How did you get started with playing – and creating – music?
It started with me writing lyrics first. It was my way of dealing with all the thoughts in my head. As a kid there were too many and too much madness going on around me and at home, so I had to put them somewhere. I was rapping loads. I started having to steal blank excercise books from school just to write everything down (I’ve still got draws full of them). But I got frustrated at not having the kind of beats I wanted from producers. So then I faked an ID when I was 14/15 and got onto a free course for 18 year-olds to learn to produce (they definitely clocked I was too young after a few days but they let me stay!) That’s when I suddenly had the tools to really start making music. I started recording in the bedroom and geeking out, making beat after beat, meanwhile I was learning jazz drums and keys, which added a whole other element. I just kept adding new things to my skill set and perfecting and honing on a sound.
How would you describe your current sound?
The kinda thing you need when you’re about to do a long arse journey, but really wanna go somewhere else in your mind. That special place – I’ma take you there! Haha! Man I don’t know. I find it hard to describe my sound because it’s honestly just me. Hip hop is the root but I move through genres… I don’t know, don’t want to sound like an arsehole but I guess if I have to it’s high calibre deep lyricism over musical, jazz, hip hop, trap, neo-soul black opus shit. Someone said to me the music came out as a reflective, conceptual journey with storytelling and some deep emotionality behind some tough things I’m talking about like depression. Fam it’s hip hop really. Hip hop is a shape-shifter, it has many skins and I’m always trying to perfect my sound but there’s always a deep soulful presence of energy from the UK jazz.
How does a song usually develop – do you first start with the lyrics, melody, chord progression, or something else?
I usually start with a melody or a couple chords and try and find an interesting sound, throw a few plugins on it to make it a bit ‘other’ and weird to get my mind thinking a different way. But nothing will be too solid until I write the bassline. That’s my favourite part then I’ll usually weave the drums around it. What I did for the album is once I’d got the beat, I’d bounce it and play it in the whip and strap my laptop into the passenger seat, hit record on ableton and just drive and freestyle. For some reason it removes any filter for me, what ever craziness comes out my mouth I record because those first moments are really what I’m feeling lyrically and flow wise for the track. But honestly the way I do it changes for nearly every track.
You dropped your debut album. Do you find recording to be a challenge that you enjoy?
Yeah, I love it, recording this album was the most fun I’ve ever had recording. It changed so much ; from my bedroom studio to being in LA with Jowin in some crazy state of the art vocal booth, to recording the rental car, to being in XL Recording’s basement studio in New York or in London, everywhere was different. It’s a vibe. But you got to graft to push through sometimes. I’ve stopped stressing about like ‘damn this needs to be the best verse ever.’ I’ve got confidence that it will come but it’s hard. You have to push through a lot of mental barriers sometimes. Finishing a track off can be relentless sometimes but I love that part of it too. But when I’m flowing and recording ideas in the car like I was just talking about, fam it feels like I’m not even fully conscious. But then you bring it back to the studio and it’s work time. I’m a perfectionist. I could do literally a thousand takes sometimes. I go over and over and over it. And then over it again. I can’t help but want to do everything myself, I have such an idea for how I want it to be. I think because I’m not just the rapper and producer but I also engineer everything and mix everything that it becomes a real graft finishing a track sometimes. But you get faster and faster. And at the end of the day, if it’s a challenge, that means you’re having to improve to get it done.
What do you think about the Internet as a tool for promoting yourself & your music?
Not to quote my album but it’s Sugar and Salt innit ? It’s incredible as an independent artist to be able to run your own ship and put your mark out there knowing the internet could allow you to take it all the way. If you do it right and your music is dope and honest enough, you can reach some dope like-minded people and genuinely connect. You’re going to get the people on your ship and it’s going to be a ride. But it’s got a dark side. I’ve seen a lot of people letting it distract them from the real world, like they think how many followers they have on their Instagram is more important than being a genuine and good person. It can change the way people interact with each other, social skills at zero. And that’s dead. Don’t let that shit consume you, I gotta fight it too.
