go with the flow
Lord Apex is making history building his rap-utation. Over the past eight years the West London rapper has built up a prolific portfolio of releases, first emerging as Tino Apex in 2013 before anointing himself Lord the following year. His run of self-released tapes deployed through Bandcamp, SoundCloud and YouTube have experimented with an array of unconventional beats and flows, capturing the attention of those with their ears to the UK's underground reminiscing deeply over rap gods like jeru, the damaja with that conscious on point word flow.
In 2021, Lord Apex is at the top of his game, his latest effort, ‘Smoke Sessions Vol.3’, is a continuation of the ‘Smoke Sessions’ series that began in 2016 and offers a hazy interpretation of hip hop.
Shaeem, to start with, how did you experience the last year and a half? Did the pandemic and the related lockdown have a significant impact on your plans or did it basically feel like business as usual with some additional quality time in the studio?
As soon as that happened, I moved out to my mother’s house in East London, it just happened that way and I found myself in a complete different environment where I am not used to be. I mainly record at home anyways, so it wasn’t much different. I am listening to a lot of music and take inspiration from there, like Missy Elliot recently… When I am home alone I feel much more free to record my vocals. The last two albums I recorded in my ‘bed-studio’ at home. But apart from that, moving out was a kind of a big change and everything that came with that restrictions. It was interesting.
I love that your music doesn’t feel particularly British, but embraces a much more universal approach instead. Were you predominantly influenced by US hip-hop rather than its UK equivalent? More Dilla and Madlib, less Derek B and Blade?
There’s always a big part of me that’s influenced by the heavy scene in the U.K., but since High School I am influenced by more Rap and storytelling. I went to a lot of gigs of UK artist, it was big. At home I was naturally attracted to what my mom was playing, she listened to a lot of Wu-tang, she loved Busta Rhymes alongside that Reggae stuff that my parents where listening to.
So you can I say that US old school rap is part of your DNA and the Englishman is where you live?
Yeah. I just lived in the UK and as I grew up I asked myself where did this stuff come from. So I just was listening to the beginning of Hip Hop. I’m very chronological with stuff in general. I always try to go back to the beginning, like diggin’ Public Enemy or NWA. As a kid, I remember being 16, I wanted to be the best rapper. So I went online and I was like looking for the best rap albums of all time, listen and analyse these at that time. So I get it naturally. I just listened and that it wasn’t like UK only. I was inspired by that universal movement.
Your music is extremely meditative; you have incredible focus on the mic. Where does that energy come from?
That credit is to reggae music. A lot of the world don’t grow up around Jamaican patois, so it might even sound like another language. Because I was used to that talk, and listening to that music, I realized those were a lot of the most prolific artists. They talking on a lot of spirituality with this Jamaican dialect. That was instilled in me early, and I grew up on that. On top of that, being a big fan of Nas, Mos [Def], and all of them, [that energy] always came naturally.
Would you say that there’s a clear separation between UK’s grime and hip-hop scene?
Yes I would say so. Grime is a whole different energy. A lot of it is high paced energy, and you get the most out of it when you enjoy it live in the club when a DJ is playing. That’s where you can appreciate it. When you go see it, you catch the actual energy because that’s where it came from. Its just different and it gets more fresh with the crowd.
For me as I’ve been growing up I try to find that UK identity, even though I don’t feel that I really need it. Songs like ‘Vernacular’ or ‘UK Sheep’ play with that identity. It’s more a push towards that UK flow just because they kind of came naturally, showing the UK style because I can.
On “Vernacular” you say you want to share your wealth and change your system. What does that actually look like?
I just enjoy giving back. When I was at college, I’d give my last bud to someone if they didn’t have anything to smoke, and now if my homie needs studio equipment, I will put £100 towards it because I know how talented he is. The more money I am making, the better position I am in to help those around me. Success to me looks like building my own village and filling it with creatives. There will be those circular huts from Dragonball Z and you go into each one and there’s every flute in the world to choose from. Akon has his own city, so no one is gonna tell me shit, bro. I am trying to level up the playing field and give some balance to the game, and make these upper class, white coke heads feel threatened. It shouldn’t be crazy for a Black man to own a couple of buildings.
Earlier this year, you’ve released the third part of the Smoke Sessions series. Will it stay a musical triptych or do you plan to release more chapters in the future?
There will be more Smoke Sessions to come for sure, its music you can smoke to. Smoke Session Three is inspired by Lil Wayne’s dedication. That guy smokes… I feel like it’s just one of those projects that I’m always going to come back to.
How is the vibe with Hotel Radio Paris - how did you team up and how do you like the styles of the Element x Hotel Radio Paris colab?
It’s beautiful, we kind of clicked on first sight. Also we did the radio sessions which had a great vibe. We really got friends. So I was curious when Jean-Charles mentioned about the colab. I am really happy how it turned out and the bag he brought was emptied in a second. I really like it and I wearing it right now, I did at least 20 songs in those pants I wear, haha.
Thank you so much for your time doing this interview.
His latest album is the third edition in the Smoke Sessions series, which has racked up accolades in the past for it’s complex trenchant content. SSV3 shows his music at new levels of excellence, with raw and sharp content from the tantalizing rapper, shattering the boundaries of conformity. The album features a sturdy line-up of producers including The Purist, Blaize Wareham, The Kount, Mulade, Angus Luke, dropped milk, Slumfu, Maverick Sabre and more. Vocal features include verses from Lil Wayne, Louis Culture, Smoke DZA, Finn Foxell and Wiki.