With a motto of “Born Artistic To Achieve”, it’s not surprising that Essex/London rapper Piers James is set for rap superstardom. Kicking off his musical career with piano lessons aged 7, James soon discovered the wonder of creating his own music through adding chord progressions into the music he was meant to be playing, giving him the drive to one day create his own sounds. Fast forward, and James is fusing grime sounds with iconic hip hop elements to create modern rap that is fun, slick and fills the all the gaps rap needs plugging. It’s no wonder Chloë Moretz is a fan.
James’ new EP “Vibes and Tribulations” cements him as one of rap’s brightest young things. Fusing soulful jazz chords with those magical boom bap hip hop traits in his infectious new track “My Universe”, James is clearly on the same wavelength as his influences (which include Wiley, Eminem and A Tribe Called Quest) but adapts that old school hip hop sound in a slick, contemporary way. Writing on themes surrounding the current state of society and his own hardships, James stays true to his experiences and observes the world around him, making for relatable, honest and cleverly blunt lyricism.
Seeing himself as a “rap athlete trying to beat my personal best,” his sounds are becoming progressively more refined, and with masterful delivery and a “you can’t tell me nothing” attitude, it’s not hard to believe that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Piers James.
Tell us a bit about your motto “born artistic to achieve” – where did it come from?
I remember when I began to create my first project ‘The Piers James EP’ and began writing lyrics to one of the instrumentals, while contemplating what the track title should be, I came up with the motto “born artistic to achieve”. I think since then it’s always resonated within me and has become a pillar in my own personal development. As an artist you experience a lot of hardships and knock backs, so I believe in order to pursue your dream to the fullest, you need to be able to believe you can achieve what you set out to do, hence the motto “B.A.T.A”.
You learnt to play piano at quite a young age – was a career in music what you always had in mind and what actions did you take to get your career started?
When I started learning how to play the piano, I was only about 7 or 8 years old, so at the time I never even considered what the potential could be starting a musical career. However, I always remember my mum telling me, that my music teacher had seen a lot potential within me and felt that I should continue to progress in piano, of which I got up to Grade 5. Even though I was being taught to read music, when practising, I use to add my own chord progressions within pieces, playing by ear as apposed to reading the music in front of me, so perhaps it was fate that lead me down the path of creating my own music and sounds and wanting to actually pursue something within music, especially now being a producer and realising how effective being able to play the piano to it’s full extent can be. Through the ages, I guess I’ve just progressed and continued to evolve throughout my childhood into early adulthood. From writing lyrics in a notebook at the stage of GSCE’s, all the way though to watching YouTube videos of how to create your own beats on Logic software at University, the rest is what you see to date.
You’ve cited Eminem, A Tribe Called Quest, Lupe Fiasco and Wiley as some of your influences – why are they important to you and what about their sound inspires yours?
I grew up listening to Grime, so Wiley was of course one of my influences being a front runner within the scene, I remember my cousin use to let me borrow his tapes, what were recordings of old Rinse FM, DJ Karnage sets, when the likes of Trim, Scratchy, Wiley etc would go back to back on radio, so this was probably the catalyst for my battle rap styled lyrics and still a big part of my core culture to the way I approach lyricism to darker/hype type tracks. Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP to me was one of the most (and still is) witty, creative and original projects I’ve heard, the way he rapped wasn’t stereotypical to the usual rap music that was currently out. I liked how for example in tracks like ‘Stan’ he envisioning himself as a rap fan and an artist, creating a storyboard that was crazy! He wasn’t afraid to just speak his mind no matter how his persona was perceived. But with A Tribe Called Quest & Lupe Fiasco their music was more to do with the vibe and energy it gave off which connected with my soul, tracks like “Electrical Relaxation”, “Stressed Out”, “Kick Push” and “I Gotcha” were the type of tracks I would play on repeat.
What’s the story behind your track “My Universe”?
