The super hip streets of East London, specifically Brick Lane, is where we meet. We set up the camera and my red light on my recording device is flashing. Let’s roll.
Alex, I know you’ve spent your life growing up back and forth between London and L.A. Is there something specific about our music scene which attracts you as an artist?
I’ve got my whole team here and it feels like home here. I think the UK has always been the home of original music in a lot of different genres. Hip Hop is a kind of funny one because the scene over here, on a mainstream level, is more grime-based so it’s interesting to bring a US slant to UK industry. But I love the creativity and the energy that exists in London, and in the whole of the country in general. So it’s great to come over here to do my thing.
So what are the topics that influence and inspire you to write your lyrics?
The only real stipulation I bring to the table when I look at other artists is ‘are they genuine, are they being real and true to whom they are?’ So I make music that represents me. I didn’t grow up with knife crime or anything like that; I grew up with moving around different countries so there was a lot of instability, movement and uprooting in my life. With this instability came an insight into different countries, so I had a unique opportunity to get a grasp of different places and that’s what I talk about: life, my life, the world around me. I’ll never run out of material because I’m not just talking about this small vicinity around me, I’m talking about the world who has basically shaped the person I am.
As a rapper do you feel you have a very particularly powerful and articulate tool to talk about your criticisms, your thoughts, what you find exciting and inspiring?
I think music in general is an incredible medium to be able to discuss and talk about the world. For example, Bob Dylan – making folk music and singing about civil rights. Hip Hop is an interesting one because you have a completely different platform; basically a lot more language and words to construct your thoughts, so there is a lot more room to stray off topic but also to be more direct to approach a subject. For me it is an amazing tool and something that sort of fell into my lap when I was younger: a hobby that became a passion. I take this very visceral and raw art form and make it something very personal to me, and use it to talk about what I want to talk about and how I want to talk about it; to deal with my life and the world around me head-on.
When did you start writing? Was it poetry at first or was it always going to be musical?
Honestly, I was a teenager bored at school who fell into a world of smoking, making beats and grew up listening to what I consider to be the great Hip Hop artists: Nas, Tupac, Rakim… a lot of US stuff and then later on got into UK stuff: Phi Life Cypher, Foreign Beggars…
I love Foreign Beggars!
I thought ‘this is a really great thing!’ and realised I liked it and there was something to explore. With time you turn a passion into a talent, then that turns into a skill, and then that skill becomes a career. With hard work and self-belief you get good at it, or at least I hope I’m good at it!
Yeah, you are good at it!
We’ll get onto your remix of Lorde’s ‘Tennis Court’ and your new single “Bad Dreams” in a minute, but just to touch on your earlier stuff, you’ve written against child abuse and bullying. Are these issues something your particularly passionate about?
My last album was called ‘Question Everything’ and that title, that mantra, is exactly what my music is about: looking critically at the world and figuring out what needs to be questioned. There are topics that need to be raised and talked about but it isn’t always the way because it is taboo. I don’t want to be talking about what everyone else is. I don’t listen to that music and I’m certainly not going to put it into mine to get more radio spins. I talk about things that strike a chord with me. ‘Our Father’ is about child abuse and ‘Letters To My Unborn’ is about what I would say to my children if I were to die right now. I don’t have kids, and wouldn’t be able to have some if I died right now! But it was a thought I had. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. And ‘Letters To My Unborn is one of my favourites!
Moving forward to more present times. You released a remix of Lorde’s ‘Tennis Court’. Why did that song inspire you?
I think she’s a cool artist and the guy I collaborate with from the US, an up and coming artist, had this idea and I loved it so we did it! She’s a cool girl, doing her thing and isn’t afraid to be herself. I don’t do covers, this is the first and probably last I’ll do.
This remix is currently no 15 in the Music Week Urban Chart. That’s promising!
It’s really good, it’s raises my profile in the UK and is a great indicator that people are receiving the track well, getting into the top 20. Hopefully we can break top 10!
You were also shortlisted for MTV Brand New selection. How exciting was that?
It’s great to get the fans behind, it means the online community has put their votes in, and for me it is great validation. A nice indicator we’re doing the right thing!
Right, “Bad Dreams” is your new single. Out today, February 3rd! Talk to me
Funnily enough, the song actually started off as the theme music for an MMA competition. My guy had made this track with a Muay Thai, South American sound, and when he sent it over I was like ‘Right, we’re making a track out of this’. So we restructured it on the Hip Hop side and the idea of this dream world came in. The idea developed really organically and then we brought in this great vocalist, Rebecca Storm. The vocal just came to life and I’m really pleased with how it developed.
Tell me a little bit about the video, which is now featured on Vevo. There seems to be a few different continents in your dream world.
It’s all the dark fantasies, surreal landscapes, with everything kind of twisted and mutating into this lost world of different dimensions. I think the visuals match nicely with the track and I’m excited about it!
Wrap up time; what are your plans for 2014? You playing a gig at the Borderline March 20th?
Yes! Anytime I get to play with my band I love it. It’s a six piece including me and I also have an amazing female vocalist. Then there is the rhythm guitar, lead guitar, drums and synth, and bass. It’s a big sound with blues influences, rock influences – the guitarist is a blues guy so he has some solos! You get the human element; it’s different every time and I love it.
For the rest of the year we got some releases so ‘Bad Dreams’ is out today, Feb 3rd. Next one is ‘Smile’ out March 30thth. Then there are 3 new singles lined up after that, getting worked on, in the pipeline. Working towards the album. Very exciting!
Thank you very much Alex, you most definitely have the support of Spindle!
Bad Dreams is now available for download, and you can listen to Hoxton FM on Saturday 12-2pm to hear Rue play Antix’s new track and some fun quick fire questions alongside your weekly London Steals.
Words: Irune Rue Chamberlain
Photography: India Whiley-Morton