Exclusives Interviews 23 November 2020
Author: Kafui Mensah

GRM exclusive: Artan talks early beginnings, mental health, creative process & more

23 November 2020

Artan is known for his unique melodic cadence, and has been taking the scene by storm in recent years with the ability to seamlessly delve into difficult subject matter, while maintaining a digestible atmosphere to his tracks as a whole. 

The GRM team caught up with the Wood Green rapper/singer for an exclusive interview, breaking down his humble beginnings in the scene, new music and an in depth discussion on mens mental health.

Thinking back to the past, how did you first get into music?

“When I was in year 8, which was during the grime era where everyone used to write. We had bare clicks in our school that used to form lil grime groups, and I was always writing but I’d never show nobody. Before this, I had started beat boxing as a way to help me fit in at the six different schools I found myself at. So every time I moved school, the cool kids would rap and I would beatbox, which really made my transitions into school easier. 

“Eventually, I wanted to stop being the guy who was just the instrumental, I wanted to be the guy rapping but I just didn’t have the confidence to actually show anyone. I would just write, write, write and keep it to myself and thats what really got me into it. 

“But what inspired me to actually start making music myself, is going to the studio. When I went to go visit family in LA I was in the studio and it was a sick vibe but everyone was terrible, and my cousin asked me “why you ain’t jumping on the mic?” and I was like if someone like me jumped on the mic everyone would just start laughing and he told me “Bro are you looking around the room right now? Everyone here is shit we’re all just having fun, if you enjoy it just jump on” and that was it.”

You mentioned in the beginning you would just jump on the mic as a bit of fun. At what point did you realise it was something you wanted to turn into a career?

“You know what? I think when I started seeing artists do shows. I started going to shows like Wireless festival, and at this point I was still just writing, but not really recording, I didn’t even see myself as an artist at all or anything. I did the whole beat boxing ting, got a bit of clout, but I wasn’t making any money off it whatsoever. But after seeing these artists at Wireless, I thought to myself what human ability do they have that I don’t have? Why can I not stand on that stage? Because I can do it for beatboxing, and if i can do it for beatboxing, then why cant I do it as a rapper?

“I was looking to people that do 9-5’s and thinking, most people hate their 9-5’s and thats not even their dream. So I thought you can fail at doing something you don’t want to do, then why not fail and something you do want to do.  

“Even if though I’m not sure if this is gonna be long profitable career, I just wanna do it because I enjoy it, and so long as I can pay my bills I’m good.”

In a lot of our households where our parents come from different countries, sometimes they aren’t so supportive when we don’t go by the book and take a creative route. How did your parents react when you told them you would be pursuing your passion?

“I come from a Chinese household, since My dad is Chinese, so originally I thought this is gonna be a real problem. So I went to uni for a year, because I thought I got no opportunities elsewhere and telling your parents that your a wannabe rapper with no songs ain’t great. 

“But my dad was actually really supportive, he’s someone thats about doing what you love regardless and he told me: “I’ve tried doing what I love, I’ve chased money, I’ve made my mistakes and I want you to do what you love because life is too short to do something that you don’t want to do in order to impress somebody else”. 

“So yeah, my dad at first was a bit hesitant, but he’s pretty supportive of it.”

On the topic of beginnings, I know you already mentioned some artists that you like, but which three artists would you say inspired your passion for music the most? 

“Russ (the American one), Drake, and probably Plan B or Devlin. Russ on an inspirational one, because he handed out the blueprint showing that you actually don’t need a manager who has friends in the skies. Russ was inspiring in terms of DIY, like if you actually enjoy this you can genuinely make it happen if you really want to. 

“Devlin was more of like a white rapper from east London who really made a career on talking about pain and real life shit. Then Drake because of his project Nothing was the same, which for me, was one of the best projects ever and actually made me love music. 

“Drake made me realise you don’t have to just be the R&B guy, you don’t have to be the gangster rapper, you don’t just have to be the lit afro beats guy, and that you can be everything if you really want to.”

If you were given one sentence, how would you describe your style of music?

“Id call my style melodic stoner rap”

What would you say is the most enjoyable aspect of making music?

“Don’t get me wrong I love performing, I love meeting my fans. Its amazing knowing that my music is resonating and the fans are getting the same therapeutic feeling that I got when I listen to Nothing was the same. That is what I love, but if I’m honest I love the creative process even more, because this is really me in the studio, in my element, chilling with my friends and making music that I love, and just being able to freely express myself. So for me yeah being in the studio. Just being completely myself and experimenting, I just get to smoke weed and kick back with the mandem.”

“I was looking at people that do 9-5’s and thinking, most people hate their 9-5’s and thats not even their dream. So I thought if you can fail at doing something you don’t want to do, then why not fail and something you do want to do.”

Looking back to 2017 “Mission” days, mental health has been a major theme in your music. How important do you think it is for men to speak on these topics?

“I lost one of my best friends to suicide three years ago this month. With him, he didn’t know how to communicate his problems. I noticed he had an alcohol problem, and it had built up over so many years that it was nearly unfixable. 

“With most people I think what they don’t understand is there are so many people who are thinking just like them. It can feel like the whole world is crashing down around, and you cant get out of this downward spiral; but being able to vent to people who understand you can help you realise that what your thinking is actually irrational. Right now all these negative thoughts might feel valid, but once you talk to people and speak about it, you’ll realise sometimes it not actually as deep as you think, and so many other people are going through the same thing. 

“I think people are trying to hold up a false image of themselves, whether thats online or wherever, it’s to show that they are strong and independent. Showing a sign of weakness will make you think ‘girls aint gonna want to see that’, that you’re a pussy, or the mandem are gonna be asking what you’re on. 

“If we make it normal to be open about to your emotions, then speaking about stuff like this will become normalised and everyone will start to accept it more. Friends will probably start to open up to you more, because now it’s a normal thing for your boy to call you and tell you they’re feeling down and wanna have a chat. The more people accept that its ok to call up people and have these conversations, is the more we will all progress”

Regarding mental health I find that a lot of artists struggle with the pressure of releasing music, criticism and fans expectations, have you ever had to deal with performance anxiety? 

“Always. For me I’ve never done one performance where I haven’t felt serve social anxiety. I’m scared of overthinking a lyric and forgetting them, so in my head I’m always thinking ok whats the next line.

“For me, performing and when I’m in the studio, I get a lot of anxiety when I’m trying to impress a crowd that isn’t my normal crowd. Im always thinking, ‘how do I impress them’, when really I just need to be the best version of myself. 

“I’ve worked in tiny studios, I’ve worked in a garden shed, I’ve also worked in massive studios underneath nightclubs. Doesn’t matter where I am, but I don’t like performing when people just walk in the room, because its just another judgement on me. I like to be completely free in the studio, and I don’t feel free  when theres different people coming in and changing the way I’m thinking about myself.”

What is your creative process like when you’re in the studio?

“My exact process is: step one, I get in the studio, step two, the producer starts making the beat or I start listening to beats, step 3, is I roll a zoot, step four is I go in the booth and freestyle melodies and lyrics and step 5, is I step out and pick whatever melodies I think are sick and whatever bars that I think work well and use these as the starting point.

“I used to write bars and finish the track to the beat in the studio, but now I’m trying to become way more spontaneous because thats when the magic happens.”

How has COVID-19 affected the way you make music?

“It’s been both good and bad. At first, it was a big negative because I was forced to record in my room. I had so much time to create music because I was indoors and the pressure of knowing that I had so much time to make music actually led to me making less music, even though I had the most time. I just felt pressured to do it, which isn’t how I like to create. 

“So during the whole lockdown period, I barely made any music, and gradually as everything started to loosen up I could finally hit studio and make up for all this lost time.”

What has been your most memorable experience in your music journey?  

“So I got to perform on a cruise ship in Ibiza and that was super lit. Not3s was performing, Yxng Bane too, it was a surreal experience performing on this massive ship with the sun shinning down on you. I actually got to fly out to do somewhere that I’d go to on holiday and do something that I love and get waved while enjoying myself, that was proper man. 

“Another one would be performing at Hyde Park for 420. I was the only performance with music because the police were coming and taking everyones speakers. So I was the only one that had music and I was like ‘yo lets just do it’, so I jumped on the mic and managed to perform “Mary” which is on GRM, but the police came in about three minutes and locked it off”

Looking towards the future now, what can fans expect from a 2021 Artan?

“You can expect a glow up, a lot more music, and also some collaborations because thats something I’ve not done a lot of. Just expect a lot more projects from Artan 2.0”

If there was one artist who you could collab with dead or alive, who would you pick?

“Right now it would have to be Juice Wrld, I know a lot of people would go straight for Michael Jackson but for me Juice Wrld or Drake. The only reason why I would say Juice Wrld is because he’s hit that legendary status now”

Is there any last comments for your loyal fans?

“Anybody out there thats doing something you don’t enjoy, don’t settle for anything less than doing something that you love all day everyday, so if you don’t enjoy what your doing 9-5 what are you doing 5-9 to try and change things?”

Be sure to stream Artan’s latest EP Scattered Thoughts below right now!