Meet Strandz, the rapper on a mission to make UK hip hop cool again

Strandz (Picture: Press)
Strandz (Picture: Press)

UK hip hop might not the chart mainstay it was once was, but you’d be unwise to bet against London rapper Strandz as the talent to bring it back to the mainstream again.

The South London star has won a legion of fans by delivering music that is nostalgic without becoming too much of an emulation of what has come before. This blend of old and is as much a part of the music, as it is of his ethos. Before he ever released his first track online, Strandz was burning CDs and trying to sell them, determined to stay true to the sacred tenets that were laid out by his forebears (certainly not something you’d expect from someone who rose to prominence on TikTok). Strandz has always been resourceful though, and whether it was getting a job in a studio at the tender age of 14, or enrolling at Brit School; he was determined to make his mark on the industry.

Spending his early years in both Nigeria and Germany, before settling in South London; has enriched him with a worldly wisdom that is baked into the music, and has become a central theme across his catalogue.

Recently, he offered ‘Us Against The World’, a love track that wore its love of 90s rap on its sleeve and hit the UK top 20 in February.

We spoke to Strandz to understand the importance of making music with a message, what he hopes to achieve with Fully Lidge & why more rappers aren’t making music about love.

Why did you decide to get a job in a studio at 14 years old?

When I first started rapping, I had no links. Because obviously I’d just moved from Germany to Nigeria, to here. My parents had no connections in London at all, or even the entire UK for that matter. It was just me, my brother and my two parents. I had no other network, thats why for me it was like, if I wanted to do something I just had to figure it out for myself.

So that’s why I ended up working in that studio, because I was just trying to figure out ways of being in the studio more. I didn’t wanna be stuck in one studio though, so I used to move around. That was part of my strategy for networking, cause I wanted to be in studios where I could meet people that will then benefit the music I was trying to make.

Did your parents have any reservations about you pursuing music as a career?

Academically I actually did really well. I got like 5 A*s and 5 As in GCSE, so my parents were a bit confused when I told them I’m not going to go uni, I need to focus on music. I wanted to feel the pressure of like oh shit, I said I’m not going uni, so now I’ve gotta go hard.

I just kind of milked it as a gap year, I told my parents I’m gonna take a gap year, and I’m gonna go get it. I made a bit of progress, then I said to them, look let me take another gap year! I’m on like my third gap year now! But they always knew how determined I was, so for me with the music thing, I had already by that point showed them how dedicated I was, and thats why I think it was less of a problem.

What was your Brit School experience like? And how has it helped you develop as an artist?

Yeah Brit School was good, that’s kinda what opened my eyes to all the different types of music. Obviously I already had quite a versatile taste before that because of what my parents listened to, but then like I got to actually study the different genres. I can study this, and understand the history behind each sound, like how stuff developed, how recording equipment developed all of that.

It just made me musically well versed, and now when I’m making music, I understand every part of what I’m doing init. I know how to mix any instrument, I can pretty much play any instrument, obviously not like an expert, but I can play well enough where I can do something with it. That’s what I’m trying to do with my production, just like really getting into Exec producing and getting like orchestras and guitarists coming in, and getting exactly what I want out of those people.

One of the earliest Strandz recordings I could find was ‘Paper’. Sonically it’s quite different from the material you’d come to release towards the end of 2020 with ‘Boy In The Hood’. What promoted this change in direction?

It was just about me figuring out my sound. I was having these thoughts like early Brit School days, thinking I’ve got two years left so I need to start figuring out what my sound is if I’m gonna actually do something in music, like get my own identity init. So then I guess it was when I started working with Blue Boy, and his brother Will, like thats when I kinda started really experimenting with different stuff, cause thats when I actually started really building tracks from the production to the vocal, instead of just getting a beat and jumping on it.

And thats why all the songs from that run of 2020, they all sound so coherent, cause they’re all like tweaked in a way where they just sit sonically together. It helps give it that unique Identity, so people know okay, this is Strandz.

What is it about your sound that people are so drawn to?

I think its different reasons for different generations. I think to the older generation its really nostalgic innit, and it kinda brings them back to the good old days! (laughs), makes them feel like they’re young again. And for the younger generation, its because they didn’t even experience that whole decade of golden age music, they feel that excitement of hearing something fresh for the first time.

How important is it to you to create something like Fully Lidge (Fully Legitimate) rather than just being an artist that focuses solely on the music?

I think thats one of the most important things for me. I knew from the start, when I was making music, if I’m gonna talk, I wanna talk about something. For me, I need to have a message and Fully Lidge is what represented me, cause thats who I am. So I know theres’s gonna be other people who relate to that, so I think its definitely really important. Because I think it can actually have an impact outside of music, and alongside trying to succeed I just wanna do good.

Your 90s hip hop influences are well documented, but I know you’ve got an eclectic taste, so what artists in particular feed into the music that you make?

I love Jhene Aiko. What I like so much about Jhene is, the way she writes music, I take a lot of influence from like how she talks about feelings and stuff like that. Cause with Jhene, I listened to her from young, and when I started listening to her she had a big impact on how I viewed things. Even as young boy some of the messages that she’s talking about, with the toxic masculinity and all of that, and how that is from a woman’s perspective.

It probably influenced me to be more open about love in my music, because I wasn’t only listening to Hip Hop were its not talked about, I was listening to the type of music where they’re very open with their emotions. I think its an important part of writing, that everyone should study, actually talking about stuff that connects.

Why aren’t we seeing more rappers make music about love?

I think it’s just because of the environment, and what it does to you. When you come from that lower class on the block kinda environment. you’re more focused on survival as opposed to really thinking about love. A lot of these people come from broken homes, so the reason its not in the music is because they don’t actually talk about it at all. I think a lot of man need therapy, and they don’t understand that, I think thats why, I don’t really blame the musicians, its just a reflection of the environment.