The award winning UK rapper has collaborated with everyone from Ellie Goulding and Chase & Status to Labrinth and fellow Brit Tinchy Stryder. He’s performed his smash hit single ‘Pass Out’ with Snoop Dogg on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage and he’s toured with Usher. Ahead of his appearance at RedFest DXB on February 13, he catches up with Peter Feely to reveal his UK grime roots, thoughts on his contemporaries and still being star-struck.
How did you hone your skills as a musician? I wasn’t classical trained – I just wasn’t that sort of person but when I heard something I liked I would just reach for it and try and emulate it. I would try and emulate Dizzee Rascal a lot.
But your music’s quite commercial in comparison to the underground London grime stuff... I’ve definitely always wanted to reach as many people as possible but I always wanted to maintain the core and the roots of the music that I come from. That’s what I try and do with every song – a bit of both. There are some songs that you can hear on an album or a mixtape that are very underground but at the same time, when you are an artist and you are on radio or TV, you have to make music that has a bit of a broader appeal but I just try and get a good balance – it sounds nice on the radio but you can still tell that it’s from a rap and urban genre of music.
And, in terms of your influences, did you come from the generation where you parents listened to classic soul and Motown? Yeah, and as well as that country and western music and jazz music – everything.
We’ve found country music comes up surprisingly regularly with urban artists... Country music was revolutionary when it blew up and it was something set the community together. They’re both [rap and country] quite true and that’s very telling. The thing about country is that it tells a story and it’s always really well told, so if there is any similarity between them it would probably be in the writing.
If you had to describe yourself musically to someone who had just landed from Mars, how would you go about that? I’m definitely not singer – I’d say I’m a musician or artist - I’m a creative. I’m someone who writes music that has a rap influence, but has more genres as well, which is why I’d probably just say artist.
And if you had to explain your live shows to the Martian – are they Rudimental-like, with lots of live musicians, or are they more about the songs? A lot of my songs are pretty energetic anyway. With Rudimental, there are lots of people with them, and their music is really loud so it’s nice to complement it [with live musicians]. My music is energetic and I usually go out there with a live band and then I have my DJ as well - so I try and get a good balance between electronic and live.
Who are your main man in rap at the moment? I would probably say that Kanye is my favourite rapper in the fact that he’s an honest artist.
Have you met him? No – not yet.
Well, you want to get yourself on The Kardashians... Ha ha – you never know mate...
But Kanye can be a bit polarising with his behaviour and outbursts... Unless someone shows their true personality on the screen, you never know what someone’s like. I get what you mean but if you’re talking about someone as an artist, I think his music is good.
What can we expect from you at RedFest DXB? You know what, I’m just really excited. I love a festival and an amazing line up. I love the fact that everyone’s there to see variety but it is quite a mixed crowd so it’s really good for showcasing your music. Everybody might not be there to see you specifically, so if you’ve got a good set and good music, it’s an amazing time to perform it.
And finally, have you ever been star-struck? Yeah, you know what – the other day I met Will Smith and I was super star-struck.