THE ONE AFTER THE CRAZY YEAR
Cover Image: Bag by Made by Mensa, Coat & Sneakers: MCQ
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THE GOODS TREND REPORTS ORIGINAL FANI JIMMY PRIME NAYAAB TALIA KARL KANI KARL KANI 2021 EVISU AISA TEEWAY ALICAI HARLEY
90 94 100 106 110 118 124 136 144 146
A$AP ANT VIC MENSA LIL ZAY OSAMA LD SEAN PAUL BUJU BANTON KSI TRINIDAD JAMES BLACK OWNED BUSINESS DIRECTORY STOCKISTS
EDITOR’S LETTER Back at it again with a new issue of Viper Style, our bi-annual fashion supplement. This issue we get close-up with KSI as he talks us through his music career so far, wearing sleek looks courtesy of Marc Jacques Burton and Ferino. Also making an appearance in this issue is Sean Paul, who’s celebrating the release of his new album ‘Live N Livin’’, which features a decidedly more hardcore Dancehall sound. He talked us through the foundations of Jamaican music and his cameo in Hype Williams’ cult movie Belly. I’ve been following Vic Mensa’s career for almost a decade so it was super special to have him model some refined Daily Paper looks in this issue. Our mutual friend Eviethecool directed the shoot in Chicago, with me FaceTiming them from London to toast a glass of Champagne preshoot. Evie also hung out with A$AP Ant, an artist I met around 2011 in NYC. At the time he had an emerging clothing line, which is reaching new heights today thanks to his consistency and hard work. Reading his interview made me nostalgic, especially when he mentioned the Street Warz mixtapes that were popular in the early 2000s. Likewise, reading Liam’s interview with LD made me miss the early days of UK Drill and grilling the 67 guys at the Rinse FM studio back in 2017. I’ve been loving the new LD project so it’s an honour to feature him in Viper. The night before our release I Zoom-ed Chicago’s newest star Lil Zay Osama who said Kid Laroi put him onto UK Drill. We also spoke about emotions, Taylor Swift and the perfect day out in the city. For a long time, Buju Banton has been one of my favourite musicians and I have so much admiration for his consistency as an artist. We spoke about the 25th anniversary of his iconic album ‘Til’ Shiloh’ and I shared with him a gem of advice that my mum once gave me. Speaking of Jamaican music, Alicai Harley is merging the
sounds of her island with the grittiness of her other home, London Town. Already a fan, her bubbly personality made me love her even more! The Teeway shoot was one of my favourites ever, as Viper descended on a scrapyard on the outskirts of London for a shoot that was, quite literally, fire. Another highlight was working with not one, not two but three men called James, who all brought these beautiful images to life. Shooting with Aisa was super fun, there were four of us throwing balloons into the shot in order to create the Viper photos. I’m currently adding this skill to my LinkedIn page, so feel free to book me for future shoots! I have to say interviewing Karl Kani was an enjoyable and surreal experience, having grown up in the nineties seeing the designer’s logo plastered across T-shirts worn by Tupac, Biggie and Aaliyah! In an enlightening phone call, he broke down his rise as the godfather of streetwear and his formula for success in the fashion industry. I became familiar with OriginalFani due to the affiliation with ATL’s rap scene, specifically via Two-9 who I interviewed at SXSW in 2012. Fani’s brand has grown beautifully, I have a lot of respect for his style and approach to fashion. We also caught up with one of Toronto’s finest, Jimmy Prime, the creator of one of my favourite songs ever, ‘Star Baby’! He models the latest collection from PRIME, and fills us in on the next steps for the brand. Shout out the Viper gang for being incredible as always - big up Bruno, Eddie, Jim and Scott for being amazing always. Thanks to every single person that played a role to make these shoots come together and for making the issue as special as can be!
EDITORIAL Editor-in-Chief Lily Mercer Creative Director Scott Butler Fashion Director James Loach Head of Media Eddie Cheaba Assistant to Creative Ola Busari Editor-at-Large Bruno Edward Miles
Digital Director Victor Davies Contributing Digital Editor Victor Davies Social Media Manager Bruno Edward Miles
CONTRIBUTORS James North Eviethecool Yaris Rose Pash Canel Luxeal Hair Belkis_beautybaybe Polished by Sadenaii Nicolas Coupland Zhamack Fullad Isis Valentino Patrick Bryjak Sam Travis Flow Riff Evanescia Thompson
Diana Pietryzk Ghana Moon Michael Benrens Dennis Eliott Wes Hicks Claire-Marie-Vogel Brian-Flynn Liam Cattermole Fernando Hevia A’liyah Loghdey Shamon Jones Tasheema Felder Nicky Baam
Viper Magazine is a Registered Company of Viper Magazine Ltd. Company Number 12851381 Copyright © 2021 Viper Magazine Ltd.
Ferino is a brand for the people, a brand born from the frustration over the lack of accessible, affordable & simplistic fashion. In every garment,
ferino champions a pride for highquality & seamless ties to cultures, be it through design or ferino’s roots.
Tonal black ‘FROM PARIS WITH LOVE’ sweater - unisex 100% 465gsm premium Heavyweight luxury cotton
7319 MAISON CHANVRE Cut from a different cloth - at the Maison Chanvre, we’ve debuted our Spring/Summer ‘21 collection, unveiling 5 luxuriously sustainable essential sets for the modern-day.
Constructed from a bespoke blend of 67% hemp & 33% Portuguese organic cotton in a variety of tasteful hues at a premium 470GSM ultra-heavyweight and quality.
7319 Maison Chanvre Hemp Essential Set
LEVI’S® VINTAGE CLOTHING Faithfully capturing the spirit and heritage of American workwear, Levi’s® Vintage Clothing reproduces the fits, fabrics and details of bygone eras. For Spring/Summer 2021, Levi’s® Vintage Clothing presents LOOSE FIX, a tribute to the generation that birthed modern rave culture: the 1980s Manchester acid house scene.
This collection channels the aesthetic and energy of this legendary scene into a range of tees, jackets and denim. With vintage graphics, baggy fits and the bold colours that defined the era, these styles will transport you back to the ‘80s and onto the dance floor.
FEATHER PENDANTS The Native Spirit collection embraces unique craftsmanship with a thirteen piece Sterling Silver collection of jewellery combining bold enamel colours and semi-precious stones.
To celebrate FP’s fifth anniversary FP brings their collection home and reimagines its first ever pendant, a Feather Pendant, in a new light. Crafted from Sterling Silver we bring to life five different pieces incorporating our feathers inlaid with beautifully coloured enamel arrows.
TYE DIE Tie-dye has come a long way since it first made waves with its hippy roots in the sixties and seventies. Spring ’21 sees it evolving into an abstract art form, with Collina Strada blowing up the trippy lines to create bright strokes of colour slashed across clothing.
These designs aren’t the usual homemade fare, but you can still try to craft your own designs using these techniques. The Elder Statesmen’s designs are highly desirable for SS21, with their tie-dye touches putting a fresh flair on the summer dresses and tees.
CHRISTOPHER KANE, MSGM, Y PROJECT
BERMUDA SHORTS D&G, DIOR, ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA, ETUDES, MSGM
NEONS Ain’t nothin’ like a neon to separate you from the crowd and this season you have options - with Balmain serving up head to toe looks that might even slide on a day in the office. As far as tailoring goes, these lime and raspberry-coloured streamlined suits flatter and elongate the body. Meanwhile, over at Tom Ford models wore two contrasting shades of bright pink accessorised with velvet flip flops and seventies shades.
For the shy guys looking to experiment with neon accessories, Hermès showcased a bright green belt, sure to be seen across the hips of rappers for several seasons. Likewise with MSGM’s neon offerings for the season, which include green sliders and bags with colourful accents.
BALMAIN, HERMES, HOMME PLISSE, TOM FORD, VALENTINO
OVERSIZED TRENCH While I’m sure we all agree these are best worn with nothing but underwear underneath, the trench coat does also look great with the SS21 trends. The majority of this season’s designers crafted designs in an oversized-style, Margiela went for a traditional matte look, updated with shiny patent sleeves.
When it comes to the long, draped variety, Louis Vuitton take the crown, with a flowing design, worn with jeans and a tee. The perfect outfit for those chilly Spring days, along with Prada’s leather variety. ROKH’s trenches had us drooling, with the long, belted styles hitting the ankle and boasting utility pockets.
BALENCIAGA, ETUDES, HOMME PLISSE, LV, Y PROJECT
PASTELS At this point, we might as well mark pastel as a forever-trend, as barely a season goes by without this guy showing up at the party! And we’re totally fine with that - like a crush that simply gets better with age, pastel tones never cease to flatter and entice.
and Rick Owens. The standout at Chanel was a bubblegum, thigh-length, belted wool dressing robe with black trimming. Versace offered an iconic head to toe look with a Pepto-Bismol suit complete with sequin Starfish.
This season, we get a heavy dose from Chanel and other beautiful touches coming courtesy of Versace
CHANEL, PRADA, RICK OWENS, TOM FORD, VALENTINO, VERSACE
STATEMENT SHIRTS With Summer ’21 promising to look a bit more social, it’s time to start planning your debut looks for outside. An easy way to embellish casual clothing comes courtesy of the statement shirt, which can update cargos, jeans and more. The statement shirt comes in many forms, some playing with tailoring and structure, while others use colour and print to separate themselves from ordinary shirts.
Our favourites of the season are by Etudes who created a navy oversized collared shirt with slits at the elbow. Hermes went for a more distinguished gentlemanly look, with abstract horse graphics, creating a shirt that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’. For those craving a more romantic look from their statement shirt, look to Gucci, who served up pussy-bow necklines in Valentine’s red.
VEST SUITS For those that aren’t brave enough for the barechested look Kanye rocked to 2 Chainz’s wedding, the vest under suit look is a classic. This look is best when combining a pastel linen suit with a wife-beater vest and a minimal gold chain.
The designers to hit up for this look in Spring ‘21 include Armani, Ferragamo and Tom Ford. Famed for his masculine elegance, one of this season’s Tom Ford suits came in butter leather, boasting a sleek laid-back look.
ARMANI, FERRAGAMO, TOMFORD, VERSACE
HEAD SCARFS We blame A$AP Rocky for this one. Ever influential, he’s been rocking the babushka style headscarf look for a couple years now. I mean you could say Queen Lizzy did it first but who did it better? We’re calling A$AP this round.
A whole host of designers invited the accessory into their SS21 collections, including Donatella Versace, Richard Quinn, Gucci, J. W. Anderson, Michael Kors and Max Mara. There are a variety of ways to rock the look, from the grandma-style favoured by Gucci to peasant chic à la Dior.
DIOR, RICK OWENS
Words Lily Mercer Photos of Fani Nicolas Coupland Photos of Model Zhamack Fullad Model Isis Valentino
How did you launch OriginalFani and develop it into such a cult brand? You’re 6 years deep right? The brand originated as a blog I started as a hub for my interests and to showcase the things my friends were creating at the time. I was handling creative direction for [ATL Rap collective] Two-9 and accepting graphic commissions before I ever developed a product of my own. Once I made the “For Promotional Use Only” t-shirts, I distributed them to friends and family, some of whom happened to be artists who support the brand to this day like Key!, MetroBoomin and the whole Two-9. Things just grew from there. Your FanDana is now cult. What’s the story behind its creation? After receiving a positive response from the shirts I began thinking about creating an accessory that would be easy to travel with, because we were constantly on the road at the time and easy to seed. I premiered the first Fan-dana at SXSW in 2014 and continued the practice of giving them away to people I knew personally who wouldn’t hesitate to wear it and rep the brand. You rep the city of Atlanta and have elevated along with many stars of the music scene. What changes have you seen in the city throughout your career? I’ve witnessed and contributed to the development of a street fashion culture that was previously only available in cities like New York and LA. As we’ve grown and supported those around us we’ve experienced greater appreciation and support for local independent brands that represent the city. You’ve been pivotal in the ATL music scene and helped found Two-9, also working on their marketing. What other career paths have you explored outside clothing creation? I’ve worn many hats throughout my “career” and regularly engage in public speaking and community building initiatives through my relationship with Cam Kirk and the operation of Closette as a hub for local independent brands and the youth that drives street culture. I enjoy working with artists I consider friends like Key!, Kodie Shane, Shad Da God and Sonny Digital and assisting with their creative direction, brand development and styling when opportunities present themselves. It’s all about expression and pushing all of our brands to the forefront as much as possible. Are you ever surprised how far the trends in your city spread? No I’m definitely not surprised. Atlanta has been leading and driving culture for the past 10+ years. I would like to see us formally accredited for the trends and styles we create. People should pay more homage and companies need to invest more money into supporting our creative community rather than just stealing our ideas. Our generation grew up on iconic high-end street wear brands, when did you realise it was possible for you to also create such a brand? I started my brand because I felt there was a void in Atlanta. The city needed its story told and I had the
perspective of someone who was immersed in this particular niche of street fashion which could be used as a vehicle to get our messages out. Because I knew the history of legacy brands like Stüssy, Bape and Supreme, I knew that it was possible to start something that could last, as long as your perspective was authentic. You spent your early years in Chicago - as a Brit, I see a connection between Chicago and Atlanta culturally, especially when it comes to being iconic. Do you see similarities in the cities? During the Civil Rights movement a lot of people moved from Atlanta and the surrounding rural areas due to the opportunities for factory work that disrupted the agricultural industries, so the cities are historically connected. Some even refer to Atlanta as Chicago’s cousin. Growing up, I drew inspiration from Chicago based artists like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West who were immersed in music and fashion and surrounded by creative friends with similar interests. My goal was to create similar movements and creative communities here in Atlanta while also doing what I loved with friends. You’ve been worn by many great musicians, especially ATL locals. Did anyone blow your mind when you saw them wearing OriginalFani? Or does it mostly come from your personal relationships with artists/their teams? I’m a huge fan of Young Thug so whenever he wears the brand I’m always appreciative. I’d say it’s a 50/50 split between what seem to be random placements and connections I have with the artists themselves or the people surrounding them. I will say that Billie Eillish was big and interesting because I don’t know her and she’s not local. In addition to the the slick accessories you’ve established, you also produce hoodies and tees. Do you intend to add more items of clothing to your repertoire? Yes, stay tuned on all socials @OriginalFani and our website OriginalFaniDesign.com. We’re currently working on Summer and Fall 2021 collections which will include a variety of items but we will always have a preference to create accessories because they’re universal. How do you see the brand growing in the future? I saw you’re expanding into leather accessories next. We’re constantly pushing ourselves to improve the quality of our products and give back as much as possible to this city’s creative community. Our ultimate goal is to continue the sustainable growth and development of our company while improving people’s perception of Atlanta as a leader in streetwear and fashion in global markets Tell us about Closette, is it your boutique and what do you stock? Closette is a collaboration between OrginalFani Design and City of Ink, a 14 year old black owned tattoo shop. We stock local and reputable independent streetwear brands and serve as a gallery and pop up shop for burgeoning artists. We also have an extensive library
of culturally relevant art books so the youth can come through and learn the history of streetwear and fashion. You designed the cover artwork for Gucci Mane’s ‘Trap God’, what other mixtape covers of yours may we have seen? I’ve done work for Kodie Shane, Shad Da God, Key!, and Retro Sushi to name a few.
Where can we find you? Literally and figuratively... Behind a computer screen, at Closette by appointment only, and of course on all Socials. @OriginalFani originalfanidesign.com
Photos Patrick Bryjak
Location The East Room, Toronto
What was it like growing up in Toronto? It is cold,summers are legendary thou, a lot of diversity thou with ethnicities. In 3 words what would you say you sound is like? The best ever Has this lockdown changed you? The lockdown made me realize you gotta be able to change your game up, be ready for anything, also made realize no matter if their is a pandemic people will spend money on food! What are we expecting from the upcoming project Blue Mercedes? Expect the Jimmy Prime sound, but evolved into something greater and bigger Will there be any features within the upcoming project? You have to wait and see...
Red Ferrari - Blue Mercedes are these projects all linked- how are you creating these concepts? Title wise they are linked, that’s about it. Also I love cars. You have well known producers in your camp like Richie Souf + Murda Beatz what’s it like working with them? Richie Souf is mad dope, he always has the right bounce, super easy to work with him. Murda Beatz just brings the best out of people, and he is super diverse with his sound, so I never know what to expect if he plays a beat. Prime Boys last tape was Koba World a very put together tape when will we hear another project from the group? Maybe, if the fans demand it You guys have dropped the Prime “Koba World“ Merchandise in memory of Koba Prime will there be more from that collection? 100%. Koba World to eternity.
Words Lily Mercer
Photos Sam Travis
MUA Flo Riff
LONDON STYLIST NAYAAB TANIA WORKS WITH SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN UK RAP. SHE BREAKS DOWN HER JOURNEY SO FAR Who are the artists you work with on a regular basis? Abra Cadabra, D Block Europe, Ebenezer, Nafe Smallz, NOT3S, Krept & Konan, Mo Stack, Steel Banglez and a few others. Would you say your work consists of mostly video shoots or day-to-day dressing? It really depends what my clients have going on, but it’s always a mixture of videos/press shoots/album cover shoots/fittings etcetera. At the moment there’s not really a lot of day to day dressing because of lockdown, a lot of my clients are just in the studio most of the time so they don’t really need to be styled for that.
try to structure my weeks and split workload, but even then it’s hard because things can always come up last minute. I need to figure out how to clone myself because it would make life so much easier [laughs]. What do you enjoy the most about styling? So many things, how much opportunity there is in the styling word, making my clients feel and look their best, travelling, working on custom designs, seeing my vision come to life at the end of a project, being a huge part of all of my clients’ ( apostrophe) success. What was the moment when you were like,“This is my real job and I’m working with superstars!”?
