The Croydon rapper on UK Hip-Hop, the joys of building your local scene, and the balance with experimentation and creative cohesion.

  • SALUTE – You grew up in Croydon right Chris? What was that like?

I’ve always been in Croydon. I only moved away for uni at Norwich but I came right back to Croydon. The plan was always to come back to my family and friends.

I like it because it’s not too much like central, it’s not too mad. We’ve still got some nice greenery in Croydon, and it’s not too far away from central London either.

Looking back on it now and having been in Norwich, I have come to see the benefit of growing up somewhere that is genuinely multi-cultural. I’ve got friends from all different walks of life and backgrounds. It’s cool to have that. Croydon is a bubble like that.

And everyone is trying to do something in Croydon. Like you’ve seen that recently with a number of artists coming out of it – like Stormzy, Krept and Conan, Nadia Rose etc. It’s a town with big ambitions.

  • SALUTE – How did you get started making music?

Everybody in south had a few bars that they could spit over a grime tune. I started making music when I was 16/17. I was involved in a group with a friend who I grew up with for a bit and then I started doing my solo stuff around 2013.

At first I started making music because I enjoyed it and as time went on I felt more and more pulled towards doing it as a career.

  • SALUTE – What music did you grow up to at home?

My dad at home was the guy with the music. He had a record player at the house downstairs, with the speaker and all that. He was pumping a lot of High Life, Jazz, Soul and the odd RnB artists like Jaheim which was kinda random.

Hip Hop came from my older brother who’s like 5 years older than me. He’s where I got my music from. He’s pretty eclectic in his tastes so we had everyone from Jay-Z, Dizzie Rascal, Sway, Little Brother, Nas… it was a different mix of old school and new school which was cool. Like I had the best of both.

  • SALUTE – Do you and your brother make music together?

Yeah, we’ve done a couple of tracks together. He started rapping but he sings more now. He’s sung on a couple of tracks but we’ve never really forced trying to do a track. I think more will come as time goes on.

  • SALUTE – What kind of music did you grow up on? Was there much of a local scene or did you find a lot of stuff through the internet?

Being from south, for the longest time nothing was really happening in south. If you wanted to go to something you had to jump on a train to east. That’s easier now right, but back then and being 15 it seems like a massive journey. We didn’t go out to many shows. Music lived in the house for me. We went to church as well, having grown up in church there were a couple of gospel acts that we would go and see.

At church you have the band and that doing their thing so we had that influence from there as well. Week in week out you would see musicians playing off each other live.

Over the years you grow as a person, more and more my mission is less about didactically evangelising. As long as it is personal to you and you put yourself into it people are going to relate to your view of the world.

  • SALUTE – How you feeling about the state of UK Rap? Is there a difference between UK Rap and UK Hip Hop for you?

I would say that people have different distinctions, so when Giggs was starting to come out UK Rap took hold. It’s funny for me being a youth worker, you see what the kids listen to now I can definitely see a style distinction between UK Rap and Hip Hop.

In south there’s a big trend on both ends. You see the 67’s doing their ting and then you see people like Loyle Carner, we have it all.

  • SALUTE – There’s a strong influence of boom-bap beats, with ethereal and distorted electronic sounds. Do you not mess with trap and road rap style productions?

I love music and listen to all sorts even within Hip Hop. When I’m creating I have to make a conscious decision that this is the sound I’m going for, otherwise I’m making 10 different tracks that sound completely different.

I try to make it cohesive but I like to experiment with sounds. When I think of artists who are good like that, people like Kendrick, if you listen to his last two albums, very different albums, but within that there’s consistency to how he writes his songs.

That’s something I’m always trying to get better at, making it cohesive but still creative.

  • SALUTE – Did you dig much growing up or did you go to the internet?

Nah I didn’t dig much, but the internet was big. Lime wire was about (laughs) you could just download everything…

As I got older the internet was really important for me. And now with streaming services I’m listening to classics whenever I want. I have friends who go digging but I’m not really a part of that culture. Using the internet is just so easy.

  • SALUTE – How’s it been since the Between Haircuts EP came out a couple of months ago?

It’s been good man. Done a few show and enjoyed the buzz off the back of that. I’ve got some plans to drop visuals off the back of it and drop more stuff early next year. So yeah, it’s been really good and I’ve had a good response.

My EP launch show went really well, it was incredible. We had visual artists in, a load of open mics and few billed support acts as well.

I really enjoyed that, and it’s something that I wanna do more of. I enjoy a community, so even though I’m doing my thing, it’s not just about me.

Even with hip hop it has always been built around community. In Croydon, there is some more space for that now. Loads of people are doing their ting, and it’s good to see that united through different styles. Seeing people come together and vibing.

It’s mad though. People like Loyle Carner, even through he’s from Croydon, I don’t know if he has ever done a show in Croydon, do you know what I mean? On his come up I saw him in Lewisham or whatever, but I’ve never seen that energy for him in Croydon. I want to be fostered in Croydon. Box park has been a pretty good thing. We’ll see but I would love to be a part of helping that to grow. A lot of that has come off the back of the EP launch. I’m excited to see what can happen when you’re working with a bunch of people.

  • SALUTE – That collaboration is happening a lot in south at the moment right?

Yeah man, I was going to Steez a couple of years ago and just seeing that vibe and the collaborations that come off the back of that was dope. I’ve got a gig coming up with a 10 piece jazz band called Seed and that is me featuring on a couple of tracks. Those are the collaborations that I find are really fun

  • SALUTE – Do you produce much?What gear do you use for production?

I want to produce less as I’ve got people around me who I think are so dope and know what they are doing. I feel like when I come out with something good it’s an accident (laughs), I’m definitely a rapper first but when I do produce I use Ableton.

  • SALUTE – How do you balance work and music?

I work for a youth charity called Reaching Higher. It’s been going for 4/5 years and I’ve been with them for a few years. They’ve been really good with supporting me and giving me a chance to focus on my goals with music. They’re cool people.

  • SALUTE – What do you think of the SALUTE initiative and competition?

I saw it quite early on, on some random Facebook post so I had a look. And originally (laughs), I was looking at the numbers and I was thinking it’s kinda mad (laughs). If you get to the top 6 it’s kinda crazy. It seemed like a great opportunity. I’m like cool, roll the dice…

Learning more about the structure of it, I’m excited to see how it actually becomes real. I love the sly digs at the X-Factor shows, like this is not a karaoke thing, actual. I think people want that now, they’re over the soulless talent shows that try to cram in emotion in a very forced way. I’m looking forward to being a part of it and seeing who else is going to be involved, getting exposed to a whole other bunch of artists.

Check Out Mr. Ekow @ The Total Refreshment Centre September 15th

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