Exclusive Interview: Reece West talks new music, creative control and why he’s done with clashing
Back from the dojo, the MC's now ready to show us what he’s been working on...
On the face of it, 2018 has looked quiet so far for Reece West, at least in comparison to the previous calendar year’s output. There were three projects from Reece that summer, each demonstrating a different side to the North Londoner – the Shift K3Y-produced Bank EP was particularly notable, with accompanying live dates in the US – while Christmas saw a redemptive performance at Rude Kid’s KISS Christmas special, making it 1-1 with Saint P a year after finding himself outnumbered on mic by YGG in a clash at the previous edition. Some war dubs were exchanged after shortly after, but it seems to have come to a natural conclusion, with Reece at least focused on new music at this point, as he revealed to us in this exclusive interview.
Reece visited us at the RWD office, days before an intimate listening party for his forthcoming EP Departure Lounge. Having not been too front-facing in music up to this point, save for a pair of singles (‘W7’, ‘Walk On Water’) and a rare radio set, it felt like an opportunity for the artist, Arsenal fan and model to get some stuff off his chest.
Over the ensuing hour, we learn a lot more about where Reece has been in the last year, both geographically and in his head, and what he plans to do with his increased sense of creative control. Though he seems to have left the clashing life behind, we also hear how he still managed to find himself sending a couple of dubs to MCs earlier this year.
You released a lot more music than usual last summer. Was there a catalyst for that?
I think I found myself at the end of 2016, after everything at KISS. I’d had a good year that put everything into perspective and showed where I am, and made me take more of a birds-eye look at everything. Me and [then-manager] Argue had just separated, so this was a gap where I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do, and had full control of how I could present myself to everyone. I wanted to be a bit more open, and I’d been very conscious before of taking things slowly, to not over-show people or seem too desperate. I knew I had a lot to show people other than wheel-ups on radio, but I wanted to cement my name in grime and then start showing people everything I do. When I first come through I was doing a bit of everything and I kind of lost my identity, so I wanted to focus.
I just had a year where I put out these three different tapes to show levels: The back-to-back thing with Big John was showing people in grime where me & John are at since the first Invincibles; Box Office, I flew out for my first independent tour in New York, and worked with Shift K3Y who I’d flirted with the idea of working together before but we hadn’t put something together properly, so that was showing people what I could sort out myself. Come to 3D, I was at a point where I’d released so much music… I was going through some stuff at the time in my personal life, so I was turning to music a lot to express myself – writing a lot, in the studio a lot, experimenting. I sat down with Jake [TenWest management], playing some of the stuff and he said he wanted to put it out. I wasn’t thinking about profit, doing it for the clout or anything like that, I just wanted to make sure my music’s heard by everyone and be respected.
I learned so much in that year. I’ve felt like all of my managers have had an idea for me before we’ve actually linked up. I’ve always been able to do everything, I’ve not hidden that I can do fashion stuff, rap, proper songs as well as going radio and sparring at Eskimo Dance or whatever. My managers have always had an idea of like ‘if you do xyz, then we think you can be here’, but in my brain I think if I’m here with you guys right now, and you’ve called me in to have this meeting, I must be doing something right and that’s off the back of my own creative ideas, putting the music I want to put together. I have compromised before because I’m learning as I go along, and I haven’t come through off family or friends. It’s not gullible, because I don’t regret any of the moves that I’ve made with managers, but it reaches a point where we grow apart and I’m yearning to do my only thing. I’m happy with Jake and TenWest now because they trust me.
It sounds like you’ve had quite the journey already.
It’s been a weird journey. I’m 25, so I’d say on average I’m a bit older than the new gen or the new-new gen. When I was their age [in late teens] I was pretty much doing up life. I loved music and I had bars, a few songs, but I never ever really saw music as something that I’d making a living from. Not because I saw myself as not good enough, but I was always working from young, I was a different person. I was thinking dough, I wasn’t thinking about dreams and aspirations. I looked at things very black and white.
When I was 17, 18, 19, I was going to raves and begging to touch mic. I managed to get in with some people selling tickets for 16+ raves back in the day at all the big clubs in London. You get as pissed as possible before you got there, and roll in. Through that I managed to get some hosting stuff, with a residency at Cable and at Batchwood in Enfield. That was when dubstep was massive, when it was like Flux Pavilion, Doctor P. Merky Ace would be on the flyer, with P Money on some big set with Flux. It never resonated with me though that I should be a rapper for a living. It was just like cool, on the weekends I like going raving and I love rapping, so I was getting to paid to rave. I’d go there, be on the guest list, get all my mates in, chirps some girls, that life.
When I got the opportunity, it was just crazy. Maybe it was luck, maybe those tunes were just bangers, but they gave me the publishing deal that I got and enabled me to meet a lot of people. There were a couple songs on Channel U, I did some songs with like Ard Adz & Sho Shallow. Goldie 1 was on the same label as me, with Ayo Beatz. I just organically met people, then I put out a grime freestyle and I met Cally, GHSTLY XXVII and Jammz. They saw the freestyle and shared it. I started linking up with them, and through that I started meeting other people on radio.
That radio scene can be a competitive environment. Were you able to keep focused on your thing?
With social media and the way it’s so at the forefront now, it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of it. Even now, at my big age and all the things I’ve done in music, certain times I sit down and look at Twitter… people saying to me ‘I thought you was gonna be where this person is right now!’ or ‘it’s ok Reece, it’s coming’ and it can get in your head. You start comparing your journey to other people and you start bugging out, doing war dubs for everyone! It’s easy to do that but now I’m at a point where I’m happy and my journey is how it is. I need to enjoy the journey because it’s gonna get to a point where it’s a mad job and I’m not gonna be be about – different dialling tones when you’re belling me and that. Everything that I’ve done has been my creative idea, and eventually I can just focus on my fans and those people who believe in me. It’s not a race and I’m not going anywhere.
I’ve always done everything the Reece West way. From ‘Arsene Wenger‘ to Bounce’ to ‘2015‘, ‘2016‘ to ‘Man City‘… I have these ideas, and I put together stuff, but it’s so easy to get caught up. I know everything looks like it’s on steroids now and it’s easy to get caught up in popularity meaning success – things are fickle and people get bored with music so quickly. You just have to stay consistent, do your thing and trust your ability, which I do completely. I’ve seen people go, come, be at the top, be at the bottom, come back to the top. Skepta took like 12 years to get to where he was. Wiley’s been here too long.
Before ‘Walk On Water’, before this summer, the four/five moves I made might have been subtle, but generated p that is a substantial update to my goals last year. I’m on track a few months into the year to beat my goals last year, and it doesn’t matter that nobody else knows. My ego shouldn’t care what they think, but it’s so easy to do that, especially with how constant Twitter is and everyone’s got an opinion. People are a bit side-y and basically I’m adjusting. The way that I am, if someone gets two wheel-ups I want seven. I’m just competitive like that so its just about taming the inner Reece West gremlin that wants to send for everyone.
You’ve hinted at the sending there…we’re on the other side of a couple of war dub exchanges involving you. Is clashing something you still have a hunger for, or will it only be if provoked?
I don’t know what it is, but people have been sending for me this year, and as much as I’m not about anymore, focusing on different moves to what I was before, I hear everything g. I wake up every morning and still do my YouTube research, listen to all the sets, the Rinse shows, the instrumentals, watching everyone’s stories. Even the Micofcourse thing, I showed with that and the Ets thing that I hear everything and I will retaliate. If I ever hear someone send for me I write bars straight away, it’s like a chemical it sets off. I love it. Back in the day it was different – going Radar, Reprezent, Rinse, we were all about each other. MTP, Novelist, YGG, everyone was about and everyone had the same mentality: we all wanna be the best MC in the room. Everyone wants to be man of the match, everyone wants to catch that chop, everyone wants everyone else to go mad in the room, then blaze a zoot and be cool afterwards. It wasn’t a ting where I need to send for man, we were just sparring and spraying, but now I think the mentality has changed. It comes down to popularity and everything being on steroids. Everyone wants to go viral quickly so you can pop off and don’t have to do the long graft. That’s how it looks to me.
