Exclusives Interviews 25 May 2023
Author: Seth P

169 The Producer/RnB Crooner Extraordinaire Talks Brand New EP, The State of UK RnB & More

25 May 2023

The journey from the Cutty Sark DLR station across Deptford Creek is like walking through a snapshot of modern day London itself. The streets begin with the usual working class watering holes, fast food franchises and 24 hour gyms. But as you move a little deeper in, the pockmarks that gentrification has left on the face of the capital become more and more apparent. Locally owned cash and carries swapped out for Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, and council housing blocks transformed into towering glass obelisks that have become the base of operations for the Yuppies keen to find out if there’s any truth in Samuel Johnson’s aphorism about London. 

Nestled somewhere in this mercurial cityscape, lies the studio of one of the cities’ architects, 169. 169 is one of a handful of producers that have revolutionised the soundscapes that London has become known for. His early work with Dave can now be looked back on as seminal, producing both “Wanna Know” (which Drake famously remixed), and Dave’s and Fredo’s first number one single “Funky Friday”; but that barely scratches the surface of 169’s exploits. 

The Streatham hailing artist has been releasing his own unique brand of RnB, while simultaneously being the brains behind some of the biggest tracks over the last five years. Leading a double life can’t be easy, but its something that 169 has been doing since he first began to get paid for his beats in Secondary School. Those early monetary gains may have been small, but the belief they instilled in him is impossible to put a price on. Production might of been 169’s first taste of success, but singing was his first love. Coming from a family with a strong arts background, meant that he was always pushed to take part in talent shows and encouraged to fully explore his creative outlets in as many ways as possible. This would eventually culminate in 169 vocalling his own instrumentals, and putting out projects that he constructed from top to bottom entirely on his own. 

The first of these would be Seasons (2018), and featured none other than Santan Dave, and Teks Sinatra (who arguably had the best guest verse). Features aside, the EP served as a real introduction to what 169 is capable of when he’s not hunched over mixing boards meticulously tweaking EQs. Sync (2020) would follow, and present a more mature, lyrically dexterous 169 to the world, and housed some of his best music to date – “Respect” and “Cocoabutter” remain personal favourites. 

We catch up with 169 on the eve of the release of his brand new EP Nothing Before It’s Time, to discover more about the journey thus far, and what its like producing for some of the biggest names in the game.

When did your love for music first develop? 

“When I saw my dad, he had this keyboard (one of them keyboards that had a slot for a floppy disk), and he produced beats on there for his own pleasure. Sometimes he used to do like theatre shows, and the soundtracks for that. So he’d use that keyboard to produce and put things together. Obviously as a young child you’re inquisitive init, you wanna find why’s that doing that, how does that work? So yeah I used to play around with that till I figured out how to actually make a song on that keyboard. I think my love for it came there. I was like ah I can manipulate sound by myself, I can do what I’m hearing on the radio, what I’m seeing on TV I can do all of that.”

When did you realise you could do this as a career?

“So there’s a window between, where you figure out you can do it as a job, and when you figure out you’re good at it. So I figured out I was good at it, maybe around year 8/ year 9? I had a lot of friends that were into music as well, I still work with them now. We were a band at one point in school. 

“But I never had it in my mind to do music when I left school, I think I got to that point when I was producing my own music, and putting it on Soundcloud. I had beats out there, and they were getting like 15k plays. I had people hitting me up to buy beats off me, and its like rah I’m in school I’m making £50-£100 every few weeks off beats, and it might not go anywhere; but this is a form of income. I’m getting my own lunch money now!” 

Singing came first, but when did you realise you had a good voice? What was that moment like? 

“Again like, I always bring it back to my dad init – he would always sing in the house and put music together. But coming from where I come from like, having that arts background, they’d always push me to do talent shows and do this and do that. Obviously, I don’t think you realise you can sing, you just know you can sing if you can sing. 

“I would always do it, not knowing how good I actually was. I wouldn’t say I’m like a Jamie Foxx level vocalist, or a Craig David for example, but I knew I had a good voice init so it started there. I realised these beats I’m making for other people, I can go on there myself, and it just sounded right with my own voice and my own beats.”

You’ve said you were not a confident writer to begin with. How did you develop this aspect of your skillset?

“I’d say after releasing a few songs on Soundcloud and seeing the reception, I would go back and listen to it and think, this is good melodically, and I understand the direction, but like what am I really trying to say here? And how can I communicate that a little bit better. I have a friend Rechmial, and he came in on the earlier projects that no one is ever gonna hear right now but maybe one day! and he just gave things a direction in my opinion, where it was like take the RnB route, say this – try and be a bit more interesting with that, and I have to give it to him in terms of his influence in terms of where I am now, because without that period there, without him being around and saying yo, look at it from this lens, I don’t think I’d be where I am now with the penmanship.” 

You’ve said you’re inspired by Reggae, old school RnB, Dancehall and obviously US Trap. But What are you inspired by musically that people would be surprised by?

“There is always two artists that I bring it back to, cause there was a time when I was in Sixth form and I was studying music technology. And they made us listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and David Bowie which expanded my mind, cause like the melodies that those guys were using its almost like they were taking mushrooms. It transported you to another understanding of melody and sound, sometimes I go back and type in Pink Floyd or David Bowie and I just listen and take that in, and for me thats a breathe of fresh air and a chance to learn something a bit different init, those are a couple of examples. But I always mention James Blake, because you listen to some of his past stuff and his music is not linear, its ever evolving as you’re listening to it, you don’t know what you’re gonna hear.”

What makes good RnB to you?

