K.Raydio | Icehouse | Saturday, November 8
This week, Minneapolis R&B singer K.Raydio dropped a follow-up to her excellent LucidDreamingSkylines, the collaborative album with producer Psymun released earlier this year.
This time around, she teams up with producer O-D, whose distinctive funk-driven beats give their project an entirely new energy. We caught up with K.Raydio and O-D to talk about how they achieved their sound and the timelessness of soul music.
How long has the album been in the works?
K.Raydio: It's been about two years.
O-D: Late 2012, we initially met and started saying we should work on a project. We had talked about making an EP. We had also been sort of already sending stuff back and forth for probably a year before that, but that was the first time we said we should actually do a project.
We both had worked together on the Last of the Record Buyers compilation, Collaboration's the Key
. Kevin Beacham and Brandon Bagaason, they had kind of both said, "Your sounds would sound really interesting together."
O-D: I think they very intentionally were pairing people up. Last of the Record Buyers stuff in general has been key in connecting the producer community in the Twin Cities, which is really dope. You used to see cats who were kinda like high school age or college age, now dudes like Psymun, Bobby [Raps], GMo, are really out there.
What did you find as common ground that made you want to work more seriously on a project?
O-D: Just in general, we sort of recognized a lot of similar tastes, a kindred spirit, in the way we approach the music, so I think that sort of grounded us. We're both mixed race people, so we can both sort of talk on a broader identity level. As we started getting into the project, one of the things that Krysta said initially was she didn't want to do this sort of R&B singer [sound], she wanted to do something that was very clearly more boom-bap. She was frustrated that a lot of producers would give her the blatantly cliched R&B track, as opposed to the track they'd probably give an MC. We just began finding, as she started writing, [what] are the types of things she's looking for.
K.Raydio: We wanted to do something that kind of built on the foundation of the music we grew up on. Coming from two multi-ethnic households --[O-D] comes from a very different multi-ethnic background than I do, but we still had a lot of commonalities in our growing up -- we kind of wanted to make a project that very much nodded its head to what we grew up on and were inspired by, but at the same time not make it sound like a strictly vintage project. Something that had a vintage spin on it but was much more in the moment and present, as we wanted it to be about our existence and our paths as people. Not just in a multi-racial way, but just as people in general.
O-D: That's something hip-hop music has always done in a lot of ways, re-contextualize music of the past. We wanted to take that aesthetic, but again not make a throwback soul, R&B, funk album, or for that matter a throwback hip-hop album. I think that's always the tension when you bring in those older influences, but you're not trying to re-do them, cover already existing ground.
What were some of the big influences the two of you share?
K.Raydio: I know just in terms of production... Flying Lotus, Thundercat, J Dilla... Even beyond hip-hop, musically different songwriters. We really drew on a lot of influences. I didn't have hip-hop as readily played in my household until I got older, and that was my brother and myself, our doing much more than our parents. [We discussed] musicians from different genres that have nothing to with [what you'd call] necessarily soul or hip-hop. He's a huge crate-digger, so he'd be like, "Here's something I've found and here's the significance of it."
It seemed like you were trying some new vocal directions, trying to work in different modes.
[O-D] and I worked on this project before Psymun and I started working on LucidDreamingSkylines
. The timelines of the two projects just kind of worked in certain ways. [O-D's] production is very unique in the sense that I was able to try and push myself vocally out of a niche that I found myself getting into more, which is that of downtempo. It helped me also to try to become more creative with inflections and tones. So that was cool, because Psymun and I, [that] project I absolutely adore, but we did it in a different timeframe, and it was a different process as well. This one was much more thematically thought out for a couple years. [Medium] Zach and [O-D] really [did a] great job of also trying to coach me to try doing different things with my voice. Some songs I got to kind of hear it from a different perspective which I think was kind of welcomed and needed in different senses.
What was Medium Zach's role in the project?
O-D: We had already had a lot of rough versions of songs within the first year, we had begun recording some parts, but we felt like we needed somebody with good experience who had done vocal mixing, especially for a singer as opposed to just an MC. We knew Zach had that experience. When knew that he was somebody who we really, as an artist, had a great amount of respect for him and what he does, so we approached him about helping us record and mix it and everything. As he got into it, as he heard the project, he got more and more energized. A lot of the creative direction we had already had, but in terms of the actual implementing of what we were trying to do, and then just sharpening it, I think it wouldn't have had the same results if Zach hadn't been involved.
As the project came together, do you start with a seed of a lyrical idea that changes as you go along? Did you find that the themes you were working with developed through time?
K.Raydio: I'm not a patient person, and working on this project was good because usually in my writing process, if I get production, I listen to it once or twice and I write to it as fresh as it comes to my mind. I don't like to let production get stale. What was cool about this [project], when I would have a song, I could write that first verse very, very quickly, [but] I may have written two, three, four, five versions of that second verse and kind of gone through them for months or a couple years until something fit. Certain songs, like "One Drop" which was the first song I wrote on the project, that was something that we were still tweaking some stuff. That was something that was sort of coming back to a year and a half later and saying, oh, why don't we put these harmonies in here. I think over time hearing it made it a better song than it would've been the first or second time.
What about the theme of the song "One Drop" made you want to title the project after it?
K.Raydio: When [O-D] and I first got together, it was not the sole reason we wanted to make the project, but we both noted, how cool would this be to have a project by two multi-racial people, because that's something that isn't as widely seen. I thought it was important to have the title track be alluding to both the one drop rule historically, but also from a present sense in a societal standpoint, how does somebody who's multi-racial fit into sometimes a very monochromatic world, where they're being pulled into, it's either this or this.
Both those verses were not about anybody in particular. It's more just the ideas and scenarios and combinations of things, students I've worked with have gone through, myself, my brother, just kind of putting that into a narrative that's much more universal, because I think certain instances in those verses have happened to a lot of people who identify as "the other." We just kind of wanted to have that be a track that we felt represented the project as a whole in a cohesive way.
The beats have a sort of sample-based dustiness, but there's also a real crispness to it. How did you develop that sound?
O-D: Having come up in an era where sampling was the way that people made beats, or at least the beats that I really liked, I've always sort of rooted myself in that. That aesthetic was just part of how I approach stuff as a producer. A lot of elements in the production of this album, for instance, are elements that I played out. Bass lines, additional solos, synth parts, etc. A lot of producers who I got into over the years are ones who can kind of combine those elements.
Dilla, to me, that was one of the reasons why he was sort of the pioneer in that front. He was taking a lot of these really classic funk, soul, jazz type of sounds, rock, he was all over the place, especially as his career progressed. But he was also able to add his own live instrumentation. Obviously over the years, you've seen more and more the point where sampling is sort of reduced, and the amount of people who make beats off of samples seems less. Which is fine, I think in terms of sonically, hip-hop production is as impressive as ever in a lot of ways. I'm at the point where I still like incorporating some degree of sampling, but I'm not diving into looping 8 bars an Al Green record.
K.Raydio: It's being used as another instrument in and of itself; it's using it in an abstract way.
How did you decide to work with some of the ideas that became song topics?
K.Raydio: Certain songs, it just depended on the feel. I'm very emotive, consciously; music has always just been a very sensory experience for me growing up. Depending on the production, I knew there was some subject matter that I wanted to tackle, but sometimes what it'll be is it's in a cloud up here, and when I finally sit down with each song, it kind of takes a turn. In some cases, he would have pieces of production that were already named, and we would take something off of what that tentative name had been, and just be like, oh let me make this into an idea of something.
Part of it too is sometimes different elements that he would add to the beat, like the part in "Good Morning Love" where he has the sample with the guitar, I felt like that was very dreamlike, but I wanted it to be something that encapsulated me working with young women, how they see themselves from the moment that they wake up in the morning and how that self-affirmation carries them throughout the day. Kind of making it more of a general song, but that's something that sentiment-wise. Hearing that production is what triggered that for me. I kind of see how the production is driving it sentiment-wise, and I just try to provide the lyrics that steer it in a certain direction. I think that happened a lot on this project.
At points during working on One Drop, you were working on LucidDreamingSkylines as well. Did you work with the O-D's production style differently than Psymun's in terms of your vocal approach?
K.Raydio: It depends on production, but it also depends on where my mindset is when I go into writing for a project. With the approach to this project, I wanted to distinguish my voice a little differently and let people know that I am a dynamic artist. I don't want to necessarily be seen in a one-dimnesional way. For me, working with [O-D] and Psymun, it's been about making a cohesive storytelling project. Just in comparison to making a film or writing a book, you don't want it to seem like a bunch of ripped out pages. You want it to be much more cohesive.
O-D: The project [she] did with Psymun, it is really different, both sounds of the projects are very different, but they both feel like her. We both were stretching ourselves outside of our normal, I don't want to say comfort zone, but of what we've recorded, the type of music that we've done. I think she's just a very versatile artist, both in her voice and in the music she can do, her writing style as well. There's songs that are less dense vocally, but in some ways much more out front vocally than other work. It's interesting.
K.Raydio: I've always called myself a soul singer, and the reason I say that is I think you can really invoke soul into any genre of music. We both want to be very versatile in the people that we work with, and also the songs that we explore and represent, and that's, I think, a very cool thing about soul and funk music is it's very authentic. Soul is something, it's either there or it's not. It's not something that's carefully thought out. It really comes from raw emotion. That was really the unifying factor.
Soul has such a broad distinction; it's about the place you're coming from, less so than what era you're coming from.
K.Raydio: It's spanning decades or spanning genres, for instance, Amy Winehouse was soul. So is Lauryn Hill, so is Frank Ocean, so is Lou Reed.
O-D: So is the Weeknd.
Sonically, they're all very different, but they all come from the same core place.
O-D: It's interesting too, a couple people I've seen reference the songs as sounding very '90s R&B. At no point in my process did I think I was referencing that!
K.Raydio: Not at all!
O-D: It's just funny to see the stuff that, I realize now, is 20 years out. 1994 was 20 years ago. You begin to recognize the cyclical nature of what people hear and what people are interested in. What catches people. You get to a point where, hopefully you can kind of hear what is sort of more timeless, what runs fundamentally through this music that you like through these different eras that you want to make sure is part of what you're doing. It's easier said than done sometimes.
What led to the choice for Metasota and Tek open the Icehouse show?
K.Raydio: Both Meta and Tek have been really supportive for years now. I met [Meta] initially when he was coming off tour with Devin the Dude years ago, and I remember hearing his perspective on touring, but being very loyal to the local scene as well as having a lot of national exposure. He's just got a really unique worldview, but he's also very genuine and a music lover. It's cool because he and Tek are putting out a collaborative EP that they just announced. Tek is an amazing producer in his own right. He and Meta have played me some of their project, and it's some next level, really really good stuff.
Because those guys have been so supportive, and because of our appreciation of really authentic, gritty hip-hop, they both bring that to the table in a way that's very unique and unapologetically them. I've gone over to see Meta and Tek when they're recording, and those guys really shut themselves into that studio. It's a process. I've gone over before work, they're up recording 6:30, 7 a.m. That takes a lot of commitment, but it also shows how serious they are about their craft. I think they know that this project is going to be a huge, huge change for them, and they really take their craft seriously. So I'm excited, [and] they're excited to have the opportunity to perform in front of a different audience too. Showing across genres that there's some really cool authentic music being made.
K.Raydio and O-D play an album release party for One Drop this Saturday at Icehouse, featuring Metasota & Tek, hosted by Medium Zach. $6/8, 11 p.m., 21+.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan
Top 10 sister acts of all time
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list