For many Canadian producers, being able to say that you’ve contributed production on a certified platinum album by one of hip-hop and pop music’s biggest stars is a dream that often remains just that – a dream. But for producer, DJ, and Bimbo Radio creator Blank, that unlikely fantasy became a reality.
“My management, NWYE [Not What You Expected], had put together a listening session in NYC and asked if I’d be interested in going to play my beats. I said yes, and I took the money that I had in my account out so that I could go,” explains Blank from her Toronto home. “I had some idea of who was going to be at the listening session, but I was still going in blind. When we got to the session, I played a few records for the room [and] people were going crazy. I think I only got through five beats that night, ‘cause they kept asking me to re-play them. It was from that night that my music went on to reach Nicki Minaj. The funny thing is, I made that beat back in 2016 and I e-mailed it to Tanisha [Blank’s manager, and founder of NWYE], labeling it for ‘Nicki Minaj’ in the subject line.”
Blank’s production is behind not one, but two tracks on Minaj’s 2018 album Queen, “COCO Chanel” (featuring Foxy Brown) and “Inspirations Outro.” Recalling the night that she discovered that her beats had indeed made the mega-star’s album remains as surreal and thrilling as the day it happened.
“I didn’t let myself get excited at first, because anything could happen,” she says. “I was scrolling down my timeline on Instagram and I passed by this Nicki Minaj post. It was a video of a speaker, so I un-muted it and boop! There it was. My record, with the caption ‘Testing new speakers.’ Two days later, the album was out. It was official.”
Born to Barbadian parents, Blank grew up listening to everything and everyone, and it was this widespread access to diverse genres and voices from all over the world that helped nurture her love of music, as well as a fascination with every element that goes into the making of it. But it’s a Dr. Dre album that marks one of her most defining moments as a budding young artist.
“I always paid close attention to the music when listening to a song,” she says. “It was Dr. Dre’s 2001 album, I was 12 years old, and I found myself wondering what the person who made the music behind the rapper was called. Someone told me they were called DJs, so, I said, ‘I want to be a DJ.’”
Later, she realized that it was a producer crafting the beats and rhythms behind the artists, which ignited her passion. In Grade 10, a friend gifted her Fruity Loops software, and she started to mess around with it. Always deeply creative, she found that it felt natural, but an actual career in production wasn’t yet the goal. “I wasn’t thinking about making it a ‘career,’” says Blank. “I was just doing it ‘cause I enjoyed it.”
In 2008, she graduated from the Remix Project, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that provides under-served youth with creative tools and industry knowledge. For the next few years she collaborated with local and international songwriters and artists, taking her experimental and adventurous affinity for baile funk, hip-hop, reggae, dancehall, and Afro beats into new realms. Her work garnered respect and attention, and in addition to Minaj’s Queen, her production has appeared on major records like Raekwon’s “Wall to Wall” featuring French Montana and Busta Rhymes.
World music is Blank’s sound palette, and she’s one of the producers helping to take it from its once niche space in Western music to mainstream popularity. And while some may say that the proliferation of world beats in everything from Drake and the Weeknd’s music to Hollywood films like Black Panther is just a trend, Blank disagrees, citing the web as a space where sounds once categorized as “exotic” or “foreign” are getting the recognition they deserve.
“The internet shrinks the world,” she says. “It’s easier for people to discover different artists and genres from different places. It’s as easy as discovering one song you like, and just diving into a hole of discovery in that suggestions list on the side bar.”
Wanting to give world beats a new, modern platform, Blank created Bimbo Radio in 2017. Bimbo isn’t the first word you’d think Blank would use to name one of her major projects, but she ran with it due to its visual appeal: “It looks cool when it’s written,” she says. For Blank, Bimbo is a space to freely showcase genres such as reggae, dancehall, soca, and Afrobeat, to name just a few. And from the start, it’s resonated with an international audience.
“It started with a single mix, ‘Episode 1’ [that] I uploaded on SoundCloud, and then started to advertise on IG,” says Blank. “I was contacted by people in Brazil who really loved it [and] it started to gain a lot of traction there, and it spread like wildfire.”
For Bimbo’s listeners it’s the rabbit hole of eclectic sounds for which they’ve been waiting. “My hope is that Bimbo becomes a force in the cultivation of various world music genres, making it easier for people to access the music,” she says.
Helping her take her music and her medium to the world is singer-songwriter and founder of NWYE, and its offshoot NWYE Sound Camp, Tanisha Clarke. It’s that friendship and respect for each other that took Blank’s beats to Minaj’s Queen, and the relationship is one for which Blank is deeply grateful.
“NWYE is important to me,” she says. “It’s a label that’s owned and operated by a woman of colour, who’s taken another woman of colour – a producer – to platinum status. It’s a statement to other women of colour coming up that, yes! It can be done.”