Before they released their first single this past April, the only way to discover Domi & JD Beck online was getting lucky on one of those deep YouTube rabbit holes. If you happened to arrive at that layer of the internet, you’d have seen two teenagers with stupefying jazz music chops straight killing it, but with a foot firmly entrenched in the organic construction of melodic hip-hop beat canvases.
One of their relatively newer clips from December of 2020 called “Madvillainy Tribute,” sees the pair recreating Madlib’s iconic Madvillainy orchestral productions on their respective instruments. Domi plays keys and lays down bass grooves on pedals with her bare feet. Beck rips away at his modest drum kit, tapping a snare and cymbals faster than a house fly flaps its wings. The top comment on the video says, “I’m convinced these two made every adult swim bump to ever exist,” and it’s a hilarious albeit plausible assertion. Especially when you consider that a month before, they appeared in another viral YouTube video backing Thundercat and Ariana Grande’s duet of “Them Changes,” as part of Adult Swim’s peak-pandemic virtual festival.
“Thundercat is one of our closest friends. He’s done a lot for us,” Beck says backstage at Montreal’s Club Soda, before the pair’s Montreal Jazz Festival performance on July 6th, where the young audience at the foot of the stage hung on every dizzying note from their set-closing rendition of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”
But lately, it’s another friend who has helped Domi & JD Beck raise their profile considerably: Anderson .Paak. Paak made the prodigious pair the flagship signing to his brand new Apeshit Records label and their debut album, Not Tight, arrived July 29th as a joint release with the storied jazz label, Blue Note Records. Along with appearances from Paak (notably on “Take A Chance,” which the three masterfully performed on Kimmel earlier this month), the album also features Snoop Dogg, Mac DeMarco, Herbie Hancock, Thundercat, Busta Rhymes, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel; an illustrious cast of guests to say the least. But the magnitude of none of this seems to phase the Parisian, Domi, 22, and Beck, 19, a Dallas native.
“We try not to overthink it,” Domi says. “Some people are like, ‘OMG Anderson Paak!’ And we’re like, ‘Yea, it’s Andy. We make music with him and we hang with him.’ It’s the same with Blue Note. We text and talk with them and sh*t. But we don’t try to make it like, ‘Blue Note! Blue Note!’ It’s still tight, but yea…”
They met Paak in late 2018 over Instagram. One of the members of The Free Nationals (Paak’s backing band and the other artists currently on the Apeshit roster) came to one of their shows. They later hipped Paak to their tunes, who then reached out on the app. They kept bumping into the Silk Sonic star at festivals when the pair were playing early sets or opening for soul multi-instrumentalist John Bap and just hit it off. The way they tell the story is in a ping pong recollection — equal parts nonchalant and frenetic, but always linear — each one peppering in a detail before the full picture comes together, just like their music.
Beck: “We just became friends.”
Domi: “Then we were at a festival in New Orleans and met him and sh*t.”
Beck: “Like six or seven of our shows were in the same city.”
Domi: “Then he asked us to come through.”
Beck: “We’d play a bunch of jam sessions with them and stuff.”
Domi: “And then went to LA and he invited us to his studio and then dinner and sh*t. And he was like ‘Hey, I’m starting a label…”
Beck: “We met Mac DeMarco on that same tour.”
Everything is so matter-of-fact with them. They barely remember how they met each other in the first place. It was at the NAMM Convention in Anaheim (National Association of Music Merchants) and they can’t recall why they both ended up there, just that the whole experience was a drag, but they bonded over how hilariously bad everything felt.
“I was playing these electronic drums. So fake,” Beck says. Domi laments the in-ear monitor and a bunk keyboard they had her on. It’s almost as if they caught each other’s eye from an opposite corner of a stage and laughed. “We saw each other at a jam session the night before and he was with Thundercat,” Domi says. “That’s the first time I met him and hung out,” Beck adds. “Domi was there and she barely spoke English at all…she dapped me up like this.” [motions a half-assed fist bump]
They laugh because they remember the experience in the same way. And if there’s a brother/sister vibe to them, it’s because they literally spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together. “It’s been like that since 2018. But we beat each other up all the time,” Domi says. “We’re more like sumo wrestlers,” Beck adds. “It’s 50/50 on who wins.”
They currently split time between Dallas and LA. Before that, Domi was finishing up her studies at the Berklee School of Music, which the French national needed to do in order to maintain her visa (she graduated in 2020.) “‘I’d do all my classes in one day and then fly right back to Dallas,” she says. “Take a 5am flight, do my classes and fly back at midnight.”
Dallas is where they write, chill, and play video games when they’re not making music. But their writing process can be unconventional to say the least. Take “Smile” for example, a lead single from Not Tight and one of the most mesmerizing pieces of music you’ll hear this year. Domi’s Nord keyboard lays down an impeccable melody, and then no sooner than it starts to bounce alongside her MIDI keys bass, Beck’s snare and cymbal smacks jump symbiotically with it. They sound like Karriem Riggins and Bob James scoring a Quasimoto cartoon in the year 2030.
“JD was on the toilet, singing the melody and sh*t and I heard him scream ‘Domi! You gotta help me out!” Domi recalls of the song’s inception. “And he sang me the melody so I had to play and record it and then he was guiding me through the whole sh*t. We wrote it together, but it started with him on the toilet singing that melody. That’s the full disclosure.”
If jazz musicians ever created on the toilet, they’d never admit it. That’s part of what makes these two unique. But they have dexterous compositional chops as well. Writing melodies, chords, and bass together, but not on their instruments. “We notice that when you write on our instruments, that’s how it gets lazy and you write the same sh*t all the time,” Domi says. “That’s why a lot of people end up sacrificing their playing for writing,” Beck adds. “So we want to do it like composers, flesh out a whole song to write it and then the playing comes after.”
But you can’t pigeonhole what they are. With them, jazz is hip-hop and hip-hop is jazz. It’s the way music has been shifting since Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder sound joined forces with Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down and started bringing it to the masses. Domi & JD Beck embody this paradigm shift in spades. Two Gen Z’ers who don’t give a f*ck, just want to create lasting work, and what they make is so cool and fresh; subversive and enlightening. It’s the same way that Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters was in 1973. A jazz and funk fusion that was as audacious as it was classically on point.
Hancock, who appears on Not Tight in the far-out “Moon,” in fact invited Domi & JD Beck on stage with him at the Hollywood Bowl last September, just after they recorded the song together. On this warm Southern California evening, they joined him for his pioneering fusion standard, “Chameleon.”
“It’s a funny thing because it’s the most played song that everybody just ruins and destroys,” Domi says. “Like every jam session where you can find the least amount of groove ever and everybody just plays like ten-minute solos. But we were playing it with f*cking Herbie Hancock.”
“If you’re ever gonna play ‘Chameleon,’ you have to play it with Herbie Hancock,” Beck jokes. ”Otherwise? Don’t play it.”
“But as we walked out,” Domi continued, “He said, ’Check em out on YouTube!’ ‘Cause that’s how he found us too. And I was like, there’s no way that 82-year-old Herbie Hancock — legendary — just shouted out our YouTube at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Not Tight is out now via Apeshit/Blue Note. Listen to it here.