Exclusives Interviews 12 June 2023
Author: Ore Bolarin

Keeya Keys Talks New EP, His Desire to Move Away From Football Bars & Plans For The Future

12 June 2023

Keeya Keys recently dropped his latest EP Keys To The City. It comes after a string of singles such as “Lean On Me” and “Your Loss”, building up hype for the rapper and it sees him delve into various other genres such as gospel and afrobeats.

With production on the EP from Jae5 and 4Play, as well as features from Blanco, Boj and Kida Kudz. Keeya Keys has a great supporting cast alongside himself in the six-track project. I had the chance to sit down with Keeya and delve into how the EP was created, his career, his evolution as an artist and more.

What made you want to get into music?

“Yeah, that’s a good question actually because I think it wasn’t really me that was pushing myself to get into music originally, it was more like just the people around me. Like I always used to rap, so when I would rap people around me would always be like, oh bro, like you should actually try and do this properly bro. And yeah, eventually it just got to a point where I was like, I might as well try it fully. So yeah, kind of pushed into it rather than like deciding myself. It’s organic because I feel like if you can impress people in the room, you can impress people outside of it, I guess.”

You’re known for a lot of football references and football bars and wordplay in your music. As a former footballer, how easy does that come to you?

“I think just in general; football bars are never something that I really plan to do. It just kind of like, when I’m writing, it just seems to come naturally. And I think that’s just because obviously it was a big part of my life growing up. So yeah, that’s basically what I would say for that. I think, yes, I’ve always enjoyed watching football. I’m always watching football in the studio as well. So it’s like, it just kind of seems to come naturally.

“But I think this year, I’m trying to kind of step away from football bars a little bit, because I feel like sometimes it can become a bit of a gimmick, you know. I’m trying to stay away from that. I think it’s always nice when it’s sprinkled in, rather than like, everything being about that, and you’re not actually saying anything. I think it’s important to get the balance of saying what you want to say and then maybe sprinkling in something that makes sense.”

How did you go about picking the features and the producers for the EP?

“So, the producers in general is basically all in-house. So, obviously we worked with 4Play, who are basically my friends growing up, NSG’s producers, and I think they’re one of the hardest in the UK. And I think when you have a relationship with a producer, you’re more likely to try stuff because you understand each other on a deeper level. So, for that, and then obviously we’ve got Jae5, which of course is like related to the whole camp as well.

“The features, it was more of just people that I f**k with in general. So, it’s like, Kida (Kudz), I’ve always been a fan of Kida (Kudz). Always been a fan of Blanco, and Boj is someone that I always listen to as well. I’ve always taken in that Alté scene. And I wanted to venture a little bit into that as well. So it just kind of made sense to have like a mixture of, you know, the UK sound and stuff, and then, sprinkling in a bit of that Alté sound.”

Who are your biggest inspirations and influences music wise?

“It’s mad because, there’s been so many inspirations from the beginning to now. And you know, there are some that change over time but there are some that always remain and one of the ones that always remain for me was Kanye West. I grew up listening to Late Registration on repeat, that was like my favourite album. I just loved the production, I just love how quirky he was when he used to rap back then, like he would just say things that other people couldn’t say and because he said it, it would sound hard, so Kanye 100%. Also I listen to a lot of grime, so like Kano, Skepta.

I was always interested in the rappers that could do what I couldn’t do, kind of thing. So it’s like, me, I’m a very technical rapper, but I’ve always been fascinated by the guys that can keep it simple but get to the point. And I think that’s what Kanye and Skepta have, they have that talent of like being able to say something so simple, but it means so much more than what they say. And then obviously now like there’s a lot of people I’ve taken, I think Central Cee is hard, I think he’s one of the hardest. Blanco obviously is one of my inspirations because we’ve got quite a similar way of writing. And then yeah, I’d say like musically it was a lot of like, in my house there was a lot of like soul, funk and like reggae playing a lot. So I think it just kind of came into me. Yeah. And you know, it’s weird how everything kind of comes together and creates what you are.”

How important is it to you to kind of show your versatility with all these different styles and genres?

“Yeah, it’s funny you say that because that actually was the kind of sole focus of the EP for me, was just showing that I’m a rapper, but I can make music. So I think every song on there is a cohesive song which I think a lot of rappers can’t make songs the way I’ve made them on this project. But I think from now, now I’ve got that out of my system, I want to find a sound and stick to it and hit it hard. That’s the plan this year. So yeah, I’m excited for what’s coming next as well as what I’ve already done this year. So yeah.”

For the EP, Keys to the City, what was the process of putting that together?

“Yeah, the actual process. So that project, we finished it last year, and I wasn’t tempted to throw in any new songs because everything we’ve made from there is what’s going to come next. So, it was a process from maybe 2021 to 2022. And like me, I have like over a hundred songs there, but it was just about picking the songs that I think made sense at this time, and you know I’m not worried about what’s coming next now because we’ve got a whole catalogue to choose from so I’m ready to move on now.”

What’s next, what’s your plan after this EP has been released?

“Yeah, I would say, without giving too much away, I want to drop a mixtape this year. So, obviously, the EP was nice and short. It was quite short and sweet. I feel like the way we formed the EP was kind of so it can be played on repeat because it’s quite short. All the songs are like quite catchy so you can go round and round and round. It kind of flows smoothly. But for the mixtape, I’m going to hit them with, you know, 10 tracks at least. And you know, we’re trying to give them the quantity. You know, I feel like that’s kind of needed in the way the game is today.”

How would you say you’ve evolved as an artist from the start of your career up until this EP’s release?

“That’s a funny question because I feel like I grew a lot on the EP and I’m really proud of what we did. Because I went from someone who, like, when I dropped my first song, I’d only made two songs. So, it wasn’t like I was out, I was grinding, grinding, grinding, and then it kind of caught eventually. It was like the first video I dropped, it just kind of went like that from nowhere.

“So, I’ve had ups and downs through that. But I think once the EP came together, it was kind of the first time I really felt like, alright, cool, I’ve got everything in order. And I’m ready to actually give this a full crack now, because I think I’m in a position now where if things go well, I’m way more prepared for it now than I was in the beginning, you know, and I think all the downs that I had were lessons for me.”

I wanted to ask about music videos, how important is it to you to express your artistry through them as a visual medium? 

“For me. I there’s been a lot of talk on the Internet. I mean, not even the Internet in these label meetings, in all of these kind of meetings that YouTube is dying. You don’t need to focus on your video anymore. Just put it on TikTok, and then when the demand is there, drop a video. But I think for me, if the video is that one of the most important parts of my process. I think it’s an art, it’s one of the best ways to portray how you wanted the song to be felt kind of thing. So yeah, I think the videos are always important to me. And I’m planning on taking the visuals to the next step this year as well.”

Final question, might be a hard one, but what’s your favourite song off of the EP? 

It’s weird because I feel like if you asked me yesterday would probably be a different answer, but it kind of changes because the songs are so different. It kind of depends on your mood, but I would say my favourite song on the project right now. Is “Up Down”, which is the last one on the project. And I think that song is a hidden gem. And I feel like when it catches it’s going to do damage because, yeah, that song is definitely one of my favourites. But if you asked me yesterday, I’ll probably say “Street Life” because “Street Life” has more of an introspective vibe from me and does something that you don’t see all the time, so that’s a song I’m definitely proud of.

Take in Keeya Keys’ new EP Keys To The City below.