The place to find and share independent music. From hip-hop to pop, dubstep to drum n bass; Beatnik is your filter.
From humble musical begins to worldwide fame, Katy B is someone we've tipped for super stardom
words Ali Raymond / photography Fabrice Bourgelle Pyres
Stepping over the tumble weaves that frequent the curbs of Peckham’s Rye Lane in South London, we take rising star Katy B on an elevated journey — literally — to the all too cool Frank’s bar that pops up every summer on the open roof of Peckham car park. There, amongst the 360 panoramic views, I get to know my petite, bubbly and talented friend a little bit better.
“It’s funny,” Katy says nostalgically. “I remember when this was a Sainsbury. My mum parked here every Saturday when I was really little and…” She admires the unfinished haircuts and colourful bikes that have now replaced the deserted shopping trollies. “If you walk on that side over there, there’s these ledges. I always remember running up them when I was like five.”
Those days must seem an eternity away from her current promising predicament. Tipped as the hottest new artist right now, you can’t escape her current single ‘Katy On A Mission’ blasting on heavy rotation on all radio frequencies. At the time of writing her single is at number 5 and creeping to number one, major labels and promoters won’t stop ringing and she has one of the hottest independent labels, Rinse FM, backing her. But the charismatic Katy, years beyond her age, has taken it all in her stride.
I’ve been blessed to know the beautiful young lady in front of me since way back before all the hype. Meeting her a year ago while I booked The Illersapiens for a small live show, I couldn’t help but instantly be thrown back by her talent for harmony and words (Later I would be asked by Katy to write the groups press release and biography). Adding a soft and gentle touch to Mr Man’s velocity driven flows, Katy completes the exciting collective — that with soulful and conscious live hip hop — have been building a reputation all over London as the best thing since the invitation of toast.
Having met the band during her college days she is still very much part of the close nit collective. “There are so many good times. We are all good friends and I have so many memories of just jamming, drinking and smoking, making music and loving ever minute of it.”
Of course, with her solo debut album on the horizon and this summer’s biggest anthem under her belt, she’s gaining a bigger profile through her solo venture with Rinse.
For those who have been sleeping, Rinse FM is a London-based radio station that was founded by DJ Geeneus back in 1994. It only got its commercial license this year (2010), having been the biggest private radio station in London for 16 years. A place that became famous for playing the latest in grime, dubstep, UK garage, funky, drum and bass and other genres it provided first exposure to Dizzee Rascal and Wiley and later provided a home for dubstep DJ’s like Skream, Kode9, and Plastician. The station has lead the way in a superb club night, as well as with quality releases from many of its resident DJ’s. Where does Katy fit in? Well tells her side of the story.
“I use to go to a studio in Deptford and it was also a place where a load of grime boys could do their mixtape properly. If any boy needed a hook or someone needed help on a demo then I’d be asked to do it!
“I was about 17. I use to save my money, get my 30 quid here and there.” She laughs thinking about every penny helps. “DJ Geeneus was one of the people who would go to the studio and he kind of found me through that.”
Now one of the main producers on Katy B’s album (the other being DnB heavyweight Zinc), DJ Geeneous was soon asking Katy to work on various Rinse compilation albums. A partnership bloomed.
“I was like yes!” she says, remembering the surprise opportunity. “I remember he said they might get Roll Deep on it and I literally fell of my chair. I was so excited.
“So from there I started going to the studio every Tuesday in Brick Lane. Slowly it turned into my thing.”
Rinse’s roster of super DJ’s and producers is overwhelmingly male dominated but strong-minded, but Katy isn’t phased about having too many brothers.
“I don’t know, Sarah is the other half of it [Rinse], and she’s a strong woman. In the office there is definitely a female touch. People often ask me that. Music in general is quite a male dominated thing, from college to university it’s mostly boys really.”
She sums it up: “It doesn’t really matter to me. Girl’s shouldn’t have to think – ‘oh I’m a girl I can’t do it’ – I’ve never felt like that.”
Although she is clearly aware of her blessing now — “I do feel extremely grateful and lucky to be working with people that are amazing at what they do!” — her success thus far was never down to a freakish slap of fate. Katy’s musical journey has been built on hard graft laced with a true inner passion for music.
She first started writing properly in her early teens, although there were some earlier signs of wordplay. “I remember the first song I wrote I was about 7. It was called my shadow,” she laughs. “It was a song about my shadow!”
A love tune maybe?
She giggles. “I don’t know, It was just a really rubbish poem – where you could tell I was trying to just rhyme the words.”
During her adolescence, she attended the prestigious Brit School before studying music at Goldsmith University. The two places she highlights as her biggest influence on her musical growth and mature way of thinking. “Do you know what it is? Going to college and going to Uni and being in those kind of places, they aren’t teaching you how to be a musician. You go there to do theory. You meet other musicians that are passionate about the same things as you — it’s all about music. The course is here to develop you as an artist.
“A lot of people say it’s a bad thing not to learn about business but at Goldsmiths they say you will learn as you go along. You can’t really tell someone about how to be an artist. You have to live it. That’s why I love Rinse as well. They love [music] so much, they don’t care! They live and breathe it. It’s soo, so passionate.”
The conversation meanders to our current location, South London. The largest populous of city, vibrant south has often held a reputation for the gritty and grimy. But while these parts often get negatively exaggerated in the media, the vibrancy of the community and culture sufficiently dilute the stereotype, as local girl Katy knows too well.
“South London is everything to me. My family is from South, the generation before that and the generation before that. I think it’s just home really! I was on the train today and looking out the window thought to myself – it all looks the same. A tower block in east London is the same as a tower block in south London. A park in north is the same as one in west. I don’t see the problem, it’s all London!”
Of course south of the river is where, with exhausting dedication, Katy B homed her craft too. Wherever there was an opportunity to sing and be heard Katy was there, carefully creating her own sound.
“I was in the Basic’s, Illersapiens and my Rinse stuff and I was at Uni. I was literally tearing my hair out. I kind of thought if I come out with the soulful stuff I’m going to be thought of as another Adele or another Duffy, Joss stone. So that’s why with the Rinse stuff as I was raving as well it felt amazing for me to mix my whole life and all my influences rather then just do one type of music.”
A member of various live groups, all left apart from her commitment with The Illersapiens, and her solo aspirations with Rinse it seems the area’s appeal will never leave her blood as she prepares for worldwide fame.
“I think the most exciting thing for me was doing a phoner for capital,” flipping the chat to one of her recent achievements. “I remember when I was little I use to sit in the kitchen while my mum cooked the Sunday roast and tape the top forty. I couldn’t wait for it. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams I’d be on it!”
With all this early exposure and promise, you wouldn’t forgive her for wanting to get carried away. She has definitely become a Beatnik favourite over whichever beat you hear sing. But as we prepare to leave before sunset approaches, she yet again reminds us just how devoted she is to always keeping one foot on the ground.
“I feel quite strange how people can get a big head after a little bit of success. Isn’t that a bit of contradiction?
“My mum kind of ingrained in me, if you’re going to do something you have to do it properly!”
On A Mission is out now. Purchase here
Katy B’s debut album will be out early next year. For more details hit up Rinse FM.
Read Beatnik’s review of The Illersapiens EP here