Music as ‘a journey of ego death’
Following the racing rhymes of his bottomless discography, I wouldn’t guess Lord Apex is a man of few words outside the studio. However, getting to know one of the most exciting names in the UK rap scene, his observant nature has explained a lot – for it’s his stoic front that gives rise to the textured lyricism and an abstract take on hip-hop signature to his vision.
“I didn’t even realise today is Friday,” Apex pondered in a true artist’s zone, completely undisturbed by my presence in his East London studio. That was the only trace of small talk we shared, before discussing the plans he has for an empty canvas stationed in the middle of the room, and touring his record collection with everything from Boards of Canada to Jimi Hendrix – a range reflected in his artistic versatility as well. So, equipped with hot wings and a Vice documentary playing in the back, we delve deeper into the origins of Apex’s sound, surrendering to the creative process, and exposing his heart on the long-awaited upcoming album.
How did you know music was your path?
It ran in the family – everyone was a creative in their own right. My aunties grew up breakdancing, doing stage shows, theatre… My mum was very well-rounded, especially with art and painting. My dad is a DJ. It felt like it was destined – I started making music when I was around 13-14. We used to come to this youth club that had a studio in the back every Monday after school. Once I found a place to record, I just kept recording all the time. Eventually, I discovered Soundcloud and everything spiralled from there.
I’ve read that you often describe yourself as an observer. How is this manifested in your approach to music-making?
A lot of the time I’m speaking from a perspective of an overseer. I learned the value of words from a young age, so I naturally just spoke less – only when I knew it was needed and would impact something. I found myself being the person taking in everything in the room. That way, you see things other people don’t, and you get to analyse it from your point of view.
An introvert’s gift.
I feel like we all have it in us. After spending so much time absorbing, you build up a bank of things you can speak about. When you’re constantly moving, you just don’t remember as much. I’m very nostalgic – I remember things from when I was four years old, just because I’ve been observant for that long. My music tends to be very introspective. I love how it impacts my work – it sits for a long time and a lot of people can relate to it.
Sound-wise, your work is also very unconfined – and I love a good jazz or reggae reference. How do you achieve this chemistry?
For me, the texture comes from feeling. Anything that sounds spacey, off-this-planet, and almost like something you shouldn’t rap on, is what I’m drawn to. My sound comes from challenging the stigmas, definitely around Jamaican culture as well. I grew up on Jamaican artists that were able to master any topic, so I’ve seen a very wide range of things that are possible in music. Reggae was my first lens before hip-hop, so my starting point of looking at music was very broad. It’s so different from having one sound you’re comfortable with. If you look online, there are a lot of ‘Lord Apex type beats’, and they’re often labelled as lo-fi. I hate that word. It may fit a specific sound but also discredits a lot. There is always going to be a new term to define a sound people can’t identify. I don’t take it personally. Now, everything is hyperpop, which is often so unnecessary and reductive.
I feel like people run out of patience to acknowledge the nuance in music. I can see how this certain calmness in your work may be swept under lo-fi, but a word that I would choose is ‘meditative’…
It’s all therapy for me. When I write, I work through what’s on my mind. I’ve gone from being a work junkie and overloading myself to going out of feeling a lot. I now prefer spending two or three days cultivating the words, and not forcing them. Sometimes, even words that are not in my vocabulary come to me subconsciously. It tends to be more fulfilling every time I record now. Music started off as a hobby and I was able to make a life out of it, so everything that has to do with it is a blessing already.
Being able to be so in touch with yourself and your process also comes from expertise.
Yeah, it’s like a 10,000-hour situation. I haven’t stopped since 2009, so it’s like muscle memory now.
With this, how do you keep challenging yourself?
You challenge yourself just by going outside of the box. I got some RnB songs that I’m sitting on, and experimental stuff that sounds way different from anything I have out. A lot of music that people come across when they discover me for the first time I made when I was like 16 to 18, and I’m 27 now. That’s why there is also a lot of duality in my shows – what I actually play versus the perspective one might assume I have before they meet me. My music may come off as quite chill, but I have a whole hard drive of much harder, moshpit-y songs that I’m excited to put out. I also understand that people might not understand certain sounds. I can make a song today, but it might not be ready until 2026, just because sound-wise it’s so far away from where I am now.
