Ikes is a London emcee who never planned on making music. Originally, he had dreams of being a professional soccer player and was well on his way when he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter Disease, effectively ending his athletic career. Bad for soccer, good for hip hop.
Ikes sees his latest project, the OutsideIn EP, as a defining transitional moment in his career. While being careful not to abandon the raw, autobiographical lyricism that characterized his earlier music, he has made a concerted effort to achieve a more accessible sound on this EP. The project has garnered attention from a host of UK tastemakers including the BBC Introducing series, Charlie Sloth, and DJ Target. Rather than signing away control of his craft, Ikes has elected to promote his music independently through his brand Port Mayfair. Just the type of folk we like to feature here on OK-Tho.
Read on to get a brief introduction to Ikes as an artist through an exploration of his inspirations, the state of London hip hop, the path that led him to become a rapper, and what he hopes to get out of the endeavor. Additionally, you will find privileged details about the creative process behind, and meaning within, his latest project, OutsideIn.
What is the significance of your name and how was it incepted?
Ikes: I used to be a garage MC by the name of IQ; I was called that as where I grew up I was the only one who still stayed in school and was good with computers. After a while, people started pronouncing I.Q as a word which sounded like "Ike" and as Ike is my middle name it just felt natural. Over time, Ike evolved to Ikes.
Describe the path that led to your decision to become a Hip Hop artist.
Ikes: So, around 2004, the sound of Garage music in the UK was changing, evolving into something that we know today as Grime. This just wasn't me; at that time I was heavily listening to Nas and Hov, Pac and Big, Wu-Tang and Fugees. So, I started downloading rap instrumentals off Limewire at the time haha, and putting raps together.
What made me really want to be an artist was when I made a MySpace profile in 2005; one of my good friends recommended that I made a profile. So, when I did, I was just so amazed by the global response I received. People used to send me messages saying that my music helped 'em get through hard times and stuff. That feeling was amazing, I wanted to feel like that everyday. It was the kind of fulfilment that was worth more than money and I felt like I was delivering something real. The biggest accolade I know.
In your mind, what exactly makes grime music grime?
Ikes: I mean, I'm no expert on the culture as I'm not part of the scene but, from what I know, it's the 140bpm and breakbeat sounding rhythms that fuse the genre together.
Tell me more about the hip hop scene you do find yourself a part of. What is the hip hop scene like in London more generally?
Ikes: I feel like music is an international language and although I understand that the umbrella of Hip Hop has subsidiaries I like to just make rap music as I know it to be, I'm not really worried about being a part of any scene, I'm just trying to connect with my audience through sound. I can't really say there's much of a Hip Hop scene in London; sure there are people who rap, however, we're a little off the mark of having a scene so to speak. It would take a few artists from the genre making it real big whilst maintaining their credibility perhaps.
Yeah, I feel that. Having a local scene is somewhat a thing of the past what with the advent of the internet. I know you mentioned Nas, Tupac, Wu Tang and some other essentials, but who would you say are your main inspirations both within and without hip hop?
Ikes: Those I mentioned amongst others such as Phil Collins, Tracy Chapman, Michael Jackson, Kanye West, James Blake, Bon Iver. I just draw inspirations from greats who aren't worried about the confinements of space; I aspire to be creatively free to make valid reflections of my mind and soul. Anyone doing anything great, actors, world leaders etc. I'm into leaving behind a legacy; Nelson Mandela's my hero may he Rest In Peace, he said that "everything is impossible till its done.”
What do you want your legacy to be?
Ikes: No hip hop artist from the UK has really left any real footprints in the sand, I'd like to really bridge the gap and more or less set the bar and blueprint for others to follow if they aspire to be global. I want people to understand that being yourself is the best chance you have of standing out in this industry or any industry for that matter. Taking risks and being creatively free would be the legacy.
Top five albums?
Ikes: I can't answer that lol. My palette is way too wide to narrow it down like that. Hip Hop albums maybe we can do?
