» News and Features » Lowkey interview: My music can’t be separated from the war on terror
Lowkey interview: My music can’t be separated from the war on terror
Daniel Lovatt caught up with the rapper to talk about giving music substance, side projects and justice for Grenfell.
Last updated: 15th Mar 2019
It is immediately striking that not only is Lowkey an exceptionally gifted rapper in his ability to convey complex political issues, he is also an extremely down to earth, pleasant guy. After exchanging pleasantries and he immediately stated how grateful he was for the opportunity. But as we delved into the questions, it was evident that we would be the grateful ones, for such an intimate insight into his life.
First, the question on everybody’s lips. What inspired him to return now after an eight-year absence? Lowkey fired back "In our current society, hip-hop artists have a much wider reach and can direct people towards an alternative political programme."
Going on to comment "It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that somebody such as Akala could run for city major." A dream we believed is shared by all.
On the whole, people seem to be open to progressive ideas. Thanks to the impact, as Lowkey mentioned, that himself, Akala and AJ Tracey had in aiding the Labour Party’s recent electoral win in Kensington, we are now validated in our hope that our society can emerge from the darkness in love and harmony.
It’s no secret that Lowkey is an extremely proactive activist in both the local and international community, ranging from his work in helping to aid those effected by the Grenfell disaster to the Palestinian solidarity cause. When asked of what exactly this activism consisted of, his response was both informed and evocative.
"The Palestinian cause is pivotal to justice and crucial to fight for. A group of people forcefully removed from their land and unable to return home."
A salient point followed by "We should all take a role in activism, my music is an extension of my role in this cause." There was reference to the British mandate which served to demonstrate just how articulate Lowkey is, a man with facts to support his agenda. He discussed his work with Grenfell as the interview continued.
In our increasingly dark political landscape, it would be logical to assume that Lowkey’s fanbase would’ve mobilised and expanded in recent years. Lowkey sees the obstruction to this mobilisation 'the sophisticated mechanisms in place to de-stabilise mobilisation."
The question about authority has to be asked, why is political music considered counter-productive?’ It can be argued with music with such deft political depth can be difficult to listen to.
But as he accurately states, "politics does to you even if you don’t do politics."
People do, as they always have, gravitate towards music. They understand ‘being disenfranchised’ and that’s exactly what Lowkey aims to illuminate. The struggle that we may know around us but not identify with our own circumstances. In this sense, we are all, whether we know it or not, are all fans of the artist.
"My music can’t be separated from the war on terror, the social forces that have shaped Muslims lives."
Lowkey is aware of not better nor worse, but different receptions that he will receive in different areas of the UK, but even though the reception may differ from time to time, he is nonetheless incredibly grateful for the opportunity to travel the country, considering the fact that he has never be signed by a major label or had huge resources at his disposal.
"In areas like Birmingham and Manchester, there will be higher receptivity to the topics I discuss" but he concluded that it is not exclusive to these areas. It is to our joy that his shows can be witnessed wherever we may live.
Talk then advanced to his defiant single releases ‘The Return of Lowkey’ and also ‘GOAT Flow.’ Anybody external to the song-writing practice may struggle to know how to condense such broad political discussion into a song, whether it be 3 minutes or 7. These singles in particular are "light in substance" he mentions, "the substance is implicit which means that they are able to be accessible without doing a disservice to those issues."
It is, as he addressed "a fine line" between those two things, and sometimes music of this calibre can be too "dense and exclusive with a particular lexicon." There are no specific tricks of the trade that the artist conceded, it is a "constant struggle" to maintain the balance, but to us Lowkey seems to do the complete opposite to struggle with his execution.
Another eagerly anticipated question arose ‘What can we expect from the new album that we haven’t heard before?’ and although the answer could be figured out from the constantly evolving climate and his activism, he generously offered us more. The album includes a collaboration with Frankie Boyle and Maverick Sabre on one track, which sounds like a brilliantly obscure 3 celebrities I’d have to dinner setup but one we personally cannot wait for.
The album also features the tracks ‘Ghost of Grenfell’ and ‘Ahmed’ which both, like the entirety of the album, illustrate the times that we live in now.
As an off-key inquisition, the interview turned to the role of the artist in society and their duty to use their position to subvert elitist ideology. Lowkey was already familiar with the works of Antonio Gramsci, as you would expect such an educated person to be. "The role of the organic artist should be to propagate ideas whilst having a direct link to the community."
This is especially relevant to him and his interpersonal charity work in London, and also to the "Neo-liberalist guiding principles that politically miseducate people." His music is a tool, serving as "subversive to the corporate irresponsibility." An interesting point that the artist made was "no music can really be classed as A-political" and I suppose that is true, whether it causes uproar or concurrence.
The track ‘Ghosts of Grenfell’ has been received fantastically since it’s feature on BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ slot. With so many secrets and inappropriate government demeanour, we are puzzled as to why more artists haven’t followed in Lowkey’s footsteps by releasing material that brings this disaster to a wider audience.
‘There has been little interrogation into the details’ he responded ‘it seems to be that the question perpetually spread by media is do Muslims deserve social housing? Opposed to whether American and French construction companies have the right to endanger lives?’ It is no secret however, that these questions haven’t been pursued. The sheer anger of people both effected and in proximity of the Grenfell disaster cannot be tamed. "It is a slap in the face to local residents who watched their neighbours burn to death." He then stated "People fighting for safety have been disfigured in mainstream media."
"There must have been tens, maybe hundreds of stories about those construction companies, yet thousands of stories about these Grenfell ‘fraudsters.’ It is an unforgivable slap in their faces, and it will take a long time for the government to reverse the damage they have done, even if they decide to apologise."
After the disaster, Lowkey was made director of performing arts for the kids on the Green charity. When asked whether this was merely a hobby for the kids or encouraging them to express themselves more productively, he replied "its psychological healing and a form of catharsis for them. I would encourage everybody to go and support them." We would also like to encourage that you go and support the fantastic work that both him and the kids are doing.
A factor that may not have propelled Lowkey to notoriety, but indeed guided him in parts is his incredible collaborations with rappers spitting a similar mantra, such as Akala and Immortal Technique, as well as his supergroup Mongrel, formed with John McClure and ex Arctic Monkeys bassist Andy Nicholson. Fans may dream of second collaborations with these artists, and Lowkey tantalised us with fulfilling our fantasies.
"I was with Immortal Technique the other day and was on the phone with John speaking about doing another Mongrel. Me and Akala also have plans to write a new track together." Pass us a bottle of water and a fan before we collapse. In his humble nature, he finished with how "honoured" he has been to work with these artists.
Akala took a break from music to publish his sublime novel ‘Natives’ last year, and as Lowkey demonstrates an equally sublime gift of the gabber, we asked whether he had any plans to shift into mediums other than music. His cards remained relatively close to his chest, but he did tease that he has been ‘in talks with a few people over a novel’ and to ‘watch this space.’ Don’t worry, we will be watching that space vigilantly.
The interview concluded as they often do with a ‘what next?’ to which some artists may not wish to hear with all efforts focused into an upcoming album release and tour. Lowkey was happy to oblige though, and fans will be overjoyed that he did. "I aim to start work on Soundtrack to the Struggle 3. I also plan to finish my masters." Yes, it may have been an 8 -year hiatus, but the work has not stopped for the artist. We trust him enough to comment that it doesn’t look like stopping any time soon either.
It's an absolute pleasure talking with Lowkey - a genuine artist and a genuine human being. It takes great courage to stand up for justice in the overwhelming face of adversity. Long may he continue fighting the honourable fight.