Da Beatfreakz, formed of the London-born brothers O1 and U1, are a veteran producer duo that have helped reshape the UK music industry and create an environment for upcoming producers to thrive in the scene. The two are behind numerous platinum records and national and international hits, having worked with an array of artists from Giggs and N-Dubz to Usher, Sean Paul and Chris Brown.
O1 and U1 started their careers while they were still in school, and produced their first platinum song, “Secrets”, off the N-Dubz album Uncle B, when they were aged 19/15 years old. From there on success followed, along with continuous hard work, they were spotted by the internationally acclaimed American producer duo Cool and Dre, who discovered them on MySpace and flew them over to Miami to work together.
As the younger generation might know them, Da Beatfreakz are behind some of the UK’s greatest hits in the recent years: “Pumpy”, “808”, “Self-Obsessed”, and many others. The older generations remember them for producing staple songs of the UK rap scene such as Giggs’ anthem “Swingin in Da Whip”. As landlords of the UK’s production scene, Da Beatfreakz go as far back as having Tinie Tempath record some of his early songs in their family home in Charlton, South London.
The two brothers have travelled across the world to discover new sounds and work with artists in countries such as France, Italy, Russia, South Korea, and America.
Being of Nigerian descendant and coming from a musical family with a strong love for music, O1 and U1 integrate a wide selection of sounds and elements from different genres such as drill, hip hop and afroswing, and are known to challenge and bring different flavours to the UK drill sound; both through the elements that they use and also the artists they pair together on tracks.
Da Beatfreakz are true music connoisseurs who have been bringing the UK music scene fresh sounds and hits to move to for over 15 years now.
We pinned down the pair to talk their new tape, the UK’s music production scene, and also the early days of their careers.
What does a day in the life look like for you?
O1: “It’s a lot. As you can imagine, obviously, wake up in the morning, answer all these emails because we’re not just music producers but also music managers, we’ve got obviously our businesses that we run. So it’s a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls throughout the day, a lot of meetings, and then hopefully by 6-7 o’clock we’re able to go to the studio, in the night time, and then work throughout the night. We probably finish about 2-3 in the morning. We’re making music, mixing music, listening to new artists and every single day we finish at about 2-3 o’clock in the morning.”
Where do you draw inspiration from when you make your beats?
O1: “It comes from everywhere, to be honest. Most times obviously it’s from our background. We like to listen to old music like, you know, afrobeats, people like Shina Peters, who is a Nigerian afrobeats singer, old school hip hop from people like Jay Z, Nas. Then new school music like Rod Wave, or it could be artists like Digga D.
“When you’re sitting down and listening to music obviously if something really hits you, like I don’t know, it could be like a new Digga D song or a new Ghetts album, it makes you feel like Ok, it’s time to get back in the studio. It’s time to work”.
Can you walk us through the process of you making a beat?
O1: “Usually I would start with the drums, then my brother, he learned how to play piano, guitar, drums in church when we were younger, so my brother could jump in, drop a melody, and we’d just be going back and forth until we’re happy. Uche, what do you think?”
U1: “Yeah, 100% exactly what my brother said. We’d always start with the drums and then kind of just build it from there, but always back and forth and then transition.”
What’s your top 3 favourite songs that you have produced?
U1: “One of mine I’d probably say “Self Obsessed”.
O1: “Oh that’s too hard! I would say “Pumpy”, and then definitely a song that we did with Giggs, “Swingin in Da Whip”. That was our first single as artists and having that co-sign was really powerful. Even now he is the landlord when it comes to UK music, so for him to jump on a song it really opened a lot of doors for us.”
U1: “Yeah! And definitely “Self Obsessed” would be the third one.”
You call your sound “freakadelic” because it’s a clash of everything – how would you describe it from a technical point of view?
U1: “The sound, if you listen to our music, it’s obviously African influenced. You hear heavy hip hop drums, the hip hop sound is there, you might have like a bashment feel on some records, it’s a fusion of everything really. UK London sounds, African sounds, American sounds, all in one. And that’s where our sound kind of comes from because that’s the music we grew up listening to.
“It’s a blend of all put into one. Like for example this new single we’ve just put out now has a great Rihanna sample and we brought that into the drill world. But it’s not the average drill record, you see the melody, you see the chord structures on the chorus, you know? A normal drill beat wouldn’t have chord structures on the chorus, it’s just a loop, but we tend to kind of change and try to add our twist to every sound we get involved in.”
What can you tell us about your latest single “Money Calling”?
