The British grime star, who stormed the UK charts in 2009 with debut single ‘Take Me Back’, tells us about music, fame and working with Alicia Keys.
You’ve just gone into business with Jay-Z…
Yeah, it’s like a joint venture. The labels Roc Nation and Takeover Entertainment have come together to find new talent and give them new opportunities. And away from that, we’re working together on what they bring through. Them things only work when it’s more like a family and it’s not just strictly business. We go over there quite a bit, and when they come over here, we’re all cool, so that’s the main thing.
So you could say you’re like his apprentice – after all, Jay-Z had a similar start as an artist, label boss and clothing magnate.
Yeah, man. I guess with the clothing and stuff there are similarities from when he started, so it makes sense.
Has he given you any good advice?
Yeah, you know what, when I met him we were just generally speaking, and it wasn’t just all business. We were just chilling and talking. But I guess when he’s speaking, the slightest things are advice, even without him trying to sound like someone who’s giving advice. Just in a general conversation you can get the vibe off him, man. The good thing about it when I met him was how he comes across in the music: he’s just the same. So you can tell he’s just real, he’s not fronting.
The grime genre has a culture of nurturing new talent that you don’t get in many other places – it seems like a supportive scene.
‘It’s healthy competition. There’s always jealousy, I guess, and that’s normal – we’re human, everyone has a bit of that. But that’s what keeps it all going. When I started it was called garage, and there was a vibe where it always had something special about it. When I was younger, there was always a buzz and you just wanna do that thing, so that’s why it’s growing. People are always doing something just to be heard.
It must be rewarding to see your generation break through…
Yeah, it feels good. People always say, ‘Patience man, enough patience.’ I understand why, because sometimes it feels as if everything’s taking forever, but time heals everything, man; you’ve just gotta pace yourself.’
Speaking of which, you’re finishing your new album. How’s it going?
‘It’s going good, man. But I never feel like it’s done – every day you think of something new you wanna record, so I’m just gonna keep recording. But it’s sounding good. You can hear the growth – musically, lyrically, concepts of what I’m speaking about, everything’s just grown, so I’m excited about it.’
You’ve been performing for a long time. Were you prepared for fame, or did it still take you by surprise?
‘I could never say I was prepared! Especially how it happened, ’cos it just started happening quite quick. So I just took it in my stride. I just thought: “Yeah, this is what comes with it.” There’s parts you enjoy. I could never say every single part of it is fun, ’cause there are hard parts where sometimes it gets a bit too much, but that’s what you wanted, so you have to enjoy it. I just try to be me; that’s the easiest thing you can do. Be yourself.’
You must have had a good time at Alicia Keys’s Black Ball, because in November you’re performing a benefit gig to support her Keep a Child Alive charity.
‘I went to the event and saw everything: the money was all going to the charity, and I heard what the whole cause was about, helping people in Africa. Alicia Keys is really cool – you might think some people are just doing it for the sake of it, but you can tell she’s really into it. She actually believes in what she’s saying. So I thought if I can help in one way and put on a show, that’s my way, man. Just the feeling that you get – I would never wanna do something just for the sake of people thinking, ‘Oh, he’s doing it just to look good.’ It’s just to know inside myself how I’ve helped.’