Besides your current clients, which artists have you enjoyed working with throughout your career?
[Laughs] Probably when I received my first plaque from a video I worked on.
Lil Tjay, I worked with him for a week when he was in London on promo. He’s literally the sweetest boy, we worked really well together. He wanted me to fly to LA to style him for his latest single ‘Calling My Phone’ featuring 6LACK but it was too last minute for me to make it work.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Talk us through your journey, how did you get started in the styling industry? A lot of hard work and dedication. I was studying womenswear design at LCF, I always thought I wanted to be a designer until I discovered styling. After uni I was test shooting and contributing to a few magazines that helped me build up brand connects. I was doing loads of commercial work for brands like Nike, Adidas etcetera for about two years until I fell into the entertainment world. Did you train with anyone early in your career? Like assisting established stylists? No, I actually haven’t ever assisted anyone. I wish I did because I probably would have learnt a lot but I would definitely recommend anyone who’s trying to get into styling to assist wherever they can because there’s nothing like hands-on experience. How did you become prepared for the day to day life of a fashion stylist? I don’t know to be honest, I guess I was just forced to figure it out because of how busy I got. I threw myself in the deep end and definitely underestimated how much work it was. Even now I get overwhelmed, if I didn’t have my assistants I genuinely wouldn’t know what to do. I
I have Fredo featuring Summer Walker, ‘Ready’ on repeat at the moment. Also ‘Party’ by Nafe Smallz featuring M Huncho. I was actually in Barcelona with Nafe when him and Huncho were recording their project ‘DNA’, I’m still obsessed with it a year later. ‘Mixed Emotions’ by Abra Cadabra too, I know you probably have this on repeat too Lily! What does it take to stand out as a stylist in 2021? I would say branding, this is key in anything creative. A lot of people say they always know when I’ve styled a video or shoot even if I’m not credited. Was music always more attractive to you than fashion? Yeah, I always had a clear vision that I wanted to work in the entertainment world and with artists. There’s a lot more to working with talent than just a model if you get what I mean. Have you worked with many footballers too? I’ve worked with Wilfried Zaha, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Deli Alli, Erik Lamela, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reece James, Andre Gray, Joe Hart, Rob Holding, Sheyi Ojo and I’ve also worked with football icons Ian Wright, David Seamon and Nigel Winterburn.
YES HE KAN KARL KANI TAKES US BACK TO THE NINETIES AS HE DEFINES HIS RISE AS THE GODFATHER OF STREETWEAR.
Words Lily Mercer
I love the way MC Lyte shouted out your brand on ’Ruffneck’! Which shout-out of your brand is your favourite? The one you like is, “I need a dude with an attitude, only eat his fingers with his food. Karl Kani saggin’, Timbos draggin’, frontin’ in his ride with his homeboys braggin’.” I’ve got so many good ones but mine would probably have to be Biggie on ‘One More Chance’ - he goes, “I got the funk flow to make your drawers drop slow. So recognise the dick size in these Karl Kani jeans. I wear thirteens, know what I mean?” I thought that was really cool, iconic and that was one of the first artists to mention my name in a song. MC Lyte was first but Biggie was different ’cause he was from Brooklyn, from my old neighbourhood and he mentions my name in his song. It was so real and authentic ’cause we were the only ones making sizes for bigger guys back then, so he was really rapping about his lifestyle. What about visually, what was the best moment when you saw your clothing worn by an icon? There’s a few, one big iconic one for me has to be Aaliyah when she did ‘One In A Million’, the promo for her album cover. We customised a leather jacket for her and she wore it in the promo and for one of her videos as well, then we did an iconic photo shoot with Aaliyah in New York by the Brooklyn Bridge. She was just a special person and the one thing about my relationships with a lot of the artists back then, they all happened organically. It wasn’t like a plan, it just happened. People say how did you do this, or that? It just happened. The brand was legit, the artists were real, the artists wanted to rock a legit brand and we needed legit artists too. It was a perfect marriage for all of us, the nineties was such a legit era of fashion. We were all so young and innocent trying to figure it out, so the energy just propelled all of us together which I think was really special. Your brand has dressed some of the most iconic people, they must have been so special to stand out then. Do you think in these modern days we still produce such legends or were they different in the nineties? I think the difference between now and back then is that there’s so many artists now. So it’s really hard to pick the ones out of so much music and entertainment out there, so much talent. Back then there weren’t that many artists, you could name the top artists on one hand, who were really popping like that. Now to be special you gotta be really, really special to stand out. So I think it’s harder now because back then, without so much competition you could stand out more. Now you gotta really out-do everybody to stand out, and you’ve gotta be sorta different, sorta cool. So good luck to the new artists out there for sure. Customisation is less active today, people made things their own back in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Why do you think that is? With social media, everything is just insane gratification today. You post something you want gratification right now, there’s no time to be patient and really develop things the way we did back in the day. People ask me sometimes, do you prefer things now or back in the day? And honestly I rather the way things were back in the days because people had to communicate, you had to engage. You didn’t have text messages or Instagram to create your message and your story, you had to engage with people so I think with engagement, it brings
more reality and realness to certain things. I think with social media people are hidden behind the phone and technology which separates us from engaging, so I like the way things were obviously. I think one day we’ll get back to the real surface of where things were and bring streetwear back to where it needs to be for sure.
“We took things that were available to us at the time and made them our own, that’s what was so special about it.”
Nineties fashion hasn’t gone out of style since it came back in the 2010’s. Why do you think it’s still so aesthetically prominent? What’s so iconic about it? I think it’s two things, it’s more about the era, the culture and the vibe. No other culture, no other time period is gonna replace the nineties ’cause it was so fresh and
we were all trying to figure it out. I think when you have young minds trying to figure things out, that’s when the best things are developed. And that year of fashions, we took things that were available to us at the time and made them our own, that’s what was so special about it. When the nineties came in, because people were breakdancing and doing hip hop dancing, we couldn’t wear tight clothes doing those things; so the clothing had to fit the music culture. If music wasn’t breakdancing and baggy, maybe the clothing wouldn’t have went to that vibe. The clothing fit the culture where we were going and I think that just stands out completely. That’s why certain things are just timeless, that nineties culture and those nineties artists are just timeless. Another reason they’re timeless is because before them there were none. If you think about the artists that came out, Biggie, Tupac, Aaliyah, Jay Z, Puff Daddy you know, they won’t be replaced. They were the beginning of a movement and once you have the beginning of a movement, you can’t replace that. So nineties culture forever for sure…
“If you follow the vibe of music, you can follow the vibe of fashion ’cause music dictates fashion all the time” What challenges did you face as a brand coming up when you did? Honestly I give so much props to where I grew up at. We grew up in the inner city projects, Brooklyn, New York and we just grew up; we had no fear for nothing. You couldn’t tell me I couldn’t make clothes and put my name on it, that was the last thing on my mind. Like, “No this is going to work, we’re doing this.” Failure wasn’t even a part of our thought pattern, from 12 years old we were hustling, selling newspapers, circulators, whatever we could just to get money just so we could buy clothing. We had such a competitive thing in our neighbourhood about fashion that you had to be fresh to be cool, you couldn’t pull any girls, you couldn’t hang out in the spots if you weren’t fresh so everybody’s game plan was to get fresh. That just builds the mentality, we got; go out there and get this. When I started to make my own clothing, there was one day in the park… I was making custom made clothing for myself, and then my friends used to say, “Oh that’s cool, where did you get it from?” Me and my friends were stingy with our ideas, so say one of my friends got something really cool, he would never tell me where he got it from because he didn’t want me to have it. I thought about making my own custom clothing, ’cause if I make it, none of them’s gonna have it ’cause
I made it myself. After I made the outfits, guys would be like, “Oh that’s cool, where did you get it from?” So I never told them where my tailor was, that was making it. I said, if you want one, I’ll make you one. My friends would give me money to make them the same outfit that I had and I would make it for them. One day we was sitting in the park and I was bragging to these girls saying, “Hey I made that outfit for that guy Joe right there.” They didn’t believe me, so they tell him to come over. He comes over and she says, “Who made your outfit?” He says “Karl made it, what’s up?” She says “Can I see that jacket? And he takes off his jacket, he shows it to her and she says “Well if Karl made it, how come his name ain’t on it then?” That’s when it hit me, I wasn’t thinking about branding, I wasn’t thinking about putting my name into clothing, I was just making some clothes just trying to be cool. When she said that statement, she was being a smart Alec, but she was so right, because if I didn’t put my name on that clothing, anyone could say they made that clothing. That’s when the idea of Karl Kani started, when she said that statement. I went home and started thinking of a name for my brand and that’s what materialised into streetwear. At that time tailoring was bigger than off-the-rack for most fashionable men so you came into fashion at a pivotal time. Why did you do streetwear and not tailoring? I kinda went where the culture was going, at the time a lot of Jamaican clubs were really hot and a lot of kids were going to Jamaican clubs. Jamaicans like to wear two-piece fashion outfits, linen outfits with the pants and shirts matching. That was the vibe, so we kinda went with that, then when hip hop music started becoming more popular in the streets, my thought pattern was to become more streetwear. If you follow the vibe of music, you can follow the vibe of fashion ’cause music dictates fashion all the time. You can never go against music and be on top of fashion, it just won’t happen. There, I just gave everyone the secret formula.
You’re Costa Rican and Panamanian, I feel that people from the Central or South American and Caribbean region are some of the most stylish. Do you feel influenced by your heritage? I think my whole family’s pretty fashionable. You know I have a picture of my mom and myself coming from Costa Rica to America for the first time, my mom had me in some orange dress shoes and a sky blue suit and some royal blue tie. I was like, “Mom, what were you thinking with this outfit?” She gets us on a plane, we’re dressed like we’re going to church, on the plane and she’s all decked out herself. Fashion was just so real, I grew up with that in my house. My dad always used to get his clothes made by a tailor which showed me, wow - I didn’t know you could make clothes that easy. My dad would go buy fabric, bring it to this other guy and tell the guy what he wants and he gets it made. My father didn’t know how to sew, he didn’t know how to make a pattern, he just had ideas.
“Queens get the money, Manhattan makes it, Brooklyn takes it.”
How did you create the iconic Karl Kani logo? I kept playing this song over and over, it’s called ’In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins. I used to play that song over and over and think of what I’m gonna call this brand. So every time I would go home, I would be in the dark and I’d have this pen. I used to write on this piece of paper, Karl, Karl, Karl, Karl - Karl Williams was my family’s given name - and I used to write Karl Williams Jeans. It just didn’t have a ring to it and every night this thing used to bother me, I used to get a pain in my chest, just thinking, thinking. One day I wrote ‘Can I’ on a piece of paper Can I - I was actually talking to myself saying “Can I?” So I had it there and I left it there, I came home that night and kept writing ‘Can I’ over and over again, just playing around, not knowing where I’m going with this yet, right? So the next morning I wake up, one piece of paper had Karl written all over it, the other paper had Can I written all over it, so I started talking to myself, Karl Can I, can you do this? Can you make this happen? Can you follow your dreams and believe in yourself and make your goals achievable? I didn’t know the answer to it but I knew if I called myself.. if I kept that name as part of my name, everyday I’d have to answer that question, yes I can. That’s how the name came about, Karl Can I, I just changed the C to a K. That same signature that I was writing is how I developed the signature, I kept doing it on a piece of paper and it happened. How did you use positive methods to counteract bootlegging of your products? At first it was very difficult for us, I’ll be honest with you.
We were like 22 years old and the brand was hotter than a pistol, everyone was buying it. Then all these companies started copying my stuff, making phoney Karl Kani stuff, selling it for really cheap, selling it at the gas stations, flea markets, it was driving us nuts. Then what happened was, various retailers started saying, “Oh we can’t sell your product because the fake stuff is cheaper, people are not buying it.” I felt like the story was coming to an end at this moment and we had to figure out what to do, so at the time we were doing the embroidered signature on most of the clothing. I had to think, I said “Wow, ok for them to get an embroidery machine is pretty simple so I’m making life easy for them ’cause anybody can get an embroidery machine.” So I thought about what I can do to get the bootleggers off my back, so we decide to come up with a metal plate and a leather patch and put the Kani logo into a metal plate and put registered trademark, then attach the metal plate to a leather patch and sew the leather patch onto the garment. I said, “If they’re gonna go through all this hassle man, these guys are too on me!” So we did that and low and behold, the bootleggers gave up, they said “Oh this is too much.” They tried to do it but it was too expensive for them to make all these pieces with the leather plate on it so they gave up and moved onto another brand. I think once you’re patient and think through things, there’s always an answer. The key is don’t get too caught up in the moment which we almost did. Luckily we thought different and decided to come up with something new to throw them off. When did you realise the importance of your international market? That’s a very interesting question and I’ve got a good story for that - so basically the Karl Kani brand we started here in 1989 in Brooklyn, New York and we came to California to set up shop. We had a very, very successful business throughout the 1990’s in the US and at a certain point the competition in the USA market started to get very fierce. There was a lot of brands doing the same similar looks that I was doing so we knew we had to expand and luckily found one of the best partners in Europe, which is the company Snipes. My partner Sven with Snipes, we linked up together and it was through the power of hip hop that really connected us together. He had a great love for hip hop culture, understood my brand, both companies had a track record of being true to the streets. We decided to get together and become partners in Europe and for him to distribute and manufacture my brand out there in such a great way to expand it to 25 foreign countries. To think that an idea that a kid had from the streets of New York, the same kid that was asking the question “Can I?” - I was the only one to dress my friends at the time, then to dress the hip hop market, now to become a household name in Europe. There’s something to be said about that and you know that leads me to another thought. It’s important to me, the power of thought and sometimes the greatest gifts in life are free. When I think about that, I think about the fact that I was able to think clearly at a young age. I had no fear, failure was not an option. Those words meant nothing to us, we were just going to get anything we want. You couldn’t tell me that I couldn’t make my own clothing, like no. All these things started with an idea and a thought. I tell people, imagine if only the rich could think, imagine you had to pay to use your brain. Do you know how many things are created from a thought? And thoughts are free, you don’t get charged to use your brain on a daily basis. When I talk to kids from the inner city, I tell them how much power they have. Because if you could deal with the lifestyle that kids are going through in the inner city and make
it out of that and still be able to smile, then you’re way stronger than a lot of people who’ve done a lot of other things in life. You’ve got to use those things and apply it to business or apply it to your goals and you should be ok. That’s the message we like to spread to people, the power of energy and manifestation as well.
Nas, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Rihanna, I could just keep naming, no one else can do that. None of those ads were paid endorsements, those are just real people wearing a real brand, real things at a real moment of all of our lives, so that’s my take on streetwear originality.
“I feel London is very understated, sexy, simplicity, which is not easy to do.”
Yeah, then you’re just talking, and people do that. It wasn’t like my goal to be the originator of streetwear, I was just going where God took me and following the signs and doing everything I needed to do to stay on point and let the goals take me where they need to go. That’s why we’re here today.
That’s real food for thought. Right? Imagine how many more people would wanna use it if they were like, ‘damn there’s no money in my bank so I can’t think anymore now’? And now, ‘if only I could just think for free’, but you have it - you gotta use it. I wanted to ask you about the importance of ownership. Your brand is your name but you also had moments where other businesses involved could have caused you to lose your own brand. How did you make the steps to keep Karl Kani as your own? I would tell you this, most of those brands from the nineties that were sold, my so-called competitors or whatever, most of those brands don’t exist anymore or the original owners don’t own it anymore. You know Karl Kani is owned 100% by me and my family, I think it’s very important. For one thing, we have the title of being the godfather of streetwear, the originator of streetwear right? So just imagine if the original brand of streetwear was not around anymore? Then the story could be told however which way, of how streetwear started - anyone could say they started it, there’s no facts to back it up, the person that started it is not here anymore. Ownership has always been important to me, I know for sure why I was put on this earth, what my goals, what my destiny was because I didn’t go to school for fashion, I have no background in fashion. There’s no other brand - this is a fact - there’s no other brand that can ever say “We started streetwear before Karl Kani,” ‘cause it’s not factual. I tell people all the time, if there was a brand that would say that, tell them to raise their hand and I have one question to ask to prove you wrong. I would say, “If you started streetwear, it should have been pretty big because you started a whole movement that didn’t exist right?” Then I would say “Cool, show me all the iconic people that wore your brand, if you started streetwear, such a big movement, line ‘em up.” If you can line ‘em up, I’ll never say anything again in my whole life. That won’t happen because it didn’t happen - there’s no one else that can show you Biggie, Tupac, Aaliyah,
But it’s a fair point, one of the stars of your campaigns sadly passed away 25 years ago and is still a legend. So if they can’t show their brand being worn by say, Kurt Cobain, then how can they have come before you?
