While London’s music scene has rightly received considerable attention in recent years thanks to its burgeoning grime and drill scenes, the work of west London MC Lord Apex eschews this categorization, with a sound that skews more stateside. Notably, he cites Knxwledge as one of his favorite producers, and his particular strain of neo-soul infused beats. Much of Lord Apex’s music sits within this hard-to-define genre, which seeks to provide a contemporary framework for hip hop’s lingua franca. But despite the evident sonic influence of American rap on Lord Apex’s, his smooth distinct drawl and subject matter leave you in little doubt of his London credentials.
Influenced by everything from reggae to Missy Elliott when growing up, Lord Apex started out rapping over beats he’d find on Soundcloud. But, he says, the tables have since turned, with a host of nascent lining up to offer him beats. “In the past five years, it's just been a flood of emails.” This is perhaps most evident on Smoke Sessions Vol. 2, released in early 2019, which showcases a crop of emerging production talent, including N2DEEPBEATZ, False Cut, Orphy and Toonorth. There’s a warm, wooziness to the sound of this nine track project, which complements Lord Apex’s own bars, which offer both moments of introspection and bravado.
For Carhartt WIP Radio, the musician takes us on a rhythmic journey, assembled by his friend DJ Corrado, showcasing his own vast catalogue of tracks. As ever, we also sat down with this month’s host to discuss his musical upbringing, how London influence’s his sound, and hip hop on both sides of the pond.
You have been releasing music since 2013. What kicked-started your passion and what was your first encounter with music that sticks out in your memory?
Lord Apex: My earliest music memory is around 2003, I was four or five and I remember being in primary school. It could have been a last day or something, I'm not sure, but I remember it being some sort of “own clothes day” and I was wearing a Sean John black denim fit. I remember it being playtime and I'm outside and it started to rain but as it rained instead of going inside I started rapping a song and picturing myself in a video in my mind. Other than that, I grew up in my earlier years on a lot of reggae, but my mum really used to love Missy, Busta and Method Man a lot so they’d get played too.
How does living in London shape your art?
Lord Apex: It's quite clear hip hop started in America – although you might have a few historians argue Jamaica – but regardless, when I got into music the music industry I would compare rap in the US to the UK. What I began to realise is that there was a major difference in the money and music platforms, but most important there was huge difference in the amount first-time performers would be played, so with all of this in mind it made me work with a different type of determination because I knew this was something I wanted to change. There's a lot of gentrification in the city and that's where I’ve been my whole life, so that plays a part but I do love everything the up-and-coming music scene in London has right now. It's beautiful to be a part of history.
How do you write your lyrics? Spontaneously or with lots of routine – or both?
Lord Apex: Bit of both really. Recently I’ve been freestyling a lot more songs to try to capture more on-the-spot feelings and emotions, so I might either just keep freestyling the whole song until I find a take I like. More recently, one of my favourite things to do is punch the song in line for line and then structure after. Other than those I’ve been used to writing all my music with the headphones or speaker full blast and just keeping the beats on loop.
How do you choose your producers and which one you love to work the most with?
Lord Apex: Okay so I’ve never been one to chase producers but in my earlier days, let’s say on Soundcloud before I actually knew any producers, I would find beats I liked that producers dropped and either just rap on them, or if they were reachable ask if it was cool. But in the past five years, it's just been a flood of emails, to the point where it feels like I have a waiting list of producers wanting me to get on their production.
How would you describe your sound?
Lord Apex: I prefer not to put my sound in a box because I generally grew up listening to and liking a lot of different genres. Some days I wake up wanting to make something super lyrical, some days I like trying to challenge [myself with] sounds that feel impossible to rap on. There’s still a lot of music I haven’t made which I still want to – definitely more R&B, indie and acoustic music.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?
Lord Apex: I had like 20 different EPs and LPs in the works, but since I’ve got management a lot of them have had to be cancelled or put on hold just to make them “bigger.” But I’m always working on music. I don’t want to give away too much but there will be a lot of head-turning collaborations that take place this year, which I'm excited for. The first ones to come will be an album with Harlem producer V Don called "Supply & Demand" and of course "Smoke Sessions 3". Other than that, a lot more shows, festivals and tours on the way!
What kind of music would you make in a world without electricity?
Lord Apex: If I had no electricity one of my friends would be beatboxing, another would be slapping his wrist, another humming and I would still be out here rapping the good word to the people for free. Music has been here since the first ever humans and is one of the most spiritual, sacred and powerful things we have on this earth, no wonder so many people want to control how it works.
