We touch down with London-born spoken word performer who's innovative brand of musical poetry has won him critical acclaim from critics, the media and the public.
Do you horizon scan in terms of looking at the social climate to decide what you’re going to write about?
Funny you should say that. That’s something I’m developing more and more. The first time we did that was back in 2012 with my bredrin, Rob, creative director, said “Yo, you might want to say something about London right now” We got the Olympics coming up and the jubilee and the riots just happened and no-one was really talking and we made the poem, My City and the video for it and I thought if you take a little second to think about what people are going through and what would you say if you were everyone’s bredrin.
You’re from Harlesden, do you come from a poetic or musical background?
My parents just loved music so I grew up around records, all vinyl and everything was in constant rotation. By the time me and my big brother could get our own music it was a wrap from their. We were just memorising all the lyrics and it was only a couple of years after that I started writing my own. So I always grew up around music.
Do you find rapping to be creatively restrictive? Do you find you can be more expressive through spoken word?
I find that personally. Me, being, me. Other people are in their element when they rap and I can hear them clearer than anything, than any of their interviews or statements cause I came up as a grime MC so we learn to spit at a certain tempo. So where all the bars are. It’s very hard to be able to connect with people on a level that a wanted to. I felt like I was playing a character and when I took a step back and I started talking, everyone heard me.
You won the Barclays and Channel 4 competition, The Stake. You won £16k and spent the money on a secondary school workshop for underprivileged children. Do you feel as an artist the is a social responsibility to not just speak about the issues but become active in the community as well?
For me, yes. I chose to do this instead of going to Parliament so while I’m here I better still have the same effect. Otherwise it’s a compromise.
You seem to get a lot of mainstream attention, Sky commissioned you to write a series of poems for them, what do you think it is about yourself that attracts the mainstream so much?
I think ultimately being understood. You know how they say “Real, recognise, real” What that means is that when the truth in someone recognises the truth in someone else something is born. Sky were very forward thinking. Them times I wasn’t at the level where I’m at now and they just thought Rah this guy can communicate so it’s just the reality in me connecting with their reality.
Let’s move on to the Chicken and Egg EP. It’s a series of poems about a relationship which doesn’t work and a child gets born into that relationship and it breaks down from there. Was that a personal experience or what inspired that EP?
It wasn’t my story but I was there, man. I’ve been part of the process at different points whether that’s being part of the breakdown of a relationship or being a support unit to a single parent, or being a burden to a single parent! I’ve been there too! Another thing I was keen to do in that was try and not paint myself as an angel. Some of the experiences I can talk to is because I haven’t always done the right thing. People need to understand that.
One of my favourite is Cat D, let’s get behind the scenes on that one. What inspired the creative history behind that track?
These situations I’m talking about. There are some people in my life where we’ve got problems. It’s not just a one way thing but I‘m just seeing that we’re struggling so hard because so much of how we grew up was wrong. So much of what we leant as kids thinking it was normal, is not normal. A lot of my early twenties has been about re-learning that and sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow.
I like the video too. It’s very engaging, did you write the treatment for that?
I co-wrote the treatment for that, still.
Search Party, that was like you were running for public office. The way you deliver that is almost like a politician. What was the thought process behind that?
It was that. There was the general election coming up and I wanted to engage people/ I was listenin to some old R Kelly albums and on R Kelly track one on that is called The Sermon. He recorded it like he was in church giving a testimony and the effect of it was sick as he was singing his truth but he also had an audience reacting to it and that influenced me to do Search party like that, like a public address. The thinking behind it is that we are together in this. Some of the challenges we face as a society which is the same logic my upcoming tour is based on, we can work them out if we just talk to each other.
Speaking of the tour, this is your headline tour. What can people expect from that?
Yeah man, this one is going to be different. It#s going to me back in my element, as you first saw me, doing the poetry thing. But it’s also going to have an element of problem solving so if you’re coming to one of the shows you better be prepared to tell me what you actually think because the mic is going to be on you at some point. Interactive! We’ve been talking for too long, something’s gotta happen!
I can’t get out of here without talking about the Chase and Status hook up, how did that come about?
Chase and Status, it’s usual for them to do things differently and they reached out to me and it made sense and we made that just on the day and it’s been the same ever since.
Have you got an album coming soon?
Yeah I’m working on the album all the time. Possibly dropping next year but I said that last year!
The single, What Do You Reckon, a message of empowerment. What was the reason for that track?
I just wanted people to have a song for exam results day. It’s an important day but sometimes you just have to tell yourself you know “no matter what, I’m going to be alright.”