I caught up with UK rapper, Barney Artist, to chat about Kettle Chips and his new EP Bespoke. His career has been steadily developing over the last couple of years; his debut, BAEP, was released in November 2012. Currently in an exciting phase of his career, his new project Bespoke is now available for purchase and his first headline show is imminent.
Barney Artist's music is laid back and thought-provoking hip hop, with smooth accents of jazz and intertwining rhythmic patterns. Hailing from East London, he's part of an emerging experimental hip hop scene in London, along with the likes of Hawk House and Little Simz.
EARMILK: Hi! Tell us how the name Barney Artist came about?
Barney Artist: Hey! My names Barney, I’m not the coolest rapper ever. I remember when I was younger I used to try and come up with really cool rap names. I started liking grime so I was called Breezy, Big Man B, all those dreadful names; but then I started taking music seriously when I was about 19 and I really struggled with a name. My mate was like “why don’t you just call yourself Barney?” cus apparently my name kinda suits me. I always got the “ah like Barney the dinosaur?” and I’d have to be like “haa you’re so funny”. The whole 'artist' thing came about because when I make music I try to paint sounds, that’s my thing. Painting sounds is like painting words, over instrumentation. I want people to get to know me as Barney rather than be like “hey you’re a bad boy”. My real name is Barnabas but you never hear of young people being called Barnabas. Barnabas is a 50 year old man with a dog, in Shropshire!
It’s quite awkward when people ask me what I do and I have to say “I’m a rapper” but I don’t really talk about like hoes and cars and drugs and stuff; there’s nothing wrong with talking about that but I just don’t have any! I’d rather you hear my music and make your decision, I think people listen to it and understand where I’m coming from. I don’t want anyone to have any preconceptions about being a rapper, so I’m an artist.
EM: Alright cool, so lets talk about your music. I hear jazz and 90s hip hop influences in your tracks, but is there any one in particular who has inspired you in your writing?
BA: See like, I’m quite flexible when it comes to my music taste in general. I didn’t start rapping till I was like 16, I'd been avoiding it because I didn’t find it interesting. What struck me was the J Dilla kind of stuff because of the instrumentation. My best friend, Alfa Mist, he’s the guy that produces a lot of my stuff and he’s a jazz pianist, I’ve known him since I was 6. He made the beats and I kinda had to fit with it, but as time grew I really got interested in it. There’s something about jazz instrumentation that allows you to be free with it. I feel like rap is poetry in a sense but it can also be instrumentation the same way a sax or a trumpet or a drummer has to find time in the rhythms and that’s what I try and do with my music and my rhyming patterns. So the jazz influence is quite strong because it does spur thought processes. It allows you to be free and not have to be constricted with a verse-chorus-verse-chorus, or having to talk about a certain thing.
EM: So, what did you grow up listening to?
Alright, I’ll be honest with you. I got raised in quite a different way; my godparents are like middle class white people from Watford and my mum is a single black mum from East London, so I kind of got two sides of the spectrum. The first album I ever got bought was UB40’s Greatest Hits and then the second album I bought was Nellyville! In terms of music I’m very much a Magic FM kinda guy, that’s what I love listening to. I’m very good at understanding why somebody would like a certain genre of music, like rock for example, I can listen to it and say “OK, I understand why you like that” and then I can also like it myself. A lot of my friends are musicians and stuff, they play me all these Vs and VIIs and so I have to kind of get used to it and go “OK, that’s pretty cool”. I do like listening to it but it’s not just that I listen to; I can listen to literally the most ratchet, dreadful rapping about everything disgusting that I don’t probably stand for, but then I can listen to overly preachy kinda rapping as well and still find a balance where I can appreciate why I like that and appreciate why I like that, and not kind of separate them.
EM: I kinda hear some similarities to UK band Hawk House within your music; I feel like this is a new experimental hip hop phase in the UK, what do you reckon?
