Have you done any hard work recently? Even if you think you have been, it’s pretty fair to say that Louis VI has been working harder. Hailed as part of a budding scene for young London based musicians and having worked with the likes of Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and Knytro, Louis has been honing his sound as part of OthaSoul for the last few years. Recently having supported the likes of Slum Village and Talib Kweli alongside praise from such luminaries as Gilles Peterson and Solange Knowles… Well, something’s going right eh?
While he’s been making moves for a hot minute, his first solo EP Lonely Road of the Dreamer is a true view into who he really is both musically and personally. With the brunt of the production duties taken by the artist himself, the EP weaves a tale of identity and struggles with mental issues with the streets of London as the backdrop. It displays true artistry and attention to detail; nothing in the arrangement is cheap and there isn’t a single filler syllable crowbarred into the writing to make his dense rhyme schemes fit to the soft jazzy sounds of the beats. Melodic hooks phase in and out of the verses so smoothly that it’s easy to forget this is a debut offering. In terms of lyricism, the wordplay will give the even the most dedicated RapGenius barsplainer a couple weeks of work.
The EP takes you on a journey that is somehow both experimental and classic at the same time, managing to transcend the distinction that is often made between UK and US hip-hop artists. Lonely Road of the Dreamer is the soundtrack to welcome in the chilled winter nights. Bonafide caught up with the man himself for a chat about his sound and approach to music.
Tell me about how your journey through the industry this far, like, from when you would consider that you started taking it seriously.
“Making music has always been totally part of who I am, since 15 when I faked an ID to go to a free summer camp at the London School of Sound to learn to produce, so I guess that’s the age you could say I started taking it seriously. I spent some time in Bristol was a great training ground for me to test myself. I performed a lot and also ran a bi-weekly strictly vinyl hip-hop night which introduced me to the scene and a lot of dope people. Them days I was known as Jungle VIP, so the recent change to Louis VI was really a move of maturing into a proper artist. Jungle was a name all my bredrins had called me for years, my old bredrins still do, but it didn’t reflect where I was at mentally. I felt honest so I moved to something that was really my name. The VI is significant because I was born on the 6th day of the month, 6 has always been my lucky number and a little nod to my French heritage (I’m Caribbean, French, Italian and Scottish/English). VI is also a nod to the fact I carry a slave name and so I’m taking ownership of my heritage there.
Tell me about the process of making this EP.
It was about a year in the making of creating tracks but at the same time we (as OthaSoul) were doing so many performances it took longer than I would’ve wanted to make a tape that was as honestly me as I could manage, I wanted to do as much of the production on as I could. Creating a project, as everyone that’s ever done one knows, is fucking hard. Especially financially. I’ve been completely broke for almost three years. Juggling jobs, doing odd jobs for cash in hand etc. I really have had to hustle to keep this dream alive.
There have been times when the fire has all but nearly extinguished, but I scrape some money from somewhere. The amount of times I was like shit, this would be so much easier if I just shot weed. I came to a point with all the tracks nearly completed and I realised, shit, I ain’t gonna be able to finish this. I don’t have the funds. So I did the thing that I find so hard and asked for help. I set up a GoFundMe account and asked if people could donate a small amount of money to help me with mastering and marketing costs and the amount of people that came through for me was unbelievable. It was and still is actually emotional. I couldn’t have done it without the kindness these friends, fans and family. I obviously sent them all a free copy of the EP!
In terms of topic matter, you’re perhaps more willing than many to speak about vulnerabilities such as depression. At the same time openness about mental struggles is happening more and more recently. Do you think the traditional climate of “no one wants to hear about that shit in urban music bruv” is changing?
Yea man, completely. It’s amazing. I think the UK especially is doing a lot for the cause. In terms of the EP, the original vision goes far back, Lonely Road of The Dreamer came from a line in a song about having to split up with a girlfriend at the time because it felt like it was music or her… I chose music. But I didn’t realise how well that described the sentiment I was feeling over the last two years. I felt I was so alone on the path to try and reach my dream of being a professional musician and that brings a lot of mental battles. For me, when I first heard Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo that changed my whole perspective. I just thought what’s the point of speaking if you ain’t talking about something real to you and therefore everyone else that’s ever been human! Feel me?
On the EP there’s a whole host of sounds and instrumental techniques rarely encountered in contemporary hip-hop releases, underground or otherwise. What is it that attracts you to these kinds of beats?
My mum has made damn sure I was exposed to all types of incredible music since day dot. Playing De La Soul while I was in the womb is probably why I do hip-hop! But it led me to try and play as many different instruments as I can. I used to play trumpet, still try my best at keys and was a jazz drummer for a while. I guess I just like all sorts of sounds, unusual too. That’s why I’ve started composing music for film as well.
Talking influences with musicians is mad annoying territory, but for UK artists there’s always this dual US/UK input that people reconcile differently. How do these fit together for you, or how do you feel certain parts of each influenced your sound and approach to making music?
I was a yout right in the hay day of when grime first began. I was so proud to be from London. So much of my identity came from that time, good and bad. But my real love was hip-hop and stateside had always been the true father of that for me, Nas’ Illmatic, Big L and Outkast, particularly Atliens and André 3000 with The Love Below raised me. Even was obsessed with Jedi Mind Tricks at one point, pretty dark shit. But a few key artists like Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascal, Kano who were coming out of places like the where I lived and were doing a form hip-hop but in their own way. Manuva particularly influenced me. I listened to a lot of French hip-hop too, like SNIPER.
There’s a lot of talk about this new British sound around you and certain people you have worked with. Would you call it a concerted movement? What are the features of this, and why now?
There definitely is a movement but I don’t know if it was concerted or self-aware till recently. But the music is wide and diverse, I think the movement is that British musicians aren’t scared to be more musical anymore or vulnerable. People are celebrating differences for the first time. Everyone you mentioned is jazzy or soulful but there’s peeps like my g Kojey Radical doing crazy new things, pushing the art. People like Jay Prince and Little Simz who have carved a way into the States and international places for the UK recently. Some ridiculous producers that are taking it to the next level (like FlyLo did in the states) like ScottXylo, Melo-Zed and Jake Milliner. SumoChief are also taking it to the next level with just being ridiculously sick musicians and Barney Artist is also doing dope things.
The track Fly Pigeon Fly has a real narrative behind it. Can you go into the story behind this track at all?
Yeah sure, that track is coming from an American’s perspective listening to a British rapper. It’s from an experience I had when I first when to NY, I was staying in the hood in Bushwick and got friendly with a lot of people on the block. I was high as shit sitting on the stoop with a 40 and just spat a freestyle and they couldn’t believe it. They were like “shit I didn’t know you lot in the UK could really rap son!” and “I ain’t never heard something this good, but ain’t you from the UK, is there even a scene there?”. A lot of people I met didn’t even know there were black people in the UK till they met me. For real. I was like man, hip-hop means as much for me as it does for you. This is like four years ago though and they were shocked they could actually understand me. These guys showed me so much love once I showed them my music, they still send me messages of support and I’ve had a special place in my heart for Brooklyn since. But yeah the songs just like, fuck it, it don’t matter where I’m from, this is me.”