I first discovered Remi, the musical alias of an old school acquaintance, through shared spheres of influence on Twitter, and upon watching the visuals for his latest collaborative efforts with the Peoples team, I wished to learn about the approach to contemporary hip hop in a post-internet London.
Meeting on Oxford Street, we walk and talk as we make our way round the clothing stores around Soho. We discuss a lot: musical style versus musical wave, fashion tastes versus clothing trends. This is the crux of Remi’s philosophy - disenfranchisement. ‘That’s globalism, everything is accessible by everyone’, he says as we pass by stores that, give or take five years ago, would be free from backpacking culture vultures. It seems a cliched observation, but when authenticity can be bought so freely as a costume, you have to look for other ways to represent yourself than a post code or a clothing company.
It is interesting to note then, that before our meeting, I knew Remi most recently by the screen name Stephen Loco. This could be mistaken for the same fickleness that he resents in the music industry, aesthetic waves that are more style than substance. However, his focus is wildly different from so-called internet rappers. With chopped and screwed production dating back a few years, and forays into the rap scene from 2014 onwards, Remi has been honing his art, and to a point. ‘I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of fans I want,’ he says when asked about his approach, and he is wary of chasing a wave or building on an existing movement with weak credentials. The London-based collective that he is working with others to build, Peoples, is as elusive as it is intriguing. This is not a hype-building venture. On their endeavours, he states he is ‘under so much stress, all the time,’ with a self-enforced goal for an independent launch in the very near future.
Taking inspiration from many a place, the multi-instrumentalist is a critic in his own right. Remi grimaces at a Supreme hoodie emblazoned with a Skepta graphic. ‘As a grown man, I could never wear another man on me,’ he says laughingly, but to him this is another example of the surface-level appreciation for musical culture. ‘When Azealia Banks said what she did about British hip hop people got offended, but was she wrong?’ he argues that the UK does not have a true legacy when it comes to hip hop: the titans of grime can rap, but if our best offering is Skepta and Stormzy are we being left in the dust once their wave ends? In relation to a conversation between us about the long-awaited and (arguably) conceptually scarce Konnichiwa, I questioned perhaps the role of the album in an age where the distinction between the paid mixtape and short album has been both blurred and exploited equally by the current generation of rappers. He shows me his phone’s music player, a trove of unreleased loosies and incomplete albums.
Peoples’ plan is strategic, each single to date a progression on the last and always moving their sound forward. Guitar licks blend with heavy bass kicks, with tongue-in-cheek hooks and poetic delivery. On Closed Circuit, the first single with visuals from A House On The Rise, he raps over a discordant soundscape with aggressive but reserved intent. Lyricism is always at the forefront, but for Remi and company, songwriting is key. With an extensive knowledge base when it comes to emerging sounds in urban music, he sees this as holding back even the work of his personal greats, such as SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan whose sound was popularised and developed by the likes of A$AP Rocky, Bones, and a torrent of similar cloud rap artists. If you can deliver a verse, but not a hook, he argues that your sound will remain incomplete. Now, with their own dedicated studio and access to all their equipment needs, they need only perfect and assemble the pieces they already have.
Originating from the now defunct outfit Purple Zebra, he tells me how he has a lot of catching up to do to get to the other members of Peoples’ levels. He thinks they all have catching up to do. Purple Zebra, featuring several artists including Peoples’ own SWIM, was only a fledgling act but enjoyed some success with live shows alongside the likes of Bev LDN at London venue 229. At times overly critical, it is however positive rather than pessimistic to see such an analytical approach to the art. Remi reflects on a show he opened for recently. ‘It went well… but with what I’ve learned now, I could do better.’ The slow resolve of Peoples and their associated artists seems only to prove the fable correct - this is far from the struggle rap filling up Soundcloud.
When asked about the visuals currently released on Peoples’ YouTube, he explains that himself and his frequent collaborators are extremely particular about many aspects. Lighting, for example, is carefully planned ahead of time, with filters applied to all the bulbs in their studio for the filming of Rose Royce, or fellow member Sans’ insistence on the glow of orange streetlights for 1up. Other times, things seem to fall into place. From riding round the streets of London at night until finding themselves stopping next to a certain poster, or meticulously planning a documentary for a future gallery booking, Peoples embrace fate and design in equal measure. Remi’s ambitions extend past music and into other mediums for his art - invading the home with eye-catching posters, or the wardrobe with quality garments. Music, he says, is not his end point: ‘I don’t want to still be rapping in two years’. There is a promising gap in a packed London for a talent house that scouts the best in people, detached from flawed ideas of realness, and Peoples may be just that group.
Peoples, by name alone, has representation and mentality at their core. The appeal comes not from making a trend, but from an all-encompassing way of thinking. Realness isn’t part of the equation as far as Remi is concerned. He spends a lot of time thinking about what sort of fanbase he would want, and has decided he wants a following for perspective. On both an aural and visual level, Peoples is bringing this perspective with them, but their hindsight tells them the wake is as important as the wave. Peoples is a house on the rise, with a foundation in sight, but the house has to be built first. For now, we will have to wait. (Louis Jani)