U1: “Yeah, “Money Calling”, we’re very very excited about that one, man! This one is just coming out, again, featuring RAYE, Russ Millions and wewantwraiths. When you look at the lineup, just by seeing the comments, a lot of people don’t expect these artists to be on one track together. But hopefully when people hear it they’ll love it.
“RAYE went hard on the chorus, like we got RAYE rapping rapping, she’s actually spitting bars on the verse, like people are going to be shocked. Russ came in and did his thing, wewantwraiths came in and did a madness and yeah man, hopefully God willing it just does what it needs to do. The video looks crazy so we’re very excited about that!”
How did you get RAYE to actually spit on the verse?
U1: “RAYE came into the studio very open minded and we wanted RAYE to try something different. She started flowing on the song and we suggested “Can you try rapping?” And she sounded amazing! It was history from there.”
What was the thought process when you put RAYE, Russ Millions and wewantwraiths on a song together?
O1: “We always try our best to go for unexpected linkups. For this song we wanted to bring the best of all worlds together. RAYE represents pop, Russ represents drill and wewantwraiths represents wave music. It’s an unexpected lineup, but we felt it works great together.”
Your music got featured in Storks, which is an animated film. What other movies would you like to hear your music in?
O1: “That’s a good question, you know. To be honest we definitely like to watch movies but any type of Marvel film, if we could get our music into any type of Marvel film that would be amazing!”
U1: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Or James Bond!”
O1: “Yeah, them sort of films! Like global, No.1 films. You get into a film like a Marvel movie that you know for a fact it’s going to sell over a billion tickets, like the new Black Panther would be amazing. That’d be incredible. Because when you listen to our music it’s very cinematic, our music we try and make sure it’s big and without even seeing the video you can picture a video by just listening to it. So yeah man, God willing one day we’ll get into a big movie.”
What do you think was an essential moment in the UK production scene both from a sonic point of view, and also in terms of the recognition that producers have been getting lately?
U1: “Personally, I feel like in general, the quality of UK music has risen so much, and I feel like in order for that to happen producers are behind that. I feel like recognition wise, at the moment people like Steel Banglez, ourselves, Jae5 have started to come to the forefront, I feel like it’s opened a floodgate for all the new producers to come through and we’re seeing producers getting signed, which is amazing.
“I feel like Steel Banglez was definitely at the forefront of that, we did our thing at the forefront, Jae5 is just coming through now doing his thing. I think everyone’s played their equal part and yeah man, it’s amazing to see it and I feel like producers are the new artists, producers are becoming the new rockstars if that makes sense. So it’s good to see that producers are slowly but surely getting the recognition they deserve.”
What do you look for when you sign a new producer to your label?
U1: “We’ve never really signed producers to our label. We’ve got a publishing company, we sign artists but not producers. We’ve signed song writers to our publishing company, but we may sign some producers to our publishing company but we haven’t just yet.
“If we were looking for someone to sign, again it’s really just natural talent, just hearing something that may not be quite finished yet but you know it’s the talent in its early stages. It’s similar for artists that we have signed to our label too, you know, we find them from very young, very early, showing natural talent and our role is just to develop it and get it out to the world.”
Your early mentors were Trakstarz and Cool and Dre. Can you talk about your first year in the States and what it was like to work with some of the greatest producers over there especially at that age?
O1: “It was amazing, it was a great opportunity. Especially the way that we met, that we were found on the internet by Trakstarz and Cool and Dre. I think Cool and Dre found us on MySpace. So you know when you could upload your beats and songs onto your page and they came across a couple of songs, a couple of beats, and they thought we were good so they were like “Yo, we wanna get you over here.” So they put us on a plane, sent us over to Miami at that young age and it was a great experience.”
“We couldn’t wait to experience something like that. For someone to believe in us that much to want us to come over to America and work with them it was a massive uplift for us. Because especially where we come from, you know, it’s very hard for anybody to imagine that you’ll be able to make it or be able to get flown over to America to do something that you love to do. It made us believe that we could do anything now. Whatever we put our minds to, we could do it all. Then when we got over there we were able to work with people like Usher, I forgot who else now, we’d met a lot of artists that we were able to work with, it was amazing.”
In an old interview from 2012 you said that at some point you tried to make a pizza last for four days while you were in America. This shows the kind of sacrifices that people need to make to achieve their dreams. Looking back to those days, how do you feel about that experience?
