Beatmaker’s Corner: JD. Reid

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

As a producer, your credibility is almost exclusively decided by the success of your beats. For the lucky few, one track and beat could open up a world of opportunity for greater visibility and work opportunities, delivering a foundation on which to build further success. Even for the producers that have been toiling and perfecting their skill over the years, that moment of recognition can be a long wait. Most recently, this has happened to London’s very own JD. Reid, the hands behind some of UK hip-hop’s most underrated and original soundscapes in recent memory, but 2017 was a highlight in a burgeoning career. In addition to his own Calibrate EP, JD is the brain behind a track that was on everyone’s end of year list: Mabel’s “Finders Keepers”. But the only new thing here is the reception, because the workaholic from North London has been adept at flipping the sonic script at a whim, depending on who he works with.

Not many producers in this country can boast a CV as diverse as Reid’s; the man can say he has worked with everyone from D Double E and Kojey Radical to Katy B and Sinead Harnett, all while keeping to his creed of constant growth and experimentation. With a catalogue steeped in hip-hop, trap, and most recently jazz for an unavoidable runaway train of sounds to mosh to, Reid represents the melting pot that is his London home, that filters into the music, connecting the dots and bridging the gaps between genres. “Everything I’ve listened to growing up has informed my sound,” he explains. “I can’t say I make any one genre, but I hope that people can spot it’s mine through little things, like the kind of pad I use or the groove on the drum. I think those things can inform you of what my sound is.”

The product of a musical family—his mother worked in the industry and his dad played in a few bands—JD’s formative years ingrained in him an ethos in moulding sounds with others in ways never thought of. “At home, my mum would play soul, reggae, funk, disco, and my dad was on the same wave, but also rock and classical every now and again,” he remembers. “Later down the line, I started discovering hip-hop and R&B myself, then in school, grime became a big deal. My cousin taught me how to DJ which started my fascination with vinyl, then he showed me how to make beats and bought me my first Cubase.”

Very early on, Reid turned a hobby into an obsession, finding a space he was happy within and making music that spoke to influences as wide-reaching as The Neptunes, Flying Lotus, and Quincy Jones. “The only thing that felt right to me when I was doing it was music oriented,” he says. “From messing around with that at home, it was something I got lost in for hours.” The immediate future brought about radio sets with up-and-coming emcees, but it was still hyperlocal until the calling of Piff Gang, in 2012, became the sign that his beats were turning heads. “I was trying to find my feet after uni and launch myself, so I shouted [Piff Gang],” he explains. “After that, I started thinking my beats are at a certain level that people are appreciative of, so that was a nice feeling.”

“Everything I’ve listened to growing up has informed my sound.”

2014 came and with it, his debut EP Maneki Neko, which is a far cry away sonically from his most recent effort, Calibrate. But in it lies the fundamental cogs in Reid’s machine: bass and melody. These don’t go amiss on any record of his, and have only gotten stronger as Reid’s productions have taken on more sophistication. Think of a grittier version of what LA collective Soulection do; that is the music of Reid. Describing the creative process, he is detailed: “Normally I start with the melodic elements—finding a sound and the melody for it—because that’s what will drive the sound of the beat. I’d always work with Logic for that but, sometimes, it can be a bit stale starting a beat in the same way all the time, so I’ve started using Ableton more, to warp a sample or get a short loop and move it over to Logic where I would finish the beat. Sometimes it’s quick, and sometimes it can take a minute to break down the beat until you’re happy with it.”

Reid is a true craftsman, sensitive to the many intricacies that live within music, and bending them at will to construct something that cannot be easily replicated. His enterprise has been seen and appreciated by many, and he remains a busy man while collaborating. Moving forward, future projects such as 2016’s io and last year’s Calibrate would bring the absolute best out of guests such as D Double E, Kojey Radical, slowthai, 808ink and others, and their verses were unlike anything heard from them—which speaks to Reid’s ability to coax them out of their comfort zones. “I just try to give as much direction as they will allow, without taking away their rights,” he says. “I always try to be an actual producer rather than giving them a beat and say, ‘Do whatever you want.’”

The aforementioned “Finders Keepers” is undoubtedly a big look and, while he paints pictures of the session that birthed the track, I suddenly get an idea of just how simple the hit-making process can be. “We were at a session for the day, and in the last 30 minutes we had a new idea and the tune was written in that time,” he says. “So you never know whether you’re gonna have something in the first five minutes, or if it’ll take the whole day. Over time, you learn that to make a good song, you have to produce artists and work with them to get the best out of them; get them to try something they wouldn’t have thought of, but they might sound good on.”

But how has the Mabel link-up assisted Reid in the long-run? “It exposed me to a different audience, and I didn’t scream about it to anybody; it grew on its own,” he explains. “I don’t really like pushing my music on people but, after that tune, more people have come to me and said they’ve discovered the other side of me—the grime and darker hip-hop shit. They can see my versatility now.”

At the same time, Reid is aware that many producers don’t always get the recognition their efforts deserve—a notable frustration that is no doubt lingering in the minds of plenty beatmakers. “It feels like it’s more about the artists than the people who made the tunes with them,” he says. “If you think about some of the biggest tunes out right now, you wouldn’t all know who made the beats.” This cannot be doubted when you look at the current landscape of the scene, but when I ask if a change is coming and more producers will get their shine, he is optimistic: “I hope so, but let’s be honest: some of the time, a vocalist doesn’t sound great on a track and it’s the beat that saves it, so a producer should get credit for making it bang.”

Despite this, Reid is firmly in a list of UK producers whose activity cannot be ignored. With his new mixtape, Tree, out on February 23—on his own Baby Gravy label—he is keen to project himself and all branches of his sound over the 15-track offering, which includes collaborations with the likes of Mr. Mitch and Drae Da Skimask, while becoming more of a fixture in the minds of newer audiences. New single “Just Know”, featuring Henry Wu and Venna, is as jazzy as it is hip-hop, and one of Reid’s smoothest offerings to date—a warning cry for musical diversity that the project will demonstrate.

“I want to tap into the worlds of the artists I’ve worked with,” he says, “and for people to discover new artists, showing that, even if you put two worlds in the opposite direction, they can sit together because of the sounds behind my beats.” Taking full advantage of his position, JD. Reid is on a mission to leap out of obscurity. His dreams are big—he mentions wanting to work with Jorja Smith, Giggs, Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar in the future—and if 2017 was the warm up, 2018 will be the year of the full blow up of the beat-wizard and the ascent towards his goals.

Posted on February 01, 2018