“I’ve Grown As A Musician” K-Trap Is Staking His Claim

The inside story of his incredible new album...

For the best part of seven years, K-Trap has been the leading voice in a new generation of UK Rap. Pioneering a new wave of Drill, the South London artist has transcended the genre and has rapidly become a household name thanks to his breakout hit, ‘Warm’, as well as his recent mixtape with Headie One which saw them both nominated for a BRIT Award

Now after several stellar mixtapes and collaborative projects, Trapo has landed with his debut album, ‘Smile?’, which presents as a culmination of his standout career thus far. This is K-Trap at his most ambitious, throwing himself into multiple production styles and elevating his lyricism to a more emotive and honest place. 

CLASH sat down with the artist to talk about his come up, the removal of his mask and how that affected his musical output, his album process and what comes next in an already trailblazing career.

What are your earliest memories of music?

Music has always been a big part of my life. From just being at home and having older siblings and my parents playing songs to school as well – just my whole surroundings. It’s played a big role in getting me to where I am now. I started rapping when I was very young either just to myself or to a small circle of friends. As I got older I started to do more of it.

What would you say your earliest influences were?

My earliest influences were more on the R&B side. Slow jams, Reggae; more like happy, soulful music. I don’t really listen to UK Rap or Drill that much. What I listen to is a bit different because I don’t really have playlists. I just have certain days where I pick and choose depending on my mood. But yeah, I don’t really listen to Drill because the Drill music that I like isn’t that current. If I listen to Drill I’ll be going back to like the 2016 sound.

You first came onto the scene with your breakout track, ‘David Blaine’. What do you think has changed for you musically since then?

Loads! Everything – I’ve just studied my craft and I’ve got a lot more to speak about. I’ve explored different sounds and jumped on different types of beats. I’ve just grown as a musician and become a bigger artist in the process. 

And that first chapter of your career ended when you removed your mask. How did that transform your career and what have been the positives and negatives of that decision?

I feel like the negatives were at the very start because it was a lot for people to digest. Where I’m from in my musical background and coming from Drill music, creating songs that are very dark and aggressive, I took off the mask and may not have looked exactly how my music sounded to my audience. At that time I was kind of in a confused state of my career when I wasn’t really sure of my sound. 

After I got over that little hurdle, I became more sure of myself and I was back to normal. I sort of dodged the whole stigma where everyone associated the mask with me. Once I got back to my old feel and into the groove of things it didn’t matter if I had the mask or not because I was still able to give people that essence. 

Do you feel like it was the right decision at the right time or do you have any regrets about it?

Yeah man, I don’t feel like it was the perfect time and I don’t feel like it wasn’t the perfect time. It is what it is and it was what it was, but I’m happy with the decision. Once I started to feel like music is me and this is my actual career, I never saw myself taking my music to these heights with the mask on. 

And since that moment you’ve had a lot of hits, but ‘Warm’ sort of shifted the landscape of UK Rap. How much did that song in particular change things for you?

‘Warm’ definitely changed a whole load of things for me. Numbers wise it did things that I haven’t done before at that stage of my career. It gave me an even wider audience and grew my fanbase, got me a lot of bookings and boosted that side of my music. When that song was going off in that 2021/22 period I dropped a joint project and two mixtapes so I was definitely putting in a lot of work around it.

What do you think it is about that song in particular that resonated with so many people?

I feel like I just took it back to the streets, man. It was that raw feeling that people missed from me and I feel like there were a lot of people who felt like I couldn’t give them that type of sound after I took the mask off. For that reason I think people were shocked and it just grew naturally from there. I think it showed that I’m one of one – very unique – and I’m here to stay.

Moving towards the present and your new album, ‘Smile?’ – what does that title mean to you?

There’s a lot of reasons behind the title but the long and short of it is that because this is my debut album, I wanted the title to be something that everyone can relate to. We all have a desire to be happy at some stage of our lives. For me personally, I don’t really smile too much and people have always asked me why or told me to smile. In the process of making this album it made me think about why that was. 

It made me think about why I don’t give off much and about different situations in my life – my come up and my upbringing – and I feel like I put that all into the project. I feel like once people listen they will get a better idea of why I don’t smile, but it’s just based on my emotional ups and downs. 

You kind of tap into that concept with the intro and outro tracks on the album, making it seem like a therapy session. What kind of highs and lows have you had to work through to get to this point?

So many but probably the biggest one, is just like making the transition into becoming an artist. Coming from where I’ve come from and my background, I could have been a statistic. Just being from the streets and coming over to this world and managing a business or company and cleaning up our image and actually focusing on music, all of those are things I’ve had to work through. It hasn’t been easy but I know where I’m heading and I know that everything up to this point has been based on my decisions. I know what I want and that’s to keep pushing and get to the finish line. 

You’ve been around for a fair amount of time now and dropped a lot of mixtape. Why is now the right time for you to drop a debut album?

One thing I’d say, I’ve got to a stage where I feel like in the last like 18 months, I’ve gained a lot of new listeners, supporters, fans, and I’ve given out a fair share of mixtapes. I feel like I’m about to make that next level and that next chapter in my life so it’s almost out with the old and in with the new. I wanted to make a statement and people deserve to know a little more about me before I make the massive step up that I’m about to do. That’s why I felt it called for an album. 

Across the project we’ve got some classic K-Trap songs and also some where you tap into some more versatile sounds. Is that a conscious decision for you?

For me this album is like coming into my home. This is me. I’m able to touch on so many different things and show that my life isn’t all glitz and glam. It’s not just pain, it’s not just love, it’s not just hate. That’s what I’ve tried to make clear to everyone and give people an insight to all of these things, not just one side. 

We also see a lot of collaboration on the album, from guest features to producers. It seems like quite a meticulous process…

The one thing about this album is that it is actually about the music and making big songs. In my career I’ve worked with some huge artists but maybe not made the best of songs. On this project it’s a lot more about the craft and less about the status. I don’t care how many you’ve sold or how many Instagram followers you have, it’s about the music. I feel like every feature did an amazing job. 

Every single producer as well sat down and made an effort. We had sleepless nights, producer camps, 24 hour studio sessions. It definitely built like a mini family with me, my team, and my producers. A lot of effort was put in and that’s how we got the best out of it. They believed in me, we lifted each other and got the best out of each other. 

A recurring theme in this interview is your work ethic. What motivates you to keep this up?

Friends, family, my peers, anybody that I’ve seen that’s done good in this life, or is doing good has worked really hard. They’ve done overtime, they haven’t slept. I’ve seen this from young.I’ve seen a lot of people move at just a normal pace and haven’t really got anywhere. Anyone that I’ve seen getting anywhere has put in serious work, so that’s all I know, man.

And just finally, obviously your debut album is a significant milestone in your career. You’re also turning 30 next year. Is there anything else you want to achieve before then?

I don’t really think about it in depth but I just want to do bigger and better. As long as I feel like I’m progressing, I’m comfortable. That’s the main thing. We’re not resting off this album. We’re not taking any breaks because there’s more work to put in and I’m trying to get as much out of this career as possible.

‘Smile?’ is out now.

Words: Joe Simpson
Photography: Filmawi Efrem

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