O1: “Of course, 100% man. Yeah we did that a few times to be honest. We did it in New York, did it in Miami. Because once they get you over there then it’s really up to you now to hustle because they brought you over there, you know what I mean? So our aim was us to get over there and hustle and do as much work as we could do while we were over there.
“Obviously you can’t really ask your parents for anything at that time because, you know, we all come from low income families, so it’s like our parents wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, you know what I mean? If they could they would, obviously, but at that time they couldn’t so we just had to do what we could do. We knew in the back of our heads obviously that as long as we’re here we can make it work. Even if we can’t eat for a few days we’re ok. We could make it work.”
And what would you say to a producer who’s down to their last penny while trying to make it in the industry?
O1: “Just keep going. I just think there’s no end goal, just keep going, don’t stop. And I think obviously nowadays there’s no excuse no more because this is the easiest time for anybody to make anything. I think a lot of artists obviously have broken through even during the whole Covid period.
“Loads of artists came through and made a name through the Covid period when a lot of people would’ve been sitting down doing nothing. That would’ve been the best time to actually come out and release your music. Because everybody’s at home, waiting for things on the internet. So there’s no excuse nowadays. I think you’ve just got to go with it, you’ve got to keep on pushing through. I think obviously when it comes to money and making music I think you can get a job. You can do both things. You can have a job. We’ve worked two jobs. Gone to one job in the morning, another job in the evening, then go home and make music.”
U1: “If you believe in yourself, you just put the effort in. It’s that simple. If you want to get there, you’ll get there. It’s just up to you. Most importantly if you believe in yourself that much and you can envision yourself making it just go for it. No one’s going to believe in you more than you believe in yourself. It’s that simple. If you really see yourself making it and you really want to get to a certain place you’ve got to put the work in. Nothing happens without hard work.”
Do you think it was easier for someone to learn production during the time you did or is it easier now?
O1: “Way, way, way easier now.”
O1: “Even with some of the younger artists that we work with now, the stuff that they learn. When we speak to them it’s amazing because all they do is sit on the internet watching YouTube videos of how to make beats, they watch videos on how to mix, they watch videos on how to record.”
O1: “Them times there you could not learn these things, because there’s nowhere to learn them. There was no YouTube, no internet. It’s like more time we had to pay somebody to come to our house and to teach us. Now you have people go to courses, everything’s been simplified because of the internet.”
U1: “I think courses have been dried up now too because you learn it all on the internet.”
O1: “Yeah, back in the day it was courses, but now it’s the internet.”
U1: “Everything’s been simplified, and you could go to the shop and buy a laptop and a small MPC or whatever and make a beat and it’s in the charts.”
O1: “You know what I mean? And they’ve literally just got a laptop. Nothing else, just a laptop. You’ve got kids in Africa. Everything’s changed so much, it’s crazy. It’s a major thing and I think it’s great man. Especially when you speak to young artists and young producers and the way they talk is like they learn all these things; they learn how to record their vocals, they learn how to make beats, they learn how to mix their beats down just on YouTube. That’s amazing because it shows you obviously where the world is going and it’s only gonna get better. And they’re only gonna get younger. Because in the future you’re gonna get producers who are like five years old, six years old.”
Wait, how did you say you learnt production? You used to pay people to come to your house?
O1: “Yeah, I remember when we were younger we met a few people that used to make beats and record instrumentals and stuff like that. And we had a music shop in our area too, literally around the corner from our house. So we used to just go there and ask them lot “Can you come to the house?” One of my other guys, my other friends back in the day when we were all growing up, one of our friends we used to record with – a guy called Paris, he’s a lot older than us, but we used to record with him .
“So these people used to come to the house and we’d be like “Yo, we could give you some change, just teach us how to do certain things.” And my brother also was learning in school at the same time too, so that was a good thing too that he was able to learn in school. So all these things obviously you put together and it’s like “Ok, now we can take this to a whole other level.” But to buy the equipment, we had to obviously hustle ourselves to get the equipment because them times there, like we said, it wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t a laptop. It was like yeah, we had to go out, we had to really hustle to get a proper computer and stuff like that.”
I know you began your musical journey by playing instruments in church. Then you were part of the MC group called YKM, which was big in your area. How did you make the transition from church to rap music?
U1: “Oooh my days! How did you get that information? What?! Oh my Goodness. That was a loong time ago.What?! Yeaaah. We’d just started rapping, just basically rapping with friends on Pyro radio station. And that’s it really, then started producing.”
Do you remember those days?
