Exclusive Interview: Oscar #Worldpeace – “All we have is honesty.”
Ahead of his sold out London headline show, we delve into the mind of Oscar #Worldpeace...
“It’s just honest innit.” A woman’s voice opens Oscar #Worldpeace’s Recluse. “True life, what you’re going through. You probably feel as though you’re still struggling. You want to get out of this struggle basically…” she continues. The voice is Oscar’s mother, and the words were taken from a candid recording that he made during a conversation with her.
The Tottenham rapper and producer has spent the past few years building a cult following. For those paying attention, his string of single releases and their accompanying visuals have demonstrated immense potential and undeniable artistic vision. However, periods between these releases could be anything from a couple of months to a year. It took a long time for Oscar to finally be satisfied enough to deliver a debut album.
It was worth the wait.
Recluse walks the delicate balance of cold reality and fiery ambition. His lyrics are drawn from the North London streets that shroud him when he steps out of his front door. He tells the tales of working class dreamers, and does so in a way that inspires rather than depresses: his infectious-but-relatable lyrics are soundscapes by hypnotic bass-heavy instrumentals, drawing from the UK Garage, Jungle and Drum ’n’ Bass that would be played around his house as a kid, as well as the Grime sets that he’d shell in his kitchen with his cousins.
“When people say to me, ‘Your album sounds so British.’ That’s all it is,” he explains, one afternoon as he makes preparations for his forthcoming headline debut at Bethnal Green’s Sebright Arms. “My mum was raised in Broadwater Farm Estate in Harringey, one of the most notorious estates in London. And my dad’s from Pembury Estate in Hackney, East London, which is the same thing. I’m just telling their story, and this is the music I grew up on. I speak to people and I realise we are all like this, there’s no one different to any of us and especially to my mum.” His mother only discovered that she’d been recorded for Recluse when she purchased a copy from iTunes. Initially she wasn’t too happy. “She understands,” says Oscar. “She wasn’t angry, it was just ‘My voice just doesn’t sound nice. If I could redo it I would sound a lot different.’ But she understands who I am. ‘Oscar is always going to be honest, I can’t stop him, I can’t break his creativity.’ She’s so supportive of me.”
That first track, ‘Invent’, sees him unloading his current mindset and Oscar describes it as his “most personal” offering. This feeling has been amplified since its release, with Tweets and direct messages from his fans and followers demonstrating how many others relate to his own thoughts and feelings. “Sometimes I don’t even know [the impact] of what I’m writing,” he admits. “I don’t know that I’m going to feel [the same] in a couple of weeks. When I’m listening to ‘Invent’ I almost have tears in my eyes, especially hearing my mum at the beginning. For the first time ever, my own music is giving me goosebumps.”
The honesty his mother references in her unwitting opening monologue is the key ingredient that binds Oscar’s concise output to the ears of his fans. It’s the reason that listeners go to his carefully composed stanzas for moments of revelation, and it’s what keeps them interested even after waiting months between tracks. “All we have is honesty,” he imparts. “We live for family, love and respect, whether you know it or not. You want someone to look at you and be like ‘That man? I respect that man. Or that woman? I respect that woman.’ You just want to walk with your head held high and that’s why people get into the things they do. I want people to look at me with respect.”
While his lyrical content is ruthlessly authentic, part of Oscar’s genius lies in his ability to accompany these bleak realities with production that soothes and uplifts. When we hear Oscar spitting about the aspirations that run through his head during a shift in Tesco on ‘That’s Alright’, the concept is backed by a feel good instrumental that never hesitates to draw a smile. “That was strategic,” reveals Oscar. “I know people love the bounce. [I want you to] end up nodding your head, but also listen and understand everything that I’m writing is from a real place.”
Despite having more experience releasing singles than full bodies of work, Oscar has already made the realisation that he’s “more of an album artist.” After years of chasing singles and trying to live up to his perception of what that should sound like, he came to realise that perhaps his short songs would work better as fragments of a fuller piece. “There’s a lot of different versions of Oscar within a project,” he points out. “That’s what I’ve learned. With singles people get a little taste, but I don’t think it’s enough. I’m glad that I finally did it.”
