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In conversation with AntsLive

Expanding the definition of a rapper

With an unquenchable thirst for constant progression and an intrinsic grandeur of his vision, AntsLive is the North-London troublemaker defying all expectations. Claiming the spotlight he righteously deserves, AntsLive’s entrance to the rap scene was far from shy – triumphantly galloping through mountain valleys and dining with a goat, the cinematic visual for Number One Candidate took the Internet by the storm. Digging deeper, the viral moment is just a tip of the iceberg – a bold introduction to the artist’s sonic dexterity and a knack for showmanship that makes his talent so exciting. As AntsLive lavishes in dizzying heights of the Italian Alps and his own breakthrough, we catch up with the musician to talk about the multi-dimensionality of his work, love for poetry and music videos as a dying art.

Het, great to speak to you! What have you been up to?

I’ve just been working, staying in the studio, recordings few bits for the upcoming project… And soaking everything in! The past couple of months have been wild, ever since I put the tape out. I’m just trying to enjoy it.

I imagine the response has been overwhelming! How are you feeling since the release?

The response has been crazy! I’m really happy that people are taking the time to listen to the whole project. Obviously, Number One Candidate has had its buzz, and people are really gravitating towards the video as well. But for me, the biggest highlight is that people are taking the whole body of work. A lot of effort went into that project, and it’s great to see people engage fully.

Tell me more about Just A Matter Of Time. I find it really interesting how it’s named after the slowest and most vulnerable song off the EP…

I wanted to be completely authentic in the project and showcase both aspects of what life can be. The good days and the bad days. The situation may stay the same, but the way you feel about life can fluctuate – I wanted to portray that with the sound selection and the content I talk about on the tape. The mantra ‘just a matter of time’ is really close to me and reassures me on the days I’m not feeling my best. It’s a reminder that as long as I’m disciplined and focused, anything I want in this life will just take some time. I’m no different from the next guy who makes it. We work the same way, he bleeds the same way I bleed – it’s all the same thing. For me, it was the most important message to deliver, so I guess that’s why I named it after that song.

This sense of fluctuation is definitely felt in the project’s sonic versatility. I love the pianos, hints of country guitars, the smooth RnB… How do you gravitate towards these sounds? 

I think my sound just stems from the fact that my mind never rests, haha. I always like something new, and as soon as I’ve heard something once and made something like it once, I don’t want to create anything too similar again. That’s why you hear so much variety throughout the whole tape. If I hear something and it makes me feel a certain way, I’m going to run with it. And usually, I don’t get this feeling twice.

You see a lot of artists compartmentalising themselves and just staying in one lane, especially in rap. It’s refreshing to see someone who trusts their own vision so much that they’re not scared to venture into different territories.

I know what you mean – and thank you!

Let’s get to your visuals. Why is visual language so important in your artistry?

I think it is as important as the music to me. For someone to fully understand the vision I’m trying to convey with my music, there needs to be a visual aspect to it. In an ideal world, I’d make a music video for every single song I put out. People take in and interpret things in different ways – some people resonate more with the visual aspect, others with the musical one. I just want to deliver the whole package. Growing up, I’ve always loved music videos. It’s something I don’t want to die. Nowadays, I feel like people put in less time and effort in it in general. I’m trying to go a bit against the grain in that sense.

What are some of your favourite music videos?

There are a few. For example, In Da Club where he’s doing the crunches upside down. There’s also a lot of UK stuff that is super weird – I was very young when I watched Skepta’s All Over The House music video. I probably shouldn’t have seen it, but I remember thinking ‘how the hell is this allowed?’. From more recent, Slowthai’s Ladies is crazy. I just like it when people go a bit leftfield with it.

From your own work, I wanted to talk about the visual for Skeet. It’s kind of diametrically opposite from Number One Candidate, but I loved how personal it felt.

It was my first time going back to Sierra Leone, the motherland. There had been a few things that got in the way of me going there prior. By the time I got the chance, I was basically a grown man. People always told me that from going back West Africa, back to where you’re from, you find out a lot about yourself and your heritage. I knew it was something I wanted to document. I was there for two weeks, but the camera broke three days after I got there – which is all you see in the video.

Looks like very eventful three days!

Yeah, it was crazy. I wanted to do it all, there was really no rest. It was also important for me to have the camera most of the time, and I never put it down. I wanted it to feel like my perspective. I had a lot of faith in myself that this year would be a great year for me, so I wanted to put Sierra Leone on the map and do my bit in showcasing where I’m from. I’m glad you picked this one – it’s very special to me.

Let’s go back in your journey a bit – I’ve read somewhere that you got into music when you were eight. 

Before I got into music, I just fell in love with words. I love eloquence, I love it when people use phrases I haven’t heard before, I love slang – I love all forms of language. When I was eight, maybe even younger, I started writing poems. My grandma would encourage it, like a side homework kind of thing. But it didn’t feel like homework, it was genuinely my favourite thing to do – I’ve always enjoyed piecing things together. The first time it translated into music and rap was probably closer to fourteen/fifteen. My friends and I would freestyle all the time. Maybe I’ll release some footage from that time – we got so much of it, haha.

Who have been some of your biggest inspirations?

To be honest, I’m kind of almost against taking inspiration from other individuals. I never want to watch another person’s journey and then make it my own. Instead, I like to be inspired by moments. What I mean is that if I see someone do something amazing, I’ll be inspired by that experience, not the person themselves. You have to learn from others, of course, but always try to make it your own vision.

I can see how taking inspiration from experiences fosters more creativity in a way – it allows you to arrive to something that is completely yours. Speaking of others doing great things, what can you tell me about the London scene right now?

I don’t think there’s ever been a time where London’s rap scene has had as many eyes on it as now. I’m grateful for all the hard work that the previous generations have put into giving us the platform that now attracts people from all over the world. There’s a real excitement around the scene right now, and I have to shout out the talent I personally listen to a lot – Joe James, BlazeYL, Tejy, Ashbeck. I love watching their journey, and it’s only a matter of time – no pun intended – for them to take the big stage. This year is going to be special, so watch this space.

Yeah, the whole word is watching.

Do they listen to a lot of UK music in Amsterdam?

I would say so, yes. It’s great to see people take interest in discovering the talent that lies beneath the mainstream. And we’re happy to spread the word!

Yeah, you let them know.

2023 started on a high note. How is the rest of the year looking for you?

It’s taken a lot of work to just get into this position, and I’m overly grateful for everyone taking my music in. I just want to give back with more music, better music, better visuals… For 2023, I want to up the level and keep bringing freshness to the scene. It’s important for me to be staying true to myself and doing that the best that I can.

Images courtesy of AntsLive

Words by Evita Shrestha