Exclusive Interview: UK Rapper Ikes Talks The Evolution of The Rap Game In London, Bringing His Talents Stateside, & More!

Back in October 2013 during the clusterfuck that is CMJ week, I met a lovely Brit by the name of Ikes while out and about at Fader Fort. We chatted, got some food, party-hopped with friends, and kept in touch as he told me that he was a rapper based in London, that was really starting to get his feet wet in the US.

Fast forward a couple months and Ikes’ music and videos are plastered on all the major blogs. It’s amazing to see the love for him from the US, so I personally wanted to get to know him better on the music-side, by having him tell his story, via an exclusive interview with yours truly. Enjoy!

Tell us about your musical influences growing up, and when you knew you wanted to pursue music professionally?

I grew up in a Nigerian household in the UK, there was a lot of cultural African music. My Pops is very musically inclined, and his vinyl collection was crazy. He had a lot of African music, but then again he had a lot of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Elvis Presley, Tracy Chapman, and everyone really, so I just picked up from there. I’m the youngest of six; my eldest brother was a DJ, and he just kind of passed it down. I looked up to my two oldest brothers, they were so musically inclined and that’s where I got most of the music from, cuz they really were the rap fans back in the day. They always brought home the latest Wu-Tang, Pharcyde; these are the people I grew up on you know? I always used to thief their tapes and stuff.

We have a genre back here [UK] called garage. It’s kind of like dance music but gritty. We used to emcee over music, and I did loads of that. When I got to what we call “college”, you guys call “high school”, the garage culture was evolving a lot, it was evolving into something called grime, this was in 2002.  A lot of people started getting into grime, and emcees became grime acts; I as an emcee became a rapper. I was just influenced by different things. I was listening to Nas, and Jay, Busta, Ludacris and Cam, this was Dipset-heavy era…this was the kind of music I was listening to, which I was heavily influenced by. I started rapping in high school [college in the UK], and when I got into university, I signed up for MySpace and put up some music. It was not mixed, the sound was awful! I freestyled on Ameriie’s “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” record, I had a couple freestyles on there, I thought I was fly. I got a really, really good response, but the response came from America, not from the UK. I had all these Americans hitting me up, saying that the music helped them get through stuff, and that it really touched them, and that’s when I knew, it must have been 2005, but I knew I wanted to feel like that everyday.

Music Video: “Walk to Freedom”, which documents his most recent trip to New York.

You have your own music-focused creative development & marketing company called Port Mayfair. Can you tell us more about what you all do, and the inspiration behind the name? 

As I said, most love used to come from abroad, so we just took it there; I needed an international network. We got all entrepreneurial and I founded a lifestyle group which is Port Mayfair. Mayfair is in Central London, it’s very bougie, for the rich and famous, and very high-end, dining and clubs. The port is where the yachts all meet at one point, and so my idea is, ‘I don’t come from anything and I don’t have the big label, and I don’t have this big backing’ or whatever, but I honestly do believe in creating a product that is as good as a Kanye, as good as those people that are right up here. So when I say “Port Mayfair”, I’m just talking about really creative individuals colliding, and not compromising on product. I’ve just used “Mayfair” because that’s the area, and “port” is where we come together. I want to work with people who are top of their game; they may not have the name, but they are as good as anyone else that’s doing it. It’s kind of like my version of DONDA, basically. I understood coming into the industry that it’s more than music, and people have to buy into you as a person, and what you believe in; buy into you as a brand, you know?

How does rap music in the UK differentiate from that in America?

There isn’t a rap culture in the UK; there is a rap market, but there is not a rap culture. What that means is that we can’t birth any real rap stars here; you can’t make your name here. If you have a name already, there is a market for you, but you can’t make your name here doing rap music. You can make your name here doing “pop-rap” music, i.e. Tinie Tempah, Dizzie Rascal, but if you want to make “rap” music, not trying to discredit or throw shade on those guys cuz I like them, it’s a different genre and it’s not to be confused; they came from grime. A lot of what they call UK rappers are grime acts, but in order to promote them and market them across the nation, is by calling them rappers. They are rappers, they just don’t make rap music.

You were recently on a college tour in the US. What was that experience like?

I’ve recently come back from this college tour in New York, where I saw you. It wasn’t really a big thing, but it was good for experience. I did a lot of traveling and I met some cool people, you know? It just adds to the story.

What can we expect from Ikes, the artist, in the coming months? 

I’ve finished the EP, it’s called “Outside In”. The name plays off the fact that I’ve had to go outside to build a name, with the intentions of  building a name outside to get back in to the UK. I’ve worked real close with a guy named Edward Nixon, who’s the chief engineer of Grammy Award-winning production team, the Justice League. I’ve got this international team now, and we’re ready to deliver “Outside In” to the masses. We don’t have an exact date for the release, but we know we want it to be summer. We want people to want the project, if that makes sense. I’ve got a load of material that is not on the project that we will use to get that buzz going.


It was a pleasure chatting with Ikes! Look out for his latest EP, “Outside In”, coming later this summer. Also be sure to check him out on his official website, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

*Photos courtesy of Ikes 

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