U1: “A hundred percent! I remember I was like year 9, year 8, my brother was probably like four years older so like year 11. But it was great times because it taught us a lot, we met a lot of people, we networked. But then, from there, that’s when we went and started producing. Because at that time we couldn’t get beats and we had no producer so we had to start producing.
“I remember one time I was in school, I had detention, I was in the music room. I never really did music, I never really liked music to be honest with you. I liked it but I never saw myself doing it, football was my thing. Then I remember one day I was left behind in detention and two of my friends were there and I was like “What are you guys doing?” and they kind of showed me that they were making beats.
“I’m like “What is this?” It looks all weird to me, I don’t even know what was going on. But at that time me and my brother were rapping and we couldn’t find beats. So I try to make my first beat and I think it sounds pretty good. I went home and showed it to my brother. He’s like “Yo, this is good! Let’s try this!” and from there we just started doing it man and by God’s grace here we are now.”
That’s a great story! How did you make the transition from church to rap music in the first place?
U1: “I think rap music was something we’ve always grown up listening to. Again, in the UK, from young everyone’s been heavily influenced by US music. So on our TV, all our friends always listened to hip hop, our cousins always listened to hip hop, in our household there would be some hip hop music from the Jay-Zs, and in school your friends would be talking about hip hop videos. So naturally, from the culture we’re in, we’re naturally around it no matter what and I think yeah, we just grew from there.”
You come from a musical family, your mum was always playing music in the house and your dad was a music journalist for the BBC, the Guardian and other outlets back in the 80s. Can you pinpoint the moment when you fell in love with music?
U1: “Yeah, you know what it is, I think the passion and love was.. That’s a hard one, you know, that’s a hard one. We always loved it, but in terms of like actually seeing it as a career, it would be probably when we got our first plaque, the N-Dubz plaque. And then from there the hard work followed and when obviously financially it started to make sense we were like “Ok, cool, this actually something we’d love to do and we could actually take care of ourselves and our family from this same thing.” You know, the love naturally grew, we’ve always had love for music but in terms of seeing it as a career, from the N-Dubz point, that was the transitioning point where “Ok, this is what we’re actually gonna take seriously.” Then when we got called to America too, that was like “Ok, cool, we’re actually pretty ok, so maybe just let’s just try put a bit more time into this” and by God’s grace we’re here now.”
I know you were about 16 at the time the N-Dubz song went platinum, right?
U1: “No, I was younger. I was like 14 or 15.”
U1: “Yeah, probably like 14,15. Because I remember our friend knew the N-Dubz guys and I’ll never forget him. He had a guitarist come down and play the guitar, it was crazy and I remember getting our first plaque at 15, about to turn 16. And them times there UK music wasn’t getting any plaques, especially platinum, so to have it then it’s crazy when you think about it.”
U1: “You know, at the moment we never really understood what it was, if I’m being honest with you. Like we knew it was a plaque but, you know, at that age it’s a plaque, it’s great, but we’re still in the same circumstances, so it never really hit like that. But we always knew it was a proud moment, like some trophy.
“But in the back of our head was like “Ok, there’s a lot more to do before we even celebrate,” you know what I mean? So it was always that, like “Cool, this is done, what’s next?” So that’s always been our mentality. But it was a great moment, don’t get me wrong, it was a blessing, and to get a plaque at that age you know, is such a blessing. But at that point there was so much more to do and it wasn’t time to get complacent, you know what I mean?”
“Money Calling” is out, but what else are you working on at the moment? And when are we going to see your next tape come out?
U1: “Yeah! God willing album/mixtape mid next year. We’ve got a few great singles planned, big released features on it, a few big international names, big UK names, very much excited about it. Obviously we’re developing our new artist too, signed to DBF records, working on them, building them up, and yeah man, God willing, at the end of this year we’ll drop new music. More business ventures and keeping things pushing. But next year definitely, 100%, God willing, a project coming. DBF project. It’s called Family Business.”
So my last question is, because obviously you have a record label and your own publishing company as well. You manage artists like Swarmz and Kwengface. You have a very important presence in multiple sectors of the music industry, what is your ultimate goal?
U1: “You know what? The Ultimate goal is to leave legacies, to be able to take care of our family. It’s about leaving legacies, creating opportunities for people and inspiring people. I feel like with leaving legacies you’re leaving inspiration for the next generations too. Like us, when we look up to the Puff Daddys and the Jay-Zs, the Cash Money Records, the QCs, it inspires us to be as great as them if not even better. We wanna do the same. I think that’s the most important thing.”