The best artists have an innate need to continually tap into new sources of inspiration to stay creative and push forward. For KAM-BU, it’s no different. The Richmond rapper’s debut project ‘Black On Black’ was a socially conscious work that served as an ode to the Windrush generation, integrating vignettes and anecdotes by his Grandfather. Now, KAM-BU is expanding his universe, delving into other pockets of inspiration to create music ready for the dancefloor. The artist has been keeping busy in recent months, from hosting free raves to releasing a string of tracks that lean into the dance and electronic scene.
His springtime single ‘LIVE-O’, and accompanying transitional project ‘BUILT 2 LAST’, leans heavily into Prodigy-evoking rave energy. As KAM-BU puts it, “moving into the electronic side of things is just what I’m into at the moment. It’s something my friends can come and have fun with!” As an artist, it’s important to grow and be almost free to experiment with sounds. This is something that KAM-BU intimately understands. “As you get older, you start doing different things, experimenting with different flavours. I used to go to squat raves as a kid, so it’s part of me. I love performing live shows, so making music that people can dance to is something I want. I’m learning to DJ more now as well, so it’s just where my head is at. It’s been a gradual growth into something I’m aligned with now.”
Live shows aren’t new for KAM-BU. “When I was 18/19, I was putting on shows with my friends. Performing has always been a no-brainer – it doesn’t phase me,” he says with gusto. Last year KAM performed at Glastonbury and earlier in the year had a show with Sainté. Now that his music is changing into a different scene it must be interesting to see the reaction. His free rave parties are a good indicator of this. “People stayed to dance, which is the main thing. It’s nice to be working on some fresh stuff, putting it out then seeing how the people react”. The reaction from the audience can be different, too. “Because it was a headline show, I could play more of my old songs. It’s just nice seeing people dance and not feel awkward dancing…just doing what they want!”
What’s most important for an artist is to have fun, especially during a phase of discovery. “I feel with my last project I was doing something I needed to do: telling a story. I’ve told it now, don’t want tell it a thousand times,” he says. It doesn’t mean that KAM-BU wants to completely stop telling these stories, though. “There are still aspects I want to talk about, but there are other ways it can be done. Like, some of the best songs are telling a story, but you don’t even realise it because it’s just such a good song. That’s how I’m trying to code my stories. Only if you’re really listening, can you hear those stories. But you can still enjoy it otherwise. With hip-hop that element can be quite heavy; it’s good, it’s vital even, but you don’t want to listen to it all the time.”
Whether inspirations are changing for bodies of work, they’re still rooted in KAM-BU and what he represents. “The sounds are rebellious,” he says. “People always say I’m a political rapper, but I don’t want to be branded as that. I think being at a party, or a rave, is as rebellious as you can be.” The release of ‘Black On Black’ was a look back at his past and heritage, tapping into his grandfather’s legacy, as part of the Windrush generation. It was a body of work that was necessary for KAM-BU to share, citing the likes of Fela Kuti and Kendrick Lamar for inspiration.
“That project was me looking heavily into those artists who are telling a story, seeing how they did it. Wanting to try and communicate to a certain demographic, and what would be my story.” Now, he says, inspiration is coming from different places. “My latest project draws inspiration from the raves I used to go to back in the day. But there’s so much going on to take inspiration from. I’ve been listening to a bit of Prodigy, looking at Goldie, and soaking up the origins of UK garage too. Mainly just to learn more about it and the stories of how it came about; documentaries about dance music, the rolling 808 beat and how it all came together.”
“There are so many different branches to dance music…and they’re all good! You have the likes of Faithless, and Roots Manuva, too. The work has been trying to apply them to me,” he continues. Over the years, KAM-Bu has worked with some highly-talented producers, including the likes of Leon Vynehall, p-rallel and JD. Reid on more recent work. Each brings out another side to the artist and his work. “I think it’s a kind of synergy. We go into the studio, I know what I want and how it sounds. When they understand me, that’s the real sweet spot. One of the first barriers is how you have to align your minds. They don’t have to always align, but when you have that synergy it really does help.” He mentions defining single ‘Eton Mess’ as a pivot point – a track which packs a punch, melding socio-political messaging to heavy bass injections: “When I made ‘Eton Mess’, that came out in like half an hour. I was sat in the studio with the producer, just talking about things…and it all just came together.”
Expect new offerings from KAM-BU soon, but not before he learns to live his life. “I’m just taking it step-by-step. Now I’m independent, I’m just trying to keep it moving. ‘Black On Black’ was years in the making, in terms of the stories and things that happened. Before I want to say something new, I want to do something. Each new album or project needs to come with life experience”.
As seen in CLASH Issue 124.
Words: Joe Hale
Photography: Imogene Barron