BK-One

Interview took place at Cargo, London in 2010

GS: How have you been finding the tour so far?

BK: Great, it’s been really good. Ali and I have both been here before, but this is the first time headlining a tour and really thoroughly making our way through Europe, seeing who will come out on the strength of our music and our live show. It’s been fun to see such a great turnout and really good enthusiasm from the people in the crowd.

GS: Now I’ve read that you helped set up Minneapolis’s first underground hip hop radio show, “The Beatbox”; how instrumental do you think that was in getting you where you are today?

BK: [Laughs] Oh it was everything. Truthfully I didn’t set out to be a DJ, like what I’m doing now. I was just a record collector and a music lover, and my friend and I started a radio show cos we wanted to share the kind of music we were listening to and we didn’t feel like we were hearing it on the radio. It’s through that show that I actually started DJing and it’s through that show that I met Ali; it’s through that show that I met Rhymesayers and it’s actually through that show that Ali met Rhymesayers. It’s hard to predict how things would’ve gone in life, but the way that they did go is that through that radio show I became a DJ, Ali became a member of Rhymesayers and I became Ali’s DJ, and so in my view of things it was everything.

GS: The list of artists that featured on your album, “Rádio Do Canibal”, was impressive; how easy was it to get them all involved, had you worked with many of them before?

BK: Yeah, I’d say about two thirds of them were just friends. You know, Ali and I have been touring the country for 10 years and the world’s not really that big, especially for touring musicians, so you end up in a lot of the same cities, you end up meeting a lot of the same people and eventually you end up meeting each other. This is my first proper album, like I’ve released a lot of mix-CDs before this, but this is my first album and so I wasn’t too shy to call in every favour that I had available to me. But then I also, because it was my first album and because to me it was sort of a statement, like this is my view of hip hop, this is a celebration of my love of hip hop, so I wanted it to not just be my inner-circle of underground rap friends, I wanted it to reflect all the things that I love about music. So I reached to people I don’t know, who I have a lot of respect for, who represent other areas of hip hop, like Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface from the Geto Boyz, people like that and I’m so glad that I did because when I listen through it, I hear childhood heroes of mine sitting on tracks next to, or with, my friends and they blend perfectly as far as I’m concerned. They don’t sound out of place rapping next to Black Thought from the Roots, or Raekwon, or Scarface, and that’s a real great feeling, ya know.

GS: Okay, in an ideal world who would be in your next album? Is there anyone left on the list?

BK: [Laughs] John Lennon. No but honestly I don’t know; I don’t have any specific plans yet for the next BK project. The next project that I’m working on is actually a collaboration with a French singer; it’s her album and she’s asked me to come and help produce it, so I’m pretty excited about the prospect of that. It’s going to be something that’s a little bit more musical, a little bit more melody driven and it’s going to be a lot more collaborative than anything I’ve ever done before. I say that because “Rádio Do Canibal” has lots of features on it and so in a sense I collaborated with a ton of people on that album, but it was my album, my vision and my decision, and so my guests had to play by my rules. This is this woman’s album, it’s not my album and so I need to honour her vision of the album and take my ideas with a sense of humility, being willing to change them or have them shot down, which is something that quite honestly I’ve never had to do before, so I’m quite excited for the new challenge. Then when that’s finished, I’m going to sit down and really start planning what the next BK thing is going to be, I don’t know if it’ll be an album, or… I don’t know what it’ll be. I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got a whole notebook full of ideas sketched out and so I’ll sit down with them and see what feels right.

GS: The album had a pretty heavy Latin influence, which I understand came from the time you spent travelling around Central and Southern America?

BK: Right yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time in Central and South America in general, but the album is specifically Brazilian influenced. All the beats on it come from samples of records I bought in Brazil on a trip there a couple of years ago, and just sort of the ethic and the energy and the history of Brazilian music, really informed the way that I approached this album. When I went to Brazil it wasn’t really with the idea in mind that ‘yeah, I’m going to make this album’, I didn’t go down thinking about “Rádio Do Canibal”, I went there on vacation cos it’s Brazil ya know [laughs], it’s pretty self-explanatory! But, you know, I’m a record collector and everywhere I go I’m looking for records, so over the course of three weeks I collected a sizeable amount; I had a portable turntable with me so I spent every night listening to my new acquisitions, asking questions to the people I met, doing research and really sort of taking apart the history of what I was finding and it was fascinating to me. It had a lot of parallels with the American music, both in the past and the present, that I was so in love with and so it was important to me that once I saw that I wanted to do something with all this music, I found it was important to me to bring reflections of those similarities, those parallels, into the music. So when you hear some of the interludes on the album, I have a lot of quotes from interview snippets with classic Brazilian musicians, who talk about the influence that America had on them, the influence that they had on America, the role of the DJ in breaking new music and pushing the boundaries of Brazilian music; stuff that to me really shows that the world is not as big as it feels.