As the godfather of streetwear, are you proud of all your godchildren? You know when I started and we got our big first orders with this company called Marygoround, we had a three million dollar order. Ever since then, I’ve been kinda numb mentally in terms of goals. I just knew that now the game is on, you can’t stop. Because everything that you wanted, on those days you didn’t have what you wanted, those days when you were hurting because you saw someone have a car you didn’t have, those feelings and emotions that you experienced back then, those feelings aren’t here anymore. So which feeling do you like more, do you like this feeling? Or the feeling of not having? Once you understand what you don’t want anymore, you know what you need to do. If you don’t do what you need to do and you get that feeling again, don’t question anymore ’cause you should have done what you needed to do when you had the moment, so there’s no excuses. Did you ever hit a great achievement then didn’t know what to do after, like now what? You know I always go ahead of the game and keep pushing to another limit and keep finding a new challenge to keep going. I realise now it’s more of a mental game, ’cause now you’re playing with yourself, so you have these opportunities, now it’s how much can you continue to drive yourself? So at one point my thing was working out and getting hard in the gym, you always have to have a challenge to keep your mind going ’cause your mind can start to get stagnant if you’re not using it. And you can never feel like you’ve made it. Mentally I never think, ‘I’ve made it’, or ‘I’m on top of the world’. I think when you start thinking about that, you need to start retiring soon ’cause there’s always gonna be a young buck that’s coming up the way that wants your spot so you’ve always gotta be that hungry guy mentally that keeps the machine going. That’s just the model we live by where we come from. We input what we went through in our youth, into business and it works well. It’s probably far easier to launch a brand now, as anyone can set up a website, or source a manufacturer. But do you feel there were benefits back when you did it? You know the only benefit that I see back then, is because information wasn’t so readily available to you, you weren’t sidetracked by what other people were doing. Because you didn’t know what they were doing, there was no way for you to find out what they were doing, we didn’t have any cell phones for christ sake,
you know what I mean? There’s no way kids in Brooklyn knew what kids in California were doing and kids in California knew what kids in Chicago were doing, unless you had a cousin that lived out there that you went to visit for the Summer. That’s the only way you’d know, and come back to the hood with stories about “Oh kids in Chicago are wearing their sneakers like this.” I think with less information, you can have better tunnel vision, if that makes sense. Because when so much information is available to you, it can kinda not be a good thing too because now you don’t know where to go with your thoughts. With less information you can focus on what you want and sort of lock certain things in and that’s what we did back then.
time so you have to be motivated to be part of this. I think it was a good balance for us to come to California. Do you agree that Brooklyn is the best dressed borough? 100%, you have that saying: Queens get the money, Manhattan makes it, Brooklyn takes it. So Brooklyn’s always number one, all the time. We was always ahead of the game for sure, there’s a certain mentality that comes out of Brooklyn; Jay Z and Biggie - do I need to say more? LA has a healthy breeding ground for streetwear, thanks to the skate scene. Do you think it’s better than NYC? Yeah I think Fairfax definitely has a great streetwear movement there, I think the Supreme store was there, they had Crooks & Castles there for a moment. They do have nice retail stores, I like the way they market and stay true to the customer. There’s something to be said about each store having their own retail outlets where they can be in touch and in tune with the US consumer. We thought about that, right now we have 10 stores in Japan which are doing very well for us so we’re thinking about expanding to having a flagship in the US once this COVID-19 thing is over. I think it’s important to be out there with the customer for sure. Japan revolutionised streetwear in many ways. Do you go out there a lot? Yeah we go once a quarter, we haven’t been out there since the second quarter of last year. I love Tokyo, they’re always ahead of the game in fashion, it’s a different style of fashion that we have out there with the brand because they know the customer and they love logos and a certain fit. I think each market is a little bit different but I love the Japanese market, it’s trendsetting so we have to keep up with them which is really cool. What do you think of London fashion?
You’re Brooklyn at heart but much of your brand’s lifetime has been spent in California. How have you balanced that dynamic? The best thing that ever could’ve happened to me is God created California and I’ll tell you why - because growing up in Brooklyn, you know everybody, right? Every day you go out there’s always some of the homies, this, that and the third and you kinda get caught up in the mix. When we came to California, we knew no one out here, all we did was have a store, in South Central on Crenshaw Blvd, right down the street from where Nipsey Hussle had his store. We just had each other so every day we was only focused on one thing which was Karl Kani. Every day, every night, 21, 22, 23 years old, that’s all we did - there was nothing else for us to do! My homeboy used to go out to the clubs but my whole thing was focusing on our journey. I think coming to California, separated me from the pack and that meant everything but Brooklyn gave me the hard content, the hustler mentality, everything you needed to survive out here, Brooklyn taught us to have tough skin, never bend, never fold. Those things were important so I think the combo of the two… In California it never rains, the weather is great, you’re surrounded by success all the
I love London! First of all the city itself, I love going there. I used to visit my boy Umar from over at PrettyLittleThing, he’s one of the owners there. We did a collaboration with them, he took me around London. The fashion’s always cool, the women there dress impeccably to me, such class, very, very classy. Understated class is what I would say, very classic and very simple. Definitely very different to Japan, Japan is very loud and bold, I feel London is very understated, sexy, simplicity, which is not easy to do. You know some of the hardest things to do are something basic and simple and clean, it’s always easy to do something gaudy to stand out - to be simple and to be cool and stand out is not easy, so big ups to London and the fashion style out there for sure. It’s interesting you collaborated with PLT, did you notice a new audience coming to your brand? Well the collaboration we did with them was very interesting because we took two different worlds and combined them together, who would’ve ever thought? PrettyLittleThing is a very fast fashion, girly, middle of the road brand and you got Karl Kani, the original streetwear brand bringing hip hop, true streetwear culture together. We didn’t know how successful it would be but it was very, very successful, I think both companies were able to achieve what we wanted. PrettyLittleThing wanted to get more of an iconic street edge which we’re very well established with, Karl Kani, what we were looking
to do was expand the brand expansion to a customer base - especially dipping into women’s. As a company, we’re known for menswear, the PrettyLittleThing line was sexy, it was cool. We got girls who was into hip hop, who may have seen the logo, seen the signature and didn’t know what it was and then PrettyLittleThing was able to put it all together into a package base. I think we both were able to achieve what we wanted, it was a
got to ask yourself the question “Can I?” And every day you’ve got to answer the question “Yes we can, yes we all can.” That’s been our motto to inspire the world, we’ve been doing a good job of that and we wanna continue to spread that message throughout the rest of our career. You’ve now transitioned between generations. Yeah it’s funny, I was thinking about that. I was thinking - sometimes I ask myself questions like I’m interviewing myself like, “How did you feel after your first ten years?” And I would say if you can make it through the first ten years, and you still feel like going, you may be onto something. The first ten years has the roughest moments to deal with and you gotta be ready for it. Your mental and your physical works hand in hand; you gotta be mentally prepared and physically prepared. Business is warfare and you gotta be ready for it, I think once you establish those things you gon’ be alright. Nothing in this world is given to you, you gotta go out there and take it, if that’s what you want. So that’s our model and what we like to preach for sure. Have you had a favourite decade in the life span of Karl Kani? I gotta say the first decade. The second decade to me was very trying mentally, that was rough to be honest. The first one was the best and I wish I could go back to ’89 and go through it again.
great collaboration and helped us to continue to grow the brand in a European market. I don’t think you did women’s stuff the first time round, it was just menswear right? Keep in mind, back then women were wearing men’s clothing, think about how Aaliyah used to dress, she started that whole thing! She’d be wearing a men’s jacket, men’s pants, men’s hat but then a sexy women’s top underneath that. She established sexy and street together, that’s why her style is impeccable. There’ll never ever be anyone else like her again, that trend she started that! The baggy pants and the bathing suit top, that was Aaliyah, no one else before her did that, that was her trend, that’s nineties fashion. That’s why I say the nineties fashion will never go out of fashion, it will never go anywhere because before that style of fashion nothing existed ever. How’s your SS21 collection looking? We have one of the best teams ever, our European team is based in Germany with Mark Jensen heading up the sales and we have Anna heading the design team and Khalid. We have such a great team and we work in such a great unit together. This collection is amazing, we spread information to each other, we see what trends are happening and we see how to put the Karl Kani brand in the middle of the trend and continue to set trends. We want to separate the women’s brand to make it a really sexy streetwear women’s brand, different to the men’s brand but we do have some pieces that we want to crossover in unisex. Our colours are very muted, earth tone colours for the new season coming up. The quality is impeccable, we’re looking to do some great collaborations in the future with a few brands that we’re talking to right now. The future looks good, we’re going to continue to grow and continue to spread the message and continue to inspire people which I think is important. We tell people, sometimes in life you’ve
I can only imagine how great those times were, I would love to see that decade in your shoes. It was fun, I can remember things so vividly as if it happened yesterday but I realise you’ve got to embrace each moment in life because every moment is real and meaningful. I love what I do and this is what I’m here for. You’ve got to accept your journey and once you accept your purpose, you’ll be ok. Don’t go against your purpose. Your purpose is knocking on your door, you just need to answer it. What are you most looking forward to postpandemic? We’re gonna have a three day party, non-stop. I heard they used to have these parties non-stop in Berlin… In the Berghain? I think so, you go in on a Friday and people leave out on a Sunday? Yeah. I’ve never been but I think COVID has pushed me to the point, I’m all in. Take me to the three day club, I’m doing a three day fashion show. Let’s go, let’s get it! We gonna take this thing on the road, get some Hennessy, make this thing pop off! Who’s coming?
KARL KANI 2021
FA S H I O N F E AT U R E
STORY THE JAPANESE LEGEND COLLECTION Photography Eddie Cheaba Make-up Tahiyah Ali Hair Chaniqwa Brown Production @pr.gram1 Models Chandra Scott, Nadya Maki, VB Apparel Evisu
Left: Christian Kye Snow Jacket Ferino Worldwide FPWL T-Shirt Right: Made By Mensa Dust Coat Made By Mensa Pants MCQ Sneakers
Crane Graphic Embroidered Denim Jacket Crane Embroidered Gradated Daicock Boyfriend Jeans
Glasses: Kuboraum Turtleneck: Hugo Boss Jacket: Vrede ( Etcetera LA Showroom) Pants: Hugo Boss Shoes: Aime Leon Dore
Landscape Motif Daicock Embroidered Denim Jacket Brocade Seagull Appliqué T-Shirt Multi-pocket Denim Skirt
Raijin Embroidered Denim Jacket Fujin Graphic Print T-Shirt
Glasses: Kuboraum Turtleneck: Hugo Boss Jacket: Vrede ( Etcetera LA Showroom) Pants: Hugo Boss Shoes: Aime Leon Dore
Glasses: Kuboraum Turtleneck: Hugo Boss Jacket: Vrede ( Etcetera LA Showroom) Pants: Hugo Boss Shoes: Aime Leon Dore
AISA IS THE NAME YOU SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO! APPEARING ON CHIP’S MIXTAPE AND WIZKID’S ALBUM, SHE’S GEARING UP FOR THE RELEASE OF HER UPCOMING EP. AISA TALKS TO VIPER ABOUT HER SOUND AND MUSICAL JOURNEY SO FAR. Words Lily Mercer Photos James North Stylist Neesha Sharma MUA Saphia Ayesha
Hair Pashcan’el Mitchell
Top: Juicy Couture Joggers: Oh Polly Trainers: Puma Necklace: Iijo London
Top + Shorts: Oh Polly Jacket: Alves Collection Glasses: Stylists own Black Boots: Koi Footwear
Right Mint Robe: Kashane Swaby Glasses - Stylists own
What sounds do you love?
How did you get started in music?
I like very melodic sounds and rhythmic beats. 90s R&B will always be my favourite.
My favourite producers are the ones who do their own thing. They don’t try to do what everyone else is doing.
My dad is a guitarist, so I’ve grown up singing and dancing. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else other than be a singer and an artist. I wrote my first song when I was 10. It has been a lot of hard work and long hours but all worth it! There’s no better feeling than seeing my project come together and I can’t wait for everyone to hear my new songs.
What kind of music is on your playlist?
How would you describe your sound?
That’s a difficult question. I listen to everything. If you go to my playlist it would go from Mariah Carey to D Block Europe to Ariana Grande!
My vocals are very influenced by 90s RnB. However my sound is considered to be inspired by several genres such as Afro, RnB and Pop.
What to you is the perfect song?
What’s been your career highlight so far?
The perfect song for me is any song that lyrically speaks to me and my experiences. I also like very melodic beats.
I’ve worked and connected with so many amazing producers and musicians whilst working on my upcoming EP. I would say some of my career highlights so far would be featuring on WizKid’s album ‘Made in Lagos’ and Chip’s mixtape ‘Snakes & Ladders’ which is something I’m really proud of.
And what producers create the best beats for you?
Will we be hearing new music? Yes, absolutely! I’m almost done recording my EP. So you’ll definitely be hearing from me soon…
What are your favourite things to do besides making music? I like to cook and hang out with my friends. My friends are big fans of my cooking! I also like to meditate and sometimes go for long walks, especially when the sun is out.
“I listen to everything. If you go to my playlist it would go from Mariah Carey to D Block Europe to Ariana Grande!” The video shoot for ‘Grown Flex’ looks super fun, did you enjoy the day? Yes, it was a really good day. Everyone on set made me feel very comfortable. I loved the whole process and think the video came out looking sick. You sang on a couple of songs on the new Chip mixtape, how did those features come about? I was in the studio with another artist and Chip came in. He heard my vocals and liked them. A week later he asked me to come to his studio and we recorded a couple of songs.
How many languages do you speak? I speak Dutch, English and a little bit of Portuguese. I can also understand Sranan Tongo, but I can’t speak it. Have you ever written in any other languages? If not, would you like to try it one day? No, I’ve never written anything in other languages but that is definitely something I would be open to in the future.
What does it take for a producer to work with you? When I do a session with a producer, I go off their vibe. You either catch a vibe or you don’t. I always think it’s important before you have a session that you get to know each other a little bit. Creating music and in general being an artistic person means you need to share a lot of your emotions with the people you work with, so the vibe and energy needs to be right. What do you look for when collaborating with an artist or producer? Is it an accentuation of your sound, or a chance to experiment with something different? I like when the producer or artist does his/her thing and we make that mesh with whatever vibe I’m on in terms of music and then just make something amazing.
“I would say some of my career highlights so far would be featuring on WizKid’s album ‘Made in Lagos’ and Chip’s mixtape ‘Snakes & Ladders’ which is something I’m really proud of.”
You have some great covers on your instagram, what is your favourite non-Aisa song to sing? I’m always up for any Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston song. You suited all the looks at the Viper shoot, what was your favourite? I loved the vintage Dior top with the clear glasses and denim skirt.
What’s your usual style? Do you like to dress up? I wear joggers and sneakers probably 80% of the time, but I do love to wear dresses and heels especially on special occasions. The main thing for me is to feel comfortable whether I’m dressing up or down.
Left Coat: Mozino Bodysuit: CD.Femme Trainers: Koi Footwear Glasses: Stylists own
Right Top: Stylists own Skirt; Jenn Lee Boots: Koi Footwear Glasses: Stylists own Necklace: Lijo London
TEEWAY PAYS HOMAGE TO SOUTH NORWOOD ON HIS EP, ‘THE 5TH CHAPTER’. READ ON TO FIND OUT HOW HE’S SETTING UK DRILL ALIGHT. Words Lily Mercer
Photos James North
Styling James Loach
You’ve had a busy year already, how has 2021 been for you musically so far? Musically, this past year has been the best year I ever had! Realistically man it’s been a good year. You know what it is, I’m just tryna keep the work rate up. Literally, not tryna get too complacent, you feel me? In January you dropped your first full project, ‘The 5th Chapter’, finally ’cause you’ve been around for a couple of years now. Did you feel it was the right time? Yeah, I’m happy with it still. What does ‘The 5th Chapter’ mean to you? ‘The 5th’ represents our borough basically, most of my raps are based around where I’m from because I’m just telling stories from my journey. Realistically when I sum everything up to what I’m rapping about, it comes down to my area. But obviously there’s certain ways that man wanted to show it. I don’t think I really and truly could’ve dropped my first project and not have it reference my hood ’cause that’s where I am, that’s the
people before I was rapping at the time when I started releasing, like 2018. When I was coming into it myself, because I’m a person that stays to myself, that stays to me and my people, I was kinda blessed in that sense because I’m not too social, unless it’s my actual people. So when I’m doing music, it’s a thing I just do, to get it out there, that’s what I was doing it for at the time so for me it weren’t even like mad hard, if you get what I’m tryna say? Because I’ve also had problems with other things. In terms of the South thing, I wouldn’t say it’s hard but let’s just say you were the type of artist that was very social, that wanted to work with everyone that makes music you listen to, or everyone that you come across, you’re gonna find yourself in a couple pickles. I loved seeing you work with a few artists from out of London on Meekz’s ‘Year Of The Real’, how did that line-up come about? I was thinking to myself from a long time ago, people do features for the sake of it. So if I do something, I wanted it to be something that’s got a little bit of a ‘Wow’ factor. Then Meekz hit me saying, “Do you wanna jump on this?” I was like, “100,” you get it? From there, I linked with Meekz and M1llionz and met Pa Salieu later. Meekz was fucking with my ting, I was fucking with his ting, you see each other online and that, so it made sense at the time. That was sick still.
“The hood gave me the motivation to rap in the first place”
reason I came into this rapping ting. That’s what I was pushing the hardest because it’s the hood that gave me the motivation to rap in the first place. You’re from South London but is it Norwood specifically that you rep? Yeah, I’ve moved around but it’s always been around South [London]. The rap scene, especially Drill seems to be most active in South and North London, did you find it easier to get into the scene because it’s so active locally? Or does that make it harder? That’s what it is… the way I came up, I knew a lot of
You’re all still blowing up, all four of you! Do you feel people are discovering one of them as an artist, finding that tune and then becoming a fan of you? You know what? I wouldn’t say so, but I’m not sure. At the end of the day I do still see people going back to that song and tweeting me. But you see in my mindset, I’m not really watching that too tough. You see when I get followers and that, I wouldn’t really be able to tell it’s come through them man, I just know what’s building up those plays. That ‘Year Of The Real’ track was a mad ting still. Did you even get a chance to perform it before lockdown? Nah I never performed it you know, I’m not sure about them man but I doubt it. I saw Pa Salieu do one performance, maybe he has still.
Jacket: Moose Knuckles Benjart Trapstar
That’s gonna be mad, can you imagine when you all hit the stage and do that after lockdown? A hundred, nah a hundred! You worked with M1llionz again on ‘Big Risk’, you two sound great together, not similar but very compatible. Is that why you linked up again? Yeah it made sense, I fuck with M1llionz! I met him before ‘Year Of The Real’ and we had a track or two there, so I was fucking with him before that, so with ‘Year Of The Real’ it just made sense innit! I fuck with M1llionz, I think he’s hard! The first time that we bucked up, it was just out of respect, like, “yeah I think you’re hard,” “I think you’re hard” but I can see why people like our different sounds together. Your video for ‘Breaking Bad’ is crazy! How much do you get involved in the creative side of your video production? Honestly I do put a lot into my videos in terms of thoughts and direction and sometimes even the editing stage as well. I do but it’s because of the guys I usually work with. I find because I know how they work, and how we work together, it’s easier to sit down and make it happen, rather than them just showing me different versions that I might not like, you know what I’m tryna say? Will we see more videos for any tracks on the EP? Literally just thinking about it, one’s there. I got something shot but I’m not sure when that’s due. We’ve
“I fuck with M1llionz”
What kind of experimenting, is it outside of your usual genre, or more like playing with vocals? You know what it is, I’m just seeing what sounds good with the rap game. There’s different styles of rap, so I’m just seeing, there’s a lot of styles of rap I’ve never experienced. I never felt like I could do them, so right now I’m just seeing what sounds good really and truly. You’ve been releasing music for just a couple of years but you sound skilled. Were you making music a while before you released songs as Teeway? I’ve always been doing music and that from younger. I wouldn’t say I always took it mad serious but I was always into music. When I was a bit younger, I used to go studio when I was at school and that but when I hit 15 I fucked it off, it didn’t really make sense to me no more. Then when I got a couple of years down the line, I was still having raps here and there and people were telling me yo’ you need to drop that. Ended up dropping it and yeah… Were you always working in the Drill genre?
got mad tings coming, mad tings coming.
What plans can you tell me about? Aight cool, all I know is that there could possibly be another project later this year or next year. So you’ve already been back in the studio? Yeah 100, we never leave. Of course some people around me are telling me, “take breaks” and that right now. But you know what it is, right now it’s getting mad draining. Man’s just tryna get in a better head space and that, so man’s just been in the studio, I’m just experimenting right now.
You know what’s funny yeah? I actually started off with Drill, not Drill like it is now. When I was first rapping, it wasn’t Drill like that. But the times when I started going to the studio myself and started to make it work when I was younger, I was doing Drill then, 2015 and that. So the Drill ting is kinda what I’m more natural to ’cause that’s what I grew up on in terms of the Chicago style. I was definitely into that when I was younger. I fuck with the Drill ting but it’s changing, nowadays it’s changing to the point where it’s not just set to one thing, it’s branching across a wide variety of music right now. I see a lot of people and I’m inspired by what they’re doing. I see a lot of people taking it somewhere else so I might as well take it somewhere else and see what happens.
There’s talk of R&B Drill but I love the idea of UKG Drill, which I feel your ‘Cutlery’ beat has a hint of. Are those kind of styles something that you’re interested in playing around with? I’ll be real, I’ve always thought Drill would sound sick with different shit and different instruments but now I’m hearing it, it sounds sick but I don’t know how experimental I wanna get with it. I might just leave it to the people that are coming in it now and go my own way. I feel like a lot of people know a lot more than Drill, because anyone that’s grown up around my generation, between the ages of 18 and 23 right now, we’ve all grown up the same. So we were listening to Drill when we first started hearing Rap. We was listening to Rap, we were listening to Sneakbo and Giggs and that. I think we’re almost 10 years into Drill, so we can see the evolution of the genre more clearly. Which city out of Chicago, London and NYC holds the crown for Drill nowadays? Honestly, I don’t even think I could tell you, I think everyone’s just taking it their own way. I’m all seeing
Outside of Drill, what music was influential to you growing up? You know what I had different stages growing up, when I was younger I was mad into 50 Cent, like to the point I proper fucked with 50 Cent. I wanted the T-Shirts and that, I was young, I was a fan still. As I grew older and that, I started taking in bare people, I started listening to UK guys rap, like the guys from my area, Brixton, Peckham and that, started taking in what was really going on. After that point I started listening to a variety of different guys from all over but it was kinda like how it is now with the scene where there’s bare people to listen to. Do you think the UK music scene is at its best now, or when you were growing up? There’s mad talent all over London, all over the world. I’m still going on instagram seeing guys pop up now and I’m thinking, ‘yeah this guy’s sick, this guy’s got talent’. I’m not sure, I wouldn’t know how to compare it. I was a bit younger then and I didn’t really care about the music scene like that but I feel like back in the day shit just used to look professional, look better than it was. Plus everyone can do it themselves these days, they don’t need as much help to get on.
“When I was younger I was mad into 50 Cent...” French Drill and that right now. I heard something the other day that sounded hard so I’m not sure, that’s a tekkie one. ‘Cause all the music is kinda different innit, New York Drill, I like it cause it’s different to our Drill but in different ways. What do you think the future of Drill holds? A lot of the UK OGs are charting now… Every dog has his day so I know there’ll be a time it probably does die out, but for now, I think it’s gonna be around for a second. Do you think Bobby Shmurda’s gonna jump on Drill now he’s out? You know what, that’s gonna be the interesting thing about it! I’m interested to see what he does ’cause he’s a real one. It’s good that he’s home ’cause not a lot of people would do what he’s done. Hopefully he just fits into the scene again, word.
Defo, you know what it is, I wasn’t really mad into music and things that was happening in music back then, I was just young like 15 and that, I didn’t really care about music like that. But when I think about it people have done some legendary shit in the last five years. I think a lot of people are going to the top of the charts independently, now is a good time to be an artist. Yeah that’s what I mean, I don’t wanna say I didn’t know about the charts ’cause I did but I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t really care, so I’m seeing guys going on the charts now, I’m seeing it to be a mad ting but I’m starting to learn the history of it, to know no one’s really done it before. You’ve got V9 and KO and ZeeTee as features on your EP, will you tell me any secret features coming this year? I’m gonna have to no comment this one… Yeah you pleading the 5th? The 5th Chapter [laughs]? The 5th Chapter [laughs].
ALICAI HARLEY THE SELF-PROFESSED YARD GYAL INNA BRITAIN HAS BEEN MAKING WAVES WITH HER UNIQUE BLEND OF DANCEHALL, RAP AND R&B. WE’RE HERE TO TELL YOU WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT... Words Lily Mercer Photos Eddie Cheaba Stylist Yaris Rose Hair Pash Canel Hair Luxeal Hair Make-up @belkis_beautybaye Nails Polished By Sadenaii Location Studiosvn.com
Dress: Aloïse Mahé-Stephenson Shoes: Jeffery Campbell Earrings: Anastasia Bull
Is ‘No Rampin’ the song you’re most excited to perform? I’m really excited to perform a lot of them. For me, it would probably be ‘Kind Of’ but there’s a few, I can’t wait to perform ‘Put It On You’ because of the fact, I wanna know if I’m gonna slide across the stage or not. I really wanna know if I can execute, I just really wanna know what I’m gonna do. But at the same time ‘No Gyal’, I really wanna see the energy that comes through. Can I say a few, can I say three? Yeah you can pick three! I would say ‘Kind Of’, ‘Put It On You’ and ‘No Gyal’. If Carnival happens this year, it’s gonna be the maddest one ever! What’s been your best performance at Carnival over the years?
You’ve had a busy 2021 so far with the release of your new EP, ‘The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain)’
With Carnival, I think it was the first time I performed in 2017. I had just released my first single ‘Gold’, that was the first time I got to see people react to my music in general. So when Carnival came, I’m standing on top of Rampage stage. I think that was the first performance I’ve done at Carnival actually, on Rampage. You stand at the top of the stage and you see all these ants, ‘cause my eyesight’s bad so everyone’s an ant. That was probably my earliest time of hearing the crowd chant my song. That was definitely a highlight for Carnival, I mean Rampage is a legendary sound so I was like [screams] that I got to do that my first Carnival. It was amazing.
Yes I have! What’s been the highlight of releasing it? Well there’s been more than one highlight! I would say it’s when I showed the cover, I showed it before I released a single. The reaction from everybody and how impactful it was, how it made people feel, that was really fulfilling because that’s how I wanted to make them feel. I wanted to take them back, I wanted them to feel empowered. Once the EP was out and getting everybody’s reaction and seeing their joy, because that’s what I really wanted. To fill everyone’s hearts with joy, that’s what really makes me feel good, like seeing everybody’s enjoying it. Seeing how much they’re enjoying it has been amazing. Is there a song that people are reaching out to you the most about? I’m grateful to say that everybody’s got a different one that they’re screaming about. Some people are screaming about the same song, but everybody’s just really enjoying the EP. I’d say ‘No Rampin’ ‘cause I’m able to see the scales, it’s just slightly - or maybe more than slightly more popular. ‘No Rampin’ has got everybody screaming. I think it’s just an instant vibe from the beat, it just comes in but I know that it’s still been quite wide with every song [being appreciated]. Even before I released ‘No Rampin’, at the listening party they were like “can you just wheel that up? Now.” [Laughs]. You’ve timed this release well if the clubs are opening back up in June, we’ve got time to learn the words before you perform! I mean I don’t know if I’m gonna be in the clubs but I guess! I still wanna see their videos you know, or maybe I’ll be performing in the clubs…
“I can’t wait to perform ‘Put It On You’ because of the fact, I wanna know if I’m gonna slide across the stage or not. I really wanna know if I can execute, I just really wanna know what I’m gonna do.” That was a sign of your future. I remember when ‘Gold’ came out and then a year later it had a second wave, getting really popular. It’s crazy ‘cause I look at it and I understand exactly what you mean, ‘Gold’ is one of them ones. I feel like it’s gonna
Jacket: Anastasia Bull
Bodysuit & Mesh Bra: SSavannah Lingerie Trousers: House of Harlot
have its own little time again and again, I just feel that in my spirit and a lot of people around me as well, feel that ‘Gold’ isn’t finished yet. I don’t know if like somebody’s gonna hear it in a whole ‘nother country and all of a sudden it’s the trending song or whatever but you’re right, ‘Gold’ has had its moments where it seems like people are sporadically listening to it more. Some people think the song is a new song, for whatever reason it didn’t touch certain places but I feel like it definitely is a song that I’m really proud and grateful for and I feel like it’s a real gem that’s gonna come back around and touch wherever it didn’t touch, again by itself. The song is literally gold. Such a positive message too, did you feel it was important to speak on? It’s so funny ‘cause it’s all about interpretation. As I speak to you, you’re seeing it from an empowering perspective as in “I am gold.” But it depends how you look at it, other people can look at it and make it really really provocative. But regardless of whether it’s provocative or not, I’m still saying it’s golden and I am golden. At the time I think it was just more of my vibe, I’ve always been a person that feels quite empowered even if I feel sad, one thing I’ve always felt is empowered in myself. Even if I feel sad, all it takes is for you to make me feel less empowered to be like, “hold on, what? Do you see me?!” I didn’t realise something like that was important to speak on but I just went with my vibe as a writer and my spirit and my energy. Around that time, it made the girls feel good and it made the guys feel good! ‘Cause everyone wanted to dress up his gyal in Louis or Cavalli and do all of that,
“When Carnival came, I’m standing on top of Rampage stage. That was the first performance I’ve done at Carnival actually, on Rampage.”
sending back and forth ‘cause I wasn’t even in Jamaica. Matter of fact, when we were finishing ‘Woii’ we were definitely in lockdown. Even if I wanted to be in Jamaica, I was not gonna be in Jamaica anyway. It was just going back and forth in terms of creating the record. When you’re working with legends, it’s very very simple and easy to create what is supposed to be there ‘cause they’ve been doing this for years, it’s like nothing to them. Not nothing but it’s literally… like “I do this in my sleep!” So I feel like it was very smooth and very easy and a lot of it was thanks to my manager, who communicates with them a lot. I guess they’ve been friends for years so that was very easy for him to have those conversations and relay back. They let me know how much they admired my sound as an artist so that was really humbling and beautiful as well, very uplifting and inspiring. It was amazing to work with them and very easy, you don’t have to do too much. You would think that because they’re in Jamaica and I’m in London, there was a lot of back and forth but there wasn’t. They hear it, they know it, we do it and it’s done. It was amazing. Is it difficult creating music on Zoom.
You worked with Cleavie Browne on the EP, who is legendary in Jamaican music! What was it like working with an icon like that? Was that the first time working with him?
Well originally with ‘Woii’, I wrote ‘Woii’ maybe two years before. I actually wrote ‘Woii’ for another singer that I’m really inspired by and she was supposed to have an album, it was a big time with everybody waiting for this album. I loved ‘Woii’ so much and then not hearing nothing back, I knew I always wanted it for my EP if it never got shipped off. So [when the album didn’t happen] Cleavie and Bassface actually got vocals, just the stems of my vocals and that’s what they built it from with the beat on top of it. I don’t actually even think they listened to the original, what we wanted it to sound like. I think they started off with just creating the beat around the vocal and we went back and forth. What I love about that song is that it definitely sounds like it was created in the nineties, or the eighties, it doesn’t sound like it was necessarily created in 2020.
Yeah, with Cleavie and Base face, it was the first time. It’s crazy ‘cause whilst doing that song ‘Woii’, it was us
Only legends like that can create a song today that truly sounds like it’s from that era…
even if they can’t. I feel like me singing the boy’s version and me singing the girl’s version, it worked out perfectly fine as well.
I don’t think anyone young could make it like that, when I really deep it, I don’t think anyone could on a computer. You’ve really bridged your Jamaican music scene with the UK, was that difficult? Well I was born in Jamaica and obviously when I step into my household, I’m back in Jamaica. When I talk to my family, my accent chips in and out, I’ve got a weird little twang but that’s just me. So it was never a thing where I lost Jamaica and I’m a full on Londoner. That’s why the EP is ‘Yard Girl Inna Britain, it really means what it says ‘cause I’m so rooted in Jamaica, I could still be in Jamaica and my family’s still rooted in Jamaica but yet I’m British. The way I talk, the things I eat… like our Christmas as a Jamaican Brit is like, you’re gonna have the Yorkshire pudding, curry goat, turkey and the fried chicken and the stuffing. You’re gonna have a Christmas split down the middle of Jamaican and English and that’s been my life since I was younger. Same thing with my music, I was listening to a lot of Grime, a lot of UK Rap, I would stand up in front of Channel U. I was that child, I used to just walk around the table listening to Channel U. But at the same time I’m popping back upstairs, slapping on the radio, I’m throwing on all the Dancehall, I’m banging Buju Banton, I’m banging Lady Saw. There was bare Bogle them times, that was my life. I guess growing up listening to Dancehall like that and then my R&B, my Destiny’s Child, it really grew my sound. It made it very easy when I do go into a type of riddim, naturally for me it’s both of those things. I could start the song with a full on English accent, full on singing, rapping Grime and by the end, or half way through the verse, I switch it to patois. It just came to me very naturally once I got to a stage which was 2017, accepting that girl you are
“I wrote ‘Woii’ for another singer. I loved the song so much, I knew I always wanted it for my EP”
missing the point. This is your sound, don’t do this, don’t do that, do what’s coming out of you naturally. I started to flourish the minute I actually did what naturally came out of me. Then some days I wake up and I’m a whole R&B artist and I’m just like, I don’t wanna do anything else, I’m gonna make an R&B song today. Merging the two really makes you stand out. I was just like, what was I doing this whole time? But at the same time I definitely had to grow ‘cause I’ve been deciding to take music seriously since I was really young.
When I was 12, I was out here, I was doing all the open mics and the competitions and that, it was already a thing. But I feel like I needed to grow, try everything else and dabble into trying to box myself in. Listening to everybody else and feeling like I could just only be a rapper, or I could just only be a singer, to now feel so powerful in my art, you can’t tell me anything. Well you can ‘cause God’s ingrained this humbleness in me where if I know that if I then say no, you’re chatting rubbish. Leave me alone because I proper take things on, I’m a deeply rooted pick-things-apart kinda person. If there’s something to it, I’m gonna take your opinion. I feel like I’ve come to a stage now where I proper know. There’s some things I’m like, I’m not even gonna compromise on that you know. Like explaining, “I actually tried that five years ago and it didn’t work for me and this is why.” Does it help having been a song-writer first? Do you get all your ideas written down even if you might not use them? Definitely, I’m really excited, I really want bare of the stuff I’ve written to be out there, don’t get it twisted. I want it to be Leslieann - my real name - on the back of everything. I do think it helps, but whenever I go to write something crazy, it always ends up being for myself. Even when I was writing ‘Gold’, I was writing it for someone else, my intentions weren’t even for me. I came home one night and was like I’m gonna write this song. When are you planning on heading back to Jamaica to work? I, me Alicai Harley, Lesley Annalisia Harley needs a holiday. If anybody is listening, I need a holiday. If anyone wants to CashApp me some money for a holiday, as soon as we get out of here, I will be very very grateful to go to Jamaica. No I’m not so deep rooted that I gotta work, work, work, even if I have bare work to do, I don’t care. This stuff has done my nut in, it really has. So like us all, I need a holiday and at my preference, it would be the holiday first. I do wanna go to Jamaica first, for the past couple months I’ve been like “get me out of here,
they look like they’re having so much more fun!” No seriously even if they’re on lockdown, it’s not cold, if you go on the verandah it’s still hot, they can pick a mango off a tree, it’s fresh. Everything’s calm, the sun’s there, you’re feeling happy. So yeah I wanna go back straight away but I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Maybe three weeks of chilling in Jamaica before you hit the studio? [Whines] I’ve never even gone on holiday in my life, everything’s been work. It’s a shame you can’t insert my voice in the interview. Maybe one day the person I marry can whisk me off my feet.