How do you gauge what your fans are feeling while staying true to you vision?
For the most part, I just ask my fans when I meet them in person, while it also being about what I want. Sometimes, people don’t like what I release, but I’m also here to take chances and not be comfortable. My projects will always have a few songs that won’t resonate with a lot of people – but the ones who do resonate with it, will really understand it. I’ve been listening to some of MF Doom’s work recently, and it only hits now – but I heard for the first time like 10 years ago. Certain subjects just hit at a different time. I feel like a lot of my music sits at this realm that if you don’t like it now, it might mean something to you at a different point down the line.
It’s the one thing that makes music so timeless. A constant education.
Everything is always a reflection. With music, there is always a message to be taken away, so you can always come back and rediscover it.
How do you hope your music connects with your audience?
I want my listeners to feel like they have a connection to something that is bigger than themselves. The main thing I want people to take away is to still have some faith in life. My journey in music has been a journey of ego death, and becoming a better version of yourself that you might’ve seen a long time ago but didn’t know how to reach. It’s a perpetual state of self-improvement – I’m constantly trying to outdo myself.
Does this philosophy apply to your general creative process, in painting as well?
Yes, it does. It’s also something that keeps me connected to the childlike version of myself – my first passion in the creative realm was drawing. It shows you a lot of your personality. It’s therapy as well, in a sense. I might stand in front of a blank canvas and stare at it for a long time because I’m always striving for perfection, which isn’t even a real thing. I had to learn to dive in and let whatever happens happen. When I do this, both with music and art, I always end up with something different. Also with art, I don’t stick to one style at all – I always challenge myself to try something new.
Your paintings look like they could be drawn by different people, but there are little tell-tale signs that it’s your work.
I think it plays a big part of what my personality is like. Every day I’m a different person – even my outfits today are so eclectic. I feel like a bit of chameleon.
I guess that’s what ego death is. You’re not clinging to a fixed idea of what you should be.
Exactly. One day it’s skinny jeans, the other day I’m dressing like a Wu-Tang member. It keeps it fun.
Tell me about your collective Elevation Meditation! What role does community play in your practice?
Community is everything. I grew up in a really big family, and it affected how I approached friendships as well. Elevation Mediation came about even before I started to make my own music. To me, the project is about helping anyone who’s gone through stuff or is in need of healing. From the messages I’ve gotten, it helped a lot of people to deal with hard times or struggles. As I might be going through it myself, it’s like a balance – helping other people also helps me. It’s a give and take. It reminds you what you’re doing this for – making other people’s lives better is more beneficial to my soul as opposed to the material drivers.
What can you share about your upcoming album The Good Fight?
It’s the greatest album of all times. It’s the greatest Lord Apex album of all times. It’s the greatest Shaeem – my real name – album of all times. It’s the greatest UK rap album of all times.
Big statements. Love the energy.
It’s the whole shebang. Everything I had done before was going with the flow and this cocky sense of “I’m not even trying; if I was trying, it’d be over for all of you”. So, I challenged myself to actually try. Verses got rewritten, things got scrapped and replaced, down to every word. The heart in this album is so much more prevalent than in any of my previous work – I got a lot more vulnerable. I also spoke more on political topics, which I was always hesitant to approach. But again, it’s challenging myself to speak on subjects that people may find uncomfortable. It’s fun, versatile, a lot more vocals, and legendary features people don’t even expect.
Apart from upending UK rap scene, what awaits Lord Apex?
It’s about to get very interesting. What’s on the horizon for me is to put as much love and art as I can for the rest of my time here. That’s it. Straight love and nothing else. I’m also working on a comic book, and I’m planning to work on it for the next 10 years. My biggest dream is to translate it into an animated show, so it’s what I’m manifesting right now. I might also do some stand up, maybe in my older days.