UK rapper Context has been on an upward trajectory since the release of the self-made video ‘Off With Their Heads’ starring Ed Sheeran back in 2011. Four years down the line, he’s earned himself a global publishing deal with EMI/Sony/ATV, collaborations with Mike Skinner and a celebrity fan-base that includes Plan B and Ellie Goulding.
As he gets set to release brand new single ‘In The Bag’, and announces a performance at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in May, he grabs a quick chat with GIITTV about sounding English, making use of his Tastecard and rapping about life’s surreal moments.
One of the things that I like the most about you is that you rap in your accent and sound distinctively British. Was it tempting to do the whole trying to sound American thing?
Definitely not vocally; I never wanted to speak in anything other than my own authentic voice. Musically, when I first started there was a temptation to sound more American – I had grown up listening only to American beats and artists like NaS or Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep. But an English voice needs English production.
What was your life like growing up – what’s your background?
Pretty normal – maybe even boring! I was born in Lincoln and then moved house every three years while my Mum moved jobs. I lived all over the UK and then ended up in Norwich when I was about 13. We weren’t poor; we weren’t rich – camping holidays in France, skateboarding with my brother, suburban cul-de-sacs and N64’s were the general theme, I reckon!
You have gone right through the education system and even have a PhD in Politics to your name. What made you want to be a rapper?
I just love words to be honest. Both my parents are English teachers so I guess that explains a lot! I also really strongly felt like the musical genre which I loved didn’t reflect the life that me and my group of mates lived. I always thought rap music was a social group expressing the reality of their situation, and just because ours was boring to some people, that didn’t mean our lives didn’t have meaning and didn’t deserve to be heard.
Who do you listen to?
I actually listen to very little new music. I’m a bit of a creature of habit so I always play a lot of the same stuff. I rate Drake a lot. He is just unashamedly himself and I think that’s massively admirable. I’ve always said that Mobb Deep’s The Infamous is the greatest album of all time – so vivid and bleak. I actually went to Queensbridge when I was in New York last month to get a vibe of the place. Other than that I’m really into the roller side of Drum and Bass – Shogun stuff like SpectraSoul and the mellow stuff like Logistics.
Tell us about ‘In the Bag’. How did that all come together?
I’d been sitting on the production for a while. It’s so weighty and hard that it needs the right type of vocal to slot into it and work with it. I would listen to it every now and then for a few months almost just waiting for the inspiration to just jump out at me – something I’d not really done before. And then one day I was sitting in my flat, eating sausage and chips out of a bag and this whole idea that the only thing I had ‘in the bag’ was this bloody battered sausage just came to me.
Your music is reminiscent of a soundtrack to an Irvine Welsh novel or something similar that looks at life through a gritty lens. How are you able to paint life’s more real moments so vividly?
That’s class that you’ve said that! I don’t know how to be honest! You know what; a lot of it is to do with my group of mates. I’ve got some really odd friends – they won’t mind that! We have all been friends since the beginning of secondary school, and they are always coming out with mad stories about the surreal stuff they get up to. When you’re embedded in a surreal social reality, I guess you just speak about what you know.
I hear you’re a bit of a foodie. Are you able to rustle anything up in the kitchen or are you the type to make the best use of a Tastecard?
I don’t cook. To be honest I rarely eat food at home and I tend to eat out most nights of the week. So I need to play that smart – Tastecard in the week and more adventurous at the weekends. I’m really into Indian food and there are some class places in London – Dishoom, Masala Zone, Guglee – there are tons! But yeah, I don’t cook. The last flat I lived in was a 12-month tenancy and me and my girl actually didn’t use the oven once!
What else are you into? What do you do when you’re not making music?
I just like jamming with my bird, really. We both work now so I don’t get to see her as often as I like anymore, which sucks. Apart from that I’m really into writing. I’m hoping to get a few more writing projects off the ground this year – I’ve got a book deal pending and some other cool things like that.
What can we expect from you for the rest of the year?
This sounds like a cliché but I genuinely don’t know where I am going to be in six months. I have so much stuff pending and any one of those things could drastically alter the trajectory of my life. It’s a mixture of terrifying and exciting – more of the former to be honest! Still, BBC Radio 1 Big Weekender at the end of May will be massive. I’m looking forward to that.
‘In The Bag’ is released 31 May 2015