The London-based artist and creative speaks about dropping his first releases of the year, the process of creating his debut album 'Leki' and his work within the music community.
You recently dropped your latest single 'Seasoning', what were the main themes of the track?
Growth is accepting truth as it reveals itself. It’s only by surrendering to the moment we actually learn and evolve. Hardest part is actually letting go of the idea of control.
Your first single of the year ‘Zen’ just dropped back in February, how has the response been, so far?
It’s been great, so far. The song seems to have really resonated with the people that heard it, with a constant response being that it felt like “perfect timing” as it was around the time the Government announced lockdown easing schedule, the weather was changing and people wanted some music reflective of what’s going on.
My main thing is to hopefully just get more people listening and watching as a lot went into this one.
What were your main influences for the single?
Flomine (the producer) and myself started working on this back in 2019, in fact I wrote the date down, it was 06/11/2019. So this was pre-Covid or anything. But it was a time for me of re-centring and trying to get myself to a place I envisaged; goal oriented, success and then peace i.e. Zen. 2020 squandered a lot of that, even the progress with the single, but to be honest it feels like it was all in God’s timing as a lot of the points I referenced felt accentuated throughout 2020 and early 2021.
In 2020, you released ‘Word Vomit II’, what did you want to explore in that track and how was it creating during the pandemic for you?
I hadn’t released anything new since my album, 'Leki', so for me, it was a case of reinvigorating myself and just getting some stuff off my chest. I use certain moments/songs to remind myself as well as anyone listening that I can really rap.
I filmed this video with Mags of PRFL on the weekend before Lockdown was announced. So things were serious but still not 100% by the Government. On that weekend, we went to the City and it was a ghost town! We were able to use a great space in Guildhall and bring 'Word Vomit II' to life.
This pandemic initially halted everything for me. No shows, no studio, no events to curate, no workshops, just no sense of creative outlet anymore. I lost a lot of motivation to write and for a time period of about six months, rejected the idea that I was an artist. I’ve come out of that phase with a fresher perspective and wider scope for my creativity, allowing myself to reduce some of the pressure I unnecessarily put on myself. Not completely, because I’m not where I hope to be yet, but accepting things come at the right time as long as you apply yourself to the moment & task at hand.
"... I found music always followed me. Because of that, I just kept giving myself to it ..."
What was your path into music and what do you hope to convey through your music?
I wrote my first lyric at around 9 or 10 years old. I just did it for fun and to imitate people I saw on TV more than anything. This was to mainly American rappers, who all told their stories and seemed like they had something significant to say, whether real or jokes. So, my writing followed that at first. But by 13, I started really loving writing lyrics. I was listening to all the grime sets and trying to fill in the same amount of bars as some of the MCs. Instrumentals like “96 Bars of Revenge” or “16 Bar Rally” gave an easy enough structure to follow whilst also not being conceptual, so I learnt how to just write for the sake of writing.
I’ve got family and friends who do music, cousins that sang in church and loved garage/grime and I found music always followed me. Because of that, I just kept giving myself to it, writing and performing as much as possible.
I’ve been focused on music, art and creativity full time since being made redundant in 2016 from my last conventional role. Since then, my main objective in music is just to enjoy it and freely express myself and create a living whereby I can see some form of financial independence/freedom. But however that comes, I’ll be happy as long as the first two things are maintained.
What is Spoke and how did you first get involved?
SPOKE is leading the world’s newest music and mindfulness movement. We’ve been creating a game changer to make music, mindfulness and meditative practices accessible and relevant for younger generations in our app. It’s targeted particularly towards 18-25 year old males as they tend to be the most disconnected and least sought after group in the wellness industry, but we’ve got plenty of feedback that demonstrates this app is for everyone. We’re currently in the Beta phase and always developing, so I strongly encourage people to follow SPOKE on Instagram to stay up to date and even download the Beta app (if on iPhone). Great place to find your zen.
How does spoken word have an impact on the way you construct your songs and aid you as a lyricist?
Spoken word only really became an interim thing for me. I started with music and have ended up mainly focused on lyrics in a musical format, but spoken word and poetry are incredibly important. Sometimes I don’t want to rap to a beat, or sometimes I don’t want what I’m saying to be in a formulaic rhythm. Other times, I may just want to write short stanzas that wouldn’t work as hooks or verses. But ultimately, spoken word allows greater verbal expression. There are no limits, so I try to implement that mentality in my lyrics for music as much as possible.
"... I think it’s important that whilst I’m trying to connect to people through music, I can also be a visible presence as a person, not just an artist."