So he helped a little with you becoming a musician a little? Yeah that’s what I’m just deeping, it’s so nuts. But then again, there were chickens around me and a whole farm and I didn’t wanna be a farmer did I? [Laughs] Following the EP, are you taking a break from music or working on an album? For me, I’m always working on and creating music but I don’t wanna force it at all. I’d say right now specifically, I wanna figure out what else I like. One of my best friends recently asked me, what do you wanna do because music’s been the love of my life but it’s also now become my job as well and that can make it difficult. Also I’m on a journey and I’ve been on this journey for a hot minute, actually trying to figure out what I love and what beats my heart and what I wanna do. Hopefully I get to accomplish whatever those things are and do whatever those things are. They might not even be things that are gonna benefit me, they might just be things I wanna do. I don’t wanna work, work, work and then I look and I’m grown and I’m like I can’t actually do that no more. So that’s my focus and it can be difficult when everyone around you wants you to work. It’s like, “nah get away from me, before I go and have some babies.” Has COVID given you time to reflect on life…
Yeah, or a foreign bae you can visit regularly! Did you grow up with music in your life from early? I was just always listening to music, I was definitely born to do this, this is beyond me and bigger than me. It was planted in my life, like this is what you’re gonna do and you’re gonna do it with your heart. Even at four I was in Jamaica, my early memories of my introduction to music were just of hearing it played. My Uncle Ren was a sound man and when I was in Jamaica and when my mum left to go to England, that’s who I ended up living with. I lived with him and his wife who I ended up calling mummy number two, I loved her to bits. I came to England when I was five so this was when I was three or four. His name was Uncle Ren and he was a sound man, a DJ that plays at the dance or at the parties. He’s still in love with his music now, he just needs to get it up and running. When I think about it, I probably was around him playing music a lot of without me realising that it imprinted in my love for music as well. I stayed with them until I came to England and my second mum Aunty Pat, she came to England and she’s still here now.
100%. For me, it’s been a difficult time for all of us. I feel like down the line people will see me eventually speak out much more about how mad it actually really was. I’m so flamboyant and I put out the joy and feel joyful but I feel like there’s a time and place to come down and be like, ‘hey, it’s actually been mad’. I feel like that time will come and how I let people understand that and give people more of an insight, I’m still working on and figuring out. COVID was a very hard time and it still is now, as we’re having this conversation right now, it’s a very very difficult time. I still get on with it, I have some real bad days still, it could be yesterday. When they’re bad they’re really bad and that’s exactly why I said I’m figuring out what I like so I can work on me. COVID made me decide life is too short, I gotta figure out what I like and what’s in my heart and what I can do to help other people as well, especially on the mental health side of things.
FIR$T INFANTRY BEYOND HIS MUSIC CAREER AS A MEMBER OF A$AP, ANT HAS CRAFTED A CULT CLOTHING BRAND WHILE MAKING WAVES IN THE SKATEBOARDING INDUSTRY Words & Photos Eviethecool
Who is A$AP Ant? The originator of his own lane, his own flow. I’m from Baltimore, from A$AP Mob of course, you know. I own a clothing brand called Marino Infantry. I’m just a guy that’s trying to do something positive and pave my own lane in this shit, you feel me? And get where I’m going for real, just keep striving and being the best person I could be one hundred percent.
“I’m just a guy that’s trying to do something positive and pave my own lane in this shit.”
liking Supreme, Stussy, BBC Ice Cream. This is when Pharrell started the Ice Cream Skate Team and Billionaire Boys Club, running around with the big ass chain. I was always a fan but I never skated. I was scared to skate, I’m like Bill Belichick or a nice ass head coach like Phil Jackson. You never see a lot of head coaches play sports a day in their life but they know how to coach. I’m a head coach you feel me, I’m a GM. What’s your favourite ‘fit, head to toe? I like to be cosy. My Human Made Varsity Jacket, a Marino hoodie of course, some jeans, maybe VLone Denim or Acme jeans with some Jordans. I don’t really like designer shoes, I like AF1’s, something cosy. Or sweatsuits, I like any sweatsuits and tracksuits. Who’s your favourite designer? For real, I don’t have one, I just like clothes. I like old school shit, I like old graphic designs, vintage designs. Which brands or designers would you like to collab with? I’d say Virgil for real, or Nike. How are pop-ups helping you stay more active?
How did you get started in music? My music career began when I was younger. I’ve always been rapping, I’m a fan of Hip Hop. Since I was young, my big brother DJ Nick put me on to everything, like from DJ Que mixtapes, Street Wars and shit like that. This was before Dat Piff, you had to be in the streets getting mixtapes. I did my first mixtape when I was in sixth grade, there used to be this program called Who Edit. I always kept a fresh sixteen, back in the day, I rapped and I would get asked to spit something. So fast forward I met Yams and Rocky told me to spit for him. I rapped for him and he said, “Yo you should be a rapper.” I was like, “I don’t want to be a rapper.” I took it back later with me like “yeah I should be a rapper fuck it.” We were doing ‘Stash House’ freestyles, in the midst of that we got cool with Spaceghostpurrp and did some fire shit with him. ‘Blvck Tape 1996’ was my debut to the world, everybody fucked with it from there. So that’s where I went when Yams told me to rap. What inspired your clothing line? The name of my clothing brand is Marino Infantry, where’d I get the name from? It sounds good, Louie, Prada, Marino, Fendi, it’s so elegant. I created Marino with my friend back in the day, we ended up having a falling out. I always knew about streetwear when I was young, Supreme, Stussy. In eighth grade in middle school, back in those days the change went from Akademics, LRG to Hollister, they weren’t on the streetwear yet. I knew I was hitting a two year curve being in Baltimore. My friend said, “yo we should make a clothing line.” He wanted to do Tru Religion jeans, I said we’re too young to make jeans but we can make T-shirts. A light bulb went off, it’s easy to make T-shirts, Stussy and Supreme cracked the designs. I was like, “ bet! Yeah, let’s do it.” That’s how we started, I was like 14, this brand started 14 years ago.
COVID is fucking up a lot of shows and you can’t do any shows, having a pop-up is an all-in-one because it’s a meet and greet at the end of the day. They can shake my hand, tell me their favourite songs, buy my clothes, it’s another avenue to make money. I’m not even thinking about making money, I’m thinking about catching the fans, they’ll buy regardless. Seeing them spend their hard-earned money and telling me I’m their inspiration and they fuck with me, that’s what keeps me relevant, touching hands. Who’s your favourite musician? Cam’ron is one of my favourite musicians. Five years from now, where do you see your brand and music? Sky-high in the Olympics, because there are skaters in the Olympics. My brand catching everywhere it needs to be, me designing, doing more collaborations. Being a bigger skate brand, being a multi-million dollar company. Breaking the avenue, keep killing what I’m doing. Hopefully, get some plaques for being King of the underground, I don’t want to be mainstream. I just want to stay underground for real, kill this shit, I want currency for real. As long as you’re a numbers man, you’re undefeated. What should we expect from Marino this year? Everything, hitting them hard. You’re going to see everything from Marino Exotics, Marino Cannabis, Marino Clothing, The Infantry, everything. My brand stood the test of time, my shit’s been out here for a long time and it’s hard to get, hard to obtain. Pop-up tours in Atlanta, Paris, London, everywhere.
What’s Marino’s correlation to skating? I’ve always been a fan of skating, that goes back to me
SINCE HIS EARLY DAYS AS A MEMBER OF CHICAGO COLLECTIVE, KIDS THESE DAYS, VIC MENSA’S BEEN VOCAL ABOUT THE ISSUES THAT MATTER. HEAR HOW HE MERGES HIS MUSIC WITH A STRONG POLITICAL MESSAGE, AND STAYS STYLISH AT THE SAME TIME.
Words Eviethecool Director/Stylist Evanescia Thompson Photographer Diana Pietryzk Ghana Moon Photo Michael Benrens Chicago Protest Photo Dennis Eliott Blazing Fire Photo Wes Hicks Clothing Daily Paper
Jewelry Torres Omar Jewelers
Studio Enez Beauty
You were recently in Ghana, what impact did the trip have on you mentally and spiritually? I felt a sense of peace being in Ghana; a peace that is hard to achieve in America. We live in such constant turmoil and everything is so urgent, so busy and stressful, you know? So spiritually it helped me slow down a little bit, calm down a little bit. I’m naturally high strung so obviously I brought myself with me to Africa but while I was there I felt a different level of calm and joy. I felt happier than I’d felt in years. What is it about Ghana that brings out this joy and happiness? Being in Ghana particularly for me is inspiring of joy Being in Ghana, particularly for me, is inspiring of joy because it is very directly my homeland, and there’s a certain power in that. I didn’t grow up with people of my san, of my culture. The culture I grew up in, the culture I came to identify with, it is different from the culture of my people. My dad is from Ghana, my mom is from upstate New York. I am from the Southside of Chicago, so a completely different fucking thing. I didn’t grow up with Ghanians, I didn’t grow up speaking the language or anything like that. So first of all, going out there gives me the opportunity to connect with my ancestry, you know, with my heritage. Also it was just a moment outside of the fucking rat race: it’s easy to lose perspectives and forget that there’s anything other than chaos when you’re in Chicago, or in America, just bouncing around on a flight everyday, on a million phone calls. It’s just a different speed over there, people are not as bothered about everything. How do you feel when you are wearing traditional clothing from your Motherland? I FELT FLEE. I felt flee as hell, you know. I brought some different things back with me like some Kentes and a Muslim guard called a Jalope. I brought a few things back with me and I am going to start incorporating them into my daily regiment, wearing shit around the house.
What’s coming up next for Vic Mensa? Right now I’m releasing a project called ‘The I-Tapes’, it’s part of a series. I put out ‘V-Tape’ last year. I’m working on some acting projects, some television shit, excited about that. I am writing a book and constantly working on music. What are you writing a book about? The book is like a collection of essays, a lot of it has to do with the space in-between the Black American experience and the African experience, how they are alike and how they are different. What is a word that can describe your upcoming project? FREEDOM, that’s the word.
“My dad is from Ghana, my mom is from upstate New York. I am from the Southside of Chicago, so a completely different fucking thing.”
Who’s an artist you’d like to collaborate with? Pick one man and one woman. Andre 3000 and Brittany Howard from the Alabama Shakes.
Was it hard to express FREEDOM in your new project while not particular feeling FREE? You know, I just work really hard. Like sometimes it’s easy but more often it’s difficult at this point of time. I just stick to it, I stay in the studio and I stay right, so I’d be lying if I said it was easy for me. Literally I go in and write for hours on end, weeks on end, months on end, to get to a place where I love what it is I am creating. So yeah it is definitely difficult to express those things, to express the things I’ve been writing about. In the moments when I actually did them it was easy, but the work that it takes me to get to a place where it just comes out of me, that’s the hard part.
Has the process of creating music been harder or easier due to the pandemic? The pandemic gave me an opportunity to sit down and just focus on my pen and hyper focus on my writing and my bars. It definitely made collaboration different, it’s just few and far between, like I spend more time alone in the studio. Extremely alone. That can get kind of insulated but overall it did help me to regain focus.
Do you find it harder to work when you’re alone? Solitude has always played a significant role in my process. When I was first writing raps in high school I was always alone in my mom’s basement. Then when I was in the band with Kids These Days or doing the ‘Innanetape’ stuff, when I was writing my verses for those, often times I might come up with the hook around other people, but when I was really dialling in, writing my
verses, more often than not it was just me in the trap. While in the band Kids These Days, did you envision that you’d become as big if an artist that you are today? Honestly, I had the vision before Kids These Days. KTD was a good growing process for me but I always saw things for myself before I was with KTD, bigger than KTD. It was a learning process and something that artistically I am grateful for.
“The pandemic gave me an opportunity to sit down and just focus on my pen and hyper focus on my writing and my bars.”
really touched me, it made me want to try and do what I can to help him. How did your past and current experiences play a part in your latest song, ‘Shelter’? I originally wrote the song ‘Shelter’ four years ago, but I didn’t like my verse. The current state of the nation, what is going on in my city, and Julius Jones actually helped inspire my lyrics for ‘Shelter’. What is your love life like currently? I’ve been single for a long time, about three years or something, long for me because I always used to have a girlfriend. I’ve been talking to somebody out of the country that I like, I haven’t met anybody that I’m really feeling like that. But low-key I had decided this year, fuck it I’ll just go for it. I ain’t gotta be all “you the one” - just for me to try it. Does it matter that she’s a fashionable woman? It really does matter. I’ve tried to mess with nonfashionable women, it just doesn’t fucking work for me. What’s most important or most attractive to me is intellect, you know, I like smart women. But I’ve tried to finesse myself sometimes and try to just be like, “she doesn’t dress that good, she ain’t the baddest,” and it doesn’t work for me, I need it all. LOL. When it comes to women do you have a favourite sign? Yeah, I’m in love with Cancers. LOL, all of my girlfriends were Cancers. Who is your favourite designer? Pyer Moss is probably my favourite designer.
How were the Chicago Protests last year different from any protests you’ve supported in the past? The pandemic was the perfect storm that gave everyone space and time to do nothing but focus on what was happening, what’s happening internally, what’s happening externally. So when we watched George Floyd get lynched and we learned of Breonna Taylor, it might have gotten lost in the sauce if it was not a global pandemic; but the fact that everyone had to be inside on a lockdown, it just let rage fester. So things went further last year than they had gone in any recent times, widespread real rebellion, destruction of property. It was different from 2016. We wanted to take it there in 2016 but the conditions didn’t exist in the same way. 2020 was flammable, highly flammable. At the end of the day some cities did have something to show for it but in Chicago our Mayor has shown extremely poor leadership and no regard for the will of the people. As opposed to defunding the police, as they’ve done in other places, and funding communities like in New York and Los Angeles, she’s actually given extra money to the police. She just gave 280 million out of the Covid-19 Relief to the police payroll. We got a fucking cop as a mayor, so nothing really changed.
What are your favourite brands right now? Some of my favourite brands right now are Daily Paper, Friends and there’s a brand I recently got introduce to called Who Decides War, that I really like. Who is a fashion designer you would love to collaborate with? Rick Owens. Who are your favourite Chicago Designers? Definitely, Joe Fresh Goods, Virgil. I like Ron Louis, he’s a guy from Chicago, he’s dope. What is your favourite outfit? I been messing with this brand in Ghana called Free The Youth, so I like to wear a Free The Youth T-Shirt, Rick Owens joggers and Pyer Moss sculpted shoes.
What made you choose to advocate for Julius Jones? A fan of mine DM’d me and told me about Julius Jones, he’s an inmate on death row in Oklahoma. She mentioned him to me because he had been signing his outgoing letters with my song, ‘We Could Be Free’. That
HAILING FROM CHICAGO, LIL ZAY OSAMA HAS EVOLVED OUT OF THE DRILL SCENE, WITH HIS SIGHTS SET ON COLLABORATING WITH SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN POP Words Lily Mercer
Photos Claire-Marie-Vogel & Brian-Flynn
‘Trench Baby’ is great, how have you been enjoying the reception?
my voice since I was a kid. It’s something that happened naturally, I didn’t have to learn with studying.
Man it’s just a blessing to be able to put out a great body of work that the universe can relate to. I worked hard on that project, putting my all into it; my pain and my struggle. I listen to it everyday, everybody around me listens to it everyday, it’s like one of the best projects out right now!
You were lucky to grow up in Chicago, an incredible place for music! Did you always feel special?
‘Hood Bible’ was a big release from you, did you have a different approach to the two projects? ‘Hood Bible’ was a big release for me but it was kind of a versatile tape to show off what I can do as far as music goes, it ain’t just Drill or R&B, it’s Jamaican and different type of stuff. That whole ‘Hood Bible’ tape was just showing off my versatile side, ‘Trench Baby’ was more like me getting back to my core fanbase. The first approach was to show the different styles, genres and melodies with music and ‘Trench Baby’ was the struggle, the pain and the relationship stuff; real life shit that people can relate to. My fans don’t like when I do Reggae and Pop, I’ve gotta wait ’til I get on a way bigger scale so I can put out whatever and people will accept it.
“Me, I am not the same. I am him. I gotta stand out, I gotta be different”
Very blessed! I just know music and it’s the talent that God gave me. It’s just here, I don’t even know how I make the songs that I make other than me putting my real life into it. The melodies, the thought processes, that’s all God. That’s some real talent. Was there a song from ‘Trench Baby’ that stood out to you? A lot of them stood out to me because I got personal on a lot of songs, like ‘Exbitch’. I got personal on that song, it had something to do with my real life and things I had going on. That real life relatable motivational shit, that’s Zay. You told me this is your year… This is my year, I’m now. I ain’t next, I’m now. Have you got some surprises coming this year? I’ve got a lot of big features finna come, I’ve got some videos coming and I’m finna drop a Deluxe of ‘Trench Baby’ and then I’m coming right back after that with a whole ’nother tape so it’s finna get crazy. Tell me about the Deluxe, have you got any big features? Yep but y’all gon’ have to see. Y’all just gotta tune in so y’all can see what’s next ‘cause everything’s big and it’s only up from here. You got a rough date for the Deluxe? Probably a month. Give me a month! Is ‘Trench Baby’ a mixtape or an album?
You’re open with your emotions within your lyrics, were you always comfortable displaying your feelings in your music?