OK-Tho: Haha, sure that sounds good.
Ikes: In no order:
Nas - Illmatic
Big - Life After Death
Jay Z - The Black Album
Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
Nas - Stillmatic
Too many to mention I know I'm leaving some out haha
If you were to sign to a label, which would you pick and why?
Ikes: I can't say which label I'd pick over another however it would have to be one with staff that understood the culture of Hip Hop. As a student of the game, It's important to partner up with folk that see the vision. There's being in the music business and there's being in the business of making music. I like to place myself in the latter, however, I understand the former. The label would need to assist my team with creating a happy medium between the two. Having said all this I really like what Lyor Cohen's doing at 300!
Tell me more about Port Mayfair and your decision to promote music independently.
Ikes: It's a way of me taking my career and therefore my destiny into my own hands; I like to take risks and that means investing in myself and building something from the ground up that people can buy into and feel they're a part of. It's a movement. It's a way of life.
Tell me about the feelings that inspired “Clarity.”
Ikes: Well, I think everyone can relate to this song on some level. We’ve all been in that place where you start seeing someone and then a little down the line when things develop you’re wondering where you both stand. Us as guys might wanna avoid putting a title on things as we don’t want the pressure, but that leaves the woman really lost. Exploring those emotions are what we do during this record.
What is the significance of the title Outside|In and the accompanying cover art?
Ikes: The cover art for the project for me is a reflection of my position in the music industry, where I felt I stood in terms of progress and impact. I spent a good few years travelling, visiting music conferences in different territories with the aim of building an international network and some buzz overseas. In my experience, when I’ve gone to the states or Europe, I felt the audience was just a little more receptive to my art. So, I guess I felt isolated back home, somewhat rejected, a little frustrated, yet quite content with my progress. Still on the outside of the house, looking in. Nearly there, yet a lot of work to do.
Take me through a typical day working on Outside|In.
Ikes: There were so many steps from the recording to the mix process to mastering; I'd usually get sent the music in skeleton form as I like to live with the sound to really engage. When I'm ready to record myself and OneBlackRussian would have a studio session with my recording engineer Oscar where I'd firstly record vocals over the skeleton. After that we'd sit down and add instrumentation around what I'd done vocally. Sometimes to "add" to the overall record was to remove instrumentation in various places. Of course, nothing happens without the occasional creative disagreement haha, there were a few of those. But, it's comforting knowing that it's all for the love of the music. Egos hardly got in the way and most times there was no wrong or right, just taste preference.
Who was your favorite producer to work with on the project?
Ikes: I only worked with 1 producer by the name of OneBlackRussian, who did all the production and 1 engineer/producer Edward Nixon of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League who mixed the project and did some additional production of a few records
How was your working relationship with OneBlackRussian?
Ikes: We've known each other for 12 years, 9 years at the time, so it was natural. We understood my vision and had a real niche yet futuristic sound that I really believed in. It was a real experience to lock in with just one person to create something so special to me but it's something I'd do again for sure!
You have described Outside|In as more accessible than your previous work. What makes your new sound more accessible when compared to your old sound?
Ikes: I think there's a certain science when creating music and sometimes we as artists don't even realise the things we do. I made an effort to really engage with my listener; maybe not soundscape wise but content wise. I wanted to tell my story in hopes that I would really connect with people out there going through the same thing, finding themselves lost and in limbo. It's my most honest project to date.
Is that ultimately what you are looking to get out of your music? That connection and ability to have your words resonate with listeners?
Ikes: I think so; music creates memories as it evokes emotions, and there's no better way as a hip hop artist to do this than through the art of storytelling. It adds a timeless factor to the material that cannot be replaced.
What is next for Ikes?
Ikes: Right now, I’m focused, locked away in the studio just working on some new records with new producers that I’m really excited about, that’s all I can really say for now but 2016 is shaping up to be quite the career defining year for me.