It’s not really any bars getting sprayed at a time. If you get in that first two-bar, suck your mum or whatever, and everyone hears it on the chop, you’re gonna get the wheel-up. It’s not really about spraying it about with man, going bar-for-bar. It’s a bit changed up. As much as I love sparring and doing the clashing thing, at the same time I don’t wanna be known as a battle rapper and I think I’ve used this year to get everything under the umbrella. I’ve been in the studio putting together a solid body of work like 3D where I can express myself in an album way but in a deeper EP. It’s Reece West, not ‘Reece West on a rap track’, or ‘Reece West on a trap tune’. I want you to hear any tempo, any genre and when you hear West West you just think it’s a Reece tune, and not categorise it or be confused. When you hear me doing some football thing here, or see me in a next country doing some next stuff, I want you to just know that Reece West is just on things. It’s getting it all together, cementing it and throwing it out there so that people can just understand I’m not a battle rapper, but I will spin you in a clash.
You were praised for the way you returned to KISS at Christmas to clash Saint P again, especially after it didn’t really work out in your favour the year before. Did you feel any kind of redemption?
It meant a lot to me, especially where I was by myself [the first year], and the way that it was perceived. I was thinking grime is a fairytale – alright then, me and Saint will go bar-for-bar and it’s gonna be calm – but it’s not like that! There’s a lot of things that come into a clash politically, do you know what I’m saying? I learned so much from that, and then I came back…
A year is a long time to wait. Did you know you’d get your moment again?
I knew, I knew. I said I wasn’t gonna worry about nothing. I tried to say my peace, that it’s not what it looks like. I’m just gonna show you wagwarn next year. It’s not a send-a-dub thing, I knew that the next year it will be fair grounds. I’ll have my guys this time and we’ll go bar-for-bar. It’s not like I had it planned, but I went away, wrote bars and just left them there to get on with my year. It motivated me, and I like that in a clash. I’m a shit loser, but in a good way – I won’t feel sorry for myself or slap the ref, I’m more the type to go to the gym for 10 weeks and come back tonk from the mountains barefoot. One of them little plaits at the back, you get me.
I don’t like the politics that comes along with it but I love the sport. If we could be cool like that then things would be different. KISS asked me to do some clash thing recently, and I’ll be honest I turned it down. It didn’t feel productive to what I’m doing. It’s staying stagnant, and right now I’m trying to get another project out. I’m starting to show some more stuff.
What sort of music have you been listening to in the run-up to this next project?
I listen to a lot of different stuff. I don’t really listen to that much grime outside of the mandem and rinsing out my own tunes. I’m loving the new Grime Shows on Rinse, it’s nice to watch those sets that are levels, but I don’t listen to that much grime anymore.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s the age of the artists that I listen to – the points where people are in their journey, everything’s just kinda changing. Obviously there’s some artists that I listen to, but the way the scene’s set up now there might be a wait between their projects, or they’re not doing that many singles, so I’m listening to bare American stuff or different genres. I take inspiration from anything so just naturally I’m writing different things, taking different elements from different stuff. That’s why I love travelling so much, because I’m feeling new experiences. I always write my best music when I’m flying to somewhere and when I’m flying back.
That’s becoming clear in your videos, which are increasingly abroad.
Yeah. I’m definitely bored of filming in London. I just love travelling anyway, and I appreciate London when I go away and come back. Naturally, where I’ve directed quite a few of my videos now, I’m seeking new inspiration. Me & SK have been working a lot together, and he’s about this travelling life as well so me and him link up and fly out, doing what needs to get done.
That explains the title of your next EP, The Departure Lounge. The get up and go attitude.
And at the same time, when I’m at the other side of the departure lounge I’m calm, finding that zen patience, waiting for things to take off. I’m trying to enjoy the journey!