Feature: Kingdom

Published in the Feb. 23-March 1 issue of NOW Magazine.

Ezra Rubin isn’t saying he was first, but the drippy R&B-tinged club music you’re hearing these days? Thanks in part go to the 29-year-old producer/DJ/label owner known as Kingdom.

“When I did my first mixtape in 2006, I mixed a lot of R&B a cappella – Ciara and all that – over grime, house and rave music and it was frowned upon and considered cheesy,” says Kingdom. “It’s a trend to ‘slap on’ that vocal to make a song more palatable or dance-floor-ready, and it’s pretty sad how ‘slapped on’ it can sound.

“You can tell who’s really listened to R&B by the songs they choose and how they sample them.”

Kingdom’s not mad: “I’ll probably continue, but it’ll get harder because it’s gotten played out.” But for a self-professed “art kid,” the anti-trend stance seems to be as much for artistic reasons as self-preservation.

In late 2010, Kingdom moved to L.A. from New York City, where he’d started out pushing mixtapes from the back of a bodega and eventually DJing. Inspired by the familial ethos of UK label Night Slugs (which released Kingdom’s early EPs and Bible Eyes by Toronto’s Egyptrixx), Rubin launched his Fade to Mind imprint last year.

“We come from an underground, art perspective [and so] Fade to Mind is definitely framed as a family and a home,” he says.

Other signees include Nguzunguzu, Total Freedom, Mike Q, Cedaa and Massacooramaan. Each has a defining sound – from aggressively percussive to warped bass to gay house – but Kingdom says it’s a preoccupation with late 90s/early 00s urban radio, particularly the experimental psychedelia of Neptunes and Timbaland productions, that unifies the collective.

Despite some trepidation about entering the slick world of mainstream R&B, Kingdom hopes to collaborate with more vocalists, the way he did on 2011’s Take Me with Naomi Allen from U.S. R&B girl group Electrik Red.

“There’s a lot of potential there, and a lot of innovative producers have come up from below to work on pop records. But it seems very easy to get caught up and spit out, you know? I want to keep experimenting and keep my homegrown scene alive because it’ll always be there.”—ANUPA MISTRY