BA: Yea, it’s crazy because like the Hawk House guys, we knew each other from a while ago, before when they were called A Yellow Man. It’s crazy how they’ve shot up and done really well, it’s a really lovely thing to see. I feel like, in British hip hop there’s always a stigma involved in trying to be American. One thing I’ve realized is that I think in the UK, and London especially, we have such a rich history with music, whether it’s The Beetles or The Rolling Stones. I feel like obviously because hip hop started in America, we want to follow that and do free styles and beats over there and copy their formula. In actual fact, we’re cool over here; we’ve got sick nights, we’ve got the bagel shop on Brick Lane, we’ve got Camden, we don’t talk to each other on trains, we don’t stand on the left side of the escalators; that’s us and we shouldn’t be afraid of bring British and sooner or later they’re gunna clock and wanna understand it more!
It’s great to see that there’s a bunch of us who are kinda coming through and pushing the boundaries in terms of hip hop and not being limited to the formula. If you make music that is true to you and that you love, eventually the people who love it are gunna love you. Then you’re gunna have a real fanbase rather than just a flash in the pan. I feel like its great that the Hawk House guys are doing really well; there’s a new guy Jesse James who’s sick, my mate Nick Brewer, people like that, they’re coming through, like J Prince. What’s crazy is that a lot of these people I grew up with. It’s really great to see and I hope to see that it grows from now on.
EM: Do you write the music for your tracks or play any instruments yourself?
BA: I’m like the most untalented musician probably ever. A lot of my friends are musicians, so my friend Alfa plays keys and my good friend Dornik, he’s just been signed by PMR, he’s a drummer – plays drums for Jessie Ware. When I go and chill with them with they’re jamming and I’m just looking around twiddling my thumbs feeling so untalented. With the Bespoke project I was very hands on with it. I chose how to arrange things, how the tracks would flow. When there would be hidden tracks in there, when there wouldn’t be any beat, even with the sound and singing elements, I was very hands on and it pushed me. I could do the J Dilla kinda stuff cus it’s very melodic and it’s simple, with melodic rapping and that’s great, but I feel like I’m still very much London and there’s certain London elements that I tried to add to this. I dropped the video for “Beep Beep” and there's grime elements in it, but the jazz samples make it a jazz-infused grime song, which I don’t think anyone’s done yet. Then at the end of it I’ve put a Dizzee Rascal Vs Crazy Titch, them fighting which is like an old school thing; just to kind of reference London pinpoints.
I’m not musical in terms of playing instruments but I’m kinda good at structuring how I want something to sound and how I want it listened, to kind of experience it and so you can take it away and zone out to it.
EM: Does it make you want to try learning an instrument?
BA: I think I’m too scared because my friends are all good and I don’t wanna be the shit one!
EM: What’s your favourite song on your new EP Bespoke?
BA: I’m gunna say the really cheesy thing and say it changes all the time, cus it does! But at the moment it’s probably between "ILVU" and "Lonely Place". "ILVU" has got my friend Emmavie on it, she’s really dope, she’s like a producer/singer/everything. Me, her and Alfa have created a little team, we create a lot of stuff together. This track didn’t have a chorus on it, so I sent it over to her and she just came back with that, and it’s pretty cool.
EM: It’s so useful having friends in musical places! I guess it’s probably the best situation to be able to work with your mates?
BA: Don’t get me wrong, me and Alpha have big fights, cus Alpha’s like my brother. I’ve literally known him since he was 6, we’ve grown up together but we have arguments about music stuff. But it’s always great to stand back and say we’ve created something that we’re really proud of, together with my mate rather than someone I don’t really know, so yea it’s pretty cool.
EM: You’ve got your first headline gig coming up? (Tuesday 2nd September at The Macbeth, London) What can we expect?
BA: I think there will be a lot of energy and we’ve got a band, which is cool. So it’s me, Alfa’s playing keys, his girlfriend Kya’s playing bass and we’ve got a drummer call Cameron; we’ve got pads and stuff so I’ll be triggering stuff. I kinda get bored when I go to some rap gigs with guys just walking up one side of the stage then the other, so like I said about the whole rap as an instrument, I’m gunna try and do that in terms of being part of the band. Our rehearsals are going really, really well and it should be a live experience. I might jump on something or there might be videos and stuff so it should be like a real experience not only audibly but visually as well.
EM: Did you go and see Chance The Rapper when he was in London?
BA: Yea, yea I did. Chance is sick. He’s a rapper but he’s not scared to push it, and that’s exactly what I wanna do. Yea I rap, but it should be more than that. I’m not afraid to dance and I don’t take myself too seriously.
EM: What dance moves will you be busting?
