FREESTYLE BRISTOL

Kwazi's Game

#AfterDark showcases the best underground artists in Bristol from the up and coming to the legendary.

Amelia Kelly spoke with Kwazi about his rap career, interest in anime and making waves in Bristol. 

Photoshoot by Anna Cunningham & Libby Smith

Words: Amelia Kelly

Born and raised in Bristol, bilingual rap artist Kwazi has been elevating the scene with his versatility and authenticity since he wrote his first rap at the age of twelve. Now twenty-two, his inexhausted talent offers an impressive discography – one curated with a hand completely in control of its own narrative.

Image: Libby Smith, @myfavouritedays

As an artist, Kwazi is conquering every genre that he places himself within, never being restrained by one. When asked what the best word to describe this musical style would be, Kwazi answered: “The best word I could give you is versatile, because I’m a walking contradiction. I’m an oxymoron. I’ll be hot and cold, I will be very chill and then I’ll have extremely hype stuff as well. It’s really a huge mix. Then obviously there is the anime stuff and then there is the general vibe stuff.”

Climbing over the restraints of a single genre that many artists fall vulnerable to, Kwazi has become comfortable experimenting with multiple. This, he tells me, came quite naturally.

“When I started rapping, I was rapping on Boom Bap. Obviously, it’s quite old school and I knew it wasn’t something I would do for my whole career, because at that point, I could already see hip-hop was changing and going into another direction. But, I really liked those beats and I like old J Dilla beats, so I knew I was starting somewhere.

“Now, I’ve got to a point where I’m a bit more planned. I’m still doing the same thing and I still want to travel between those places, but now I’m properly planning out what genre I want to be in.”

Behind this personal progression is a whole host of musical influences – playing a part in Kwazi’s experimental and skilful take. However, now taking a more ‘conscious’ approach to the genres filtered into future EP’s, Kwazi has had time to reflect on artists that are currently making a personal impact:

“The EP that I’m working on right now is inspired largely by Toby Lou and Kota the Friend. They are American artists who do Lo Fi and Trap Lo Fi. So it’s a new sort of Lo Fi, not Boom bappy, but it’s still got the same sort of instruments and the same sort of vibe, so it’s quite upbeat. Chance the Rapper as well, was a big inspiration to this EP. Because it’s like a versatile style there’s a lot of different people inspiring it.”

Image: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos

‘I’ve always wanted to take my listeners on a story and on a journey’

Reflecting on the effect of this ever-evolving style, Kwazi comments: “I think my music and my fanbase will probably develop as well. Hopefully, my fans can follow me through the journey. Obviously not everything is for everyone, but just because you don’t like one album doesn’t mean you won’t like the next one, especially if they’re all different. I’m hoping my fans can follow me through and I’ll get constant feedback from them.”

Yet, instead of shying away from the origins of Kwazi’s style, the rapper is doing everything in his power to maintain transparency between his identity as an artist and his audience. 

“I’ve always wanted to take my listeners on a story and on a journey. I feel like a lot of people don’t want that. A lot of people say ‘take your old songs off’, ‘take down your old photos off your profile’. But, I really want people to see that I came from not knowing what I was doing and slowly over time understanding it better and better – and getting bigger doing that. It’s more inspiring that way because no one’s perfect. 

“A lot of artists seem like they’re just perfect because they’ve taken all that old shit down and they’ve taken all the old photos down so it looks like they’ve been perfect from the start. I like people seeing me coming from the rough parts and slowly mastering it and touching it up and becoming better as an artist. A lot of people have commented on that and said they have seen how far I’ve come as an artist. So I really appreciate that and I think it’s cool for them to be able to see.”

Image: Libby Smith, @myfavouritedays

Love Saves The Day

Live performances have allowed Kwazi to gain an understanding of his future as a rapper, contributing to his musical narrative and reinforcing his trust in an audience that are eager to follow his honest and exciting journey. 

Kwazi’s recent performance at Love Saves The Day, for instance, saw the rapper being able to reflect on his achievements so far whilst reconnecting with the Bristol scene that has surrounded him throughout his career. He tells me: “It was sick. We had the whole Born2Be crew out and xyzelle and KDogg as well…We definitely brought a crowd out.

“I was looking for people I knew and then I saw a couple of people I didn’t know, who were singing the lyrics. I was shocked that they knew the lyrics, but it was sick. It was my first time being with a crowd like that, where people were engaged as well and fully tuned in – there for that music.”

It would be hard to deny that an audience wouldn’t be engaged in Kwazi’s performance, his authenticity has successfully bridged the gap between himself and those watching him. It is an observation reaffirmed by his Love Saves appearance. 

When asked how it compared to other live events in Bristol, the rapper explained that: “There was definitely more pressure. It wasn’t pressure in a bad way. I liked the pressure, it kind of buzzed me and made me more hyped for it. I’d say there was definitely more of a buzz.