"I’ve seen a lot of people letting it distract them from the real world, like they think how many followers they have on their Instagram is more important than being a genuine and good person. It can change the way people interact with each other, social skills at zero. And that’s dead. Don’t let that shit consume you, I gotta fight it too"
What would you like to say to that new fan who is just hearing your music?
How does it make you feel? I’d love to be able to listen to my music for the first time. I wonder what my own reaction would even be ? I’d wanna ask what do they hear? The lyrics or the music first ? Or do you hear both from the go?
What are your plans after you release this album ?
So now the album’s out, (‘SUGAR LIKE SALT’ available on all platforms now btw! lol), I want to give people a chance to really listen then I’m gonna take it live. The live part is my favourite bit and I really want to take it to the next level. We’re in talks about how we can make the sound and lighting special. So we’ve got lots of shows coming with the headline show on the 27th September, festivals and hopefully a tour. I’d love to support someone like Jorja Smith one day… we’re coming with such different sides of the same coin in sound from the UK, I think that would be a crazy live show.
Outside of music, what are your other talents?
Man, I’m a lowkey super geek so I’m really into anything science related, space, the natural world, Quantum physics, that stuff is like real world magic so I could shoot off a fact or two to blow your mind. I also direct my own music videos, do a bit of graphic design, take photos on an old film camera, all things I’ve had to learn being independent and I can’t lie, I can ball pretty well (basketball). I challenge any of you to come at me on a ping pong table too…
What would be your advice to young male artists who look up to you ?
Be yourself. To the point it scares you. That’s when you know you’re being real, ‘cause that fear comes because you’re vulnerable but that’s really the strongest power of ‘em all.
Who are some artists you’d want to work with?
I’d really love to do something with Mahalia. She’s got the soul. Feel like we might create a portal to another dimension. My G Kojey needs to shout me too because Shay Sade from Reprezent said us two on a track could break a few things and I think she might be right. J.I.D. is a genius, I don't know why but I just get the feeling we’d work well together. I’d love to work with James Blake just because I know he’d take it somewhere else it’s not been before. The Queen Erykah Badu too, but I’m just gonna leave that right there and put that into the universe !
Which one of the songs on the album would you say are your favourites?
Damn, that’s an impossible question ‘cause it all means different things to me at different times depending on my mood. I mean ‘Thurgood’ is special because of Ashia Karana’s verse at the beginning, Nikki Cislyn kills it at the end too. ‘We Been Runnin’ is my favourite to perform at the moment because of the energy and its message right now, I’m so frustrated with all the racist bullshit that I’m seeing and feeling around the world, that song really gets me expressing. The title track ‘Sugar Like Salt’ ft. Nubya Garcia is gonna always be one of my favourites too, it just summarises the whole album for me. Thurgood is like the Salt, and although it’s about surviving all this shit stacked against us right now, ‘we still fell in love in the midst of hatred’ and that’s the Sugar.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would have?
Man as I kid I wanted to be the first brown David Attenborough! But since I was 11 and I wrote my first lyrics, I haven’t been able to find a ‘self’ of me that I could separate from music if that makes sense ? It’s how I digest the world around me, so any future of mine I thought about was music. I’ve dreamt of microphones and stages since that first day so to be honest, yeah. But I guess I never knew what it would actually look like. I never thought I’d be here right now with my debut album getting the reactions it has… it’s humbling. I’ve been through a lot to get here. I definitely thought I’d be less broke though… haha!
Where can fans see you perform next?
27th September, my first Headline Show at Bermondsey Social Club, and there’s limited tickets ‘cause I really want it to be small enough so we can generate a real viiiiiibe. I want everyone to be close. But yeah they’re going fast so better grab one quick on Dice.fm !
Photo Vicky Grout