— JD. Reid —

On North West London, record collections, grime, rap, LA beat scenes, Rinse FM, working with Slowthai, Novelist, Mabel and more, duality and becoming a father for the first time.

(All photos submitted by JD. Reid)

It’s Thursday evening and JD. Reid is holed up in his home studio in North London — the same studio he’s written all his music in ever since he started producing almost a decade ago. “I’ve still got all my early stuff on this old PC next to me”, he says, gesturing towards a space under his desk. Now a Platinum-selling producer, former long-time Rinse FM resident and, as he acknowledges glowingly, a father too, Reid has always gone about his business quietly. He’s never chased headlines or recognition and admits he finds it difficult to ‘shout about’ his music, but he’s always been laser-focused on making his career a success. And as he explains, now it feels doubly important. “I’ve been blessed to be able to spend a lot of time in doors recently, being with family and watching my little one grow up, running around the house and learning new things”, he says warmly, “…he’s my focus now, you know? Everything I do in music now has got him in mind.”

Born and raised in North West London, where he still lives today with his partner and son, Reid enjoyed a settled childhood. He went to primary school in Gospel Oak before heading to secondary school and later college in Kentish Town and as he explains, still has many of the same friends as he did growing up — his circle is close, secure, grounded. “I’ve always just been local, bro”, he says, without a second thought. Has he ever considered living elsewhere in London or even moving away, I wondered? “I’m planning to buy a place at the moment but for now, we’re here man. I’m after a house with a garden ideally, mainly because I wanna build my studio out the back and that.”

A ‘good kid’ by his own admission, Reid found himself with a mixed group of friends at school, often falling between social groups — “I was cool with the good kids but also the kids that were out doing madness as well” — and earning respect for his love (and broad knowledge) of music. “I was a proper music child from when I was really young”, he reflects. “When it came to secondary school, I think my music taste and me making beats and stuff definitely helped me become cool with lots of different people, too. A lot of it came from my parents … my dad played percussion and had drums in the house and my mum, I mean she had a really big record collection and also worked in the music industry, so I basically grew up surrounded by music. My mum’s probably got more plaques than I’ve managed to get so far!”

“…my dad played percussion and had drums in the house and my mum, I mean she had a really big record collection and also worked in the music industry, so I basically grew up surrounded by music. My mum’s probably got more plaques than I’ve managed to get so far!”

“My mum had a lot of disco, reggae, sould and hip-hop records in her collection”, he continues. “It was so broad thinking about it now. There wasn’t much guitar music played indoors though but if it was, it’d be by a band that my mum was working on like Stereophonics or someone like that. Most of my memories are just of digging through my mum’s records and lucky-dipping basically. When I was really young, about four or five years old, my big obsession was Michael Jackson. There’s old video camera footage of me dancing round the living room to his music so he was probably my first big inspiration, I just loved his stuff. After that, it was hip-hop. Busta Rhymes – ‘When Disaster Strikes…’ was the first hip-hop album I remember being really into, more so for the beats and the flows because I wasn’t really taking in anything he was saying at that age. There was Funkmaster Flex mixtapes as well, Lauryn Hill’s album, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dr Buzzards Original Savannah Band, a lot of soul I guess … but then there were some obscure CDs in the collection as well. I remember quite a bit of experimental electronic stuff, Daft Punk, Mr Oizo … whatever I found that resonated with me really. There was an old Tommy Boy compilation that my mum had on vinyl and on that I found Afrika Bambaataa and Planet Patrol and all that kind of body-popping 80s hi-hop kinda stuff, which I ended up heavily into. From there, I found Run DMC and then that’d come full circle and I’d dip back into the soul and lovers rock stuff. It was basically like a record shop at home, it was sick … and I still discover things now actually. Looking back, it definitely shaped my music taste.”

With such a rich pool of records to immerse himself in as a kid, Reid’s reference points were already different from those around him growing up — but that didn’t stop him doing his own digging away from home. Inspired by popular tastes at the time — everything from Jay-Z to Outkast and Usher — Reid then discovered The Neptunes and Timbaland in the early ’00s and never really looked back. “Once I found them, that was me, that was my side of hip-hop”, he says firmly. “I appreciate the barrers but I was always more into the fun shit. It was always about the beats and the flows for me at that age, I didn’t really appreciate what people were saying in their verses until I was much older.” 