You released your debut project ‘Leki’ back in 2018, what themes did you want to delve into on the project and what were your main inspirations?
'Leki' came after a few EPs and singles and for me was a key way of both; engaging with people that had been on my journey with me and attracting new listeners. The theme of the album is an (re)introduction to my mind state at the time and the things that held importance including; relationships, my mental state, social issues, spirituality and a lot more. Listeners go on a sonic journey, with jazz influenced beats, trap sounds, drill, west coast hip-hop etc. I really wanted to give people an understanding of who they are listening to and what gets me going.
Influence wise, it was everything I’ve experienced and listened to up to that point. All of the grime MCs, all of the neo-soul, hip-hop, jazz, youtube beats etc up to that point. Pretty much every song was based off of my own personal experience and insight.
How was the process of creating that debut project?
It was a really groundbreaking process for me. I didn’t realise when I started writing that I was working towards an album, but as certain songs started having a certain resonance and identity behind them, it made sense. Plus I always wanted to work towards a real LP rather than mixtapes or anything else that I’d done before. The bulk of the album was recorded within a few solid days of work at Victizzle’s old studio in Hackney Wick. We had Cresco SMG documenting the whole process, some of the producers pulled through to make final touches, all the feature artists went in and we just created a sick environment to work in.
All of this led to a lot of different ventures including mainstream recognition, a sold out headline show, an independent UK tour and some of my best visuals to date. I’ll always remember these days. I’m looking forward to getting back into this mode again soon.
You’ve previously run community projects involving music, how important is it for you to work within the community and give back through music?
Yeah I think it’s important that whilst I’m trying to connect to people through music, I can also be a visible presence as a person, not just an artist. It’s not about doing anything particularly noble or some egotrip, it always stems from genuinely seeing spaces I can help or seek to improve things. Most of the time I’m surprised when people ask me to do X,Y,Z and if it’s beyond my capacity, I let them know. So far so good, though with stuff like featuring as a guest artist in EastSide Story, aiding the Borough of Culture 2019, curating part of Walthamstow Garden Party with the Barbican and a few other local incentives.
"Grime quickly wiped everything else off of my iPod and formed the sound of my teenage years."
What inspired you to start Hidden Gems LIVE and how important is it for you to give a platform to rising talent?
I know how hard it is to actually get booked for stuff. A lot of artists do a perennial cycle of open mics and then feel there’s a chasm before you start doing your own headline shows or festivals. In that gap, Hidden Gems LIVE (HGL) thrives as we support artists getting to that point. I know of the impact not just because I’ve performed and organised it, but I’ve had the majority of artists that perform tell me it’s the best show they’ve performed in up to that point.
The event itself started up in my area, Leytonstone’s Red Lion, where it followed my single, 'Hidden Gems' feat. Tonia Soulbird. The tune got a good reception and that was the impetus to throw an event. Thankful to Red Lion for giving me the space and opportunity for free and thankful to everyone that came through to the first few events in Red Lion.
We migrated to RichMix in Shoreditch after around four events and since, have entertained hundreds of people. It was even the umbrella name for the UK Tour in 2019, giving a platform to artists around the country. When we come back it’ll be with a bang, but for now, we have something different coming soon. Follow @hiddengemslive on Instagram!
If you had to choose two of your tracks to best show your range, which would you choose and why?
This is hard...maybe...'Zen' for song writing, up-beat/mellow style and me trying to sing a bit. Then I think 'Figure 8 Flipped', that one takes you on a lyrical journey over one of my favourite beats. But slyly I know people would tell me to say anything from 'W.O.D.A.T'. to 'No Stress' or 'Word Vomit II' to 'B.O.T.S'....low me please guys! Everything is up on lemzi.com for people to get a sneak peak of and pick their own favourites.
Which artists first inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?
Eminem is the first artist I remember specifically liking and studying. Then all the people around him like 50 Cent, Dr Dre etc. But after a couple of years of listening to those guys, Grime quickly wiped everything else off of my iPod and formed the sound of my teenage years. I listened to everyone; Wiley, Kano, Durrty Goodz, Trim, Meridian Crew, Essentials, SLK and the list goes on.
Then around Uni, I reformed a love for hip-hop, contemporary and old-school thanks to people like J. Cole, Kendrick, Mick Jenkins, Noname and a load more. I think all of these sounds and styles can be heard across different parts of my music.
If you had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would you choose?
What’s coming up for 2021?
A lot still to come; more singles, a few collabs, possibly a project around June/July, clothing, hopefully events BUT 2022 will be the biggest changes. Wait and see. For now subscribe to www.lemzi.com