Oscar #Worldpeace stands apart from nearly every other rapper in the UK right now. Backed by Mike Skinner and the rest of the Tonga crew he’s cut a path through the scene with a unique take on the sounds of London. It’s one that draws on grime, trap and classic hip hop to deliver politically charged dispatches from the city, tackling everything from heavy-handed policing in black neighbourhoods to the grim reality of life on the roads.
Where Oscar differs from many of the UK’s current school of MCs is his perspective. Informed by his upbringing in Tottenham, Oscar’s stories are street-level tales not from the perspective of the plug or the shotta but from an ordinary young man, growing up in a deprived part of London, wanting better for himself and his people. It’s a singular vision that doesn’t shy away from supposedly controversial topics. Like so many ‘alternative’ MCs in the UK, it’s left him fighting for radio play while the big stations champion more commercial and conventional sounding rap music. All this has only strengthened Oscar’s resolve and belief in his message, pushing to create an alternative narrative to the one he sees presented in the lyrics of mainstream rappers. Notion caught up with him ahead of the release of his new EP IC3 earlier this month.
Can you give me an overview of the concept of the new EP?
Oscar: IC3 is the police identity code for black, growing up in Tottenham there have been challenging sides to growing up as a black male in London, and I wanted to touch on the things that have affected me, the people that look like me and my community. Every time I approach music I like to approach it from an honest place and I feel like this has really empowered me, rather than just doing any type of music about braggadocios kind of stuff. It’s empowered the people around me and the people I love the most as well.
Where there any reference points you had in mind when you were making it?
Yeah, Sizzla’s got a tune called ‘No White God’, and as soon as I heard that tune, it hit me, goosebumps and everything. I’m a big Sizzla fan but that’s not one of the songs I heard growing up, I don’t know, it just didn’t find me. When I first heard it, it hit me, and I wanted that same feeling that hit me. I wanted to give to the people what Sizzla gave to me. Again growing up in London, Mark Duggan was from the same area I was from, Smiley Culture is someone my mum listened to, it’s like everything is around me, I know these things first hand.
It’s translating this thing that can seem abstract to people who don’t experience it into a personal thing right?
It’s not even just about me; again, I don’t approach music to talk about materialistic things, I do it to inspire and to help. I’ve got younger siblings; I grew up with a single parent mum, I’ve got a responsibility to speak from the truth because they’re gonna hear it. My mum’s gonna hear it, my gran’s gonna hear it and they’re gonna know I’m chatting shit if I’m chatting shit. I have to be honest; I have a responsibility.
Musically it feels like there’s some difference from Recluse – a more refined sound overall…
It’s probably because Recluse had a lot of beats that started made by friend Ragz Originale. But IC3, most of the beats were started by me, so I created the sound, it’s my sound. It’s all one. I’m at home; I’m starting the lyrics at the same time, that’s why it sounds more cohesive.
Was that deliberate?
Nah, it was straight after Recluse, I done a headline show and was just trying to listen to music and it just found me, that’s the sound. The first song I made from IC3 was ‘No White God’, that riff is the first thing that came to me when I was making it at my house. With iPod headphones as well, I don’t have no big set up, I have iPod headphones and a laptop.
You said you’ve had the whole project done for about a year now, how come you’ve waited this long to put it out?
It took this long because I knew how important it was to me and I wanted to put it out right and I had to go through a lot of industry pricks about this project and a lot of people that didn’t understand it. I’m at that point where I’m not going to do that again, I was saying earlier you come in so humble and revealing and open, and you keep getting crushed and crushed. You’re putting your heart into it, and that’s why I’ve had it for so long because I was like: ‘Yoo I’ve got this piece of art, my community will love this, my people will love this’. You’re trying to sell it, but no-one’s buying it because they’re not from where you’re from. They’re not walking the places I’m walking, I had to remember, they’re just people in an office, they haven’t stepped on these Tottenham highroads or Hackney highroads or Brixton highroads like I have. I had to wash that all off and get to a place where I only have real people around me who want to push my music.
There’s a narrative the industry is pushing that it’s become easier to talk about the realities of growing up black in London, but from what you’re saying that doesn’t seem to be entirely true.
There’s a lot of great black people making money and feeding their families, and I’m happy for them, but there’s also people like myself who don’t wanna do it for the money or whatever. Money fuels me to go studio or whatever, I have to eat, but my main thing is for the generation after, I have a responsibility to help that and nurture that and if they keep hearing these songs on the radio they’re not going to feel like they can be different. They’re going to keep following the same pattern that’s been happening, which isn’t fair. They need to have another narrative.
When I was growing up I had different music to listen to; it wasn’t just one thing. I feel like now there’s one narrative being pushed and if you’re not doing that sound then you’re not in, it’s afrobeats, it’s drill, and it was grime. It’s like ‘yo there are other people pushing something totally different that’s just as important’.
There’s a lot of debate at the moment about that – the narratives and the impact that they have on young people especially with drill, do you have an opinion on any of that?
I think it’s an easy cop-out for people to say… these people are talking about real life stuff, it’s just their versions. Maybe the media hasn’t heard another version, like myself or Kojey Radical. That’s why the media wants to throw it at drill, they need another sound, like ‘this is happening, but this is how we’re looking at it’. [Drill rappers] are going through it, but we’re going through it as well, only we see it differently. Luckily enough I didn’t have to sell drugs or kill anyone, I was able to live my life,. I still saw it around me, but I saw it from behind the wall. I saw it from the inside as well, I’ve never said this an interview but my dad’s open [about it], my dad was a drug dealer you know, my mum had me at seventeen. I’ve seen real things, so those things made me who I am, I know that it’s not glitz and glamour, I know that it’s bullshit, I know that it’s hurting people out here. Some of these kids might not know, they might find it fun, but it’s not fun when you’re seeing it inside your house.
You mentioned Kojey, do you feel part of a wider thing that’s going on with artist like Kojey Radical, 808ink etc.?
Those are my peers; we’re billed on the same line-ups and stuff, so it turns into those things, it makes sense to put us together. We have similar stories, but it’s very different as well. People coming from different angles but it’s easy to group us together.
How a lot of people might know you is through your association with Mike Skinner and Tonga, how did you first get involved with them?
Mike reached out to me on Twitter and I couldn’t believe it. He was using the DOT account when he was doing the DOT stuff, he emailed me as well and just said ‘let’s meet up’. When I was going to the meeting I was like ‘it’s going to be some next guy there, it’s not gonna be Mike Skinner’. From there he’s been a great mentor, he’s helped me out with mixing and mastering some of my songs, he put out a couple of my first singles, teaching me the game, he took me on tour, I’ve been everywhere in Europe, Ibiza, Copenhagen, Berlin, France. He’s shown me how to manoeuvre through the game so when my time comes I’ll know how do manoeuvre. I appreciate the whole Tonga gang, Murkage Dave, Clepto, Smith, Mista Silva, Teeth and Mike Skinner, of course, the boss.
One of your ongoing creative partnerships is with Taz Tron Delix; he does a lot of your videos. The two of you create a particular version of London together…
It’s just someone you find; nothing is a coincidence, it’s just like-mindedness. People coming together, creating art, that want to do things further than just for the money. When I first met Taz the first video we did for pennies, the three-part video I did from Recluse, again, was just pennies. It’s just kids that want to create and add to the world. We want to add; we don’t want to take away from it. Taz is a brilliant guy to work with.
Where did you meet him?
I saw a video he did for someone and just saw something in him, like ‘if we take this and that and then add our elements to it it’ll be sick.’ He’ll tell you the same; he was waiting for an artist like myself to give him that creative freedom to do what he wants.
‘No White God’ came out today – I was reading your interview with Noisey and the thing that struck me was the fact that you said no black DJs wanted to play it…
You come in so humble but you just get fucked over so much you’re just screaming and I’m at that point now. I feel like I’ve never made music with the intent of anyone particular in my mind, but this, I made for my people. I made it for everyone but I made for my people to be proud of me, and to be able to be like ‘I’m one of you’. I keep saying I am their little brother so for them to turn around and not play me, that hurts me.
I made it for them, they walked on these roads I walked on, so for them to say you’re not into it, I find that a bit shocking. I’ve said this before if some of them played it and some of them didn’t, cool, I’d be happy with that but when no one’s played it, I can’t fuck with that, I don’t believe that. That’s not real to me.
What kind of feedback have you had?
In emails, people have said ‘XXX is not into this’ and that broke me completely because you’re from where I’m from, this is mad, man. If you’re scared of losing your job, bruv there are people losing their lives, it’s cool to play other music, but change the narrative, be a part of the change, help out! There are people out here speaking real things, don’t shy away from it, give these kids another option because some of us aren’t lucky and it’s real, man.
It’s not about me, that’s what my thing is, it’s about everything else behind me but I just wanted to be the person to help, to start the conversation and I’m happy that these conversations are starting. I can go on these stations, and eventually, when they do play me, I’m gonna keep the same energy we’re gonna have a brother-brother or brother-sister conversation about it, we’re going to get into it: ‘why didn’t didn’t you want to play it? What happened? Where were you mentally?’ Ok, maybe they’re not where I am mentally but I want to understand that, I want to have that dialogue. I don’t want you to turn around and say you’re not into it, that’s cheap, that’s not good enough for me.
I wonder, and obviously, I’m not black so my perspective on this could be off, I wonder if maybe the fact that white DJs were playing and black DJs weren’t is something to do with how white DJs have more license to be ‘experimental’?
That’s mad because what I’m talking about is black culture, it’s the most blackest song ever, ‘No White God’ that’s what I’m saying, “oh my gosh, lift up blacks til my shapes tip-top” there’s nothing more black than that. So I don’t know what they’re feeling. Again, I understand if you’re scared, that’s the problem then, if you’re not comfortable in your job, there you go, that’s the problem! That’s why I wrote the song, let’s have a conversation about it, who’s fucking you over in your company man?! Let’s talk about it. Air them out! It’s 2018, the internet is powerful, people are getting cancelled every day, whoever’s in that building, the BBC, Beats1 building, we can get to the top of it and cancel them. You see what they did to these other radio stations already man.
It’s not twenty and thirty years ago. When I first played it to my mum she was like ‘are you sure you want to do this early, wait until you get bigger.’ No! I’m telling her she’s not raised in my time, now you have to realise the internet is more powerful than any corporation, some of these influencers have more followers than a TV channel, those views count for votes.
It seems like people are paying more attention to this EP, how do you think reception is going to be?
I feel like it will divide opinions and that’s what music is meant to do. If you’re always getting yes yes yes then you’re doing something wrong, I want it to start a conversation. I want to be held accountable for all the things I do from here. I want to do more than music, seeing how the industry moves I know I’m much greater than the industry and I’m going to do something much greater for the world, I feel like IC3 will help me navigate that, hopefully everything will line-up for me to do something greater for the world and for people around me.