“You’re Doing it Half Blindfolded”: BK-One Recounts The Serendipitous Process Behind The “Bones & Beeker” Album
Between touring with Brother Ali for a decade, making a Brazilian-themed album with Benzilla, and stumbling into his Bones & Beeker project with Anthony (Tony) Newes, Minneapolis-based DJ and producer BK-One’s career has had many unexpected twists and turns.
It all started during his teenage years with record collecting, the intense study of classical music and jazz theory, and teaching himself how to play the vibraphone. From there BK toured the US playing vibraphone with a jazz band and started Minneapolis’ only independent hip-hop radio program after moving to the city in the mid-90s.
After meeting Rhymesayers’ artist Brother Ali through his show, the two toured around the world together, with BK spending large portions of his time from 1999–2009 rocking flawless live sets and perfecting his skills on the turntables.
Throughout all these varied experiences as a professional musician, certain lessons continue to ring true no matter who BK works with. “What you make and how you perceive it are two different things,” he says. “Sometimes you do things that you think are just little throwaway scraps of ideas. Then somebody else hears it and they’re like, ‘No, that’s the idea right there.’”
“Suddenly I made hundreds of new things. I’ve never been that prolific before.”
BK saw this early in his career while watching Brother Ali make Shadows on the Sun. As producer Ant and Brother Ali worked on their project, one of the records that started out as mere piece of comedic relief ended up becoming the biggest song on the album. “Ali never intended ‘Forrest Whitaker’ to be the breakout song,” BK explains. “He made that as a joke. He made that to make Ant laugh.” Over fifteen years since its release, “Forrest Whitaker” remains one of the most enduring songs from Ali’s vast catalog.
Throughout his career BK has also seen spontaneous creativity coupled with modest expectations lead to incredible results. After releasing his solo debut Radio do Canibal on Rhymesayers in 2009 and completing his touring duties, he decided to step away form music for a bit as he and his wife welcomed a new addition to their family. “After my daughter was born and I stopped touring, I very intentionally spent six months barely listening to music, not going to any shows, and not touching my turntables,” he says.
Though the self-imposed exile from music was beneficial, he could only keep himself away from the creative process for so long. Using the free time provided by his daughter's 18-hours-a-day sleep routine, BK treated himself to some new gear and eventually got back to work. “I went out and bought myself Native Instruments’ Maschine,” he says. “I’d just put my daughter in my bed and sit at the foot of the bed with a laptop, a little MIDI keyboard, and the Maschine. Suddenly I made hundreds of new things. I’ve never been that prolific before.”
“Sometimes you do things that you think are just little throwaway scraps of ideas. Then somebody else hears it and they’re like, ‘No, that’s the idea right there.’”
Though he achieved unprecedented output, BK had no set destination for these new compositions. Instead of overthinking it, he rode the creative wave and eventually found placements for his work. “That music ended up in a lot of different places,” he says. “Some of it ended up on a kid’s record, some of it ended up on my friend’s record, and a lot of it ended up on this project that I ended up sort of backing into.”
The project BK backed into was the 2015 Bones & Beeker self-titled release the he recorded with Tony Newes, one of the most unlikely musical pairings of his career. “This record is a collaboration with a singer/songwriter dude and it’s not singer/songwriter music,” he says. “It’s like sample-based pop music. It’s like Graceland if it was a sampled-based record, or something like that. It’s really different from anything I’ve ever done before.”
From beginning to end, the creation of their album had a serendipitous feel to it. “We worked at a group home together and had a lot of down time,” BK explains. “He had just broken up with his band of many years, I had just gotten off the road with Brother Ali.”
“You just never really know. It’s chemistry, but you’re doing it half blindfolded. You see what comes off it.”
BK and Tony never over-analyzed their creative approach and never gave too much thought to making high art — they just hit record when the spirit moved them. “It worked because we weren’t trying too hard. We never sat down and had a conversation about who our influences are, what our end goal was, and our work flow. We just kind of did it. We were basically just killing time making weird music together.”
Though the songs started out as a simple exercise in creative escape, they soon turned into something resembling an album. “It wasn’t until we were six songs in that we were like, ‘Oh. This weird music is pretty dope. We should maybe make more of these and then make it into something.’ Then a couple months Wax Poetics is hitting us up trying to put out our record.”
And just as Brother Ali found great success with a song that started out as a joke many years earlier, BK and Tony’s most popular moment on the record started as a gag. “‘Heartbroken In Love’ is the song that is currently by far our most listened to song on Spotify, the song that the label wanted to make a single out of, and the song that everybody tells me about when they tell me about my album,” he says. “Tony wrote it to make me laugh.”
After BK presented his bandmate with a 90% completed track and asked him to add vocals, Tony’s initial reaction was mixed — to say the least. “He heard it and was like, ‘It’s funky, but it’s so cheesy. God, it reminds me of the Love Boat theme song. I’m gonna sing like the Love Boat,’” BK remembers with a laugh. “He was totally just trying to clown me for giving him something that he thought was so cheesy. And that’s the song that has 500,000 more listens than the next most-listened to track on the record.”
“We never sat down and had a conversation about who our influences are, what our end goal was, and our work flow. We just kind of did it.”
Whether it’s “Forest Whitaker” turning into a breakout record or a cheesy joke song becoming a hit for Bones & Beaker, the frequent and unexpected surprises that come with being a professional musician help keep the job exciting and fun. “You just never really know,” says BK. “It’s chemistry, but you’re doing it half blindfolded. You see what comes off it.”
In the meantime, Bones & Beeker fans should be excited to see what comes of new remix EP from BK and Tony due out some time next month. Featuring contributions from Brother Ali, Cut Chemist, Open Mike Eagle, POS, Prince Paul, J-Zone, and Zulu Zulu, the EP promises to be yet another impressive notch in BK’s belt.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop and Bookshelf Beats publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at HipHopDX or follow me on Twitter.