Blue Lab Beats’ NK-OK: ‘Meeting Public Enemy changed my life’

Blue Lab Beats, NK-OK and MR DM

Blue Lab Beats, NK-OK and MR DM - Credit: Archant

Blue Lab Beats are playing at the Jazz Cafe in Camden as part of Ronnie Scott’s week long pop-up residency

Finsbury Park born NK-OK had a musical awakening at the age of 13 when his dad took him to see Public Enemy. He had been listening to Top 10 rap and the lyrics were “insanely filthy”.

“My dad was like, you’ve gotta listen to real hip hop,” he says. “At first I was like, this is 80s music, but he said the time zone doesn’t matter, it’s about the quality of the music.

“I had the chance to meet them and it pretty much changed my life. Before that I knew I liked production, but after I saw them I was making beats all the time, spending eight to ten hours a day in my bedroom studio.”

The time paid off, as he is now part of production duo Blue Lab Beats with fellow musician Mr D.M., the two of them aged 17 and 22.

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“It’s so shocking how early on in my career I found him, because normally it’s your twentieth year in the game that you find someone that great playing-wise.”

NK-OK and Mr D.M. met at Wac Arts, the youth arts centre that boasts such alumni as Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Courtney Pine, Ms Dynamite, Sophie Okoneko and Zoe Rahman.

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“I saw this guy play drums and I was like, I do drum programming so I’m not sure how that’ll work,” he says of the first time he saw Mr D.M. play.

“Then halfway through he jumped on keys and then bass and then guitar. When we did our first session about three years ago, I asked what other instruments he played and he said vibraphone and trumpet.”

The pair are already the innovation behind acts such as The Age of L.U.N.A, Ruby Francis and Louis VI and are quickly becoming known for their fresh take on the London jazz scene.

Taking old and mixing it with new, the duo are garnering praise from across the musical board. But it wasn’t always that way.

“We were in the studio with another engineer and he said to us, you guys aren’t original, because he saw our working process. We always just listen to music. It was an old funk track and I said, let me copy that kick drum and change a few things, and he said, you’re just copying people.”

In response, they decided to make a hip hop track in 5/4 time signature and change it to 7/4 in the chorus. That showed him.

“The thing I love about London music is you just get so much mixture.”

Blue Lab Beats are playing at the Jazz Café in Camden on December 19, alongside guitarist Ben Jones and the Richard Spaven Trio, as part of the Ronnie Scott’s 5 day pop-up residency, which runs December 18 – 22.


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