“My Universe” was produced in my studio room at home with me and my friend, Adam Walden on the keys. We just got into the groove of the track, creating a good melodic chord progression and began building different elements to track after that. While I was writing the lyrics I came up with the ‘This My Universe’ part to the hook with the outlook that can be described as a “You Cant Tell Me Nothing” type attitude, that I felt worked well with the song. It’s a track I feel that many can empathise with in the motive, that most people have the same mindset, you create your own happiness and shouldn’t rely on how others perceive theirs.
Can you sum up the sound of your upcoming EP ‘Vibes and Tribulations’?
My new project as a whole combines soulful jazz infused chords with raw boom bap elements of Hip Hop. I’ve tried to exhibit what I’ve learnt within different musical techniques and abilities throughout each song, while still linking each song together to form a whole sonic collection, along with comical skits that fit seamlessly within the EP.
Your lyrics are very honest and cleverly blunt – do you think honesty and being able to express your opinions is important in music?
Yes! I believe in order to have longevity in music, you need to be able to be yourself in your music and speak honestly about your experiences, while describing your life stories regardless of if they’re good or bad. If I was to talk about how many millions I had in the bank I had, driving round in Ferrari’s and flying round in private jets, trying to create a rap persona of materialistic things I don’t have, there would only be so many things I could write about before running out of things to say. But, if I stay true to my own experiences and listening to other people around me, my music becomes more relatable to larger audience and connects with the people on a deeper level.
Your sound is very old school hip hop, and very 90s – what elements do you draw from the genre into your sound?
I’ve always enjoyed the synths & bass of old school Hip-Hop, as well the raw, off beat swing that the kicks, drums and snare’s often are associated with, as they give off a certain head bopping feel that’s easy to listen to you. So when I produce new tracks, I try to create, timeless loops with a beat that’s easy to write over, sort of like a melodic blank canvas.
What issues and topics do you like to explore with your lyrics?
This all depends on the instrumental, if the beat is an uplifting feel good track, then I usually would try to envision what topic or style would suit best to the beat, then accordingly start writing the song perhaps with the hook or verse. However for a darker type beat, I would for want to write about the current state of society, my own hardships I’ve been through in life or a story board of somebody’s life and their tribulations.
You moved to London to study an events management degree – do you think you’d be where you are today without meeting other artists/producers/creative on the London scene?
No, I don’t think I would be at the stage I was at now, when I moved to London, that was time I fully come into my own. In my first year of Halls, I already had various different types of musicians and culture around me; a London guitarist inspired by indie/rock, an Irish guitarist/bass player who played in a band known as “Pretty Child Backfire”, a Spanish producer who was doing music tech and produced house, a Portuguese girl who sung and played guitar and my roommate who did spoken word and produced as well, so even from the start of moving to London, I had a lot of variety and inspirational musical talents around me.
How do you feel your sound has progressed since your previously releases, such as “The Piers James EP” and “B.A.T.A Volume 1”?
I think in terms of understanding what sounds I like and how to create them, I’m much more in tune now with what lane I would like to go down. Personally I believe my Sounds have become more refined, my lyricism and delivery has improved, and even the quality of sound is better than previously shown.
You’ve been named as part of the new era of UK rap artists, which includes artists Little Simz. How would you compare your sound to other new rap artists?
It’s humbling being put in the same category as her and other artists alike, cause they are making what I consider to be great music for UK scene right now, but if I’m honest I don’t really compare myself with them, as I try to come with the best that I can produce, the only competition I have in-front of me is me. I don’t feel like a rap artist, more like rap athlete trying to beat my personal best.
Who’s your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration would be to work with Chad and Pharrell. As one of my favourite albums to date is In My Mind and I’ve always loved the Neptune’s sound, but not only because of that, I also feel I could learn a lot from them, in how to improve my own sounds melodically and from an engineering perspective too, as my tracks have the same type of feel and ambience.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I just want to be able to get to a position where my music is being heard all over the world, while growing and refining my sounds with other artists / producers that I grew up on, while seeing and experiencing as much as possible along the way.