“Making good music is completely different to writing hard bars”: SamRecks is doing UK rap his own way
SamRecks is no underdog but a man on a mission within the UK rap game. The newcomer talks about how he has mastered lyric-writing, finding his sound and polishing his look.
SamRecks is a name that has already been attracting some serious buzz this year, and it’s only February. The Nigeria-born, South London-raised rapper is fulfilling his destiny. With a dream to rap like his many idols, SamRecks is now a smooth-talking artist whose lyrics have been framed around a passion for poetry and storytelling.
"Whenever I would see rappers on TV it would always make me want to rap. I'd want to emulate what they're doing – early on, I was listening to a lot J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Chip [and] Skepta," SamRecks says. "I was seeing everything they were doing and every time they would drop a new song it would make me want to rap as well."
His tracks draw influence from a variety of genres and musical inspirations. Spitting over a diverse set of beats, from the gentle lo-fi drill piano of ‘Don’t Tell No One’, to a mixture of old skool-influenced grime samples in ‘Would You Let Me’ – each release sees him step into different directions his voice can float alongside. But like those he drew his inspiration from, he's an incisive storyteller, able to speak to social issues but also his personal life with equal effectiveness.
Style is also key for Sam. His music videos span the '70s influenced pastel vibes of 'Love & Attention' to the classic UK rap to camera street shots of his older tracks, while he's built himself a huge fashion-angled TikTok following, showing off his singular fits and trims alongside as his music on the platform. He had been teasing his all-new single 'BACK PACK' before its release, with clips featuring the track making their way through "For You Pages" across the world. With a music video that sees him reflecting on his younger years, the track demonstrates his developed style – as chilled beats are the order of the day carved up by his singular vocals.
We caught up with SamRecks to hear about his journey into music, how he crafts his lyrics, and find out what we can on the murmurs of a debut EP on the way, having only released singles to date.
Have you just woken up?
Like an hour ago but I'm just still in bed.
You're still working late shifts at a warehouse, right?
Yeah, I still work there. It's alright, not bad. Sometimes it's long juggling it all together.
Do you plan to go into music full-time?
Yeah, that's the main goal but right now [but] I'm just trying to fund everything I'm doing. Just got to mix and match a bit.
Your name, SamRecks. There's no space. What's the story behind that?
When I was younger they used to call me reckless. This was [in] year seven because I was always in the wrong places at the wrong time. I seem[ed] to always get myself in trouble. Not because I was bad. Over time it got shortened down to Recks. I then just included my first name together.
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Do you have any stories from when you were reckless or just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I used to break a lot of things in the house. Running down the hallway and a picture frame would drop. I don't know how, I just used to always break things. If you'd give me money I'd go out and be reckless and chuck it in the bin not knowingly – just little accidents here and there. Now I own the name [as a] means of empowering it.
Going back to these memories, can you tell me some more about some early musical inspirations for you?
When I was younger I used to like a lot of creative things, like drawing and break dancing. I feel like I was doing everything at some point but music was one of those things that I stuck with. I was always surrounded by music as well, my mum was always playing music. When she was cooking she would always be playing old Afro-Fuji music. Just old school music. It's always been around me.
What was the definitive moment that you thought, "I can do what they do"?
I think the main thing that made me really really want to start rapping was Kendrick Lamar. When I heard 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' that made want to write. The wordplay and all the metaphors were so cool. At school as well, we'd be battling each other and doing little freestyles and stuff. It just made me what to get into it even more. I just felt like I could write the hardest bars. Everyone feels like that but I just felt like I could write the hardest punchlines. You know what was crazy? In school, I would always try my hardest to write the craziest stories in English but my teachers would always say it wasn't good enough. There were always students getting higher grades than me and I'd be like, I'd try even harder to make the craziest stories and I still wouldn't get the grade I wanted. So it made me want to write more. That was a factor. I used to write poetry as well. That was the beginning. I was writing a lot of things about life and motions and all that kind of stuff.
Do you still write poetry or has that become your lyrics?
Just lyrics now. I put it into my music. Now I go deeper.
Where do you begin writing lyrics?
It comes from different places, it depends. Sometimes I have a conversation with someone and that will spark an idea. Sometimes a line will just come into my head. When I'm writing its about that first line. That's the most important thing. Once you have that first line, the whole story, the whole song, comes together, line for line. So once I've got that first bar I know this is the start of a song. For example, when I was at work maybe two, three months ago, I was finished and the idea of being done for the week just came to my head. And I wrote a whole song two days later when I was in the studio about finishing work and just waiting for the weekend and all that kind of stuff. That song's going to be on the EP. When I just get that line or have a conversation that gives me an idea, or I might speak to my sister and she says something and then I know this is the emotion I'm feeling at this moment. Then when I go to the studio, I just write about that.
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I think that your track 'Situationship' is also an example of that. Can you tell me about the TikTok you made behind that track?
That was a real situation. It's mad because that song was what made me write more about emotions. So I used to talk to this girl and we were having a little argument, a little petty back and forth and she decided to say "hit me up when your music blows". She was trying to get at me as she knows how much I care about music and like how passionate I am about it. I was writing that night and instead of getting angry, I was writing all the things that were coming to my mind. I wrote about how that whole encounter happened in the lyrics. Then I was looking for a beat and for this instance, I actually wrote the lyrics before I found a beat. I was searching for a beat on YouTube, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling and then I stumbled across that beat, from that producer. Then I went studio the next day and recorded the whole song. I did it one take as well with my friends in the studio. They even said I was angry when I was singing.
Has she come back to you since the song came out?
Yeah, well when I dropped the song she was belling me. That was a sticky one.
What is it that makes you as an artist so unique?
I'd say the topics I choose to speak on. Like the way I speak about the topics and the way I like structure the whole song together to make it. With the chorus and the verses I really think about every little aspect that I'm putting into the song. From the adlibs to little humming I might add. Even the music I've put out so far doesn't represent everything I can do. There's a lot more that I haven't dropped and it's different to what I'm making now.
Now that there are so many iconic figures in UK rap and with the help from SoundCloud to TikTok, it's easier to get your sound out there. Can you tell me about how competitive it is to be a rapper today?
It's very competitive. It's a small scene and everyone just trying to share. In my opinion, there are different ways to shine. Some people are good at freestyling and some people are good at writing songs. So what I'm trying to do, is show that I can do both. Because it all came from me trying to write the hardest bars but now I'm like learning more and more how to write better songs. So sometimes I might drop a freestyle just to show that I can still rap and most the time I'm dropping songs just to show that I can actually make music. I feel like to make good music is completely different to writing hard bars. There's a lot more you have to think about when it comes to making good music.
How do you use production to enhance your tracks?
A lot of people like their beats packed with all sorts of different instruments, but I kind of like it simple. As long as it's got that vibe then I'll add all that extra stuff. I might hum, change the vocals, make it deeper. I work very closely with my engineer, and when we're in the studio we could be in there for hours just editing it and tweaking little things or adding high-pitched vocals, extra stabs and harmonies – just little, little things all around. Sometimes you'll think that this is how the beat came, but nah we added all those things into it for real.
Do you think you'd like to go more into producing?
At some point yeah. When I have more time. Right now I'm working so much there's no time, so I'm struggling to make content and all of these different things but I'm still pushing through.
Speaking of content, TikTok has been an important platform for you. Was that a strategy to get your name out there or did you just want to upload some videos?
I planned it out. I studied the app for a long time. I was watching what people younger than me were doing because they were running the app. So all the little things they were doing I was noting down seeing what works and what doesn't and trying it myself. It took a good year before 'Don't Tell No One' came about and finally had a song that people were taking in on the app.
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You've previewed a bit of your new track 'BACK PACK' on TikTok, was this part of that plan?
Yeah, it's part of the plan. I've clocked that with TikTok, it allows me to express what I'm saying. So everything I'm saying in my songs I can express even more with the video content. Instead of having one music video I have like a hundred mini music videos on TikTok. If you see it, I'm making it mad choppy, it almost looks like a music video.
Can you tell me about the narrative behind your new release 'BACK PACK'?
So 'Back Pack' is more like me just going back to what made me fall in love with music in the first place. In the song if you really listen to the lyrics I'm almost telling a story, especially in the second verse. It's just about me going back listening to music that made made me fall in love with music, the little things that I remember like rapping to my web cam. When I was younger I didn't go studio I'd used to just use my webcam and use Audacity and just write music on there. So I put all these little into the song. Even in the video, everything about it is a mini story.
Was your 2019 single 'Ain't The Same' you first release or is there more beyond Spotify? And how have you changed as an artist since then?
That's not the first song I released. The first song I released was probably in year seven or year eight, it was a song called 'Lowkey'. I shot a music video and everything. Deleted it now because it's cringy. But yeah since then, a lot has changed. There are a couple of people that might remember that song. That song was terrible, but at the time I thought that was the best song in the world. When I listen back to my old music, I don't really like it. I like the music I'm making now but back then I used to think all those songs were crazy. But now I know why people weren't taking it in. It's just about progression from the genres and the way I was rapping, the topics and even the growth in what I was saying. I feel like right now the topics I talk about are a lot more mature compared to before. When music becomes more mature it appeals to more people, and not just your age group. If you can now make it catchy as well, kids who don't even know what you are on about [will still like it because] they get the rhythm and the flow.
You also put a lot of effort into your look trying to portray who SamRecks is, can you tell me a bit about your interest in style?
That happened over time. I was understanding more about myself and that came from life experiences, even from being in a relationship you understand things you like and dislike, and what you want. I'd say in the last two years a lot has happened that made me realise that I should be myself and that I'm going to do things how I like it – I'm going to dress how I like and I'm going to express myself to the fullest. Even not following trends, I'm not trying to wear the trainers that everyone else thinks is cool, I'm wearing what I think is cool. If it is a trainer that came out ten years ago and I used to wear as a kid but I can style it now, why not? I'm going to wear it now. Other people may laugh at it but you can make it look good. I'm just doing me.
Mixmag has put you down as one of the artists to watch this year, do you think 2023 will be a big year for you?
Hopefully, amen. I think there is a lot that I have planned but right now it's about doing everything because planning is one thing but it's another thing to actually do. Everything is easier said than done.
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Can you tell me a bit about the upcoming EP?
Every song is aligned perfectly and anyone listening to the EP needs to listen to it from the top to the bottom. Just listen to everything, it's a story, it's my whole life up until now. A lot of what happened to me last year from what I was doing to how I was feeling. It's deep.
How do you feel about being so open and honest in your work?
It is daunting at first but I listen to the music over and over and over again. Before everyone else has heard it I've obviously listened to my songs a hundred times. I've thought about every aspect of it to the point where I feel like I'm confident when I put it out there. Right now I've done the EP, so I don't think about it, it's just about now. It's just about creating the visual aspects to bring it to life.
Listen to SamReck’s latest single ‘BACK PACK’ below.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Video and Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter