not a coincidence why track one is track one or why track 4 comes after track 3. When making Growing Pains, I’m listening to a lot of music over a long period of time. I need to make a storyline make sense. Because it’s a compilation, people come for whatever artist they like. But for those who want to digest the album in its entirety, I wanted it to be a continuous storyline.”
Ralph carried on this tradition with his latest release, Growing Pains 2, compiling songs from Tania Nwachukwu, Bobii Lewis, JSTJCK and Jay Prince. Ralph has arranged the songs carrying through a narrative for those who choose to pay attention. The beauty is, even if you don’t know them, it still serves as a collection of good songs from artists that you may not have heard of otherwise. Using his platform, Ralph is championing UK music and demonstrating that there is more to listen to apart from Grime and Trap.
Working on these albums has given Ralph an insight into the music world. Dealing with artists and their managers and sometimes, their labels. ‘Growing Pains 2’ was meant to drop on the same day as the first compilation, a year later. But outside forces stopped this from happening. “Sometimes, managers are…….let’s say, obstacles. Stopping progress for no reason. Well, reasons that they don’t make clear to me. The artists want to make music. Managers are supposed to manage the music, not stop it from it’s intended purpose.”
If there is one thing that intrigues me, it’s the music business. In my naivety, I picture a world of creative freedom where musicians are cultivated and collaborations occur to help create great art. But then I remember to put some emphasis on the word ‘Business’. “During the making of Growing Pains 2, once I started getting songs and producing with the stems, I used to play music to DJs and people who work in the music world. A prominent DJ, after hearing some songs said to me point blank that I was silly if I don’t put this album up for sale. Even though this started as a passion project, it would be great if we could all eat from this album. I wanted to have this on streaming platforms. Some of the artists were fine with this. More exposure for their music. But a significant percentage didn’t want it for sale when it was initially made for a free project.”
Not wanting to take away from the cohesiveness of the album, Ralph compromised and kept it free and available on Soundcloud. Personally, I can see no disadvantage for an artist having their music available on a streaming platforms as part of a compilation. But, I’m not a manager so I don’t know the intricacies of the business world that would make me not support having music readily available for tens of millions of subscribers.
Ralph Hardy is moving into that world. The land of music where new artists are found and developed to reach their full potential. Being able to curate 2 albums has enabled Ralph to act as the executive producer, engineer, mixer as well as being present in all of the mastering sessions. This level of involvement shows the level of pride that he puts into his work. Working as an independent, the next step could see Ralph moving into a label situation with the NANG brand, whether it be as a collaboration with an existing major or continuing down the indie route. “I’ve already starting thinking about Growing Pains 3. I will be speaking to a lawyer regarding contracts beforehand because I don’t want to be creating with these artists and be held up by things out of my control.”
One thing is sure, Ralph cares. He created NANG so it could be a beacon for good music. “There’s no genres in good music. There’s just good music.” Proven to be a facilitator for artists who can prove their talent to the masses, whether it be The NANG Selection of ‘Growing Pains’ compilations, Ralph Hardy is doing everything in his power to spread good music to the world.