I wanted ‘Trench Baby’ to be an album and I look at it as an album because it’s such a well put together project even though it was last minute. But it’s a mixtape. Is the next project an album or mixtape?
I don’t know how to rap about something I don’t have, or something I haven’t experienced. I only know how to speak from the heart and everything that I go through. Everything I rap about is true, it’s situations I’ve been through or been around and experienced. I ain’t never have to think about it. I gotta be different from these niggas, these niggas don’t be telling the truth in their raps. They believe other people’s lifestyles in music so I gotta be the one to change that cycle and let these people know what’s real.
I don’t think I’m ready for an album yet. I don’t think I’m gonna drop an album yet. I’m gonna just keep feeding them the singles and mixtapes for now and feel if I’m ready for an album for real. ’Cause when I drop an album, that shit gotta go number one the same day; top of the charts. That’s the type of result I’m looking for with my music, I’m confident.
You’ve come from Drill roots and gone in a more melodic direction, is that how you separated yourself acoustically from your peers?
I only had G Herbo on there because that’s the song I had. I reached out to him and he got back to me as soon as possible. I reached out to Polo G but his people didn’t get back to me in time, everybody else like Durk and ’em, I got songs with. It wasn’t no real reason behind it, maybe next single or something I’ll have some others.
I’m always gonna stand out from everyone else. Me, I am not the same. I am him. I gotta stand out, I gotta be different.
You only had one Chicago artist on ‘Trench Baby’, why was it G Herbo?
Were you musical as a child?
There are some great features on ‘Trench Baby’, you and Lil Tjay sound so good together.
I always had a very unique voice, I’ve been playing with
That’s my bro, we’ve got real chemistry. We’ve got a real
bond, a real relationship; that’s my bro I hang with him on a regular. For sure, you gon’ always hear more from me and T.
a lot of different people.
You explain the politics of Chicago’s streets on ‘Shooters’ with Doe Boy.
I don’t wanna just be in the rap genre, I don’t at all. I really wanna explore and get in other lanes and other genres with other people and maybe mix my Drill, my pain and my struggle with what they got. Maybe get on their level and do what they do.
Yeah man, it explains how this shit really be going. The same niggas we grow with be fucking with the ops, or these niggas or those niggas, you know? For real for real.
“I’m finna drop a Deluxe of ‘Trench Baby’ and then I’m coming right back after that with a whole ’nother tape so it’s finna get crazy.” Why is Chicago’s gang culture so established?
You don’t feel restricted to the rap genre?
What kind of producers do you like? I really like using a lot of underground producers. They’re dope as fuck, they’re just not signed to a major platform but my beat man named Fatman, he made a lot of my beats, a lot of my hit songs like ‘Trencherous’, ‘Changed Up’. JTK he’s from Chicago, he made a lot of stuff for Polo G, I rock with him hard, he made ‘Survive’. I was just working with Pyrex and ATL Jacob. I just gotta like the sound, I’m not really picky. Do you hear a beat and instantly know what genre you’ll create with it? It depends what kind of mood I’m in and it depends what kinda beat I hear, ’cause if I hear a slow beat, I’m a nigga that know how to do slow songs. If I hear a hard beat I can rap, if I hear a pop beat, I can do that. Will there be a mix of Drill and R&B on the Deluxe? I wanna mix the two and I definitely wanna touch the females more, ’cause I know females love Drill songs nowadays more than they love the slow music but I feel like the females getting back to listening to slow music. You got Toosii, Luh Kel, those types of artists, they’re bringing that feel back a little bit, that R&B feel, I gotta put something out for the ladies. I just recorded a song with me and Luh Kel too. I’m thinking about a mix of the two sounds on the project.
There’s so many gangs, everybody’s ego’s up here man. Then everybody wanna be their own boss and everybody don’t wanna follow rules or follow structure. Everybody’s a loose cannon and running wild, that’s just Chicago. Chicago’s different. It’s a good place to vacate as long as you ain’t in no bullshit. Chicago’s a great place, it ain’t as bad as they say. It’s one of the best, I love it.
Have you checked out any UK Drill?
If a fan came from out of town, where would you take them in the city first?
Is the Chicago Drill scene still active? Most people from the original scene seem to make other genres of rap now.
Really we’d just be riding around in traffic, smoking, getting high, drinking. Go get something to eat, I like eating oxtail so the Jerk place on 22nd Street, fuck around and go there. I eat a lot of steak tacos, we’d go to a lot of restaurants around the hood, you feel me? All depends on how I’m feeling today. Do you think social media is as important as being in the studio for an artist today? It’s very important for you to be on social media but use it for the right reasons. Don’t use it for all the negative shit ’cause that ain’t what it’s made for, it’s just people turning it to that. But it’s definitely good to have a platform to promote what you have going on and make money. Is there anyone in music that you’d work with that we wouldn’t expect you to? Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Megan Trainor, Lukas Graham,
I’ve checked out your Drill. I’ve been rocking with Kid Laroi before he blew up big, I knew his management so me and him would be in the studio together, we made songs. He used to play me a lot of UK Drill and it was hard, I actually fucked with it.
Nah they make everything now, I mean you got some niggas that just make Drill, you got some niggas that get versatile and make different shit, it all depends on the artist.
ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE UK DRILL SOUND, ALONG WITH HIS FELLOW 67 MEMBERS, LD IS THE MASKED ICON PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF THE GENRE’S LEGACY. Words Liam Cattermole
Not many artists can boast being the Godfather of a music genre. LD is one of the very few with such status, particularly in the UK. Spitting nihilistic lyricism over rumbling 808s and halftime melodies, the wordsmith, alongside his infamous 67 crew, paved the way for UK Drill to become England’s most globally recognised musical export. Although the genre is still in its infancy, LD has been making waves for a while, clocking millions of listens through his solo imprint and 67. He recently released his latest project ‘Who’s Watching?’, whilst still in prison for a charge he denies. VIPER spoke with LD to discuss the mixtape, 67’s craziest mosh pits and what food he’s been craving since being inside.
We heard that you bunked off church to record for the first time, meeting Dimzy on your way home outside of Sainsbury’s. Can you paint the picture of that moment? What was the first session like? I remember that day clearly. It was my first time going Church after I got kicked out of school. My uncle dropped me and I was like, forget Church, this is long. I was walking back to my new estate and I saw Dimzy. He was buying baguettes for his mum and we went back to his house. I remember that tune was all over my secondary school. Could you already start to hear the sounds of UK Drill then or was it solely grime beats you were spitting on? That was proper grime, with the violins and all that. We were still about the proper gritty stuff - my first tune was called ‘SW2 Head Shots’. I don’t think I could even find it now.
“I did say I was fed up with Drill, but it’s won my heart back. I love all the new artists coming into the game and taking it to new heights”
When was it you thought Brixton needed its own sound?
Why do you think yourself and 67 have always managed to stay relevant within UK Drill and rap music? No matter what, we created the original formula for UK Drill. A kid always goes back to its parents and shows them love innit. When you first heard Chief Keef’s music and the sound coming out of Chicago at the time, what particularly resonated with you about it? And why did you think the UK needed its own Drill formula? It was the beats that grabbed me first, they were dark and not just trappy. The basslines and drums were proper serious, you know what I mean? Me and Dimzy were already spitting at a faster tempo than the Chicago lot, I think that came off grime. We just mixed the two together.
I think when I came out of jail in 2014, that’s when I thought, we need to take this more seriously. I remember dropping tunes that were getting love over 100,000 views. I was going areas and people were recognising me and my voice saying “Yo that’s LD.” That’s love. I couldn’t believe it to be honest. Since then, you’ve had quite a few landmark moments in your career. Are there any that have particularly stood out? We did a mini Europe tour and played Roskilde festival. If I’m right, like 70,000 people go there. We played the Red Bull stage to something crazy, like 5000 people. I saw the maddest mosh pit I’d seen in my life, people were back flipping. It was the biggest we’d ever created. We had a target to get a mosh pit at every show and we definitely achieved that. After being repeatedly denied those tours, how did it feel to finally get on stage and perform your art for the first time? We had done little shows, the whole uni scene and a show in Shoreditch. After that, the Police were shutting down everything. Obviously, we’d done Wireless. We
had to perform and leave straight after, Lil Uzi Vert was on at the same time but people came out for us, which was really humbling. You don’t see how fans appreciate your music until you play live.
listening to from long time. Sheff G has been spitting for a while. When Pop Smoke came he took it to that new height. The Australians, I like One Four and I’ve heard about this Ghanian Drill too, which is popping.
Moving onto the release of your new mixtape, ‘Who’s Watching?’, why did you want to release it whilst you’re still in prison?
You’re evidently a family man, forming 67 and living closely to your extended family over the years. Just how important is family to you?
I started it literally just before I got locked up. It was going to be a tape that explained where I had come from and where I was going and the battle I’d gone through with the Police. Then I just happened to get locked up whilst I was making it. I got bail to finish the mixtape and tunes like ’99 Problems’ which explain where I wanna be or where I’m trying to get to.
It is my number one thing. When people ask what I value in life, that’s number one. When I say family I don’t just mean my dad, mum and brothers. I’ve got certain friends that I look at as brothers as well. My brothers and cousins made sure that I stayed on the music; they would steer me on the right track. After your run-ins with the police, what motivates you to keep pushing the music? The fact that the Police are still hating, that’s what drives me. I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to do what I mean to. I’ve not had one clear run, and that’s because of the Police. That gives me more energy. Have there been any times you’ve thought about giving up? [Laughs] It’s so crazy, it happens to me every year and a half, “I’m done with this, they won’t leave me alone.” Even when I got found guilty, I said to my manager and brothers, just release the tracks but they were like, “nah we’re better than that. We have to do this shit properly.” You’re coming out in October, what is going to be the first thing you do?
How have you made prison a positive experience this time round for you and your music? This time I’ve just been chilling, taking every day as it comes. I’m using this time to get to know myself better. Obviously I haven’t smoked weed for a while so I feel healthier, I work out and stuff too. But when I do release my next project, I’m going to go all the way in. That’s what I’m planning now, my next release. I’ve started work on it and it’s going to be wild. I want people to feel the pain I was going through. Have you been writing lyrics in prison to reflect the space you’re in right now? Do you know what’s mad? I’ve got two songs for that album. I’m not a guy that writes lyrics down anyway, so I’ve just been making freestyles in my head. I definitely plan to work on stuff as soon as I get out. I want the next one to grab the attention of more people. ‘Who’s Watching?’ is more for the Drill fans but the next one will be for a wider audience. I was watching an interview you did with Tim Westwood back in 2018 where you said you were fed up with Drill. So, what sounds do you want to bring into your music? Do you know what’s mad? I did say I was fed up with Drill, but it’s won my heart back. I love all the new artists coming into the game and taking it to new heights. Drill is my number one but I love music in general so I don’t find it hard to adapt to new sounds. I want to work with female voices more. Are you a fan of the Brooklyn/Brixton crossover and all the other locations where Drill is starting to pop? I love it. It’s crazy to me, but Brooklyn Drill I’ve been
It sounds crazy but I just wanna go where I wanna go. I love driving, I can’t wait to be around certain people and I plan on being in the studio from night ’til morning. It’s funny, I’ve always thought your music and 67’s sounds best when you’re driving. Do you make music for that? I’ve never thought of it like that but even people in here say, when they listen to me they love listening to me whilst they’re driving because they get gassed to it. I can’t play my own music in a car unless it’s a fresh track. It’s weird though, I’ve been listening to loads of old 67 whilst I’ve been in here because I have it on my XBOX. I’m doing that to see where I’ve come from and how I can revamp it. What’s going to be your first meal and drink when you get out, what have you been craving since you’ve been inside? I’m just craving any of mummy’s cooking. A lickle jollof with chicken and salad. I can cook, I can proper cook and stuff but I’m missing my mum’s food so much. What do you like cooking? I can make a good mackerel, I learnt ackee and saltfish recently, chicken. I’m one of those people that thinks if you can’t do it well, don’t do it at all. What more do we have to look forward to once you come out in October? Definitely new tunes straight way and some good visuals. The next project won’t come out this year, I want COVID to die down to do a tour. I can’t wait to link up with my brothers still.
SEAN PAUL SPEAKS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DANCEHALL HISTORY, CROSSOVER SOUNDS AND HIS ICONIC CAMEO IN ‘BELLY’. Words Lily Mercer
Photos Fernando Hevia
You’ve been recording through the pandemic, tell me about your new album! I’ve got two albums coming, one in March, one in May, so it’s a lot of stuff! I already shot one video for the first single, that’s on the first album. We shot one for this album that’s being edited, then I have a shoot on Thursday for another song on this album, it’s hectic! So how do you differentiate between the songs you’re putting on the two albums - are they different genres or vibes? One is more hardcore Dancehall. Even on my more Pop-style albums, I still have some hardcore songs on there but the first one that I’m dropping this year is called ‘Live N Livin’’. It’s way more hardcore and it’s more collaborative, so me working with a lot of people who I revere in the music industry in Jamaica; Buju Banton, Busy Signal, Serani, Mavado, new artists like Intence, Chi Ching Ching - Dutty Records’ first signee - Jr. Gong’s on that album, and on the second one. It might confuse people ’cause it’s kinda confusing for me but we just do it. It sounds incredible, Jamaica has so many incredible musicians, it’s great to hear you working with so many of them. Yeah man, thank you.
“I used to represent Jamaica for swimming and water polo so I went away, we would do the competitions then go to the clubs.”
