VITAL POWERS

VITAL POWERS Breaks Down How to Make it in America (Interview)

Vital Powers is a rapper from Wolverhampton who is not afraid to change it up and keep it fresh. He is now based in California, having previously moved to London, and just like his location, his music also varies. Having made music like grime and bassline, his latest EP, ‘Main Character Energy‘, takes on dancehall and drill, amongst other genres. This body of work includes the track, ‘Too Savage‘, which has just received over 100k views on YouTube.

Back in April, fresh off the launch of this project, we sat down over Zoom while he was back in the U.K. With this new EP marking a change in direction, we discussed his journey up to this point, his thoughts on U.K. musicians breaking in America, and the artists coming out of Wolverhampton.

Main Character Energy‘ is your first project released since 2021. In that time between releasing projects, how did you change musically and as a person?

It’s weird because my last project was ‘Radioactive‘. That was all around me being on (the) radio as a presenter on the BBC and being active in the music I was doing; me balancing two worlds. Since then, I’ve stopped being a presenter for the BBC. I moved to London and then to America. I’ve been influenced by one: living in London during the pandemic and two: living in California, the Bay area after the pandemic. So, those initial, human influences, being in a different location, and then, being inspired by the age I am now.

I’m in my thirties now, so it is a different kind of, ‘Hey, what is important? What do I carry forward into music and my life,’ and how do I react around people I love and who support my music? It’s been more of a change as an adult, and with that comes the music. Things I talk about are more specific to who I am as a person but allow myself to realise, ‘Hold on, I ain’t gotta be so serious.’.

There was a period where I was trying to be articulate and make these crazy lyrics that do double-entendres. If you listen to the music that is doing well, people are having fun, so I thought, ‘Let me slow it down a little bit. Let me go back to a headspace where the music I was creating was fun, was something I cared about without caring too much.’. I took away a lot of the pressure from myself. I stopped worrying about, ‘It has got to be this many tracks at this time.’.

If we talk about genre, a lot of the music I made when I became someone people knew about was more dance or reggae, so I tried to embed that back into the music, but still have the grimey/drilly/rappy sound. More than anything, showcase who I am in that full-colour pallet, rather than here is what I am doing because this is the thing that I think works.

A lot more open; a lot more fun; a lot more enjoyable. Still lyrical, I will never run away from that, but it is not the focus to make it lyrical miracle. (laughs)

Would you say this period of your life has seen the most change?

It’s the most challenging, but I have been preparing myself indirectly for the challenges. Again, I moved out of my mom’s house many years ago, so the moment I moved out I realised life won’t necessarily give me a supporting hand. I was mentally prepared to do whatever. If I had to move to Afghanistan; India; Australia; if I had to be broke; if I had to lose it all and get it again; If no one liked my music; if I stopped liking the feeling of making music; all these things.

I’m actually a paranoid person; not publicly, just inside, where I think about, ‘If I don’t do that, what will happen?’. I have to think about the worst version of this. If I can deal with the worst version, then it’s only daises after that. I’m never in a headspace where, ‘How did this happen to me?’. Also, if you’re a God-fearing person or a spiritual person, you will believe that anything that’s thrown at you, you can handle. Going from my paranoia and then my beliefs, sets me in a space where even if I am not ready, I will get ready.

With that, we go through things, and I don’t want trauma or anything like that, but the traumatic times make for the best music. I wrote a lyric recently, where I say, “Writer’s block because I am not around my traumas.”. I’ve moved to America; I don’t know anyone like that, so I am not around the traumatic experiences, people, and environments I was around when I was way younger. I am not having to face these things, so sometimes when I’m in America, I can write about a lot of stuff. But the things that come naturally (the pain), I can’t talk about that because I am not going through that. I have to dig deeper into the headspace of the paranoia.

There is always something to write about, but, the moving around is something I anticipated. The idea of being in a hard space, a space of uncertainty, and then leaning into that to make lyrics; to build myself; to be a better person.

That mindset is good. Thinking about how something could go wrong prepares you and allows you to think about the different scenarios. Obviously, you have got to make sure it doesn’t take too much of a hold over you. But, if you have that healthy balance of, ‘I prepare for this if it’s bad, but I don’t let it control my decision-making,’ that is good.