BA: Oh amazing dance moves! My running man is impeccable, all of that. I’ve got long limbs; I’m very tall so my arms in terms of flapping… it’s going to be amazing.
EM: Can’t wait! What do your friends think of your music?
BA: A lot of my friends don’t listen to me rap, and when they do listen to my music they go, “Oh you’re not actually that bad!”. I think because my personality is quite bubbly and quite extravert, they think I’m gunna be quite cheesy. “Ooo my names Barney, and I rap to the beat”. I’m just pretty much a simple guy, I like watching Family Guy and eating Kettle Chips – salt and vinegar.
EM: Any particular dip with your Kettle Chips?
BA: This is the thing; dip is only relevant with certain crisps. You can’t be ruining the flavor. The salt and vinegar has to bang, it has to kick you out.
EM: Yeah, I get that. What do you have lined up for the next year or two? Where do you hope to be?
BA: Well literally it’s been quite crazy because there’s this band that I’ve really loved for a while called Django Django, they’re like a psychedelic, funk band. Basically, they reached out to me, so I’m gunna be doing some stuff with the guy who creates a lot of their stuff, in September. We’re trying to make an EP together, which is really cool, really nerve-racking.
There’s definitely room to grow, I just hope people will listen to it and I really hope that the music spreads enough. I’d rather somebody listened to it and told me they didn’t like it that not listen to it at all. I’m never really been confident in a project because I’ve rushed it, but this one I haven’t and I really hope people get the chance to listen to it, digest it, and come out with what they think.
EM: Ok so, if you were to play any festival in the world, what would be your number 1?
BA: Very good question… anywhere in the world?
BA: Hmm lets go with Coachella. I’m saying Coachella because I think they’re likely to get the music, in terms of the crowd. They’re more willing to embrace what it is, so yea probably Coachella. Imagine!!
EM: I’ve read that you feel quite strongly about staying independent and not being controlled by a label, is that still the case?
BA: Well it's crazy because quite a lot of my friends have been getting signed recently. I interned at Warner/Chappell for a year and it was pretty brutal, publishing’s definitely better than record labels, but say you get a signed by an A&R called Jeff and you get on really well with Jeff, but then Jeff gets fired and so you get referred to Marilyn. Marilyn doesn’t really like you but she has to look after you; and Marilyn doesn’t fight for you. A record label is a business at the end of the day, if they’re not on the same page as you, you can end up getting shelved and the shelf life in this thing is not cool, it messes you up. The graveyards of record labels are real.
You just have to be so careful with it. I’d rather be independent and have a sick hot following, with people who actually want to listen to my music. When ever I’ve spoken to A&Rs in the past they say really weird things like, "Oh my days your really unique and current". What?! That doesn’t make sense, how can you be unique AND current? So I dunno, the money doesn’t mean any thing to me, especially as we’re at such a delicate point with Little Simz and Hawkhouse making really big waves across scenes.
Even my friend Tom Misch, its crazy cus me and him are really good friends and he just does his thing. That’s such a sick quality to have; it doesn’t taint him. He’s young, he’s 19 and still like “I don’t wanna work with that person, I wanna work with that person” and it’s pure. I feel like, in this day and age, when everyone’s being so transparent, you wanna put yourself in a position where you’re not being fake, because then you'll have to perform those fake songs that you make for the rest of your life, because those are the hits you made.
Put it this way, if I was able to do exactly what I’m doing now but with a label, that knew how to market me in a way… OK, I’ll be specific, I think independent labels like XL, for example, I’d be happy to because they get people to do exactly what they’re doing, but they know how to make it broader and then they do well. With major labels, a lot of it is “can you make me a top 10 hit?” And if I can’t make you a top 10 hit I’m not gunna be around no more, and that’s awful. You have one chance at being the new guy and once you’ve been dropped no one wants to touch you again. It’s brutal. It’s so risky, and that’s why in terms of signing to a label, they would have to proper get me. I’d have to be ready in myself and at this point in time I haven’t got a big enough fan base to do that yet. Sorry got a quite deep there!
EM: Cool, I think you've got that down! Thanks for chatting to me Barney, it's been a pleasure!
I really look forward to hearing more from Barney in the future. Grab yourself a copy of the EP and check out the video for "Beep Beep" off the new EP below: