INTERVIEW: North London Rapper Awate Talks Beat Making and Creative Influences

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As a Londoner, it’s always a joy discovering new artists on my doorstep – especially rappers. Most of the hip hop artists I come across are American, and very disconnected from the “British experience”. “How can you really know what’s going on in the UK unless you live here?” you might say. Indeed, culture isn’t merely something you experience through films or books.

For a taste of British life, you need only look to the discography of Awate: A North London rapper, originally from Eritrea, with a gripping vision of what it means to be a city kid, at odds with society. His music taps into such themes as social activism and gentrification, while harking back to old skool hip hop traditions. Now over 13 years in the game, he recently released his debut album, Happiness, and will very soon be embarking on a tour of the UK.

In a catch-up with the rapper himself, we thought we’d delve into the sonic elements of his music and how they help shape his stories.

Your debut album, Happiness, dropped last month. What’s the reception been like for it so far?

It’s been incredible to see people reacting to it around the world. Though I make music for myself first, it proves that the themes included in it are universal and hopefully, timeless.

How would you describe it, sonically?

As a late sixties rap album. The sounds Turkish (my producer) and I referenced for this album were very deliberate. We focused on psychedelic funk and soul from that time period, mainly because that’s what I listen to. And, being from Camden, my unique brand of music was always going to be based on local memories and hazy textures of what was and still is.

Talk us through your creative process for making a song

For both the Happiness LP and the Shine Ancient EP before it, the process was the same. Turkish would send me a few new instrumentals that I would listen to on repeat for a couple of weeks. One of them would jump out at me, and inspire an opening line. From there, I’d be able to write the rest of the song. No matter the beat, I’m always looking for gaps in rhythms to place my vocals, whether they’re rapped or sung. I aim for my vocals to be in the mix as if they were another instrument.

What’s the best way to listen to your music?

With your eyes closed. More importantly, listen to the projects in full! I’m a pretentious, sensitive artist who’s put a lot of time and thought into weaving the pieces together for a reason. If you want the full experience, listen to Happiness from track one to 12 and Shine Ancient from track one to five, completely interrupted. Trust me. Thank me later.

What makes a winning beat?

Space – that’s really important. There needs to be space for the beat to become a song. There also needs to be a good amount of dynamic range: I want to hear the bass and drums lock in and one or two things in the top end to sprinkle some texture.

Which is more important in hip hop: a good voice or good flow?

Both. Just be the best rapper in the world so that nobody has to add any caveats to your skills. I’m the best rapper in the world. Not in London or the UK, not the Eritrean rapper with the best punchlines or choruses. I’m the best, full stop.

Which other rappers do you think you most sound like?

I’ve been doing it for more than 13 years now and have developed my own style of rhyming in terms of how I approach a beat or place words or jokes. With that said, the influencers who’ve had the greatest bearing on my work are Stylah, Lowkey, 50 Cent, Yasiin Bey, Pharoahe Monch, Lauryn Hill, Ms. Dynamite, Saigon, Jay Electronica, Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac, Biggie, Lupe Fiasco, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Klashnekoff, Lil’ Wayne and M. O. P, to name a few.

What do you listen to in your spare time?

Music wise, there is no spare time! Everything I listen to is being analysed and absorbed into my future work. I have to be careful that what I hear isn’t too similar to my own stuff or that it’s not bad, because of that! It’s mainly jazz, funk, Eritrean music, The Stone Roses, Michael Jackson, Fela Kuti and Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic album though.

What big gigs/performances do you have coming up?

“You can catch me skating through your town, putting it down,” as Jigga says, a lot this year. I’ll be playing in Barcelona on 3 May, and then doing The Great Escape Festival on 18 May, before going on my own tour! We’re hitting Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow from 23-26 May so get tickets for that! I’m also supporting Kool G Rap at The Jazz Cafe in my hometown of Camden on 22 June. More to come!!

How can people find out more about you?

There are plenty of articles and interviews I’ve done about my struggles and triumphs, check them out. Hot up my site, happinessisopenforbusiness.com. Peace!

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