When we talk about talented 21st century rappers, you cannot get more naturally gifted than Awate. His blends of classic, old school hiphop, indie and jazz have spread contagiously across the country, with his lyrical beginnings commencing in Camden, but life beginning in the contrasting culture of Saudi Arabia. His back story is therefore very rich, making his bars insightful, innovative and intelligent. With global recognition from a young age, and backing from some of the most profound of American artists, it is only a matter of time before the London MC starts getting nods from the industries elites, especially when they spectate the sheer passion and energy he brings to the stage in his acclaimed live performances.
At a time when life is getting excitingly busy for the friend of Idris Elba, we were lucky enough to catch up with him, and ask some burning questions that we and many other fans may have.
When did the urge to rhyme start?
Hmmm... I think I first felt the urge to actually write rhymes to a beat on my own volition when I heard Many Men. 50 was the rapper who made me want to rap.
I would write little poems and stories in primary school but Get Rich dropped in my first year of secondary and it just stuck to me.
Frankie Boyle is a famous fan of yours; have you ever met him?
Yeah, I've met up with him a few times. He's a proper hip-hop head. You'd be surprised how much of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rappers he has. I guess it makes sense, he's also into comics and is political and rap and comedy are quite similar other than the actual aims and norms of performing.
Could you explain a bit about the story of the Comedian giving you his trousers? Did they fit you?
Hahaha. Yeah that was just an example of how real he is. We were talking about something unrelated and I brought up my first trial for allegedly assaulting two police officers coming up.
He wanted to make sure I was straight, in terms of my clothing but I just had a blazer and shirt. He asked for my trouser size and address and had a pair of suit trousers sent to me a couple days later. I won the case, too.
When you spontaneously opened for Jay Electronica, how did you feel after spontaneously whipping up a crowd like that?
That was incredible. When you don't have time to have pre-show anxiety, worrying about the merch stall and people texting you for guest-list half an hour before the show - it takes you back to open mic days.
I was 19 so hadn't opened up for any big American artists at the time and just had to take the opportunity and dominate that stage, which I did. With no instrumentals, completely acapella!
What were the words Semtex said to you afterwards?
He just said well done and kept me around for a while!
Because of the incredible mentors and training I had from 12 years old, I had the fundamentals of being a rapper down. Respectful, caring about the craft, knowing how to perform and I just wanted to learn.
Did you get to speak to Elpadaro yourself?
I've actually been in contact with Jay Elec since around 2008 due to the Just Blaze connection.
Myself, the producers Komi from London and Beewirks from New York were all on Just's producer forums and got to hear and vibe with Jay from the Act I days.
He moved to London just after that and I would often bump into him! He's always the most polite and engaging person in the room.
Are there any other rappers you know coming out of the country you and your family are from, Eritrea?
Funnily enough, out of all of the days in the last 15 years I've been rapping, the same day I released my debut album was also the same day another Eritrean rapper, Nipsey Hussle's debut album Victory Lap dropped.
I was so caught up in the release of mine that I only realised that it was out and just how incredible it was a month later!
In London, there are two Eritrean MCs from my Borough of Camden who are already making waves, Dusty and Noah Selassie. Along with Zeike L4R who's Ethiopian.
How has living in Camden effected the music you make?
It's why my shit sounds like memories. The different subcultures and genres that have been developed and stuck in Camden are one of the characteristics of the area.
People are still walking around dressed as punks, mods and hippies.
How would you label your sound and style? A lot of names get thrown around, like political or conscious rapper, but I feel this boxes you into an incredibly lazy category. How would you like to be seen by the music industry?
Both as someone with artistic quality, integrity and someone who they can give their money to!
I don't really care what the music industry thinks of me. I make music for myself as a form of therapy first, with writing catchy choruses and intricately put together rhymes being a fun challenge.
I'm the kind of person who prefers to listen to a classic album with headphones on my own rather than a couple of hours of bangers in a club full of people and what I make reflects that. The music industry and wider society contains people that fall on both sides of that divide, so I'm not worried about growing organically.
How does the dynamic between you and your DJ, Turkish Dcypha work?
He sends me beats, I listen to them and start throwing chairs around because they're so ridiculous then I write and rap on them. He also mixes everything, so we'll go back and forth on notes until we're both happy.
He produced every track on your debut LP and EP, but do you have a favourite beat of his on the album?
Ah, that's not even a real question! I lived with these songs for at least a month each when making them and have listened to it since it was finished in 2014 so they all are, just depends which day it is.
Right now, I'm feeling Jewels the most but tomorrow morning, it will probably be Bianco or Guillotines.
How was the process different when working with a producer with such stature as DJ Snips?
Well, with both Turkish and Snips, I was huge fan before I even met them so working with them was a proud moment.
The main difference would be in turnaround time. With the stuff I do with Turkish, I'm in charge of releasing it so there's no deadline for writing, recording etc.
That urgency when I work with different producers unlocks and accesses different parts of my songwriting.
It was also exciting to hear what he was going to scratch on the chorus because I've wanted one of those since I heard 'Not Your Average' by Lowkey.
Over-policing on minority communities is a strong narrative in your debut, is there any way the hip-hop community can do more to combat this issue?
Keep mentioning injustices, actually organise with groups if you have the time or energy.
You said in an interview that The Stone Roses are a big influence in your music, which is very different to others, like Mos Def, what aspect of their sound or style do you vibe with?
They're just the four funkiest white boys around. They've always had an overt respect for the black artists who invented and popularised rock and blues. Their music is also pentatonic and psychedelic which is my shit.
Really and truly, I'm surprised no one has called me out for my Ian Brown impression on half the album!
A huge influence of yours is 50 Cent. You spit, ‘Didn’t go to school, 50 Cent taught me lessons, excluded 100 times before I started year 7,’ on ‘Brutalism’ - what do you admire about him?
Firstly, he's full of wisdom, especially the further back in his recording career you go. It's just jewels being dropped on every other bar.
Secondly, at a time when I was getting jumped at school and on my estate on a weekly basis and fighting for my life in my ends, he was pure masculinity. For a young black kid wanting an older, assertive role model, you can't get any stronger. Just look at the cover of Get Rich!
Can you name drop any artists you’re personally enjoying at the moment?
No name has a new album out. Kadhja Bonet is my new favourite artist. Nipsey Hussle's Victory Lap is still on repeat, also.
Big up Awate for doing this with us, be sure to check out his debut album and new single on all your typical platforms.