IT has been a real thrill speaking with Lemzi…
IN THIS PHOTO: Lemzi with Tonia Soulbird
who tells me about the E.P., Ton x Lemz. He discusses working with Tonia Soulbird and putting the E.P. together; what is coming next for him and his music; why artists like Eminem were influential and important to him growing up (and now) – I ask whether there are some upcoming artists we need to investigate.
Lemzi reveals what he hopes to accomplish before next year and which three albums are most important to him; what he thinks of the British Grime scene right now; how he has improved and developed since his early work – he selects a pretty ace tune to finish the interview with.
Hi, Lemzi. How are you? How has your week been?
Yo. All good, man. Nice, relaxing week so far. What about you?
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I call myself an artist as opposed to a musician. I don’t have any music theory knowledge and can’t play any instruments but I can make my words sound good! I have my own event, Hidden Gems LIVE, which has been successful in getting a lot of the best U.K. acts on stage and I also go into schools as a Rap music tutor!
You hook up with Tonia Soulbird on the Ton x Lemz E.P. How did you two meet?
We met a little a while ago at an open mic in Stratford called Newham Nights that took place every last Sunday of the month (shout out Abena the Actress for organising the show as long as you did!). It was a really good vibe down there generally and we just came together naturally. We rated each other’s music and, more than that, each other’s character.
In the open mic, we saw a batch of talented artists as well such as Kemi Sulola, Diamantina; Jay Scriptz and a lot more! The first thing we worked on together was Hidden Gems the single and that involved meeting up in Leytonstone Tesco Costa; writing the bars and a few signs that told us it was something to continue and spread...
What do you think Tonia brings to your work that elevates it? Do you plan on working together again?
Some soul…and that powerful female energy that matches what I bring to a song/performance etc. Before anything, we’re good friends with a lot of mutual interests and outlooks on life so, because of that cohesion, we tend to find it an enjoyable process working together. We’ve got tours, shows and videos all to do so we’ll definitely be working closely!
Your 2011 mixtape, LemziFreeBies, spawned a series of lauded and impressive works. How do you think you have developed as an artist since then?
In pretty much every way, without sounding arrogant. I’m still developing and progressing and working with new artists challenges me to approach things differently. However, I’ve found my base sound and the mixtape series of LemziFreeBies was just me growing in front of a small audience. Learning how to operate in a studio, watching how some of my peers executed their ideas; working out finances for the studio!
Everything I do now comes from that mixtape phase of my life. I keep all of those songs up there so, wherever someone joins on the journey, they have a reference to note how much progression has taken place.
What do you think of the British Grime/Rap scene right now? Is it as relevant and strong as it was back when Dizzee Rascal shot onto the scene?!
There are two ways I look at it: talent and reception. The talent, to me, is the best the U.K. has ever had and we have a genuine spectrum from the Grime scene, to Drill; Afro-Swing, U.K. Hip-Hop etc. Even the R&B scene is really coming into fruition with artists like Rebecca Winter, Ella Mae; Kemi Sulola etc. I’m proud to feel a solidified part of this scene.
However, from my perspective, reception is still far too imbalanced. The Hip-Hop/Neo-Soul/R&B scene gets a fraction of the attention that Afro-Swing, Drill or the other more contemporary genres have. But, it’s all a process. I feel the more the aforementioned genres develop a credible scene in their own right: with events, D.J.s; radio shows and collabs etc. all between these artists, the Hip-Hop scene will get its proper recognition...
Do you recall when you got into music? Which artists did you grow up around?
I remember the first artist that really captivated me and I can remember being really into Eminem. I saw Lose Yourself on the T.V. a lot and I learned all of the lyrics - at around ten years old – then, from there, I wanted his album (which introduced me to other artists like Dr. Dre, 50 Cent; The Game etc.).
This completely switched in 2004 when I got into Grime. Grime music and the whole scene genuinely shaped my perspective on the world at that age (around twelve years old when I was first introduced to it). I was suddenly a lot more aware of my surroundings; picking up on reference points, postcodes and clothing etc. It was a mad time. A lot of energy and huge characters, especially in East London where the majority of the M.C.s were from. I was most into Kano, Dizzee; Roll Deep...to be honest, almost anyone that was doing grime between 2004-2008 got my interest at some point. It was a lot.
It was interesting for me in particular because I was in a private school, not like Eton or anything, but it was a good one. We had people from all over the East - Beckton, Mile End; Leyton etc. - but just a few of us from these areas. So, I didn’t even grow up around loads of other people really into Grime; just a small group of us. It was only during uni that I really started meeting other artists and discovering even more music.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
Man...it’s only a few months but I want to do a lot in this time. I said, at the start of 2018, this year will be phenomenal so I’ve given myself no chance but to end it well! Ton x Lemz E.P. is out now, so we are working on getting at least one video arranged; doing a headline show, other shows and maybe more.
I’ll also have a solo demo album finished, depending on how everything is going. It will be out before the end of 2018. I will definitely release a couple of the singles before then as well as a documentary...
I’m currently trying to create a syllabus that I can take to these schools; something more structured that will hopefully inform the students about the music, history; social implications and everything around the music too. Hopefully, I’ll have at least one, if not two Hidden Gems LIVE events in this period; get some new artists on the stage sharing their gifts. That’s a chunk of the plans but God moves so let’s see how everything envelops.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
There’s been a lot, you know. A lot of not great memories from the earliest days but they were all learning curves rather than actually bad experiences…
One of my favourites was the first full live band set I did in Rich Mix in October 2017. Between me, The Bandem; Tells & Tonia we brought my E.P., Autumnal Aura, to life. It was a whole process and being on the stage with such a good audience made it feel special.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Dr. Dre - Chronic 2001
This album to me is the best-produced Hip-Hop album of all time. A lot of the topics and viewpoints wouldn’t even be recorded in this day but it works as a great timestamp of the turn of the millennium with mad performances from Hitman, Dre; Snoop Dogg, Eminem and more. The composition, structure and production – as well as executive production – was phenomenal.
Jill Scott – Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1
Nostalgia...an album everyone in my family enjoys. Jill Scott, through this album, was one of my introductions to Neo-Soul (and assimilating this with Hip-Hop and Spoken Word). The esoteric messages, the lyrical prowess; vulnerability mixed with self-confidence and production is timeless.
Kano – Home Sweet Home
Stuck between this and Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner but I give it to Kane here. Home Sweet Home showed me how to spit, had bangers; smooth songs and I had both Nobody Don’t Dance No More and Signs of Life as my most-played songs for a looong time.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Alicia Keys. I want to see Butterflies and Diary live myself but I think we could make some great music together too. Especially if she brought Swizz Beatz.
In fact; my rider would be that we would have to create some music between the three of us and she would need to give me a whole folder of samples (royalty-free) to send to my producers.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Do this for the right reason. Someone should be able to ask where do you see yourself in five/ten years and music still being a big part of whatever you’re doing. I love music and have done since I remember hearing Eminem, who galvanised me to express myself through words. Passion is key as is patience but the journey is special. Don’t overlook it just because you’re not doing the O2 and Wembley after what you thought was ‘the hit’.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kemi Sulola
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
My team, the EXCLUSIVE Collective (Ferns, Wyllis; Timmy B & Jerome Leetz); Tonia, Tells; Kemi Sulola, Melvillous; Choze, Sharna Cane; K The Infinite, Boy Nash; Amelia Poamz…and I’ll stop there or this will be my longest answer...
IN THIS PHOTO: Choze
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Yeah. I do music full-time, including going to schools/institutions and my events but I have a great family that I spend time with. I have a girlfriend who’s almost always around and my closest friends don’t do music, so I’m in and out of the scene in that regard.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Wyllis – Baka! Boom issa (sic) banger!