“Firstly I’d say the melody. Cause you can sit down and put on a lofi video on Youtube and study to that, and its almost like you’re in a trance. So the melody for me has to catch you. A song I heard from Jaz Karis the other day, the melody catches you before you even hear her voice on it. Melody I’d say, and then I’d say the feeling, because you can formulate a good song, you can formulate a nice chorus, but like when it comes from somewhere actually deep, or like a story of a friend or previous experience it will resonate with someone else as well. You cant make that feeling up, what’s coming from here straight to the mic, you cant formulate no AI can do that. That last piece of feeling that comes from the soul, you cant replicate that.”

How would you describe the music that you make?

“I’ve always thought about that. I’d describe it as futuristic electronic RnB – for me anyway, its familiar but nothing you’ve heard before. But at the same time like, its beats that you’re used to hearing, its melodies that you can sing yourself and they’re catchy and theres that emotion within it, and you can hear that its taken a while to put this all together.”

What do you think about the state of UK RnB right now? 

“I think its in an amazing place, is it where popular music is? Nah – because popular music is usually up-tempo music right? RnB is usually a lot slower, you can have up-tempo RnB songs definitely, but I’d say right now the way things are, popular music is where Drill is at, Rap/Trap those are the most popular genres right now. So RnB is in a good place, we just need to keep making good music. 

“Its also important to remember that it looks grey outside most of the time, you get me. Its raining most of the time, people are angry, people are upset you get what I’m saying? times are hard, so they just wanna hear man talk about all the hardships and resonate with something like that. I’m not saying you can’t resonate with falling in love and ting, but like when you’re in Miami or LA you got palm trees and the sun is shining, yeah sort of stuff makes more sense.

“UK RnB is at that discovery stage right now. Theres a few names that you can see popping up consistently Jvck James, Jaz Karis, Destin Conrad you know what I’m saying? These names keep coming up, so you already know in five/ten years where those people are gonna be and how they’re gonna be regarded. You get me?” 

You’re pretty much entirely self produced, but is there anyone that you’d like a beat from? 

“There’s two that come to mind instantly, first would be Cardo (CardoGotWings), and then I’d say PartyNextDoor, he knows exactly what he’s doing, I haven’t heard much from him recently but I know that would be a cold song.”

 Is there anyone that you haven’t produced for, that you’d like to work with?

“Yeah definitely. Nines. I don’t know why that hasn’t happened yet. He’s been out for a little while now, So Nines and Rick Ross off the top. They’ve got that expensive kind of rap sound that I don’t feel like I’ve been able to tap into just yet.”

You’re two EPs deep now, what do you think you’ve learned along the way? 

“I’d say coming from first EP to the second, going on to the third now. What I’ve taken is that each iteration becomes more intentional, because obviously you’re growing with the music you’re getting older, when I did Seasons I would of been like 19? So I’m in a different place now, I’m 25, so there’s different things I’m gonna wanna talk about, but then theres the realisation of okay, how do I say that? So it takes a lot longer to write, and one of the things I’ve learnt is that you don’t have to write a song in ten minutes it can take you two weeks to get one line, but that one line is a golden line. 

“So yeah thats one of the things, is just being patient with the process. The second thing is how quickly music evolves, and it evolves quicker every year. Obviously I’m always gonna keep up with the trends cause I’m in that production world, but with my own music its a different side of things for me, because thats a whole different sound so, its like I’ve had to try and evolve something that doesn’t exist in the world of music if you get what I’m saying. I’ts like James Blake right? if he sets out to make a project, you know you’ve never heard anything like that before, but thats taken him a while to probably figure that side of things out. 

“So there’s that, its just learning to evolve intentionally and understanding what the current landscape of music is like, but also your actual core sound and how to build that and evolve that, and you can hear that difference between Seasons and Sync and then with all that combined with me getting a bit older, you’re gonna hear that change now with Nothing Before It’s Time.”

You spent a year working on the previous release, how long have you been working on this one?

“So this one now, its coming up to about three years that I’ve been working on it. The reason being I dropped Sync at the top of the pandemic, so it was like I had all the disadvantages. I couldn’t really get the press I wanted, couldn’t get out there, couldn’t do shows, which I was gonna do. Couldn’t do release parties, all of that stuff. So it came to a point where I was like I  kinda got to start again in a way, in my head anyway. 

“So I used that time to keep building the producer catalogue as I do, cause I love producing for other people, but also using that time to learn a bit more about myself, what I wanna say next and where that sound is gonna be and how thats gonna sound, and also something I think that people underestimate in this day and age is like, the longevity of music. 

“The same way you was able to come in and say to me I’m still banging Sync, thats because I’ve listened to this stuff every day for two years just to make sure I’m not tired of that song, so if I’m tired of that song its coming off, and I’m gonna do a new one that I’m not tired of. You know what I’m saying? and that for me is why its taken so long.”

You’re clearly a multidisciplinary artist. You’ve done the singing, producing – when are we gonna see some acting? What does the next step of artistic expression look like for you?

“Looking at things though my eyes I’m a perfectionist init, so if I don’t see something working I’m not gonna go full force into it, I have to see it through till the end before I can execute that, and acting is one of those things. If I’m gonna act, I wanna act. I wanna really act init, so I think thats definitely in the pipeline in the future, its gonna take some time to build up that type of tenacity to go out there and put your face out there in that type of way but I’m not opposed to it. 

“Definitely in the near future I wanna put together a project in the style of DJ Khaled where, cause no one’s really heard anything like that from a UK producer in a long time. All your favourite artists on one project produced by one person, but I think the unique side of that is me actually featuring on that project. So its less of me more of them but, I’m still there. Again like I said execution is everything for me, so that cant just be a half hearted thing. Thats gotta go all the way, you know tours, shows, top of the charts, number one songs; thats the next evolution.”