It was a year-end recital that Regent Park School of Music (RPSM) students will never forget.
Toronto’s Frank Dukes, currently one of the production kingpins of the contemporary pop era – with recent credits like Camilla Cabello, Drake, and Post Malone bolstering his global profile – spent three days with RPSM students in the winter of 2018-2019 to record Parkscapes, a charitable twist on his own ground-breaking Kingsway Music Library.
The story behind the Grammy-nominated Dukes (a.k.a. Adam Feeney) is that he’s revolutionized the sample business by creating and licensing his own atmospheric, ethereal loops to bypass the often lengthy clearance process. And the premise of Parkscapes, which is offered by Kingsway, is that Dukes would provide samples with fresh arrangements, and the RPSM kids would play the instruments.
“It was all stuff that was written before,” Dukes explains on the line from L.A. “Either I’d write a demo on the piano, or a demo that I’d laid down myself. Then I would teach the kids the chords, and come up with different arrangement ideas on the spot. If I was playing piano, then the recording you hear on Parkscapes might be the kids doing a vocal line, or playing a steel pan lead melody. Same writing, just different arrangements.”
Dukes confirms that all Parkscapes income will go directly to the school. “Say somebody uses those samples for a Drake song,” he says. “They would clear the sample, and the proceeds – the sample clearance money – would go to the school and then, just like how my regular libraries work, there would be a royalty. Over the next two years, the royalty would be paid out and distributed to fund the program.”
The timing of Dukes’ generous gesture couldn’t be better – especially in the light of heavy funding cutbacks to the arts and non-profits by the Ontario Progressive Conservative government under the leadership of Doug Ford.
Dukes said he was approached by long-time pal Rana Chatterjee, a former hip-hop radio host, and currently Associate Creative Director at BBDO Canada Advertising and Creative Agency in Toronto, with the idea. “I think, at the time, he wanted to propose the idea of something called Sample School,” he says, “where I’d bring in kids from Regent Park School of Music, and incorporate them into one of my music school libraries, and it sort of blossomed from that initial seed.
“We refined the idea a little bit more, and we came to the conclusion it would be a cool idea to make a music library. It’s really amazing, because there’s potential to fund the school in a really big way, depending on what happens with the library. And the library, in the past, has been sampled by everyone from Drake, to Kendrick Lamar, to Logic, and more.”
Dukes, known for nurturing such Toronto acts as Bad Bad Not Good, River Tiber, and Mustafa, was impressed by the kids who participated in the recording. “The talent level of the kids was really remarkable,” he says. “They were really, really special and gifted kids. I think for me, it was being able to create something of a bridge between maybe something they listen to and what they do on their own.
“It was powerful for them to see that there’s infinite possibilities, and that if you really want to apply yourself when you’re passionate about something, you can make a career out of it, and do what you really want to do.”
An unexpected by-product of the Parkscapes sessions was the enthusiasm expressed by some of the shyer kids in the program. Says Dukes, “Speaking with some of the instructors afterwards, they were saying, ‘Wow, that was insane! Some of the kids, they’re not really vocal, or [don’t] participate too much in the day-to-day classes – but to see them so engaged, and excited, and invigorated in this was really amazing!’ This was fun for me, and for them too, to live in that energy for a little bit.”
Dukes, who sold his first recording artist sample to U.S. rapper Lloyd Banks for $5,000, says his specialty is predicated on emotion. “For me, it’s just a feeling,” he explains. “A good sign is that I can hear a song on it – and I can listen to it over and over again and not get tired of it – something I want to hear indefinitely.”
And there will be more Parkscapes, Dukes vows. “It’s a model of something I’d like to bring to different areas and different places, different cities and different countries,” he says. “Really develop it into more of a project that I think is, like, really positive and impactful to kids growing up – especially in areas like Regent Park.”