The fact that Recluse even happened is thanks to the short film that he ended up released to accompany it. Originally Oscar’s intention was to shoot a ‘Tate Modern’ video with director Taz Tron Delix. As a standalone piece Oscar felt it was a little repetitive, and decided to create a short film by bookending it with other songs. He decided to use the newly recorded ‘Wary’, and gave Taz the choice of a third, for which he selected ‘Pearls’: a trilogy that demonstrate Oscar’s versatility. While watching the final edit, Oscar realised that a full-length project was on the cards. “This feels like it needs to be with something,” he recalls thinking. “If you’re new to Oscar you’re going to want to more. I can’t just let people have this and not have a full project. That’s literally how it came about. I thank the gods, or whoever was working trying to make that happen, because I wasn’t chatting s**t, I was on the fence about projects.”
This hesitance comes from Oscar’s “nervous artist” mentality, and he is open about his tendency to overthink things from time to time. One of Recluse‘s standout tracks ‘Pearls’ is one that he’s had for a while – it was even released as a b-side to his single ‘Right Now’ in 2015 – but he was initially worried about how it might be received. “I thought it was too soft: ‘I can’t release this because I’m only two songs in. Someone will start thinking I’m a pop star!’” he laughs. “I’m always worried. I always think ahead. ‘Is this the song I want to blow up?’ Mike [Skinner] was a big fan of it. He wanted me to do a video for it, and I was like ‘Ah no, lets not do it. Not yet. Maybe later.’ After a while I was like ‘This is sick, I’m a dickhead!’”
His songs are notoriously short – only ‘Just Wait’ exceeds the three minute mark, and does so by a single second – but like everything in Oscar’s world this is calculated, and part of the reason you could never accuse him of mediocrity. “I can write three verses, but one of them might not sound as strong and could change the consumer’s mind on the project,” he explains. “That could ruin your experience. I’d rather someone say to me ‘I want more.’ Because there is always going to be more music.”
This economic approach to editing his work likely comes from his background studying Media & Communications at Greenwich University, where he developed a passion for scriptwriting. Oscar likens his writing process to coursework, drafting out bars and then taking them home to work back into them, finessing every bar. “I’ve been writing from literally like eight years old,” he remembers. “I’ve always been writing. My favourite subject in school was English Literature and Language. I went to college to do media and sociology, and then I did Media & Communications [at uni] which ties into all of those things. I’ve even done a little bit of journalism. I wrote for a blog three years ago!”
The title Recluse, was something that Oscar chose to embrace for its cinematic quality. “It’s become like a character from some movie or something,” he says of the nickname given to him by his mother. “I just stay home or go to the studio. That’s me. I’m a recluse to the world, just taking it on. That’s my special move. I’ve never been one to shy away from anything, so I just use it to my advantage.” Oscar’s Sebright Arms show sold out a while ago, but he’s still in disbelief at the way his music is translating to real life fans: “I just feel like it’s one guy in a bedroom in Tottenham making music. It’s overwhelming to see [people reacting to it]. I’m seeing the different countries that people are buying Recluse from, and I’m like, ‘Wow’. Ten-fifteen years ago people could never see these things.” Especially small scale like me.”
Despite labelling himself a recluse, Oscar’s message is one of togetherness: a reminder that from his parents to the generation he speaks to through his music, we all endure our relative struggles. “There’s a lot of people out there going through the same thing as me. People come up to me and message me like ‘Thank you for releasing this project at a time like this. I’ve listened to it and it makes me feel good,’” he shares. “To know that essentially you’re not alone, that’s what my music has done for me, so I’m glad when I hear other people saying that to me.” Ultimately, what listeners are taking from the music is what Oscar was looking for himself during the creation process. “There is a light at the other side of the tunnel,” he concludes, sealing our conversation with some characteristically comforting words. “I just want people to understand that I’m trying to find it in myself as well. I’m trying to find the peace of mind.”
Oscar #Worldpeace plays the Sebright Arms tomorrow night (13th April).
Words by Grant Brydon.