Exclusives Interviews 22 May 2023

GRM Exclusive: Rising Rapper Strandz Talks Hip Hop Revival, Self-Belief & History-Making

22 May 2023

There’s a dazzling gem in the UK rap industry right now and he goes by the name of Strandz; listening to his music ignites a feeling that can be only likened to witnessing greatness. The London-based rapper reflects, “Someone once said that my music is nostalgic to one generation and refreshing to another; it’s like that middle ground.” The young star achieves this by infusing nineties and noughties hip hop beats with carefully-selected melodies, chopped-up vocals and slick production. Adorned with his clean rap flows and unapologetic delivery, Strandz is able to create a timeless sonic experience and the result is immediately unforgettable. His art shines light on golden eras of music gone by, but even more importantly, he shows a unique flair that is a testament to the industry of today and tomorrow.

During his lofty rise to fame, which began in 2020, he released a handful of high-quality singles including, “4 The Money” and “Don’t Let Them See Us Cry”, firmly placing him on the map. But it was his ground-breaking 2022 hit, “Us Against the World” that truly took the industry by storm; the powerful track boasts a pitched-up sample of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Who’s Gonna Take The Blame”, reminiscent of the ‘Chipmunk Soul’ production style of the early 2000s, pioneered by rap legends such as Kanye West and Jay Z. “When I first made the track, I knew that people would connect with it. Then when I put the snippet out, a lot of people responded well. That made me realise that the song was going to do something but I didn’t know on what scale.” The success of “Us Against the World” was followed up with a stellar remix featuring Digga D, a collaboration came about organically: “He’d already showed love for the original, so when conversation about a remix came about, Digga was the first person I thought of that would make sense.” 

Onlookers probably assumed that Strandz would struggle to top his first smash hit… but then came, “J’Adore”. His latest release is a huge track, presenting another stunning blend of old-school hip hop energy melded with Strandz’s inimitable sound. It’s an authentic ode to romance, inflected with ad libs from his girlfriend, Lola. When he talks us through the steps of creating the track, it’s clear that “J’adore” was a true labour of love:

“From the production side, I really wanted to make something for the dance floor, something that people could turn up to. I wanted to bring back that prime party era… I took that direction with the drums. Then rather than just going for the generic hip hop melody that you’d usually hear on that kind of beat, I found this beautiful lo-fi melody. I thought, yeah, I want to use this and somehow chop it in a way that has a groove but feels a bit more romantic. Once I paired the melody with the vocals that I chopped up, it just made sense to make the song about love.”

The video is set in both Paris and London, and filming it was no small feat. “We were in Paris for one night. We got there at like 6am and we had to start shooting straight away. I hadn’t even slept the night before because we had to be up so early for the flight. We shot until like 11pm and then we slept, came back to London the next day, and had to shoot the rest of the video. It was a lot, but it’s always worth it! I love just putting my all into a shoot and seeing the end result.”

In Strandz, we see the trappings of a gifted music-maker, building his tracks from the ground up and adding his own flare at every level. Perhaps this is why his music feels so raw and organic. “I’m always thinking of ideas. It’s more interesting that way, there’s so much more depth to it when you create a whole song, from the drums, to the melody, to the vocals, to the lyrics. It’s more continuous… At my core, I’m just a creative. I’m always wanting to find ways to express myself and make new sh*t… to imagine stuff and make it happen.” And whilst exploring his craft, Strandz is always drawing upon a constellation of different influences:

“I have a broad set of inspirations. A lot of people automatically assume that I’m mainly inspired by the New York, early 2000s, hip-hop sound. I was a big fan of those genres growing up and to this day, I still am. But on top of that, I have a really versatile taste… listening to Fela Kuti and Bob Marley and even the country artist, Feist [Leslie Feist]… I draw inspiration from all of these different places, almost subconsciously. With Fela Kuti, even though his music is very different, I take inspiration from how he performs, like his mannerisms, his crazy character… I take some of those elements and ask myself how I can present that within my own music… With Feist, I really like what she does melodically and in her production, a lot of really beautiful melodies. When I’m producing, that’s where I draw inspiration from. I like bringing nice uplifting melodies into a crazy hip hop beat.”

Perhaps his openness to exploring new territories is informed by the diverse environments he grew up in. Strandz was born in Hamburg, Germany and then moved to Nigeria where he learnt English. He moved to London at around seven years old. “The biggest impact [my upbringing had] is that it broadened my horizons. It opened my eyes. From a very young age, I knew that there was so much to the world, so many different cultures and ways of living.” 

And when it came to the music, Strandz always had that fire within him. He really started experimenting with his craft at age 13, exploring rapping and music engineering with mixing and mastering, and working in a studio. Despite being a straight A student at school, Strandz never wanted to pursue anything but music. And regardless of a tough and competitive industry, the star held onto an unwavering belief that he would make it. “There isn’t a specific point that I decided to take music more seriously, because I was always taking it seriously. I always had blind faith in myself. I never really worried about whether it was possible or not… obviously there were external factors… but I never had self-doubt. I knew that if I was going to pursue this, I had to believe I could do it.  I always just told myself, ‘this is what I’m going to do’. I think that’s what kept me going.”

And he wasn’t wrong. As his career unfolds, Strandz proves that his cohesive and refreshingly-nostalgic sound transcends both genre and time; there are no bounds to how far he could take this. Anyone unfamiliar with his name won’t remain that way for long, as the music industry and fans alike are waking up to his inimitable talent. Through his art, Strandz is leading us into a unique world of sonic exploration and a reawakening of UK hip hop. He is a testament to the true expanse of modern music and he’s on the trajectory to become an icon, within the UK and beyond. In his own bold words:

“I just want to have an impact on the history of music. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do – to make something new, to push a sound further than it has been pushed before and hopefully inspire other musicians to expand on that. I think that’s what music is all about.”