At the end of the day, people like to hear music that comes from trauma. But, if that isn’t you anymore, you have to be real to you and the space you’re in now. For example, people who have come from a poor background will start off making music about that. Once you have ‘made’ it, so to speak, then that is not your life anymore. You have to make the music about how your life is now.

It’s hard man. I always think of 50 Cent, he is a great example, for me. He came out batting crazy albums, millions sold, having the support of Snoop Dogg; Eminem; Dr. Dre. You can’t ask for more in the rap scene at that point. Then he gets to his third or fourth album and it can feel almost lacklustre because he’s clearly rich now, clearly not in the struggle, maybe not in the headspace of I got shot 9 times.

Now, I am listening to him and he’s braggadocious and that is not what I like him for, not what I came to the table to listen to. With him, he has had to remake himself into this mogul, that Jay-Z, DJ Khaled route where you’re more than just the thing you are known for. With that, it is great, but I am afraid to do that too much and lose the essence of what I love.

I love making music, but I also video edit, produce, and those kinds of spaces. (Also, I am) a sound engineer, I work with young people. I haven’t done it in a while, but at the time I was mentoring; I do music as a consultancy. I do all these other things, that are building me but I don’t want to run away from the thing I love. Also, I don’t wanna lose touch with the thing people like me for.

It’s a hard balance of I am somehow going to find a way. If I go back to 50 Cent, he’s released all these series’ that he has created called ‘Power‘. The cool thing I like about him now, is musically he does the intros. He sounds like the old 50 Cent, but he can do that because he is talking about a show that incorporates an essence of his past life. Now, I believe it, because I know he’s writing from a point of realism, but linking it to the show.

There is always a way to give the audience what they want, but you still build yourself and become the new version of yourself. Like you said, I don’t wanna write about traumas or things I have already wrote about or gone through, but at the same time, things will always happen, good or bad. So, I always have something I can talk about, but it’s about finding that balance so I don’t lose the focus or the aim. I’m still growing.

50 Cent is a good example because he has had to adapt. He can’t make a ‘Many Men‘ now because he’s not out here. He has too much security, he’s in the gated community. That (being shot) is not happening to him anymore.

There are plenty of examples of people in the hip-hop scene who have transitioned. Nas is still making great music. If we want to look at a U.K. example, Kano, even though he is a successful actor now, is still making good music. Skepta is still making good music; Ghetts is still making good music. The audience is always going to be like, ‘Ok. They are doing something different. How am I going to feel about this?’, but you can adapt. If it is true to you, people are going to see that.

It’s funny though because you mentioned Ghetts, Kano, and Skepta, and honestly, these are my favourite artists. But, they have all had a transitioning period where they are making the music everyone loves, but don’t know everyone loves it. Then they pivot to do a mainstream thing and people are noticeably like, ‘I’m not sure about this one.’. Then they go back to the essence but still do it in a grown-up way.

That’s where I am. I never really had to make pop music as I have never made music that mainstream for it to be pop. But, I have delved into bassline and seen if that works. It works, but it is not my thing. I then go back to the essence where it’s more grown up and I can do grime, hip-hop, dancehall, and it can sound new, fresh, excepting, and things that are put on (the) radio, on a late-night drive, or in a club. You are just trying to hone in on yourself, but know at the same time, you don’t have to conform.

If you build it, people will come. Don’t run around asking people what they want, just build it in a way that makes sense to you and people will come for it.

VITAL POWERS

As we’ve briefly touched on you live in California now. What enticed you to move there and how has it helped your career?

It was a work opportunity more than anything. But, it was the pandemic, we were in a physical space and headspace where we don’t know what’s going on in the world. No one in our generation or the generation around us have seen a pandemic. So, things in the world have never just stopped. That was a, ‘Hold on. If things can stop, that means anything can be stopped (moment).’. I was in a headspace where I needed to put myself in a space where there is more opportunity, put myself in a space where I can do more or look for more, or let me take myself somewhere where worst case scenario I can go back where I was.

