Exclusive Interview: President T – “A great mic man weren’t built in a day.”
We sat down with President T to discuss his new album 'T On The Wing' and keeping relevant in Grime's Internet era...
It’s a Monday afternoon in January, and at the back of Camden’s Guanabana restaurant, a bunch of college girls are passing photos of their crushes back and forth on their iPhones. On another table sits a family who are celebrating a birthday. Other than these two parties the restaurant is quiet, but there is one more customer that stands out.
Sat in the corner, by a window, is a gentleman sporting a dark pair of sunglasses, a thick woollen beanie and a fur collared jacket. There’s an air of success around him; he’s not dripping in jewellery, he doesn’t look like he’s just stepped out of a Hype Williams video, but it’s clear enough that something about this man is special.
When we shake hands with him he’s very courteous, thanking us for coming down to meet him. There’s a hint of unfamiliarity in the situation he’s faced with. He takes a few seconds pause before formulating his responses. His tongue sinks into the corner of his mouth in concentration, before leaning in like an athlete at a press conference, answering directly and clearly into the dictaphone on the table.
The man behind the glasses is President T, a true original in his art, and self-proclaimed “greatest to ever touch down”. A North London veteran who remains as cutting edge as ever, Prez is sitting down with us today to discuss his brand new album T On The Wing. The LP was unleashed on the world just two days before Christmas, without the usual promotions fan-fare that precedes a release of this nature.
In his words he’s “over the moon” about the response, and admits that late nights spent in the studio since October have been worth it. T On The Wing is injected full of the energy that he felt was missing from 2015’s Greatest To Ever Touch Down. He explains that the latter, despite its tempo, was more of a rap album; an effortless reminder of his greatness. Yet with T On The Wing he’s confident that he’s produced the “perfect product” to deliver his fans…
What do you want listeners to take away from T On The Wing?
The main message is that some things might happen to you in life, which put you back. Sometimes you’ve got to take those two steps back to take one step forward. That’s the message. No matter what you go through – you can go to prison, feel like you haven’t got a future – keep your mind straight. Anything’s possible. That’s the message.
What was it that taught you to keep your mind straight and stay on that route?
My spells with the law. My troubles with the law and just going through different obstacles in life. Losing friends, making new ones. Knowing the importance of family, no matter what you’re doing. Without your family, all you’re left with is you and your shadow. That’s what taught me.
You’ve said before that we’re in an Internet era of Grime now. You’ve obviously adapted to this generation really well, why do you think you’ve been able to do that?
I’ve had the patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a great mic man weren’t build in a day either. I’ve learnt to have patience in this game, to know that you can do something today and you won’t be rewarded for it probably until the same day next year. That’s what’s taught me and obviously the new platforms and avenues that the genre has to offer, I’ve had to adapt to all those.
Keep focused on my social networking platforms as well because a lot of the fans nowadays, they’re running off that platform. The only time they get to see a video, or find out that you’ve released something new, is through your socials. There’s a lot of that and trying to be everywhere at once as well. Sometimes my home life ends up suffering because of it, but if you want a better, more comfortable, home life than you’ve got now, you’ve got to take a sacrifice and keep working.
As well as embracing the digital world, you’re also trying to bring CDs back again. I wondered why that format was of importance to you?
My management are good friends of mine and we sat down. We had three Vodkas one day – on the rocks – and we came up with the idea to bring physicals back. Even though, obviously, certain artists are still producing physicals, we set the trend. Anyone that wants to lie about it, well, I wish you all the best. England knows, and the world knows, that we set the trends for these physicals, and it’s bringing it back now. You know, as much as I welcome downloads and streams, the physical form is live in the flesh. Kind of makes you feel like you’ve got President T in your living room with you.
How has your anticipated Stranger Returns album evolved over the past couple of years?
It’s basically grew hairs on its chest and a beard now. Whereas prior to that, it was a skin faded guy with no hair, not even a bit of bum fluff. If Stranger Returns would have been released last year, it would have been an energetic Grime album, nothing else. When Stranger Returns does get released now, in the future, it’s going to be an energetic Grime album, plus a world album.
