Exclusives Interviews 10 May 2019
Author: Seth P

GRM Exclusive: Why 2019 is fertile ground for the return of Lowkey

10 May 2019

Over the last eight years, Lowkey has definitely been true to his name; although this most certainly wasn’t always the case. Coming up during the early noughties, when all the major social media conglomerates were still in their infancy, Lowkey built his rep the hard way; even the right to use his moniker was earned by emerging victorious in a rap battle. 

Lowkey would go on to release a trio of Key to the Game mixtapes between 03’ and 05’, which received widespread critical acclaim, and were a clear statement of intent from an MC who had so much more than just braggadocios lyricism in the tank. Debut album plans were afoot, and in 2008 Lowkey brought us Dear Listener which featured Logic, Mic Righteous, beatboxer Faith SFX and a legendary collaboration with Wretch 32 on “In My Lifetime”.  The 12 track debut dealt with a range of social injustices in Lowkey’s unique brand of politically conscious rap, and would provide much needed food for thought in a genre that was fast becoming malnourished. 

After this Lowkey’s upwards trajectory was cemented, and the following year Kizzy would join forces with members of Artic Monkeys, Reverend and The Makers and Babyshambles, to form the genre spanning super group Mongrel. Although the group would only come together to create one album, Better than Heavy  – it allowed Lowkey’s sound to reach the ears of countless Indie Band sympathisers. 

Two years later in 2011, Lowkey would return to the safety of more familiar soundscapes with his second studio album Soundtrack to the Struggle. The album was a dense body of work, with 26 tracks; which saw Lowkey assemble a star studded line up of guest spots with the likes of Immortal Technique, Klashnekoff, Black the Ripper and M1 From Dead Prez pooling their boundless lyrical resources for the cause. 

Like all of Lowkey’s other releases, Soundtrack to the Struggle would be released independently; and eventually go on to become Lowkey’s biggest commercial success to date, peaking at number 57. This chart position was achieved purely based on iTunes downloads, as no physical copies were ever pressed; which is certainly a testament to the fanbase that Lowkey had cultivated over the years. The album featured modern day classics like “Terrorist?”, “Obama Nation” and “Voices of the Voiceless” which have collectively accumulated in excess of ten million views on Youtube. 

Enigmatically, after achieving so much success independently in an incredibly fickle and fiercely competitive market; Lowkey announced that he was stepping away from music. After eight long years in the wilderness, I managed to track down the elusive intellectual giant. I’d pinpointed his location to a humble abode embedded deep in one of West London’s concrete jungles; the charred remains of Grenfell now draped in white tarpaulin, like the countless victims of London’s knife crime epidemic, loomed ominously overhead. 

Both of these catastrophes are the tragic hallmarks of a government that has consistently failed the most vulnerable members of our society, these are the very tides that Lowkey hopes to shift by making his own waves with his politically charged content. 

Making music with a message is precisely what inspired many of the forefathers of hip-hop; Lowkey’s own path has of course been shaped considerably by them: “Gil Scott was amazing for me, discovering Tupac was amazing. I think looking at artists that had passion and conviction about important issues that effected other peoples lives, that was inspiring to me, and helped direct me towards politics.” 

Lowkey’s music has always been a fusion of the two worlds, challenging the status quo by disseminating strong alternatives to the neoliberal world we find ourselves in through his music, with the hope that this will effect change; “if you can get passionate about an issue, that effects thousands if not millions of people, and you if can translate that into a song that can move people to change that situation, I think that is a very powerful way of making music, far more powerful than making music which is basically an advert for already massive corporations”. 

Something like “change” in this metaphysical sense is of course difficult to quantify, but the raw data leaves little to the imagination, and it’s clear that Lowkey’s music is certainly reaching substantial numbers of people, as someone who’s an activist first he can’t hope for much more – 

“Really the best medium for me to reach people is the music. I can say something to my friends and it has no hope of reaching the amount of people that the music does. With the ideas that I’m propagating on “Terrorist” or “Obama Nation”, there is simply no other medium which I could speak to four million people with, so if I really have conviction in what I’m putting out there politically, then music is the best way for me to reach people and it makes the most sense.” 

We all take part in our own small scale rebellions in our day to day lives, whether its choosing not to use Mac  products because of animal testing, or not giving West End clubs our custom because of their racial profiling; we head for moral high ground when we feel that an institution or corporation has done something that doesn’t align with our ethics. Although, there is very rarely any consequence for these acts of defiance. However, when the boat has been rocked to the point of capsize, some degree of retaliation is to be expected. Lowkey’s decision to oppose the system so brazenly has not been without significant personal cost to the wordsmith; and he lists this as one of the main reasons behind his lengthy hiatus: 

“I was in my early twenties and things were happening fast. I was in a situation where I was coming under a lot of pressure due to the music. You can’t make this sort of music and expect there not to be situations that are difficult. I’m questioning sacred violence in our society, I’m visiblising invisible violence in our society, thats gonna have an impact on your personal life one way or another. You’re gonna have people coming for you, who don’t have an interest in presenting what you say in the most honest way.”

Luckily for fans, Lowkey has not succumbed to the pressure, instead this has only served to hardened his resolve, and after eight years retooling; Lowkey is once again ready to take up his position as a voice for the voiceless. 

The timing couldn’t be more perfect, with fake news and political uncertainty becoming increasingly prevalent, this has created fertile ground for the viable alternatives to the dominant ideology that Kizzy’s music offers, this is something which Lowkey himself acknowledges: 

“politically we’re in a lot more of a flux situation. Where people are actually coming out and saying we want alternatives, we do not want to stay with this same suicidal state that is subservient to corporate interests. We want a different way of living. Therefore it opens fertile ground for my kind of message.” 

Paradigm shifts in the music industry have also strengthened Lowkey’s comeback considerably. During his first run, the musical landscape was barren in comparison to the oasis of opportunities that is now available to artists. The popularity of the music that was once on the fringes, now finds itself occupying considerable space in the mainstream. This is something that Lowkey intends on capitalising on this time around:

“when I was rapping before, the biggest rappers In the country were Dizzee and Tinie. The reach that they had was a lot less than what the biggest rappers in the country have now, so exponentially the potential for reaching people has grown.” 

Consequently, with the genre’s new found popularity there has been a changing of the guard in terms of the gatekeepers. Outlets that have championed the genre during its less fruitful days are now ushering in a new era, while the old guard have faded into obscurity. With more receptive media outlets, and a much bigger share of the pie – any artist operating in this space now has a bigger chance of succeeding than ever before. As someone who has been active during both epochs, Lowkey knows the tangible differences this set of circumstances can make:

“In 2008 when I was in Mongrel – I found it unbelievable the way other white guitar bands that had say half the fanbase that I had, were able to just go to all the festivals across the country and perform to thousands of people and get paid very well. They were the mainstream because of the way that NME was, it was brandishing such power in the music industry at the time as gatekeepers. Now this has completely changed, GRM is the mainstream. “

Soundtrack to the Struggle 2
is a continuation of the war Lowkey first began waging over a decade ago, the attack on the hegemony occurs over the course of 20 tracks with Lowkey’s exposés on tracks like “McDonald Trump”, “Letter to the 1%” and “Ahmed”. Having just returned from a UK tour, which included several sold out dates, and with the album surpassing a million streams on Spotify, it’s clear his return has been a triumphant one.