The first time I met Ralph Hardy was on a boat. He was spinning a British showcase at South by Southwest, in between performances by Grime emcees Elf Kid and Blakie. At that point, I was newly accustomed to grime, and figured that that would be the only kind of music Ralph would play—but his set was an assortment of everything, including British hip-hop, grime, and American rap, much like his mix we’re premiering today, “Pink Lights,” with tracks wide-ranging from UK rap crew 808INK to Anderson .Paak to Birmingham emcee Mist.
Although he’s a DJ for London’s Radar Radio—and DJs for British rapper Jay Prince, grime emcee Oscar #worldpeace, British rap group PBGR, and is currently on tour with Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper—Ralph isn’t just a tune selector. He’s one of those jack of all trades—but in his case, master of many. And his rise has been completely organic.
Ralph began his career in his teens as a presenter for music events, and then shifted into writing for RWD Magazine. He eventually left RWD in 2012 to start his own brand, NANG, which began as him hosting events and a monthly rave. London station Bang Radio, caught wind of what Ralph was doing and asked him to present a radio show under the name NANG (a word equivalent to the U.S.’s ‘lit’). From there, Ralph moved to Hoxton Radio and then to his current gig at Radar. He’s found much success as a DJ, even playing Anderson .Paak’s Malibu album launch with Boiler Room—and now, landing a residency at London’s historic KOKO music venue.
“[NANG’s] main ethos or mantra is to like add more care into music,” he says, “It’s an alter ego brand of my thought process.” NANG now encompasses everything he does, including DJing, A&Ring, producing, engineering, and management for British singer JSTJCK.
“It’s about being genuine, it’s about caring, it’s about giving your personality away. People wanna converse with you via music. I wanna know where your mind’s at when I give you the aux cord to play a song.”
Ralph’s specialty, though, is putting on independent artists. In the beginning, he noticed that people began to respect his taste more and more; though he wasn’t playing the obvious songs in the clubs, everyone was still enjoying his sets. He soon began properly DJing.
Ralph also makes a compilation of exclusive and original songs—all from UK artists—called Growing Pains. It’s meant to support the growth of independent artists and unveil new talents. “These unearthed, independent artists don’t get a looking from the bigger blogs or the bigger websites or the bigger radio stations, but quite frankly enough, because my name reaches a certain amount of numbers, I thought, ‘Let me use that to put certain people on.’” Growing Pains 2 was recently featured on The FADER, who described the project as “a guide to Britain’s best emerging rap, grime, and R&B right now.”
His DJ sets are actually improvised, finding that his best performances are based on a feeling. So he never plans a set beforehand—he just opens his laptop and intuits the crowd’s vibe. He likes to go off authentic energy.
“When I DJ, I dance around. Like I take off my headphones and go into the crowd cuz I’m enjoying it equally, if not more than the audience are. That’s synonymous with me caring,” he says. “It’s about being genuine, it’s about caring, it’s about giving your personality away. People wanna converse with you via music. I wanna know where your mind’s at when I give you the aux cord to play a song. I don’t really want you to play stuff you think everyone’s gonna like. I wanna know where you’re at. That’s what I feel it’s about. It’s just about care and attention.”
Words by Tara Mahadevan.