Grime stays within its barriers, in my opinion, Europe and the UK are where it’s from. Obviously, recently you’ve seen a splurge of big artists go all over the world. I believe that Stranger Returns is not just anticipated from the UK, people all over the world are waiting for it to land on their doorstep. That’s why I’ve got to make sure it’s correct and properly polished up.
How do you make a Grime album that will translate beyond the UK?
It’s all about knowing what the fans want. Knowing what the fans want, what age group your fans are, and what sound is currently in. You have to take all those factors in and work on it. Because I’m a man that knows what the fans want, I know the original sound of Grime. A lot of people are just making it and keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I know the original sound of Grime because I was around when it was born. Grime represents me being from the UK, and the UK itself.
Originality is a word that’s always mentioned when your name comes up; is that something that you actively work on, or does it just come naturally?
I’ve always kept the same type of flow, and the same originality so I’m never going to lose that. That’s what’s kept me popular. Obviously, if something that got you to the stage where I’m at now, you’re not going to lose it or throw it away, because it’s been working so far.
I would never change my style or flow to suit anything. The sound of the music might change as times go forward. If I sounded like the majority of artists on the scene, then I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’ve kept the originality, it’s part of me. A lot of people would say, “Oh, Prez talks exactly how he MCs.” That’s it basically.
You’ve always had these signature phrases and ad-libs and stuff that go into your music…
“I was like…”
How important do you think the repetition of those familiar elements are to building a fan base?
Very important. It’s part of my trademark. That is the way I’m trying to get you to pick me out from the rest. I say things like, “I was like”, “you would of thought”, “without the” and all that. It’s my way of getting my message across to the masses.
I believe that I’m a very intelligent person and it would be very hard, in this genre, to match me when it comes to playing with words like I do. Making sense out of the grammar that I’m using. It’s of a whole other scale. Without blowing my own trumpet, I officially know that myself, and I’m confident about that. That’s where my confidences came from, knowing that I’ve got something unique and if it was replicated it would just be like Tempa T would say, “bait.”
You reference the north a lot in your bars…
I love the north.
On the album, you say you’ve been 90% of places in the UK. What affect has that had on your music?
It’s been very important. It’s big contribution to the success that I’ve recently been receiving, because a lot of people tend to forget that the Grime scene is all over the UK. It’s not just in London, or just in the south. I established that a long, long time ago. I’ve been trying to get everyone to listen to the northern sounds, and the artists that are from up there coming through, to enhance the scene that we’re in. So far, so good. A lot of northern artists have come through the rankings in the last five or six years and done really big things. It helps my fan base as well, because I’m constantly trying to send a message across to [fans outside of London] that I represent them as well.
If you could go back in time to when first picked up a mic, what advice would you give yourself?
Tell you a story. Years ago, when I was 17 years old. I went to a rave. Heartless crew were performing. Bushkin was round the back and I said to him, I said, “Yo. I want to get on stage and touch the mic.” He said, “Bro, you just gotta keep trying. Just gotta keep trying.”
That’s the same advice that I would have gave to myself back then. Don’t lose hope. Don’t lose faith. If it’s not working for you, or it seems like it’s taking too long for you as an MC or rapper or an artist to go somewhere, keep trying. Keep releasing music. Keep doing it. Thanks to the people that was around me at the time, including Christian [Alvez] and Duane [Palmer], telling me to keep doing music.
What are you most proud of about your career so far?
That I’ve managed to get this weird flow of mine to the top, to be honest. Because I always knew it was different from the norm, I was 100% that it was a deep style, but I wasn’t 100% sure that it would go this far. I knew it would go far, but not this far.
Then the last question is what does success look like to you?
Happiness around the people that mean the most to you, and making sure that I take care of everybody in my circle; friends, close friends, and family. Important people. First and foremost family, but also friends that are like family to me.
Interview by Grant Brydon.