Two years ago, Speakers vocalist Keon B was sitting in the 106 & Park audience as a fan watching rapper Bow Wow get interviewed. Today, he and the production half of the duo, Blair Taylor, will make their national debut as artists when they premier their new video, “Bass,” to the 106 audience. In retrospect, Keon can credit his experience as a spectator with sparking his grind and getting himself and Blair in front of the camera and under the spotlights.
“It made me hungry,” says Keon of his experience as another face in the 106 crowd. “To be in the audience and see other artists come on and get interviewed, it just made me work that much harder because I don’t want to be in the audience — I want to be the one getting interviewed!”
For many, a dream that lofty could take a lifetime to fulfill. But with Blair’s genre-bending production and Keon’s gift for crafting melodies the duo made it happen in just two years. Now on the brink of the biggest moment in their careers, the two 21-year-olds are ready for their close up.
The son of a jazz pianist, Blair Taylor built a reputation in his hometown New Orleans as the go-to producer/engineer for local musicians looking for a clean professional sound. Blair learned his way around a studio by attending performing arts high school, but he took advantage of his family roots to teach himself to play piano as a kid. “Ironically my dad never taught me to play,” says the more low-key half of the duo who can be seen in their new video spinning behind a turntable. “Just shows you it’s in the blood.”
Like Blair, Keon found music at a young age. He took to singing and writing after years spent in his church’s choir while growing up in Augusta, Georgia. Eventually he left the choir and set out to find his own sound. “I wanted to evolve into my own," he says of his decision to become a musician. “I wanted to just make something that made me feel good. Something that I actually created.”
He left his hometown in search of that sound and, after hearing Blair’s CD via a mutual friend, decided that the N.O. beatmaker was the only producer that could help him shape it. Blair, who was busy making a nice living as an engineer and producer in his hometown, wasn’t on the same page at first as he was focused on his business.
Keon blew up Blair’s phone for a whole year trying to work with him, a fact he still won’t let his partner forget to this day. Once Keon finally got Blair’s attention, he kept it by making a bold claim. “He was one of the many that said ‘I’m gonna go out and get a deal,’” remembers Blair of his early interactions with Keon. “And he was the one that did it.”
Now with a deal from Virgin Records in tow, the two go-getters are focused on getting their music to as large an audience as possible without compromising their unique sound. Though that is easier said than done, the positive response they’ve received to their new song “Bass” may be a good sign of things to come.
“I’m just trying not to be in a box, man,” says Keon of the issues raised by their diverse sound, which he describes as a musical collage. By mixing the influences of everyone from super producers the Neptunes to early 2000’s Ashanti, the Speakers have created a sound all their own. “They can’t get bored,” he says, referring to listeners who won’t know what to expect from the group from track to track. “We don’t make one type of genre. We play with everything. When you hear our album, it’s like having A.D.D.”
So far, the duo has shown no intention of taking any industry-prescribed adderall to water down their sound and make their music easier to market. The trippy video for “Bass,” which features dancing skeletons, is proof. “We just wanted to take a risk and do something different that will be actually remembered,” says Keon. “Not just the typical video with people dancing in the club.”
Now on the cusp of national fame, they are anxious to see how the 106 crowd will receive their debut. “I’m glad that a new audience is going to listen to this,” says Blair. “I’m excited to see their reaction.”
Though today may feel like the biggest day of their lives, this is only the beginning for the fast-rising duo. The Speakers are currently “about 90% done” with their still untitled debut and expect to release their first radio single by January of 2012. “Bass” is meant to serve as a buzz track between now and then.
As for their long-term goals? Besides winning a Grammy and working with Jay-Z and Kanye West, Keon and Blair have their sights set on changing the music industry’s rigid categories created by genre.
“I want to lose the boundaries in music,” says Keon of his lifelong ambition. “I’m working hard to change the limits of how far we can go in music — what we can say, what we can’t say. I wanna say what I wanna say and I’ma do it how I wanna do it.”
(Photo: Courtesy EMI Music)