Entertainment & Arts

Kent Jones on his multi-lingual smash hit Don't Mind

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Media captionKent Jones plays Don’t Mind and Rihanna’s Work in the Radio 1 Live Lounge

Certain songs were made for the sunshine - and one of this year's biggest summer jams is Kent Jones' irresistible Don't Mind.

Powered by a bouncy bassline, and a chunky Barry White hook, it's an ode to Jones' romantic prowess with women all over the world.

"She said, 'hola, como estas?' She said, 'konnichiwa'. She said, 'pardon my French'. I said, 'bonjour madame.'"

The singer, who stresses he has "just one lady" in real life, says the song was inspired by his adopted home of Miami, Florida.

"It's a melting pot - Spanish, Haitian, French, Asian," he tells the BBC. "And in that melting pot, I stuck with the greetings that were most comfortable to me.

"You hear a lot of people say 'hola'. Spanish is a language that happens to take a waltz in other people's back yards."

But the 23-year-old concedes his vocabulary is limited.

"I just know the greetings... and some other words that are not appropriate for this interview."

Image copyright Epic Records
Image caption The singer worked with Miami producers Cool & Dre before signing to DJ Khaled's label

Don't Mind went from inspiration to final mix in just 12 hours - "I was just in the studio making music and it came out" - but Jones didn't realise what he had on his hands.

The song was destined for his debut mixtape - a calling card "with no singles" before his debut album later this year. But even then, the song was initially rejected by his record label (DJ Khaled's We The Best Recordings).

"I was like, 'what's going on?' Not in the sense of, 'this is definitely a hit' because we didn't know that.

"But we took the time to sort out the issues and fix the mix, and they ended up putting it on [the mixtape]. And it's served me well. I'm not going to lie to you, it served me very well."

Indeed, the song has spread like wildfire, hitting the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, while Jones has been an opening act on Beyonce's Formation Tour and visited Europe for the first time.

"It's definitely a growing experience," he says. "It's helped me be a sharper man, a sharper artist."

But he insists he's up for the challenge. "There's a lot of people asking about pressure. They say there's so much pressure coming up with another hit after Don't Mind. And I'm unaware of the pressure they ask about. The key is being prepared."

Gospel and jazz

That preparation began in Tallahassee, Florida, when Jones started bashing pots and pans in the kitchen. Eventually, his aunt took pity on him (but not his parents) and taught him to play the drums.

From there, he taught himself piano and Hammond organ, practising with his mother's gospel ensemble in Church, where the music director showed him how to make primitive beats on an electronic keyboard.

By adolescence, he was studying music in high school and found himself drawn towards jazz.

"I really dug into the greats," he says, "the ones I needed to transcribe and study."

"But there's so many styles within that one genre [of jazz]. It forces you to open yourself to different disciplines that allow you to play all those styles."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The singer says he has three new songs ready to release this year

Playing Don't Mind in Radio 1 Xtra's Live Lounge, he gets the chance to show off those skills, his fingers rippling up and down the piano keys in a blur.

"Who would have guessed from Don't Mind that you could play the keyboards like that?" marvels presenter Trevor Nelson - but Jones insists hip-hop and R&B need to embrace musicianship and live instrumentation.

"Remember, that's all it was at one point," he says. "Everything's a little more generic now."

While his skills are currently parlayed into the synthetically-inclined world of hip-hop, Jones is looking back to Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder as he prepares his next single, Sit Down, and his debut album.

"You're definitely going to hear a lot of musicality, I'm letting you know that now.

"At the end of the day, mechanical time and human time are totally different. So a computer metronome has nothing like the feel of a live band.

"There's nothing you could sample to replace the feel of the wood in a bass guitar. Same thing with the strings on a lead, or the weight of keys on a piano.

"There are certain elements of instrumentation you can't buy with a loop."

Don't Mind is out now on Black Butter in the UK and Epic in the US .

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