Outside of the pandemic, I didn’t know how I was going to get to America, get to all these places. The opportunity came and overall it was like, ‘Let’s just try it. Music can be made anywhere and it can be released anywhere.’. All I am doing is allowing myself to get more inspiration, to put more stripes on the shoulder. I can say, ‘I’ve been here. I have done this, I have seen these things.’.

With that came opportunities, like being able to get to Miami quickly; get to Atlanta quickly; get to Austin; Texas really quickly; get to LA very quickly. If I am able to do these things, I am not dreaming about them anymore. I’m not thinking when I get to America, if I get to America I will do these, I am like no, I’m here now, I will do them. You said if before and now you’re here, so no excuses.

That’s really what I am trying to do, but life is all about balance. You have got to have money to do the things you want to do. I’m making sure I am making the money I need to make so I can be around these people. I was at SXSW 2 weeks ago; I made so much connections to the point that I could go LA right now, which is like 5 hours drive or a 1-hour flight from where I am in Cali. I can connect with a few people; I can stay in people’s house, certain studios. That is what I was trying to do without realising indirectly, to be present and make these connections.

If you’re around the right people, then you’ll get what you want. You’ll be able to prosper in a space of, ‘I’m around this person, so I am going to see different things.’. I want to be open and make sure I’m open to opportunities. Opportunities are created, but they are also present. You can see them for what they could be and make something out of it.

Being able to be in a space where you can meet lots of new people like yourself and get these new opportunities is a good idea. Also, with the American music scene, there is a lot to learn from. In particular, with rap music, they have been able to push that to a global audience. The U.K. scene is getting bigger. It is getting into places like Australia and it is starting to get there in America. But, we’ve not quite gotten over the line, so there is definitely a lot to learn.

That is the thing I realised in the pandemic. The best way to explain – pandemic happened, crypto started going crazy, and it was a lot of speculation. Then, some people made a lot of money, some people lost a lot of money. A lot of people came in after and said, “Hey, I’m in Crypto now.”. It’s best to be that innovator for yourself before anything happens or whilst it’s happening, not after the fact.

Not everyone I know is moving to America, so I am trying to think, ‘Who is known in America?’. The only people they know is Skepta, Stormzy, Central Cee, and then everyone else, maybe Ghetts and Headie One. They’re aware, but there is not a song they can tap into. There is only really three people from the U.K. they know (and Kano, but that’s more because of acting). If there is only three or four people they are aware of in the U.S. that are from the U.K., then that gives me all the room to pop up; link with the right person; make the right song; do something where it works.

It’s funny because as I say this, I interviewed an artist called KYLE; he made a song with Lil Yachty years ago. I was talking to him through something I did with DITO and I said to him, “Who do you know from the U.K.?”. (He said), “I know Wiley and Big Narstie.”, I said, “What?”. Wiley is not a surprise, but Big Narstie was because it wasn’t from his TV shows, he was a fan of his music. It also let me know there is so much avenues of music and connections you can have in a space that is foreign to the things you do.

Maybe where KYLE (is asked), “Who do you know?”, he now says Wiley, Big Narstie, and VITAL. Even though that is three spectrums; three different worlds, in a sense. It’s the idea that, ‘Let me reach out to all the people I can.’. Even if I only reach out to a thousand people, that’s a thousand more people that know me than most of the people in the U.K. That can spread like a wildfire. For me, it is the idea of being out here and connecting with each and anyone that I can. I don’t know who is going to talk to who about what.

Their perspective of the U.K. is quite a small point of view. Honestly, when I was at SXSW, nothing but love from people in America. It is the time for artists in the U.K. to crossover and try because people are more open to the accent; the opportunities; the ideas; the stylistics. They are not necessarily seeing us as a joke, that is the truth. A lot of them are like, “I respect you lot.”. I think it’s that time to try.

From what I gather, I feel like American artists do rate the U.K. scene. I saw an interview with Danny Brown recently and he was like, “I really got into heavy U.K. grime,”, and I wouldn’t have expected that.

I see a lot of people clowning on the accent. It feels like the consumer isn’t quite there yet and maybe that is why labels are a bit hesitant.

It’s weird that you say that because I think the consumer doesn’t know what they want. That is why labels will force Central Cee on you and they’re like, ‘Cool. We like him now.’. They’ll force a Skepta or a Stromzy on you, ‘Oh, we like him now.’. I’m not saying that’s what only happens, but it can happen.

But, at the same time, it’s the big entities. You hear people talk about grime and Central Cee; Central Cee doesn’t do grime. It’s also the miseducation or the lack of education around what we do. When I’m explaining to people the music I do, I have to sometimes say imagine Twista, but in a U.K. accent. That is what I say to people because we rap faster a lot of the time, whether drill or grime, and people get that concept. That’s not what we do, but that is the concept. We’re not American, we are British. We don’t rap like, ‘Yo, dudda-dudda-duh,’, it’s more like, ‘Dudda-dur-dur-dur,’. You know the tempo is higher.

Then I show them my music and they are like, “Oh, I see what y’all do out there.”, that is how they talk to me. Before, I was like I do grime and they are like, “What’s grime?”, and now I have to explain who Wiley is. It’s just a lack of education and if (we’re) being honest, it’s ignorance. If it ain’t something they don’t understand immediately, they don’t get it. We are all ignorant in some shape or form, but I see the ignorance.

I tell them I am from Wolverhampton and they’re like, “Is that by London?”; no, it is just a bit further away. You can tell they wanna know, but they’re not giving enough time to care. Until Skepta screams, ‘London is an hour and a half away from Wolverhampton,’ they are not going to listen man.

It’s partly why I am here, to educate, and be a representation for the U.K., the Jamaican culture, and what it means to be this hybrid artist. (I’m) not just hip-hop or grime; rap or drill; just dancehall and reggae. I have a Jamaican background, I’m from Wolverhampton. I’m British, but the whole of the U.K. grew up on American content, so I understand each space and send that message across indirectly.

Lack of education causes a lot of problems, not just that. Like you said, if suddenly the labels decided, ‘We’re going to put on this artist.’, then it would be out there. It’s about putting yourself out there and getting there. Artists are clearly receptive to it, it is just the consumer.

For example, to go slightly a bit off topic, a lot of U.K. R’n’B artists go out to America and they make it. Ella Mai wasn’t really known in the U.K., she got signed in the U.S., and she became massive.

But, singing is not associated with an accent all the time. British singers sing in an American tone. Not a Lily Allen; certain people are distinctive. (But), like Adele is U.K. till she sings and then you don’t know where she is from. Then she’s a Londoner, it is mad clear when she talks. If I was like, ‘Yo, I’m a rapper from Wolverhampton,’ (in American accent) that would be understood and accepted.

Back in the day, there was a group called S.A.S from London but they lived in and around America. This was before anyone was anything in the U.K. They used to rap in an American accent and America accepted them immediately. That is because, it is the ignorance where, ‘This sounds normal I like it or I don’t like it,’, as opposed to, ‘Hey you accent man. I don’t get it cus your accent.’.

C’mon bro, most Americans sound different to most Americans, that is the funniest part. But, we are so different, it’s like I need to stop what I am doing and work this out. Like move on bro, it’s not that deep. If I hear a French or Russian grime artist talking in a different language, I am gassed. Now, it’s a sonics thing; does it sound good or not? Cool, you’re talking a different language, is it good?

I’m trying to find a market that can take in the Jamaican side, the dancehall side. Americans are cool with that, there is no questions with that, they know what that is. So, my accent is slightly different, but I can do the dancehall and the patois stuff. It’s a hybrid way for them to get in.

VITAL POWERS

With that last point, I feel like there is a lot more openness. For example, with grime or drill, we’ve had French, Australian, and Japanese people rapping over those beats.

You are correct about the idea of Americans accepting people rapping with an American accent. Look at Iggy Azalea, she’s not American, she is Australian. Would she have been as successful if she rapped in an Australian accent? Probably not.

The same as Drake when he started. He didn’t run from being Canadian, we just couldn’t tell he was Canadian. He sounded like an American rapper and then he started shouting, “I’m from the 6.”. But, when you go to Canada, they have a hybrid accent of U.K.-Jamaican slang mixed with American slang. So, it is easier to digest if you are American because you’re not disassociating it too far from how you sound. It’s the same with The Weeknd; Tory Lanez; Justin Bieber; all Canadian artists. When you cross over that border it is not too much of a culture shock until they start talking. But, the American presence is still there.

I feel like U.K. people are more forgiving with those things. We hear all kinds of accents and styles; we just want to know if it’s good or not. I read people from Ireland rapped and at first, I was like, “This accent is crazy.” (in a good way). But that made me want to hear it more. Now I want to know, ‘How does this person rhyme so fast in this accent?’. It’s a hard transition for a lot of people in America.

With Irish artists, I like KNEECAP and A92, and I really like ONEFOUR from Australia. I think America and the world are becoming a bit more open to different sounds and different languages. This is definitely true in the last five years. It’s why K-pop has been able to do well, it is why Afrobeats is starting to do well.

Dave and Central Cee just went Gold (in the U.S.) with ‘Sprinter‘. It’s not the first track from the U.K. to do well, but it’s a sign.

It’s bridging gaps man. I actually forgot about Dave, I dunno how I didn’t mention (him), but Dave is defo up there too. There is a lot of people and there is a lot of potential.

The only thing is, not a lot of people care about the American market on a personal level, it’s just on a money level; on a numbers level. You can put England inside of California a few times, and California is one state out of 50. It lets you know, if you’re famous in three states in America, you’re going to feel like you are famous across the world. When people are famous in England, it’s a conceited kind of position. Yeah, you’re known here, but it’s such a small spec on the rest of the world.

Again, it is about perception. What do you think is success? What do you think is making it or becoming the thing you want to become? When I was known in Wolverhampton only, I thought I was the guy (and) that was my ceiling. Then I went to Birmingham and I was like, “Oh, there is a whole other city.”, and then I got known there. Then I am going Coventry; Northampton; Rugby. (I think), ‘Let me get to London that is a hard place to crack. Oh my god, London is this big? I can’t walk across it.’. (After, I) take a couple flights to Spain, France, Turkey, and (you’re like), “The world is massive.”.

What is your point of view on what is success to you? What is your goals? If you can answer that, it makes it easier to understand what you are trying to do. But, if you don’t know that, you’re going to keep yourself in a box or keep surprising yourself that there is more to be conquered.

I have to remind myself sometimes how big America is. Over here, you can get from one side of the country to the other in…

Five Hours.

Whereas in America, if you want to go somewhere else you have to get on a plane.

I put this in a lyric, but I told this joke the other day. I’ve got a song called ‘Uber Ones‘; it goes, “I just landed in U.S. / No pounds just U.S. / I used to think Wolverhampton was the whole world and then I drove 7 hours in the States and I’m still in the U.S.,”. If you drove seven hours anywhere in the U.K. you are in the water. It lets you know that America is big.

Who is an up-and-coming artist who you’d like to put the spotlight on and what advice would you give them?

I’m going to give you three. The first I want to big up is Trill Troy; he’s about four, five years younger than me. He’s from Wolverhampton, he is doing his thing. He has a project out called ‘For a Trillion Summers 1 + 2‘; 3 is coming.

On top of that, my youngest brother, his name is Jevzinoo. He is about 18, and he has a song on ‘Main Character Energy‘ that is a bonus track (Bus Pass). You will hear more about him and he has a song called ‘Who Knew‘, that has a video.

Anyone The Wanderer. He is defo a big artist, just to be clear. But, he is someone who has done a lot of great music; inspired a lot of people in Wolverhampton. He has transitioned into the space where he does rap and jazz, and it’s second to none. He plays piano, but he also does it with a band; very acoustic, but also live music. He’s a good friend of mine, but next level when it comes to talent.

Those three I recommend completely. One is literally my brother, but he’s cold, one is a good friend of mine, but is cold, and one I have known since three years old, but at the same time he has broke off and done all these crazy things.

VITAL POWERS is on Instagram, X, and TikTok. Stream ‘Main Character Energy‘ below and read more interviews here.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Share your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x
%d bloggers like this: