Jazz Got Me: Louis VI Interviewed

London rapper takes his jazz-fuelled sound international...

Jazz and hip-hop come from the same source, the same spirit.

Two beautifully forward-thinking forms of African-American expression, both have become global forms, sources of expression that intermingle with the roots to create stunningly disparate results.

London's Louis VI takes inspiration from both, a rapper and producer who surges effortlessly into fresh ground.

Debut album 'Sugar Like Salt' is out now, following the emphatic aesthetic statement that was last year's EP 'Lonely Road Of The Dreamer'.

Eager to take things deeper while still kicking hard in the club, Louis VI's single-minded creativity has crossed the Atlantic, with Mick Jenkins hopping on his fantastic trumpet-fuelled bop 'Jazz Got Me'.

Fresh from playing a Clash Live @ Metropolis show, Louis VI spoke to Clash about his album, his future plans, and the links between hip-hop culture and the universal consciousness of jazz.

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 Where does that jazz influence in your work come from?

There was always jazz playing around my house – my mum has always played jazz. That was the background noise, alongside a lot of hip-hop. I played a few different instruments growing up – I started on trumpet, and that was jazz-based, I did keys. I played jazz drums for quite a long time, as well, taking it seriously, at the same time as I was doing the producing stuff. So I’ve always had that influence.

It made sense. Hip-hop comes from jazz, so a lot of the really musical, dope shit has this jazz thing, while at the end of the day it’s still hip-hop.

They’re both linked to improvisation.

It definitely comes from the same place, I’d say.

Does having a background playing drums help with creating a flow for your bars? Does it influence your phrasing?

Oh definitely! I’ve always been wanting to push my flow, I didn’t want to do it like anyone else. I didn’t want to sit back on a track, I wanted to challenge on a flow and lyrical basis at the same time. The drumming really helped and meant I could find pockets which weren’t normally there for your average rapper. When I was first starting to do that it was a challenge to actually hear those spaces.

I’m a big fan of triplets – Moses Boyd said “you’re a triplet rapper!” I’m always in this weird pocket, trying to find another rhythm underneath. It’s like having another instrument, when you add another rhythm to the beat.

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Your debut EP made a big impact; was this album already in the works at that point, or did you start from scratch?

I was only supposed to make another EP really. That was how I set out. I set out to make a few tracks and see what happens. It quickly just took on this concept in my mind, and I suddenly had basically the skeletal of 14 tracks in front of me, or even more.

I didn’t know how to cut it down, so I worked on it and realised it couldn’t be an EP. It worked as a body of work, each song flowed into the next. It was quite a quick process making it – it took me maybe four, five months.

There’s a lot of collaborators on here, did you have those people in mind to fulfil certain roles?

I mean, I created a lot of the songs, but often when I create the song I’d like: oh this person would be perfect! And I’m lucky enough that a lot of the people I thought would be perfect I’m really close to. I grew up with Nubya, we went to the same school, same area; I’ve known Moses for a while and we’ve played together for a long time as well. It’s the same with Jelani – I’ve known him for ages. It was all these people.

It’s on a level where everyone on it is a really close bredren or if not it’s someone who I have really connected with on a human level first and foremost. I’m a fan of their music as well, the way they create their style, and I feel like each of them could lend a piece to the puzzle that ended up becoming ‘Sugar Like Salt’. I really think it was important to me to have people on there who weren’t just brought in for a feature, it was people who I knew. It was very organic.

Mick Jenkins is on here, did that happen during your spell in New York?

I spent three months there, mostly in New York but also three weeks in LA. I got quite a lot of the album – about half – done while I was out there. In LA, at first we rented out an AirBNB because we couldn’t find the right studio, so we rented somewhere to record and finish the track. Just in the hood in LA. We finished it in a proper studio.

In a weird way it made me love London more. When you’re away you can see what you love about home. I needed to get out. It was a very organic process; driving a car is the same in LA and London, so I’d get out there, recording beats on my phone, letting out all the madness. For some reason when I drive there’s no filter, so it was perfect for that.

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Soulection were amongst the first to pick up on you, and the States has always been strongly behind your music. How have you found approaching America as a British rapper?

Before, it didn’t feel as though it was on equal terms. I used get asked stupid questions when I first went to America, like: do you know the Queen? Do you have McDonalds! People would say they couldn’t believe we had black people in England! Just ridiculous shit. And then after that when people got wise to our music the problem was then the accent. I’ve seen interviews with rappers who I really respect saying they couldn’t get over the accent.

Now it’s on an equal playing field. Or, even more, everyone is looking to London for inspiration. When I was out there last it was amazing to be a rapper and producer from London because it opened many doors and allowed me to do my thing because people just love the vibe of London, as a city.

There are these connections between London and Chicago, which is why the Mick Jenkins thing was so great. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a big part of my fanbase is over there. It’s now an equal playing field, and I feel like I’ve been acting like a bridge between these two places that I love, and they both feel like my home, in a way. It’s become much less about where you’re from, and more about the vibe, the approach to music.

And to finish, what are your plans for summer? More touring?

The focus right now is on my first headline show at Bermondsey Social Club, which I’m really excited about. We wanted to keep it intimate enough that I can really be there amongst the people. It’s 100 cap and it’s almost already sold out.

Then I’m going to go to the States and show some love there, and be in New York for a bit. Then I’m going to jump in the studio for a bit – I’ve been working with a rapper called Keith Charles, who is originally from Atlanta but is based in New York. There are loads of new people I want to work with.

It’s interesting, this album has become a calling card, like a statement of intent. It means people take me seriously, it’s like my resume. I’m ready to create heavily and collaborate heavily.

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Louis VI's debut album 'Sugar Like Salt' is out now.

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