It was during this time that Reid also started spending more time with his older cousin, himself a beat-maker who’d spend his weekends scouring through records at some of London’s most iconic shops. “I was probably about 14, 15 when I started going regularly I think”, he recalls. “My cousin was the first person to take me record shopping properly, but the first record I remember buying with him was Antonio – ‘Hyperfunk’, which came out in 1998 when I was eight, so I’d actually been going a little bit before. He used to take me to Black Market and I remember I’d buy a few garage records and then I’d go and watch him mix and stuff. As I got older, I then started going to Black Market and Uptown Records with my boy, specifically to buy whatever grime we could find.”

“My cousin actually taught me how to DJ when I was young as well so I always kinda looked up to him”, he continues. “Whatever he was doing, I wanted to be doing. He started making beats on Cubase a little while after and used to show me how it worked, so that was the first time I really showed interest in making my own music I think. It all coincided with grime becoming a bit of a thing, so I became obsessed with trying to make grime beats. I had a couple of mates that’d always be like, ‘you make grime but it’s not really like grime, it’s more like hip-hop’, which I didn’t really hear myself at the time. Now looking back at it, I guess I was subconsciously leaning towards hip-hop, just with a grime aesthetic.”

“I had a couple of mates that’d always be like, ‘you make grime but it’s not really like grime, it’s more like hip-hop’, which I didn’t really hear myself at the time. Now looking back at it, I guess I was subconsciously leaning towards hip-hop, just with a grime aesthetic.”

Buoyed by taking piano and later drum lessons at school, Reid was becoming more and more enamoured with music — it was now more than just a passion. “I remember my school actually started running music tech lessons when I was a bit older, as an external thing. It was at those lessons that I came off Cubase and learned how to use Logic and through going to those, especially with a teacher there to help you, I got more and more hooked. It got to the point where after finishing college, I was either gonna go to university to study English or Music, not necessarily with the view to establishing a career in either, but hopefully ending up in a field of work. My mum just asked me, ‘What do you enjoy more? What are you gonna be more focused on doing?’. The obvious answer was music.”

And with that, Reid headed to the University of Hertfordshire to study Music Technology for the next three years. Inspired more so by the people he lived with and friendships made than the degree course itself, Hertfordshire was a melting pot that Reid credits with solidifying his musical ambitions — “it all became a lot more real while I was there”, he affirms. It wasn’t just Reid who graduated from the same course either. “There was actually a few of us in that year who have gone on to do quite well”, he continues. “Nana Rogues was in a few of my classes for a while, Flux Pavilion was in my year as well … and Jay Hoskins, who I actually lived with, we worked together quite a bit back then. It was a good year for Hertfordshire, that one.” What was the clubbing scene like, I wondered? “Ah we were out all the time man”, he says with a smile. “I wasn’t really DJing them times but it was all just funky house and Drake in the clubs, where as in the house, I was listening a lot of Wiz Khalifa, Frank Ocean and mixtape rap in general. I liked Odd Future a lot then as well. That was basically my whole experience. It was a lot of fun.”

He took three months out after graduating, heading to South East Asia with some old friends to get his mind right and assess his next moves, before returning home to London energised and focused. “I think my mum knew I needed a studio space to work from so she cleared out the spare room and I moved my stuff in”, recalls Reid. “I got it cracking after that.” That wasn’t to say he wasn’t putting in the hard yards to make ends meet away from the studio, mind. “Ah man, I worked at a swimming pool for a bit. I wasn’t even a life guard, I was just sat on the front desk, looking after people’s belongings and doing the odd bit of cleaning. I’ve done the bakery, all different stuff to be honest, I think we all have to sometimes. Once I got back from university though I did really try and focus on getting music-orientated jobs. I interned at some production studios for a while, which led me to a studio called Assault & Battery in Willesden where I trained to be an assistant engineer under these two really highly-regarded producer-mixers called Flood and Alan Moulder. They mixed records for U2 and Nine Inch Nails, so they were massive in their field. I didn’t know the music very well but I knew I was in good company and I learned a lot being there. I found myself having less time to make my own music after a while though, so eventually I decided to leave.”

“Ah man, I worked at a swimming pool for a bit. I wasn’t even a life guard, I was just sat on the front desk, looking after people’s belongings and doing the odd bit of cleaning. I’ve done the bakery, all different stuff to be honest, I think we all have to sometimes.”

It was a move that’d lead Reid to Rinse FM, where he joined the station as a broadcast assistant in the early 2010s and ended up staying for over three years, holding down his own monthly show for the majority too. “Me going there was a real game changer”, he explains. “I met so many people, I got to watch loads of sick DJs up close which in turn helped me get better. I met Plastician and Geeneus there too and obviously they both put some of my first music out. It was just a very important place for me to be. I remember even just being able to speak to people, to DJs you’d listened to for years … it was crazy to me back then.”

“I always tried to keep my mind on the fact I was there for work and not my own thing”, he continues, “and I was never really one to throw my music at everybody, but around them times, what Plastician was playing seemed not too far off what I was making. One day he was recording his show in the little pre-rec room so I just popped my head in and asked if it’d be alright if I sent him some tunes or whatever and he just said, ‘yeah, sure’. That first set of tunes literally resulted in him asking if I wanted to release on Terrorhythm and so he put out my first proper EP, ‘Maneki Neko’. Geeneus then picked up on me being a member of staff after hearing EP tracks on Plastician’s show, so he asked if I’d be interested in releasing with them and then linked me with Katy B and Sinead Harnett as well. All the pieces just came together over a really short period of time.” How did that feel, I ask? “I mean, it was sick. It was weird too though because I was still doing my normal radio job, but now other DJs across the station would know me and were starting to play my tunes. It drove me to keep pushing though and maybe go a bit harder than I would have done had I not had those breakthroughs.”

These would prove to be pivotal moments in Reid’s career, both as an artist in his own right and as a studio producer — a duality that has come to define his more recent successes. His own productions — inspired as much by the bright, syrupy records coming out of the Soulection camp in LA as they were by the beats blaring through the Rinse speakers — made waves on Terrorhythm, while his calmness in the studio immediately put more established artists at ease. It’d lead to a second record with Plastician in January 2015 (‘Amethyst’) before putting out ‘Calibrate’ on Rinse in 2017 — a five-track EP that linked Reid’s two production worlds together for the first time, while also earmarking him as a beat-maker with his finger on the pulse. Features included Novelist, Slowthai, Oscar #Worldpeace, Kojey Radical, 808INK and Odd Future’s Hodgy, all of whom have since gone onto achieve widespread success at the business end of the industry. “I’ve always been like that man, that’s been the story of my career”, Reid says sheepishly when I suggest it was an EP that felt ahead of its time. “To be honest though, I’m happy to be a part of those artists’ journeys and I’m still lucky enough to make music with a lot of them, so it’s calm.”

“A lot of those guys knew me from working with Piff Gang in the early days”, Reid continues. “When you look at the kind of alternative rap or whatever you wanna call it, I think a lot of the people making that stuff now remember Piff Gang because it was a wave at the time. Me being aligned with them back then I think made people feel more open to working with me. I didn’t realise at the time but Ty (Slowthai), we’d actually met each other years ago at some event in Bristol. Him and his manager, Lewis, came down and were asking me about beats but I was just long at the time and didn’t send them. I ended up seeing his ‘Jiggle’ video on YouTube a few years later and hit him up about working on some stuff. The first day we linked, he brought Oscar (#Worldpeace) along with him and so it all just came together. Novelist I’d met at Rinse, Kojey I’d known since he was doing his poetry, Hodgy I’d met on my first trip to LA while I was trying to network. It was just easy to get it finished and ready to be honest. I really enjoyed making it.” 

It was a record that’d also serve as a cue for Reid to leave Rinse and pursue his own success away from the station — and things couldn’t have panned out much better for him, either. Two weeks after leaving, he met Mabel for the first time through his former manager and in the first studio session the pair shared, they wrote ‘Finders Keepers’, which also featured a guest verse from Kojo Funds. Released in May 2017, it peaked at #8 on the UK Singles Chart and landed as Mabel’s jump off point to superstardom, featuring as a bonus track on her UK Top 3 debut album, ‘High Expectations’, in 2019. Nearly four years on, it’s officially double-Platinum. “It’s all mad you know”, Reid explains, “because obviously her mum is Neneh Cherry and my dad used to be part of this collective called The Buffalo Boys and they used to model with Neneh back in the day. When I met Mabel and I realised her mum knew my dad, her dad knew my dad … it was all just very connected. Myself, Mabel and her brother Marlon had actually spent most of that first session on another tune and it was alright but in the last 20 minutes, we got the chords down for another idea, which turned out to be ‘Finders Keepers’. I took it away, did my thing with it and yeah, that was it. We wrote it really quickly.”

“When I met Mabel and I realised her mum knew my dad, her dad knew my dad … it was all just very connected.”

The success of ‘Finders Keepers’ opened the door for Reid to sign his first publishing deal in 2018, which in turn gave him the freedom and financial security to focus on music full time. He continued working with Slowthai and fellow producer Kwes Darko (fka Blue Daisy), co-producing Slowthai’s ‘Drug Dealer’, ’Rainbow’ and ‘GTFOMF’ in just a matter of days, as well as working on self-released 2018 mixtape, ’Tree’. Featuring 15 tracks littered with eye-catching features including grime MCs Ghetts and Bossman, returning collaborators Slowthai, 808INK and Oscar #Worldpeace and a slew of producers, rappers and vocalists from right across the UK canon — from Fatima to Henry Wu to Reeko Squeeze — it was a nod to just how versatile and inventive his own artist-led productions had become. Although understated like ‘Calibrate’ before it, ’Tree’ was undoubtedly a visionary body of tracks and one that lived in harmony with the more intense, chart-bothering work he was undertaking for the likes of Mabel and Celeste. 

“I’m just so, so grateful for everything that’s happened”, he says, as I ask about the emotions attached to his journey from broadcast assistant to hit-making producer. While he might have dreamed of becoming an all-guns-blazing festival act after first seeing Flying Lotus at Lovebox in the early 2010s, he’d long since struck a balance between chasing his own dreams and facilitating those of others — and it’s a duality that continues to serve Reid well. “I know there’s still so much more I can give and achieve though”, he reaffirms sharply. “I’m still hungry for it like I was when I was starting out.” 

As if he ever needed any additional motivation, Reid became a father for the first time in 2019 — an experience that he describes as ‘magical’. “It’s just sick man, waking up to a little person that you’ve made”, he says, a huge smile breaking out across his face. “He’s really inspired me to make sure that I’m giving my all in my work but also setting a really good example to him, as a person. I want him to be able to look at his dad when he’s older and be like, ‘Yeah, my dad was good, my dad was on point’. I just appreciate him so much and love spending time with him.”

“He’s really inspired me to make sure that I’m giving my all in my work but also setting a really good example to him, as a person. I want him to be able to look at his dad when he’s older and be like, ‘Yeah, my dad was good, my dad was on point’.”

Since the birth of his son, Reid has been stuck, like many of us in the UK, at home for the best part of 12 months, working on sessions and writing music for a variety of different projects. Alongside Slowthai, he’s been working closely with 2020 breakout star, Big Piig, and also Ray BLK, as well as a number of other producers and musicians, broadening his scope and making his own music feel more collaborative than ever before — “I used to want to do everything myself”, he acknowledges, “but working with these new artists has actually been fun and good for me, really. I think it was needed.”

There was a soft drop at the back of 2020 in the shape of ‘North West’s Finest’ — a near 30-minute, sample-heavy mixtape comprised of all new JD. Reid material, some of which had been lifted from studio sessions he’d managed to finish just before Coronavirus struck, with features including Denzel Himself, Ms Banks, Big Piig and Suspect. More of a reminder of intent than a statement, it was a tape that laid the groundwork for the music Reid is hoping to release over the next 12 months. “I feel like I took a step away from focusing on my own artist/producer music for a while but that’s gonna he very much a focus this year”, he says. “I’d like to release a series of EPs and there’s a few bits I’ve almost finished but alongside that, just working with more artists and finding that balance between the two. It keeps things fresh for me too. Doing my own thing and then going into other artists’ worlds is inspiring, you know. More than anything though, it’s just gonna be fun for me to put out some of my own shit again.”

“I think not having a million things to do over the last few months has made it feel easier to focus on that as well”, he continues. “It’s not always a bad thing to have time to yourself, do you know what I mean? I’m one of those people who’s guilty of not feeling good if I’m not out here doing the most all the time, but having time with my family has probably inspired me more than I would have expected it to. Sometimes taking a step back is a good thing … and I’m gonna try and remind myself of that as much as I can.”

JD. Reid’s ‘North West’s Finest’ mixtape is out now:

https://jdreid.bandcamp.com/album/north-wests-finest

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