GS: And are there any other countries that you’d like to go and explore musically?

BK: Oh absolutely. You know I probably wouldn’t do anything with it cos I feel like other DJs and producers already have, but I really also love music from northern Africa, Western Africa. Ghana, Nigeria and that area has a lot of fantastic music coming out of it; I’d love to go and look around as just a record collector versus a musician. All over Central and South America I’ve found really interesting stuff: really interesting psych-rock scene, garage-rock scene that came out of Ecuador; Panama has a fantastic music history. My wife and I went to Spain and Portugal for our honeymoon and I found a load of great stuff there too. Really almost everywhere, at some point in time, someone has done something interesting and I want to know about it, but I don’t pick my travel destinations based on the music. I go to places that sound interesting to me and then I’m always asking around where to find records. I think it’s better to approach it that way, rather than the other way round, because if you go places specifically for the music, then you already go with barriers in mind for what you’re looking for. What made the Brazil trip so special was that I didn’t know about the music already, I didn’t have records that I was looking for, I didn’t walk in and say ‘show me the so-and-so section’; I walked in and looked at everything and tried to figure out, piece by piece, what’s interesting in this culture that I want to take home with me, you know. Like what do I want to absorb from here, and it made it so much more organic and fun and challenging, and it made the results more interesting.

GS: I read that you studied jazz back in Milwaukee, so I was wondering if you’d ever consider putting out a pure jazz album.

BK: No. To be perfectly honest with you, jazz is to me the most important music genre that’s ever been. Jazz at its best, to me, is better than any other music that’s ever been. It’s more expressive; it’s more collaborative in a very instantaneous, spontaneous, improvisational kinda way; to me it’s brilliant. But that’s as a listener. I’m much more talented as a DJ and producer of hip hop, than as a jazz musician. I have a piano at home and I play when no one’s around, and some day when I’m done touring as a DJ, I’ll start taking piano lessons again and I’ll take it more seriously. But it’d be a disservice to jazz if I tried to pass myself off as a talented jazz musician. I studied it for years and I played it quite seriously, I approached it with a lot of sincerity, but I’m not naturally as good as a jazz musician, as I am at DJing, ya know.

GS: Aside from your travelling, what do you feel have been the biggest sources of inspiration for your music?

BK: Well this might be a cheater answer, since I’m a DJ so I don’t know if you’ll let me get away with it [laughs], but it’s my record collection. Hip hop is the genre that I’m a participant in, but it’s certainly not the only music that I listen to. My record collection has tons of soul and funk and jazz and blues and gospel and rock and, you know, music from all over the world; and it’s not music that I collected cos I wanted to sample, but cos I genuinely love them and that’s what I listen to when I’m at home, and the musical ideas that are on those records are constantly pushing me in new directions, giving me new challenges to try to meet. So I’d say my record collection has been the biggest influence on me. Maybe aside from that, if it isn’t a valid answer, it’s been all the talented musicians that I’ve had the blessing to meet throughout my life. When I was in middle school and high school, I was in a jazz program that allowed me to meet a lot of the jazz greats. I could sit down and talk music with them, play music with them. People like Yusef Lateef, Eddie Harris, Eddie Palmieri. Thelonius Monk’s son spent like an hour telling me stories about his dad; I mean these are opportunities that not many people get. Then you know later in life a lot of hip hop heroes, who have given me advice, or even just being around them and soaking up all their years of experience and knowledge; you can’t help but be a stronger artist from being around that.

GS: Yeah that’s understandable. So what’s next after the tour?

BK: Actually it’s more touring. I get back from this tour, we only have about a week so I’ll relax with my wife, catch up with her, make her hopefully [laughs] not so mad at me for being gone all the time. And then I’ll leave again. We have another month of touring back in North America, about half and half between Canada and parts of the States that we missed on our last tour. After that I’m DJing at a festival in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which is exciting and quite an honour, since it’s in recognition of an album I did in tribute to them, so it feels like a stamp of approval. And then I get to work on this French woman’s album, and then after that we’ll see.

GS: Are we allowed to know who the French woman is?

BK: No. She is French woman! [laughs]. No of course, her name is Marianne Dissard. She lives in Tucson, Arizona right now and her music career thus far has kinda been under the wing of a band called Calexico. She’s been on a couple of their albums and Joey Burns from Calexico produced her first album and helped her write it; she’s toured with them a bunch. She’s kind of taking her next album in a new direction and I’m really honoured that she asked me to be part of that new direction.

Advertisements