You run a Dutty Rock record label too? Yeah, ‘Dutty Rock’ was my album, released 2001, and it was the biggest seller for me, so after that I made a music production team called Dutty Rock Productions, they’re producing this album now. They’ve produced over the years, one on the second album, another a couple years later on an album called ‘Imperial Blaze’, then again in 2010, then again in 2015. Over the years they’ve produced [songs] on the second album, a couple years later on an album called ‘Imperial Blaze’, then again in 2010 and again in 2015. Since about 2017, we’ve been putting out one riddim
or two riddims per year. By “riddim,” I mean me and a couple of other artists on the same riddim juggling. That’s something I’ve always loved and me trying to be the change I want to see. A lot of the younger producers came into the game with a lot of energy and also talent, but they didn’t have to go to a studio to learn, they learnt off of a laptop. So there’s some elements I feel are kinda missing and I’m just trying to be that change and produce how I remember, how I learnt from Steely & Clevie and Sly & Robbie and it’s kinda fun this music that I do. You came into the industry at a very transitional time for Jamaican music, it really went global in a different way when you charted, despite always reaching across the globe. Did you try to do something new or simply follow what was taught by previous stars? Slightly a bit of both, I definitely revered the elders’ business, I think without them I couldn’t be here. I also know that they’ve been through so much more than I have, in terms of some of them came from the country parts to Kingston with nowhere to sleep, sleep on the ground in the studio to try their parts. I didn’t have to go through that, of course I wanted a long time to voice tracks as well. But the other side of it also is me seeing what they did and having ideas as to how I could bridge the gap internationally and have a lot more people love this music. At first I thought that everybody knew this music and everybody loved it. I used to represent Jamaica for swimming and water polo so I went away, we would do the competitions then go to the clubs and I would always hear the music in the clubs but I would never hear it on the radio stations and on TV. So it was kind of a goal of mine to bridge that gap, which actually did happen so that was a dream come true. Dutty Rock turns 20 in November next year. Yeah, crazy. I would put it in the top three crossover albums in any genre, of all time. You didn’t water the sound down but you brought it to the masses globally. Yeah those first years were very hardcore Dancehall for me. On ‘International Affair’ you say the song’s producer Mark Ronson is going to help you crossover, but you ended up doing it all by yourself! How did you keep it so natural and true to the sound? I just stayed true to the music, what I heard of it that I thought was very comparable to what Hip Hop was doing, or bigger selling music, and I was like, ‘this should be on a platform’. So I stuck with it without thinking, ‘oh my numbers aren’t big’. You know my first album sold 75,000 which was very huge for the record company I was with, VP Records, but also in the scale of big things, people were selling millions and millions of records then. We just took it in our stride and I must also pay homage to the people who went before me, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Shaggy, Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks, because all these people set the stage for me. When Buju, Shabba and Shaggy were doing it a few years before me, they kinda had to mix a lot of R&B sounds with their singles. If you know Shabba Ranks’ career, ‘Ting-A-Ling’ was a big single in our community but the ones they pushed to the MTVs and the BETs and that kinda stuff was the songs with Johnny Gill and KRS One. That was to help it crossover so I pay homage
to them because it paved the road for me and did that work in terms of you know, people would say watered down but I say bridge the gap. It’s what I’ve done in recent years where Dance music became huge and to keep my audience, which is not just my base audience but a new audience of people listening to popular music. When Dance became popular, I had to start doing songs with people like David Guetta, Stargate, Clean Bandit, in the past few years. So I had to blend my music as well in the long run, now I think it’s going back to a time where I think that I wanna put hardcore Dancehall out with this album, ‘Live N Livin’’. There’s also a new sound in Dancehall, so the traditional sound is on the album, but also a little bit of the new sound where I work with the younger artists like Intence, Skillibeng, Masika; they’re on the album as well. The riddim tracks kinda reflect the new sound so I’m in a place of balance right now. I’ve had to pay homage and do music that my base audience will love throughout the years, which is the same hardcore stuff, but I’ve also had to kinda paint a new picture with words such as with Clean Bandit and doing songs with Dua Lipa and Becky G because the generation’s changed, time’s changed. Things happen and for me to balance all these different kinds of fans was an important thing for me. You never alienate people that way, I was thinking about the way you introduced us to new Jamaican artists with ‘Dutty Rock’, like Sasha and Ce’cile. Yeah for sure, Chico was on that album as well, with a song called ‘Ganja Breed’ and all the production was
“Those first years were very hardcore Dancehall for me” mainly from Jamaica. We had some from people like The Neptunes and Mark Ronson as you said. But yeah to bridge the gap is important for sure, a lot of people ask me, ‘how do you stay relevant this long’? And that’s part of the reason for sure, to listen to the fans. So first of all those hardcore fans and giving them what they want, then these people kinda like this or that, let me put Busta Rhymes on it, switch it up a little bit, and those things started to work. Now I’ve got these two platforms, it’s still Dancehall music but something that’s important to me is the balance, to keep people interested. You also have two songs in Spanish, and the Spanishlanguage music industry is very important today, but you realised that two decades ago. Why was that? I was going to places like New York City, the promoters dabbled with Dancehall a bit in that whole Latin world, they liked it a lot and those promoters would have five nights a week in clubs. So when it was Memorial weekend, in one night I would do two clubs in Jersey,
which were like Guyanese clubs, more Caribbean orientated. Then I would do a club in Jersey that same night that was more Puerto Rican kids, then I would go to Brooklyn where there was a hardcore Jamaican crowd, and then I would finish up the night in a club in Manhattan which was everything, you know a mixture of everybody. With that being said, it was a great city to give me an indication of who was really logging on to my stuff and I wanted to bridge the gap, as I keep saying, and reach out to my Latino fans. I still have a very great affection for Latina ladies and so that was something for me that was important back in the day just so they could understand the song. A lot of people saw me and were like, ‘I love that song but what are you saying’? So I tried to do a song that would help reach out to them. We were doing work recently with J Balvin and with Anitta from Brazil, I’ve been talking with people like Rosalía and Sofía Reyes from Mexico so we’re doing work in that direction still, I have these kinda bridges that I need to keep up to date. That’s the beauty of Jamaica, you can appeal to so many surrounding countries, not just the Caribbean. The Jamaican music industry has done so much historically, the country’s contributed so many artists. I think of it as one of the three most important places for music, along with the UK and US. How has it been so influential? Our diverse history, our diverse gene pool, just the right size of island I guess. It’s big but it’s small as well, so all those characteristics of Jamaican people and the island itself, kinda lend itself to be. You can either be a very knowledgeable person of what the world is like, or not. I was one of those people who, due to my parents and my schooling and stuff like that, the experiences I had, I used to swim for Jamaica and go to these different countries and I used to see the similarities and the differences. So people like me come about and there’s a whole heap more of us, there’s people who understand diversity in their knowledge of the world. So like I say, the small land space with all these different types of people interacting, at first we were owned by the Spanish, then taken over by the British, and all of that for 400 years or so comes into a very spicy kind of people. Here you can find the biggest things down to the smallest things, the fastest things to the slowest things, the greatest things to the worst things - as with everywhere - but with the landmass it’s easier to kinda understand or get a grasp of what’s up in the world; we’re not locked off from the world to say the least. Music feels less selfish in Jamaica too, like the idea of the Riddim and how one instrumental can be used by 20 artists for 20 great songs, and it’s not considered stealing like it would be in British music, it’s for the betterment or sound. Do you agree music is more of a shared thing in Jamaica? I agree with you, even nowadays or before I used to do mixtapes with a lot of songs, we would have 70 songs and then put 25 on the album, but then the rest of them I would just do mixtapes and give out. Because one, competition is creative competition, like you want it to be heard and two, just the mood of the island is more relaxed in the context we play music out loud, everyone hears it, everyone gets to know songs from a distance. Even if you don’t have a radio, you hear songs playing next door or down the road and you get to know them so it’s one of our biggest pastimes as well, to know music even if we don’t play it, we kinda know music. You’d be surprised that people like AirSupply come to Jamaica for like a Jazz festival with a huge crowd of all types. So many
different Jamaican people; from the country, from the city, from inner-city ghetto, from uptown where it’s nice and cushy, yeah we appreciate music on a real scale. Many years ago I interviewed some musicians that had been to Alpha Boys School that had moved to the UK and become huge players with The Specials, and other great British groups. I learnt there’s a huge importance in the instrumentation too, the island’s musicality is more significant. Yeah a lot more. I’m involved with Alpha, I tried to upgrade their system. They have a band and they have a great musical program but also because of computers and what people can do with producing from computers right now. I helped to set up a computer room there which has kinda put them on a new path there, so I hope that helps. But yeah that’s where our music kinda evolves from, a lot of our own bands came from Alpha Boys School producing Ska music, The Skatellites were from there and then it turned into Rocksteady, Reggae and now Dancehall. And we have many forms, all of those echoes in Dub music that Scratch Perry brought into music, they exist so much in the Dance world and Dubstep world and other music too. Those things are just innovative things people just try, so big up to the Alpha Boys School and to everyone who had a step in the innovation of how we sound and how we’ve affected the rest of the world musically. Like in all genres, the basslines we hear a lot today come from Jamaica. How do you feel about the evolution of Jamaican music? Like Bashment has got a lot rawer with the younger Jamaican artists, while at the same time there’s a purity to the modern roots reggae sounds with people like Koffee, Chronixx and Protoje, how is that juxtaposition so natural? Music is 12 notes, it goes round in a circle and it’s just something to appreciate. I hear a lot of kids nowadays saying music is business and I wanna say to them music is art. Music is art and it’s to be created and enjoyed, we make business from it and when you do make business from it, you need to know that part for sure. But music is art and art reflects life and life is naturally evolving over millions of years and that’s what we’re here to do, we’re here to naturally unfold and try different sounds, introduce Magnesium here and Copper there to get something else. It is what it’s for, so it goes full circle. So we had Mento music in Jamaica which is heavily influenced by African music coming together with this European type sound of what happened back in the day, the Spanish owning Jamaica and then the English, but it was blended up in this cultural pot and it must come back around. It came all the way from Mento, Ska to Rocksteady to Reggae, Dub to Dancehall, to early Dancehall music to the nineties Dancehall music to now, which we’re kinda experimenting with how we sound and what we do. We’ve had artists which came from the dancehall genre but use strictly reggae tracks for a long time, like Capeleton and Sizzla and they would speak over the track which is something people didn’t do in reggae before. So it utilises the Reggae track in a new way to present. I think what Protoje is doing, or Jesse Royal now, is reminiscent and represents the mixing again of all the styles and all that we’ve experimented and learnt together, just a vibrant community of music that’s what we have here. Even as a kid, we would be playing football and one kid just shout out “people are you readddyyy” and everybody say the words because we all know the song. It’s just the latest song and the latest lyrics, people still do it today. We go to school, bang on the desk to make a riddim and everybody spits
their four lines. That’s how I started, I put my four lines in and people would be like, “oh you sound good, you sound like Super Cat.” Over the years my style has also learnt from people, I learned from Wayne Marshall, Wayne Marshall was a younger artist than me but he started to put harmonies on the vocals and I was like, ‘woah’, I never even thought of putting harmonies on when I’m DJing, I just wanted to DJ straight. With every step you learn, or you should learn, and that’s how the music is. Popcaan had a very vintage Dancehall sounding song on his recent mixtape, I feel like modern Jamaican artists play with vintage sounds a lot more than the UK does. I can’t imagine a UK rapper paying as much respect to their forefathers by creating like an 80s or 90s sounding British rap track. Yeah it’s important that we do that and no one teaches us that, there’s kids that do come around and they’re like, “oh I don’t know that, it’s old” and everybody gets onto their shoulders like, “boy what? You have to know this one, you have to know it!” So when anybody does come with that ignorance, it’s kinda shunned or spoken down on, I don’t think that any of us today really understood the amount of hard work or dedication it took for people like Bob Marley to tour. So when you do start touring and you kinda imagine back in the day, oh wow they did this whole United States tour, or whole UK tour on a bus that had no beds, no amenities, none of that, they were just on a bus, Babylon by bus, you know what I mean? You start to have a real big respect for the music that was before you, so I’m glad that he did that. It shows that a lot of people in Jamaica, even though there’s some times that we can call each other out, people that don’t revere our stars enough, we still have a knowledge of what they do or what they did and how great they are, or were. Every day is like a celebration of music in Jamaica. You spoke a bit about how you’ve stayed consistent but how have you stayed passionate over a good 20 years, enough to release two albums in a season! My mum used to say to me, “how long do you think you’re gonna do this?” I used to say to her, “I see Jimmy Cliff on tour, I see Toots - god rest his soul - on tour.” They’re older and they’re dope and it’s a joy. For me the best parts of the business are to create in the studio and to be on stage, for a lot of artists, everything else is sometimes a bother that a regular, not music-orientated person wouldn’t be liking. Maybe they wouldn’t stay in the music because of those things. If you truly love this music and you want to partake in the history of it, that enthusiasm is always there. There are times where I’m just going through the motions, I can name times back in the day, probably after 2009… In 2006 I was huge, three number ones at a point, was very established as an artist and I’d come home and there’s just new artists, new producers and I’m still travelling like six months out of the year back and forth, back and forth. It gets hectic and the same thing my mum told me, there’s ups and downs and now you’re in the valley, now you’re down here but there’s gonna be a time when you’re up and I actually weighed on it, it’s like having a love that you wait on, you have faith in that love and there’s times you don’t feel the love from it. But after a while, just being true to it, you start to feel that feeling, so I could say one of those times from last year for me. Last year when I came back from touring Australia and I asked myself like, I was really scared because I was very aware that it could affect me negatively in a very bad way so I locked down for five months, and I didn’t feel like saying anything, I
didn’t feel like singing, I didn’t feel like building a riddim so to speak, I kinda used the time to be with my family which is still very important to me. But also in the back of my brain, I knew something would come around, I’d get a spark of something, and I did! So that’s just proof of it, even when I first started this career, I was a banker in Jamaica, counting deposits, I’d count millions of dollars for people and put it in machines, but in the back of my head I’m like, one day I’m gonna be able to sing on a stage, one day people will hear a song from me and go “bow bow bow” and that energy alone would keep me going. So during those five months last year, I just remembered those times, I remembered how hard it can be and I remember how the hard times are there in life so when the good times come around it’s so much more, and that’s how I feel, that’s what I kinda wait on. It’s nice because you have a young family so it’s
“I fell asleep, woke up the next morning with a message from Tony Kelly, he’s one of the biggest producers here and he was like ‘yo, come to my studio now, you’re doing a song with Mr Vegas and DMX’”
My brother went to it because he was playing the music for the crowd, him and his friends and I stayed at the studio. I didn’t go to the dance that night and then they came and they was like, “yo, there was 20,000 people and you’ll never guess who came out on stage!” I’m like “who?!” I’m naming all the regulars and they’re like “Nah, DMX came out.” Crazy ‘cause that year DMX had three albums and all of them sold over a million within a week, he was the top of the music game at that point and I was disappointed I didn’t go. I fell asleep, woke up the next morning with a message from Tony Kelly, he’s one of the biggest producers here and he was like “yo, come to my studio now, you’re doing a song with Mr Vegas and DMX.” I was like, “damn” that was nine in the morning so I got there pretty soon after that, me and Vegas started to work on the song, DMX came through in the evening, and we had a girl song. We heard the riddim and it took us to a space with the girls, so it was like “all of the girls dem put your hands high” it was about the ladies and he comes in and was like, “I got this - here comes the boom, here comes the boom” and we were like “wow.” His stuff was more hardcore so we changed it to “all of the gangstas put your guns high” we turned it into a gun song. But yeah I didn’t know how far it would go and I was so elated and happy and full of energy that they picked us. Hype Williams came down to do this big movie and he was like “I want the two hottest artists” and at the time Bounty and Beenie were definitely the two hottest artists but Tony Kelly was like, “these are the two new up and coming” so I owe him a lot for that. He put us on the song, which ended up in a piece of the movie, for like thirty seconds or ten seconds or something but just a good feeling to know I was involved in something so heavy, very dope. It was the transition, of course Bounty and Beenie were the biggest deejays but we were the ones up and coming so it was a change of the tides, like it was a very crazy time. Thank you for your time, can you tell me a little more about your albums due this Spring? Thank you for giving me the time, I got two albums coming out this year, one is called ‘Live N Livin’’ out March 12th and the next album is ‘Scorcher’, which comes out sometime in May. On the ‘Scorcher’ album I have Sia, Gwen Stefani and Shenseea on one song, Ty Dolla Sign, Stylo G, Tove Lo, Jada Kingdom and Jr. Gong, it’s a great album also.
a great thing to be able to spend time with them. You’re usually on the road! Family’s very important to me, my mum, my father passed away two years ago. My brother is very close to me, my wife, my kids, my cousin and her kids, we’re a close knit family even though we don’t see each other every day. I don’t think I could be so grounded as someone so popular without that foundation of love from my family. You cameoed in Belly, did you realise how iconic that film was going to be? It was exciting, very iconic to me just to know that DMX was here, you know what I mean? I was at the studio that night, it was a legendary show called Fully Loaded.
’TIL SHILOH RETURNS FOLLOWING THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS SEMINAL ALBUM ‘’TIL SHILOH’ VIPER SPOKE TO BUJU BANTON ABOUT SPIRITUALITY AND HIS CONTRIBUTION TO DANCEHALL MUSIC.
Words Lily Mercer
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Your iconic album ‘’Til Shiloh’ recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and you’ve released a new album with new versions of the songs. What was your original mind state when making the album? The original mind set of 25 years ago can’t be repeated in this day in this album but I tried to make it in its exact form. The music is a testament of exactly what I was going through, the murder of my friend that inspired the song ‘Murderer’, to the struggles of life which inspired ‘It’s Not An Easy Road’. From the reality that the West somehow is constructing a different dimension on ’Til I’m Laid To Rest’, all these songs came at a pivotal time in my transition from the hardcore Dancehall to Reggae music. It’s a seminal album for Jamaica for that same reason. Absolutely.
Do you find one song stands out more to listeners than others? All the songs they find a home in the heart of the masses because initially this is what music is supposed to do, find a home in the heart of the people. Now, music not only can’t find a place in the heart of the people, music is the only thing that you hear people speak out of their mouth and say “oh that song is dead.” But music never dies, it’s the only thing that never dies. So the people, dem have their favourites and my job is to make sure that they keep having faith. But I myself, I’m just a giver of the music, if you can understand that. ‘’Til Shiloh’ takes the listener through every single emotion you can feel, was that intentional? Because it is my earnest desire to make music that people can communicate with and interact with and feel, and identify with, I don’t wanna sing something that people can not relate to because that would defeat the whole purpose of communicating with the masses through the music. Well you’re one of the best communicators.
“The problem with nowadays is you have a particular kind of artist exposure that eats the mystery and kills the enigma, I’d never do that.”
Did you approach the songs any different from previous albums? Well I was signed to a major record label who I was working with on ‘’Til Shiloh’ which was Island, Polygram, Mercury and subsidiaries. Therefore the machine was behind the progradation of the works, much more so than the other albums I have done. So we can understand that but nevertheless all my works I stand beside them because they are a representation of what I feel and what I see, and me communicating with the people from a musical standpoint. Do you have a favourite song from ‘’Til Shiloh’ and has it changed over 25 years? Well of the works, I never feel myself attached to one particular song under my page because at the altar, I make all this divine inspiration for the masses. I cannot attach myself to the work, I’m just here to convert the message, so as a messenger I deliver the message and move on.
We earnestly try, give thanks to God, we try. Did you feel these songs would become so classic in music? They can not tell what the future holds, ’cause if any of us could, we wouldn’t make the same mistakes in life that’s made in the makings of a life. To be earnest, whatever seed we plant shall bear fruit. Good fruits too. My mother would say that mistakes are important to recognise. She said that Persian rugs always have one flaw because nothing in life can be totally perfect. Wise words, those are wise words. Saying that, your songs are close to perfection, when you re-recorded the songs from ‘’Til Shiloh’ was it a challenge to remix something that was already great? Well you have a different aspect of music, you can have the songs sounding one way and then you turn it over and do something in a way it sounds totally different and that’s what Reggae music has. Many other genres pose the same ability also but I don’t think we have exploited that area of our creativity enough. So here I am now making ’It’s Not An Easy Road’ with an acoustic feel, you know breaking it down, taking it soulful. So I feel it and hopefully the masses can relate to it on a level as well. And it’s a bit of a good thing to do in the progradation of the music. To find more homes in the hearts of one. Because if people love one version of the song, they can love another. Yes, true. Rihanna said the album is in her top 3 of all time, has she spoken to you about the album? We have spoken but we haven’t spoken in depth in an interview with her as my counterpart like that. When you love and support something, you want to be interviewed to show your support openly. She’s also from the Caribbean heritage so music is innate, it goes further because we try to stick together as Caribbean people, respective of who we are. We have to make an attempt to connect.
You can hear your influence in a lot of the younger artists today coming out of the Caribbean. Do you see the influence? Yeah, I see. How did you balance the mix of hardcore Dancehall with more traditional Reggae sounds? It’s nice to be interviewed but I don’t think I can find the answer to all the questions you ask, and this is one. I try and try, I just leave some things to the mystery because when we act like we’re too pious and know everything, that’s when we take it back to school. So I just give thanks; it’s a blessing that we’re able to translate from one genre to another and still remain communicating to the masses. For that I’m thankful but I never try to question it in depth, I just know that it’s a special gift.
Well it all depends on the mind and the mouth who is speaking those words because one should live everyday creating something new and creativity can never cease. That’s like saying that the trees would cease to grow in the ground. You put a seed in the ground and it never comes to fruition, how can that be? When my Father already said, “all my springs are in thee.” That’s the way they speak out there and they try to kill everything, even the very idea of love and it shall never happen, music alone shall live. Even when all evil and all else shall perish, music will live. I find music is the only thing to give me energy. Not even the energy bars they sell on the shelf possess the power to give energy like music.
