Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Every day is so different from the next. I’m definitely not somebody with a routine or fixed schedule. Saying that though, I think you have to make time and space for creativity and it’s so much more than the just the activity itself. I think every aspect of your life and everything you do feeds back into your creativity, and the things you do away from the music really affect the music itself.
For example, Glen Leach (Keys) says that friends are the best ‘block busters’, i.e going to see your friends after a time of writer’s block is the best cure. I would argue that music, and most art forms, are ways of reflecting on or dealing with life, so you have to live your life first before you can create.
I don’t think I can give an honest version of a day in my life as I believe things are always changing, developing and adapting and each day brings something new. Some days I make music all day, others I’m with friends and family, others I play sport, others I do nothing! - It all feeds the music.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My breakthrough moment is one that is special to me but no big accolade in life: the first time I rapped on stage, alongside Novelist. I was 17 and even though music had always been a big part of my life I didn’t truly believe I was ever going to pursue it as a career, I didn’t believe in myself enough.
One night, I heard that Novelist was performing at The Albany (my local youth centre in Deptford) and even though I was at another social event, something made me leave and head to see Novelist. The doors to The Albany were closing at 11pm so I ran as fast as I could and only just about got there, I had to plead the security guards to let me in. Once I was in, Nov persuaded me to jump on stage and spit some bars with him, I was hesitant at first but I got up and spat this one lyric and the crowd went mad! I got a wheel-up instantly, and then another.
That day everything changed, Nov took me to studio the following day and then I went on to join and tour with The Square, it was the start of my career. Sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t left that social, or got there in time, or got up on stage, where would I be now?
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me, it’s all about trying to get back to that childlike state where there are no boundaries or limits to your creativity: creating for the sake of creating and for no other reason. As we become adults we get worse at being creative because we involve thoughts like ‘how good is this?’ ‘How does this make me look?’ ‘Will this sell?’ and ‘Does this represent me?’. In my opinion the best art always comes from the purest place, where the creator has tried to be as honest as possible, this is what we resonate with as consumers and it’s what I strive for when creating.
The biggest distraction from getting to that place is definitely social media. Not only is it extremely addictive, but also it is full of other artists doing great things, which often makes you feel small and less adequate. I like to turn my phone off whilst I create and have also done tonnes of work over the years on my mental approach to creativity.
It’s not easy, we talk as musicians all the time about the mental barriers that come with being a creative and share strategies to overcome them. Always remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, if you remind yourself that daily you should be ok.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think no matter whether it evokes pain or joy or any feeling, music always heals. Even if it ‘hurts’ that is part of the healing process. My only experience of music is healing, it’s all it ever does for me and continues to do.
Music brings together groups of people that otherwise may not see eye to eye, it gets people out of their seats who otherwise wouldn’t move, it even helps people with special needs function better in their life and the list goes on. The more music in the world the better, especially in a world where things are far from peaceful.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
In all honesty, I’m not educated enough on the subject to speak on it. I think that culture is a sacred thing and should be treated with the upmost respect and sensitivity. I definitely think there are lots of examples of cultural appropriation out there and I must admit it makes me angry and frustrated, but like I said, I don’t have the knowledge to articulate the argument properly.
Saying that, I think it is extremely important to engage in the conversation and educate yourself on these things, something I’m always trying to do. You should hear me and Lizzie when we get going!
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I use the other senses to explain music all the time, for me all our senses are related. Some people experience that thing synaesthesia, where you see shapes and colour when you hear sounds, I think that must be amazing. My boy Ezra works in fragrance and also writes music, he was explaining to me the other day how music directly effects our sense of smell, it’s very interesting.
I think for me the strongest overlap has to be the relationship between music and food. I love to eat, and every food experience often brings vivid memories of music. For example, at Christmas my grandad used to blast Louis Armstrong through the house as my auntie roasted a lamb and baked Vanillekipferl (Austrian biscuits). Whenever I eat meals like that it takes me right back. Or the taste of jerk chicken cooked on a barrel, mixed with the smell of strong skunk weed and dancehall or UK rap blasting out loud reminds me of summers in London as a teenager. All our senses are connected and work with each other.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Unintentionally there’s always some sort of meaning behind my lyrics. Often I think I write from a place of confusion or conflict in my brain and try and make sense of it in my lyrics, talking to the listener as if they’re me, explaining the feeling or emotion.
The subjects can be anything but I’ve definitely touched on social and political areas, again unintentionally. I’ve learned that if I can write a song that gives me life and genuine joy then there’s a higher chance it will touch the listener and put them in that same space.
That’s my approach to art and being an artist: to be honest and make honest music that makes people feel something or think.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think it’s different for everyone. For me, life and death is unfathomably confusing and beautiful and overwhelming: Why are we here and why do we die? Big questions. In a weird way, music seems to answer.
Have you ever been at a funeral and when the right music is played it seems to sing that person’s life into the room? Yeah, that’s a feeling I can’t explain. Powerful.