Born2Be Records crew at Love Saves The Day 2022

Image: Mitchell Williams, @mitchellsvisuals

“The sick thing is there’s a lot of coverage of it as well. Maybe the buzz lasted longer because I got back from the show and saw photos and videos. 

“At a festival, people really are there, already lit. It’s definitely got more energy in the crowd than there would be if you’re just performing at any other club, starting up you know?” 

It is clear that the festival has become a contributing factor to Kwazi’s own understanding of himself as an artist – an artist continuously developing and changing whilst the eyes of Bristol’s scene remain firmly on him. So, after the festival, who is Kwazi today?

“Who is Kwazi today? I’d like to think I’m a household name in Bristol. I mean, I’m getting to that point now. I feel like I’ve got a lot more people from different sides of Bristol, who I wouldn’t expect to know me, knowing me. 

“Love Saves really secured it for me as well, because there were a lot of people who I didn’t know. They’ve been keeping an eye on me and they’ve been watching and they’ve been seeing me move here and there. I think for me that definitely solidified it, that I’m doing the right thing because I have people in the industry who are watching. It made me feel like I’m definitely on the right path. So if I’m not a household name now, I will be in the next year.”

Image: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos

Bristol – ‘You have to find your real voice’

‘To a certain extent’, growing up in Bristol has played its part in influencing Kwazi’s music. He tells me that the attitude of the areas in which he grew up, Montpellier and St. Pauls has shaped who he has become as an artist. In terms of this, he said: “The way that people talk there and the way that you might want to carry yourself there, just to be safe or to be right, that definitely goes into my music a bit.”

However, listening to a lot of American hip-hop throughout his childhood also had its own crucial impact: “At first, I didn’t even grow up off of that much UK hip-hop, it was a lot of American hip-hop that I listened to. I still heard a lot from my older brother, he used to rap – and his friends and other rappers around Bristol. The more I grew up, the more this went into my style.

“The first time I rapped, I had an American accent and a lot of people do that, not on purpose, just because they listen to so much American rap so they rap and they think that’s what sounds hard. You have to find your real voice and that came for me listening to more UK music and listening to local music.”

The city’s future

It’s undeniable that Kwazi has been making waves on the music scene in Bristol throughout his journey. For this reason, the rapper is determined to see this impact ‘lead the Bristol scene into its next era’.

“Every other artist who’s [reading] this right now needs to know you need to work harder than me, to be the face of the city because that’s what I’m working for right now. And if we all work that hard, then it’s undeniable that Bristol will take off…Meet me at the top.”

Image: Libby Smith, @myfavouritedays

Creative lyricism

Kwazi’s limitless direction, which makes him stand out on the Bristol scene, creates a storyline for himself as an artist, people can refer to where he has come from to see his artistic progression. This development is mirrored in his music – using analogous lyrics and metaphors.

Overall, this is an effective approach in the rapper’s rise out of Bristol. His creative interests in anime, which individuals worldwide are already attached to, have combined with his music – leaving a strong impression on social media and seen Kwazi hitting figures on Tik Tok. 

“I’ve been watching anime since I was like ten, nine probably, maybe even younger. I didn’t have a huge crossover of them for ages.

“But I started putting anime bars in my lyrics. Because in rap, you always make similes and metaphors. You always make little lyrics about references that are popular, and for me anime was just what I was listening to at the time. 

“And then only later, after finding out about Tik Tok, did I see that there’s actually an audience for it. Because me, watching anime, I was always in a minority of people who watched that. For a while, it was kind of shunned upon. You know, I was seen as a nerd or a geek or whatever for doing it.  But then it came to a period where it was kind of popular. And that’s kind of the period we’re in now where Tik Tok is rising. 

“Before knowing about the anime niche being so big, I posted [a song] on Tik Tok, it got like 40,000 hits and then another one I posted got like 80,000 and it started going up from there.”

This ‘anime niche’ has placed Kwazi in the spotlight – a focal connecting point between two interests: “If you’re making music about something that people are already attached to, they’re gonna be that much more attached to your music. So when I have songs about characters that are already someone’s favorite character, from the second they hear it, they find the song epic because they know who it’s about and they already feel attached to that.”

Image: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos

So, what’s next for Kwazi?

“I am going to change the world! I mean, I’ve always wanted to do good things with my music. And I’ve always wondered how someone like me could be big things. I feel like music is a great form of influence sometimes. A lot of artists have been hugely influential. If you can make a certain amount of money then you can invest in other stuff that changes the world in bigger ways.

“That’s the type of musician I want to be. When I finish music, or not even necessarily when I finish music, but when I hit the top of my career, I want to invest it into other things so I can change the world in a positive way.”

Kwazi’s latest single Ultra Instinct is out now and can be heard via this link

Instagram: @kwazi0117