I guess music is more fun that way, when you don’t over-analyse it, you just let the creations happen. Yeah well the problem nowadays is you have a particular
“Not even the energy bars they sell on the shelf possess the power to give energy like music.”
kind of artist exposure that eats the mystery and kills the enigma, I’d never do that [laughs]. Is that how you’ve stayed consistent so long, not forcing it? No, I force it [laughs]. Does the ocean force? Does the stream force the flow, does the tributaries push the flow? Does the wind push the flow? Does the rain push the fall? Is man supposed to be natural and flow just like all these great elements of nature? You guide it? [Laughs] Yeah, you have the idea. Are you ever surprised by the moments of inspiration when you decide to make a song? Well surprised now, I give thanks to every piece of inspiration that comes, ’cause man are truly inspired by a truly different creator so every inspiration we truly give thanks. We don’t puff up ourselves thinking that it’s all about us, and it’s due to us, you know? All things are created twice. Do you agree that there’s a lack of original ideas now, since most things have been done by someone already?
True, there’s no man-made energy that is as effective. Absolutely not, because the body’s a circuit board filled with nothing but frequencies so the right frequency resonating through the body, it just totally becomes alive and energised. But then again, what do I know? I just play Reggae music! Nah, your music is much too spiritual for it to simply be like the average person that makes music. We try to give the people food, not food that they can eat but food for thought. You‘ve got some crazy accolades, in 1992 you had more number one singles in one year than Bob Marley had in his career. But I was a young man in 1992 and music being everywhere and my love for music was so plentiful, so social and it was just one big musical family. That was my concern, I had no idea! Then in 1994 I started hearing these things and I was like, “ok great” [laughs]. So we’ll stay focused, I was taught never to watch the noise of the market, focus on your receipt and watch your change. In life, not just music.
Was there anything that stood out as a proud moment?
How hard was it being unable to create music for so many years?
Well many moments reflect out to me as a proud moment, one of the proudest moments that stands out to me was the ability to secure a dwelling for my mum before she transitioned from this earth. You know, I was her only son and I was able to accomplish that through the powers of music and through the powers of God. A monumental achievement where I can help the elders and those who cannot help themselves, these are my achievements. Yet I feel the greater joy is not an award or an achievement, I’m not waiting for an award or these things to come my way for a notification for people acknowledging me for what I’ve done in the musical community. I appreciate and love that but that’s not my soul focus, to win a notoriety, we stay low profile and we do what we do from a position of love, it’s safer. Better.
Well I did what I had to do given the circumstances I had been dealt with. Life handed me lemons and I made lemonade so because of that I keep it simple. Your homecoming show was one of the biggest concerts in recent history, what was the highlight? There were many highlights, just being home with my people was a great highlight to me, seeing them dance and seeing them reminisce on the good old days while I was on stage with some friends I haven’t seen in a decade. There were so many highlights I could go on and on where that is concerned but I wanna say just being there on stage and seeing people of the world who had come and celebrated me, that was the highlight in a sense. God is good. That’s one of the most important concerts this decade.
“The body’s a circuit board filled with nothing but frequencies so the right frequency resonating through the body, it just totally becomes alive and energised. But then again, what do I know? I just play Reggae music!
There’s nothing better than being able to provide for your parents. Yes, you’ve accomplished a lot and we cannot lose sight of that, where we tell the children that them are your mother and father, with these you’ll be blessed. But these moments are fantastic for you to carry in your heart when you’re alone, on a long flight you remember these things and they enrich your heart with joy; that you’re even able to accomplish something worthy of your parents. God is good. Did your mother have a favourite song of yours?
Well I hope they remember it. How can they not? I wasn’t there and I’ll remember it forever! How do you mix with the younger artists of Jamaica today? Well you see, you want them to know the genesis of this music, the inception of it, when we came about, when this came about, how our forefathers and forerunners invested in this music to educate us, to educate the masses. So we cannot lose sight of this music for the voiceless and if I’m to be the one to be a candle in the darkness, I will forever be a candle in the darkness to make sure there’s light shining in the corner. You have a record label right, Gargamel? Yes I still have Gargamel music. Well right now I just came home from workhouse so I haven’t been doing the signing of no one. The youth can come and work and get themselves the exposure they want, all year they’re welcome but I don’t want to sign anyone ’cause right now I’ll chill and get myself settled down. You worked with Koffee on ‘Pressure [Remix]’, will we see more collaborations? Of course, Koffee’s a great talent, she is the future. Through help and support, I’m going to teach her the rudiments. I don’t want to steer her away from the path that’s in front of her but of course, no doubt. It’s an honour to speak to you, thank you for your time. The pleasure is mine. Thank you for your time, go and represent Reggae music. All the Reggae lovers of the world, be proud. Have a good day.
Well my mother is a woman who love Roots music, she don’t like when I sing anything counter-productive or anything negative. So that alone was an inspiration to me, she loved music that stayed positive. What was the hardest thing about not being able to record music while you were away? I wasn’t even recording it for ten years. Yes but God is good, I was guided along and his path became clear to me. So yes, now I’ve re-entered the house of music and I do give thanks. It’s never where we were, it’s where we’re going. VIPERMAG.COM
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Your new single ‘Patience’ has some crazy features, Yungblud and Polo G, tell me about it. It’s mad man! This song took a month and a bit to do, we went back and forth trying to perfect it, making it one of the best songs ever. Mally the producer just absolutely obliterated the song and made it insane, made it a classic for me personally. Obviously YB did his ting, Polo G smashed the ting as well and I did my thing as well. I’m excited for people to hear this. Obviously the song’s kinda related to all of us, when it comes to the whole lockdown and the whole pandemic, us having the need to have patience throughout this crazy year. The end is near so I feel like it’s a little salute to that. Speaking of patience, you had an insanely busy life until the start of the pandemic, how did you learn to have patience when it all stopped? If anything, if I’m being honest I’ve been busier than ever [laughs]. More busy than I was before lockdown, which is insane to think of but digitally it’s gone through the roof. That’s what everyone needs, wants, no one has any way of getting entertainment besides that. So Netflix, Amazon Prime, even Amazon in general, the sales have gone up. With YouTube, as well, views have gone up, engagement has gone up, everything has gone up so it kinda warranted me to produce more content. Even with the music, to produce more music ’cause I’ve been charting left right and centre. It’s at a point when people just want more, more, more so I’m just giving them more, more, more. I’ve just been busy, especially with the press as well, doing lots of press. Yeah it’s been crazy, it’s
It’s only been a year since the release of ‘Dissimulation’, your debut album so your fans must appreciate that you’re already back in the studio. Yeah I felt, with this next album that I’m releasing this year, I had a lot more time to really figure out what I wanted: really hone in my skills, work on things that I wanted to improve on from my last album and improve the rapping, improve the wordplay, improve the singing, improve the beat selection. I wanted to level up everything, I feel with this album I’ve definitely done that and it’s definitely gonna blow people away.
“I wanted to level up everything, I feel with this album I’ve definitely done that and it’s definitely gonna blow people away.” In some people’s eyes you’re new to music, when did you first start to play with it in terms of writing lyrics and harmonising? I’ve been doing music for ten plus years man, I started when I was a kid in school. I did it just to help me remember things, my memory is terrible and I always would just write lyrics for certain subjects just to help me remember them in school. It was annoying, I would write a whole rap for a subject… I would write a whole ting for a subject and then the exam came and that part of the subject never came in so I would think, what a fucking waste of time! But there were moments when it came in handy, you can even see some stuff on YouTube. I’m trying to take it down but I don’t know my password to my old channel, so it’s just there on the Internet. But I’ve been doing music for time and a lot of people probably think I’ve just had overnight success but nah, I’ve been working at it for a long time and I’m now reaping the rewards.
been a crazy year for me man and I didn’t expect it. I just thought this was gonna be a year of relaxation, I guess just waiting, but it’s been the complete opposite. I guess people have just seen me more and I’ve become more of a household name because of this whole pandemic, which is crazy.
Many people would think you have the pick of the litter when it comes to artists and producers, since you’re such a well-known person. Does that make it harder, when you have so much choice since you’re being sent even more instrumentals and feature requests than the average artist? Nah it definitely wasn’t easy at all. You’ve gotta remember that yes I have a big audience, but you know with the music side I’m still quite a small fish. So to even
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get certain beats from certain producers was a bit of a chore, or a bit of a task really because they weren’t sure if I was doing the whole music thing seriously. Once I started charting, or once I started doing well musically, that’s when a lot of people started gravitating towards me and started going, “I see what you’re doing with the whole music thing, I’ve got a beat for you.” I’ve had features now, willing to want to work with me because of it, but it’s been a long process. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the game and obviously because I’m hot right now, people are always gonna gravitate towards me and people are always gonna want a piece of it. But I’m always gonna keep going, keep working hard, keep grafting and keep trying to be one of the best in the UK, when it comes to music anyway. One of the best artists for sure.
“I like music from K-Pop, even some Country now and then, some Rock, there’s some like hardcore Rock, obviously Rap, Drill, Grime, all different genres, Pop, I just love music.” You’ve done something really special with bridging the US and UK superstars of rap, in a way. Was that something you set out to do, or were you just picking iconic names you wanted to work with and merging them? I’ve always just wanted to work with anyone, I’m at a spot where I’m quite worldwide because of my YouTube audience and also I just like music. I like music from K-Pop, even some Country now and then, some Rock, there’s some like hardcore Rock, obviously Rap, Drill, Grime, all different genres, Pop, I just love music. I just love making songs that I think are dope so I never wanna put myself in a box. All my life I’ve hated being put in a box, like I’m this type of artist or I’m this type of person, or I’m this type of YouTuber, you know I like to call myself an anomaly, I’m just this fluid guy that can just do whatever the fuck he wants. I’m pretty much at that point where I’m just doing what I want now. I wanted to do a song with Dom [Yungblud], and I wanted to do a song with Polo G and I made it happen. When I sent the song to Polo G, I didn’t think he’d be on it because it’s
definitely a style he’s not used to, but he came through hard! He came exactly how I wanted it and he gassed me up. I think of some artists in Rap like Youngboy NBA, he almost sounds like a Country artist at times. Do you think the limitations are still there, or do you think you can be a rapper and free to make the music you want? I think you’re free to make whatever you want, you’re free to be in the space where, there is no restraint, there is no boundary anymore. You can literally, if you wanna, make Country-Rap and move like Lil Nas X, it can bang! So it’s one of them ones where people just wanna hear good music and if you’re producing good music, that’s all that matters. With the beat selection, I just wanna be better with the genres, I wanna show that I can do different genres: I didn’t want it to just be Rap, I didn’t just want it to just be Garage, I didn’t just want it to just be Pop, I didn’t just want it to just be Drill, I wanted it to just be all over the place. For me I think that was an important part to showcase in this album. It’s definitely an album for everyone, there’s literally a song for everyone and that’s kinda how I am, I’m a person that enjoys music from all over the place. When COVID isn’t an issue, do you prefer to be physically present with the musicians you work with? Or are you familiar with remote collaboration as you tend to work with a lot of International musicians? I don’t know, for me I’m kind of a loner when it comes to making music. I like my own space and I feel like a lot of artists like that as well. With me breathing down their neck while they’re tryna figure out their bars, I don’t know if it’s the right vibe. I kinda like how people give me my own space whenever I wanna write and I wanna do the same for other artists. So I think that’s where I’m at with it, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind working
MJB (Marc Jacques Burton)
with other artists in the studio etcetera but I definitely work better on my own. You’ve had some really impressive features, Rick Ross… Yeah Rick Ross was hard man, I couldn’t believe it, like a childhood hero of mine. I remember listening to ‘Aston Martin Music’ and never even thinking I would ever make a song with him and now he’s on one of the biggest songs of my music career. Do you still get starstruck? Oh yeah I definitely get starstruck but I keep it internally, I never show it. I’m just freaking out in my head, like there’s a little animal running around in my head, just screaming and going crazy. That’s definitely how it would be but on the outside I keep it chill, I keep it calm. Do you have a bucket-list of names for these collaborations, are you ticking off a list with each song you drop? I don’t really have a bucket list, I just think, who would work for this song. Then I have a list of people that I would wanna work with to make sure the song is as good as possible, that’s kinda how I base it. It’s not like I’m going out like, ‘ah I wanna work with Eminem or Kendrick’, I kinda just go, I’ve got this song, this would be cool to have such and such on it and then I go from there.
it ok, ’cause if I know that she’s there like “I’d listen to this,” then this is a banger ‘cause even someone that’s not into that genre can still listen to it. Then obviously my music manager, we always talk about music. Sam as well, S-X, is a guy I talk to about music a lot. A lot of my mates, Sidemen and just people outside The Sideman, Randolph or Cal, etcetera. I’ve got a group of people I play my music to but a lot of times I don’t like to send all my music to everyone because I want them to get hyped as soon as I’ve released it. Rather than I send it to them, they get hype before it’s out and then when its actually out, they’ve already listened to it several times, so they don’t get as hype as everyone else would when they first listen to it.
“I like to call myself an anomaly, I’m just this fluid guy that can just do whatever the fuck he wants.” Music is so personal, do you ever feel any vulnerability or fear when it’s unveiled? Nah I don’t have any fear man, actually maybe there’s a few songs where I’m a bit like… maybe there’s one. Hmmm, there’s one song on this album where it’s quite personal but it’s gonna be a single which is gonna be jokes. But most of the time I’m not too fearful, I’m just like ‘this is hard! I’ll put it out there and if people fuck with it, cool, if people don’t fuck with it, alright’ [Laughs]. That’s kinda just how I’ve been, how I’ve always been and it’s got me pretty far. What’s been the biggest challenge so far in your music career?
Who do you feedback with first on a new song, is it someone in your creative team or a friend? My girlfriend, I send her a lot of songs. A lot of times, she’s the person that goes, “nah this ain’t it” or “actually this is hard, I like this!” She’s more into a certain genre but I like sending her different genres to see if she finds
I think just changing people’s mindset when it comes to a YouTuber trying to do music, there’s always been this barrier that you can’t do that. Yeah, don’t get me wrong, there’s been several examples to prove that it can’t be done, but I wanna be one of the ones that shows that it can be done. Joji is another person, who used to be Filthy Frank on YouTube and now is Joji and has been smashing it on the music side. Obviously Justin Bieber came from YouTube and a few others have come from YouTube, Troye Sivan is another one. For me, it’s like I wanna prove that yes I can still do YouTube as well as do music. YouTube is my foundation, YouTube is where I started from so I’m never gonna forget that. Now that I’m making it work and now that I’m charting and everyone’s seen that it’s working, I’m sure there’s gonna be more YouTubers that are gonna try and do that as well. Has Justin Bieber forgiven you for beating Logan
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Paul yet, is there a chance of us hearing you two together? [Laughs] I mean I don’t know man, I don’t know what he’s on. You never know - look if there’s a song that works then calm but I don’t see me working with him anytime soon if I’m being honest. Well who cares, we’ll see what happens.
“I wanna prove that yes I can still do YouTube as well as do music” What’s your plan for the music rollout for the rest of the year? We’ve got this single ‘Patience’ with Yungblud and Polo g, then we’ve got another single with just me. I think we’re gonna release a single with the album at the same time, I’ve got another two artists that I’m working with for a collab on one of the songs that we’re releasing with the album. It might change, with this whole [COVID] thing, it’s always changing but yeah it’s a banger! This whole album is full of bangers and it’s just gonna surprise a lot of people, I’m excited to see people’s reactions and I’m excited to perform it! It’s crazy, I released an album last year and I haven’t really even been able to perform any of the songs so it’s gonna be good to finally release an album and actually be able to perform it. That’s gonna be so surreal, I can’t even imagine! Like you’ve got a whole catalog ready to go. Yeah but it’s cool, I can now just play hits. I have several hits ready to be played so it’s exciting! Is there a song from your debut album that you can’t wait to play live? Probably ‘Domain’, I think ‘Domain’ is gonna be hard to perform! ‘Killa Killa’ is another one, ‘Houdini’ obviously, big banger, ‘Down Like That’ of course! I mean, I performed ‘Down Like That’ a few times and they always went nuts, they always went crazy! I think for me, those are the main ones that really stand out for sure. But even with this next album, there’s so many more songs that are just mad, there’s a Drill song I’ve done. When people hear it, they’re gonna be like “What the fuck? [Laughs] I didn’t even know you could flow like that.” Yeah I’m excited.
else? Unknown T would be sick, I love how he flows man. He flows like water bro, it’s mad! His flows are always immaculate. There’s several others I’ve even thought of, Fredo’s another one. There’s several people I wanna work with but I have to have the right song. You’re gonna have to perform at arena tours as soon as you’re allowed to, is that gonna be a shock to the system? [Laughs] Yeah man it’s a bit mad, I ain’t gon’ lie. It’s annoying ’cause I wanted to slowly do it, like slowly build up. But it feels like because of the songs I’ve been dropping and how well they’ve been doing, I’m getting thrown straight in the deep end because of it. But I’ll survive, I’ll float but the whole situation of how music’s gone for me has been crazy. Shout out to all the fans that have been supporting, shout out to all the people who believed in me and shout out to everyone that’s been rocking. Shout out to you! Thank you for your time. No worries, my pleasure.
If you add some Drill artists on the remix of that song, who would you throw on there? Um, I think Abra…. Abra Cadabra would be cool. Central Cee, obviously he’s been doing bits, it would be sick to do something with him. Headie One, yeah man, who
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