London-based GRAMMY and MOBO nominated Jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats have unveiled their long-awaited new album Motherland Journey.
An album that has quite literally been years in the making, Motherland Journey is the result of tireless days in the studio – a celebration of pushing boundaries, taking risks and overcoming adversity. What started as over 70 demos has since been meticulously whittled down to the 17-track iteration that remains. It is still Blue Lab Beats’ largest project to date, and the fact it is delivered via the legendary Blue Note imprint reiterates its importance.
Kicking off proceedings is ‘Sky Reflections’, a stunning cinematic hip-hop joint that features strings from esteemed arranger Steve Hussey / Urban Soul Orchestra (Soul II Soul, ‘Back to Life’). Setting the tone for the rest of the LP, it is followed by ‘Labels’, the first of four singles on the record and one of a handful of collaborative tracks. A similarly majestic sonic creation, it combines Kofi Stone’s slick bars and Tiana Major9’s head-turning vocals with the smoothest of production. Then there’s ‘Gotta Go Fast’, the result of a handful of park jam sessions, featuring the soaring trumpet of Poppy Daniels, ‘I’ll Be Here For You’, featuring the soulful energy of Teni Tinks, and ‘Don’t Let It Go Away’ with Emmavie, who Blue Lab Beats have known from the “glory years” of Soundcloud.
Further singles come in the form of ‘Blow You Away (Delilah)’ and ‘Sensual Loving’, both featuring the unmistakable vocals of Afrobeats prince Ghetto Boy, and ‘Dat It’, an infectious combination of meandering piano chords and funk-drenched synths, with additional keys coming courtesy of renowned Stones Throw affiliate and Drake collaborator, Kiefer.
Meanwhile there are a host of additional star-studded collaborative tracks on Motherland Journey. Perhaps the most prominent is the title track, co-written in Accra, Ghana with Ghanaian production talent KillBeatz at 3am in the morning. It features the vocals of none other than that of the late Fela Kuti, with the estate of the Afrobeat pioneer giving BLB their blessing to release the song. Urban Soul Orchestra feature on ‘Reflections’, Ego Ella May on ‘Slow Down’, Jackson Mathod and Kaidi Akinnibi providing horns on ‘Warp’, ‘Home’ is punctuated by Pip Millet’s soulful vocals, whilst UK Soul talent Jerome Thomas features on ‘Real Good’, a track that came together in just four hours. Rounding off the album is the outro ‘Reflections’, with the emotive percussion and soft guitar licks ensuring the LP finishes on a suitably moving note.
“Motherland Journey’ is an extremely special album to us,” Blue Lab Beats enthuse. “This album took us two-and-a-half years to finish, our longest process to make an album, but it was so worth it. On this album you’ll hear many fusions of genres and inspirations that we gathered throughout that time frame and especially to work on so many of the songs during the first lockdown it was a test in itself. We had to figure out so many different ways to achieve what we exactly wanted sonically and having Blue Note to help us achieve that was an absolute blessing. Many of the vocal features and instrumentalists on this album are great friends of ours and it’s just so amazing to have family on this album.”
One of the fastest-rising production duos in the world right now, with a Grammy nomination for their work on the Angelique Kidjo album Mother Nature, and a MOBO nomination for ‘Best Jazz Act’ in 2021 testament to their rise, Blue Lab Beats consists of producer NK-OK and multi-instrumentalist Mr DM. Starting out as bedroom producers, remixing tracks from A-listers such as Dua Lipa and Rag’N’Bone Man, the pair quickly grew into something far more potent – crafting a supple, wide-ranging sound inspired by the pioneers of hip-hop and the music of the African diaspora while staying true to their London roots.
With over 32 million streams and having played Glastonbury as well as supporting the likes of Roy Ayers and Thundercat, Blue Lab Beats releases such as 2017 EP ‘Freedom’, with its stand out track ‘Sam Cooke & Marvin Gaye’, or 2018’s ‘XOver’, a debut album brimming with hits including the eight-million-times-streamed ‘Pineapple’ and the acclaimed ‘Sam Cooke & Marvin Gaye’ featuring Kojey Radical and Tiana Major9, have proved how popular their sound has quickly become. Releases such as the 2019 EP ‘Vibe Central’, which has features from Grammy-nominated trumpeter Theo Croker, and statement track ‘Hi There’, a soulful instrumental sermon that also appears on Blue Lab’s 2020 album Voyage, has brought them further success. They also performed a sold out hometown show at Hootananny Brixton in November, sounding off what was another career-defining year in style.
Their biggest and most complete undertaking yet, Motherland Journey is a spellbinding LP that sees Blue Lab Beats further refine their Jazztronica sound.