How do you think your generation is going to leave its mark on hip hop?
Lord Apex: I feel like where my generation will differ is we have way more angles to come at music from, whether it be how to promote, topics we rap about or building brand relationships with a bigger range of companies across a wide range of different markets. When I was younger a lot of companies would have been scared to invest in certain artists, but now they understand the power of the artist a little more, because things like social media analytics make it easier to see how far an artist’s reach can go.
In your opinion, when it comes to hip hop these days, who's at the top of their game?
Lord Apex: For me personally, someone who’s at the top of their game right now I'd say is Jadakiss because he’s an OG and still making new albums that are as hard as the older ones. I'd say Larry June and Premo Rice because since I’ve been listening to both projects they have been fire but also giving that refreshing feel. Plus, they're talking about some real stuff that makes you think. Real hip hop is supposed to make you think.
Who are your favourite hip hop producers of all time and why?
Lord Apex: Favourite hip hop producers would be J Dilla, Madlib, Knxwledge, Devonwho, Tuamie and Alchemist, simply because they all think outside the box and push the limit of what abstract hip hop can sound like, while also making it cool to be a little different.
What is your favourite music rap video of all time?
ODB - Brooklyn Zoo or Lil Wayne - A Milli
And a track/EP/album that's been unfairly slept on the past month?
Music has the power to truly change the shape of the world, whether that be mental or physical.
How much do you think music actively can change or influence the social, economic and ecological challenges of our times?
Lord Apex: Music has the power to truly change the shape of the world, whether that be mental or physical. Music gives certain feelings when the right words are strung together, every word has a frequency and every frequency has a number, so music has always been deep rooted in the nature of the earth, just as much as the natural math and science of the world.
What does the sound of tomorrow sound like?
Lord Apex: The sounds of tomorrow are already being heard right now, in my opinion, artists just won’t get the credit for it until ten years down the line. Sometimes even longer, and sometimes they never do.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Lord Apex: I feel like having years of independent music has allowed me to recreate and try various styles, while still feeling like I'm discovering my own, so I wanted to choose tracks that would give people a few different perspectives on what my sound is right now and also what it eventually could morph into.
What are your hobbies besides music?
Lord Apex: I collect vintage clothes, vinyl, Air Force 1s, cassettes, and I’ve been diving back into drawing more. Most of my hobbies outside of music mainly consist of me trying different things, whether it be merch for shows or album covers for upcoming projects. At the same time, I find myself very one track minded, so when I want to work on something, I have to put the music on hold for a little just so I can give whatever I'm working on 100% of my energy.
How do other art forms, like poetry, literature, movies, or fine art, influence your work?
Lord Apex: I usually try not to take influence from other writers, just so I can keep my own work original as possible, but I have been trying to get back into books more and the last I read was The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. That was very insightful and inspiring, just seeing how he words even the most-simple thoughts. Other than that I try to stay in a zone, where it’s all coming directly from within
Can you send us a picture that best illustrates your current state of mind?
Now that Brexit has come to fruition, what are your thoughts on it and what you hope for the UK’s future?
Lord Apex: In order for me to answer that I would have to know the future for my people over here first and if that treatment will ever change, then I can decide if I have a future over here. There’s a song called Fads (in the mix) where I say “Apex the rap gypsy tends to travel where the sound go” and that's how I feel about life, I feel like I could almost live anywhere in the world as long as I had my smoke and my recording equipment .
In times of a global emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, do you still go about your business as usual and continue to write songs?
Lord Apex: Personally, I’ve been chilling a lot more. From a musical standpoint, I think about how these songs would age and I think it would be really corny.
What was the best thing for you about 2020 so far?
Lord Apex: The best thing about 2020 so far is finding the love of my life and my first nephew Kadeem turning one year.
Finish this sentence: ‘The world would be a better place if only…?
Lord Apex: Everyone had an open mind and understood how to remain calm even during judgement from another.
If you could spend a night partying with any of your icons, who would it be?
Lord Apex: If I could spend one night with icons, I'd have a smoke party with Biggie, Snoop, Bone Thugs, Cypress Hill, Method Man & Redman, Tupac and Bob Marley and have a big ass cypher.
What are your favourite spots and secrets in your hometown that you would recommend to somebody that comes around for a visit?
Lord Apex: There's so many different spots but my heart will always be in West London.
Lord Apex discography