The rapper behind 2018's song of the summer, "Barking", is back with a brand new sound. He talked to us about ambition, barbecues at the studio and his love for dark-skinned women.
Reader's Digest: You got to number two in 2018 with your single “Barking”. Have you found yourself chasing number one ever since or have your goals changed?
Ramz: My goals have changed a lot. I don’t really try and think about getting a number one right now. I just want people to connect with the music I’m making.
RD: How did it feel reaching number two? That’s an incredible achievement.
R: It felt weird because I was battling with Eminem, Drake and Ed Sheeran even though I was just coming into the scene.
The atmosphere was weird. I was thinking, Rah, do these guys know they’re up against me? Were they thinking, Who’s this little boy coming in thinking he can take our space?
RD: Has the success of “Barking” made people pigeonhole you?
R: One hundred per cent. I wasn’t able to create the music that I loved. I never got to make the faster rapping music that I [write] when I’m messing about at home.
[The focus has been] on making hit tunes and finding the hits was hard for me. I couldn’t really do it all the time because I wasn’t used to that music, so I found it hard to adjust.
RD: What sort of music do you want to be releasing?
R: The music I make now: “Brixton to Oxford Circus”, “Underneath”, “Belong to the Streets”. There’s more [real] emotion in those tracks, rather than trying to connect with people by using a singing, stylish afrobeat sound.
I feel like that’s what’s happening right now in the scene. When you’re with a major label and something works for you, they [just want you to] keep delivering it.
RD: Who are the major influences on your sound?
"I don’t just wanna win people over, I want to connect with them"
RD: Take me through the creative process of a Ramz song.
R: When I go to the studio, I might hear the beat first, I might make it from scratch, or some beats might have been sent to me. I could come off the phone to you and the next thing you know you’ve said something, and I’m thinking, Oh my days, that might work with this [beat], so I book the studio for the next day quickly.
I’m always in the moment when I make songs now. And then when I do get in the studio, it turns into a party. This week I’m gonna have a barbecue at the studio, cause I wanna vibe. I don’t want to see it as work.
RD: Was “Brixton to Oxford Circus” your first foray into drill music?
R: It’s mad—that was the first drill track I’ve made.
I remember there was an altercation that I got into the same night and I thought, Do you know what, I might as well just go to the studio. It brought back how I used to make music before and I loved it. I ended up booking a whole week and making more tunes.
All the tunes I’m releasing now have been done in the last two months. I listen to my old stuff and I'm like, Ah, to everybody else’s ears that’s amazing, but for me… I don’t really like that bit of [my music] anymore.
One of my producers, 169, and I have a relationship where we both understand [each other]. We went to the same school and college, so we get what we’re trying to do. I send him the stuff I record and he does his magic and brings it back to me. We’re at the same level and we’re growing with each other. I think it’s very important to have somebody like that because if you don’t, it’s tricky. You might end up leaving people behind if you’re not all on the same page.
"I know I can get to the point where I’m one of the biggest artists in the UK"
RD: Versatility is a buzzword in the UK rap scene right now—are we going to see you expand your sound even further in future releases?
R: Yeah. I feel like you have to be careful of how versatile you are, and what you choose to do though because you know whoever the people are who consume your music, they’re the ones that judge you. For example, when Vybz Kartel released his rock tune [“Not Okay”], people turned on him.
RD: Has lockdown made you reevaluate your career goals and the next steps that you want to take?
R: Yeah, a little bit. I would say they’re roughly the same in terms of going on tour, doing shows, wanting to pick up an award at the MOBOS, the BRITS or the BET Awards. I just feel like the way I’m getting there is different.
I don’t just wanna win people over, I want to connect with them. I want people to understand that I’m not here for a joke. I’m meant to be here and this is gonna be a mad journey. I’m gonna get 10 years down the line and I’m still going to be dropping music.
I’ve never actually done a tour before! I’ve been in this for three years approaching four and I’ve never been on tour. I never really had enough content before. I felt like people would think, Cool, we’re gonna go to see him perform, but what are we going to listen to? “Barking”, cool. “Family Tree”, “Hold You Down”… but then what else is he gonna do?
But with the music now, I’m coming out with songs where it doesn’t matter if they’re on ten million views or 400,000… people are gonna wanna hear those songs, and when the other tunes with this new sound [come out], they’re gonna be like OK this is what we’re coming to see.
RD: What has been the proudest moment of your journey so far?
R: I would say the biggest highlight for me has been performing at Wembley Stadium [for the Capital Summertime Ball where he experienced major sound issues]. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to go, but I felt like from that point on it changed so much for me, because I saw myself on a bigger scale where I was among huge artists such as Usher and Robbie Williams.
It made me open my eyes and think, You know what, this is Wembley. There are 90,000 people here singing your song and they all know the words. I just said to myself, I know I can do this now, it’s gonna take some time, but I know I can get to the point where I’m one of the biggest artists in the UK. It taught me so much.
"It’s tough to see black people who aren’t proud of the colour of their skin"
RD: Do you feel like people have treated you unfairly?
R: I think people’s perception of what I was doing was, “How has he got here so fast, that’s unfair, he’s lucky”, but really, if you do the research, I was making music before then.
It came to a point [where people were thinking], “He doesn’t deserve to be here and if you watch, you’re gonna see why. He’s done this, he’s done that, he’s messed up…we have to cancel him.”
Every little song [I was] putting out, they’d say “Ah, yeah that’s not good, this is rubbish, he shouldn’t be doing this.” They hadn’t even given me a chance! But that’s life in music and that’s what happens when you have such a big song first—people think you need to show them why you deserve to be here.
RD: What was the thought process behind your recent track “Underneath”?
R: A couple of months ago on Twitter, there was a lot of conversation about dark-skinned people, and it’s a topic I take quite personally.
Being black myself, it’s tough to see people who aren’t proud of the colour of their skin. So I felt like when I went to the studio, I needed to make a tune about black girls, dark-skinned girls, dark-skinned people and show appreciation.
A couple of weeks later, the Black Lives Matter protests rose up because of George Floyd’s death. I’d shot another video to put out, but I held it back and then everyone said we should put out “Underneath”. I think it was a smart move because if [we released it] later, everybody would have looked at it like I was trying to personally cash in and said, “You don’t really like black girls, you just want clout”. But I feel like now, it seems like people really believe it, which they should because the love that I have for dark-skinned people is massive and I want them to all be proud.
RD: You mentioned the huge global reaction to the killing of George Floyd. As a black British man, what effect have recent world events had on your mental health?
R: I feel for me, my mental health is a lot better than last year. But seeing stuff like that brings me to a point where I can’t bear to be on Twitter on Instagram. It makes me feel like I need to take a break from social media, but with lockdown, you’re inside your house, and can’t even go and see your friends and I think a lot of people struggled with that. It’s difficult if you don’t have people to help you.
Ramz’s new track, "Scratch Cards", is out today
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