INTRODUCING: Lemfreck "there is a beauty that is often born out of desperation"

INTRODUCING: Lemfreck “there is a beauty that is often born out of desperation”

Newport-raised, now London-based artist, Lemfreck is telling me how he felt when Huw Stephens rang him recently to inform him that his album from last year, The Pursuit, had been nominated for the 2022 Welsh Music Prize. What was the first thought that came into his head? “I thought that’s a win, and a win for me is a win for my people. It’s a win for the people around me and my community and there will be guys now like when I was a kid that are looking at this and saying ‘yo that guy’s from down the road that guy did this and this’, and so to me, it’s been perfect.”

“When I made the project, I didn’t think anyone would notice apart from my mum!” He reveals “My mum and the boys, and only the boys because I forced it down them. Then I think once we released ‘Falling’ and people were like “okay” then we released ‘Kings’ and it just took off from there. So yeah, I had no idea at all.

Lemfreck is hungry, but he’s also enthused. He talks lucidly about the inspiration for his music and his album The Pursuit, having recently performed at Swn Festival in his South Wales home. Now he’s even targeting Grammy Awards he tells me in a half-jokey manner, but one thing is for sure if he doesn’t get to that award level it won’t be through lack of ambition, talent and inspiration, he is an artist of immense personality and inspiration. Lemfreck’s music skirts the lines of hip-hop, ragga influences grooves and gospel, carrying with it his unmistakable stamp and unique voice, forged from his upbringing and the poverty and injustice in his community.

Speaking of the inspiration behind The Pursuit, he explains it was “born out of – I don’t really like using the word desperation – but there is a beauty that is often born out of desperation. And I felt like I had a lot of stuff that I wanted to unpack and save for myself. And I had a lot of stuff that I wanted to say for my community as well.”

“When we started writing, I think the first track we did actually, was ‘Closer’ and that encapsulates the whole project if I’m honest. The pursuit of love, the pursuit of wanting more, the pursuit of wanting to be understood, is kind of said through ‘Closer.'”

His writing process is swift and confessional and once it’s out in the world it’s finished. “Once I write a song, I’m like, ‘oh, okay, that’s how I felt about that’. That’s how I felt about so and so. So, yeah, that was the reason I started writing it because I knew something wasn’t right and I needed to talk about it.”

Yes, in that way music and songwriting can be a form of therapy in real-time.

“Yes but the one thing I always say though, is it shouldn’t be your own music therapy. I think you shouldn’t rely on it for that because then, for example, we’ve seen it with the greats what happens when people rely on their music for that. But I think it’s a very good thing to just understand yourself and then fix it from there if that makes sense.” He continues.

“They say hindsight is a beautiful thing. But I also think it should be liberating like you’re not going to understand it at the time, but one day you will.”

I think trauma is a big thing that a lot of people are dealing with, you know, and sometimes they don’t realise it and it comes out later in different ways.

“100% and that’s the worst part when you don’t realise, when you don’t actually know about your trauma or the things that you’ve been through and then it hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s why I do it, no surprises down the line.” He confesses.

He reveals he sees the community of Welsh hip-hop supporting the wins for each other as a community “I feel like people are now understanding that like a win-win for one person in our community is a win-win for everyone. We had Mace The Great on the shortlist last year. We had Luke Rv before, and Deyah won two years ago, ” he enthuses.

Also, the exciting Welsh Mobo scene is looking beyond Wales too. “Yeah, it’s more than that. And we kind of need to see it with this broader lens. Look at the big hitters we are producing at the moment, A-listed and regular performance on Radio One, regular on One Xtra.”

“I’m based in London now. But I’m from the depths of Newport. I was raised in Saint Julians. And then I moved to Bristol, then to London, just honestly, not even for music. It was just for work and life.” He explains.

“I’m in Brixton at the moment. Yeah, it’s good. It’s good vibes. I like it. It reminds me the most of Wales and that’s why I like it so much.” Lemfreck sees moving to the capital as a challenge, in a bigger artistic pool “I think honestly, like in the creative arts as well, there’s like a shift in it. I’ll tell you what I did for myself personally, there was a shift in the fact that like, there are millions of talented people here. I mean, your growth is different. You grow more, I feel like I’ll grow quicker, because you’re like, “oh, my gosh, did you see that? That 12-year-old that was making wbreakbeats and you’re like, ‘I gotta step up!’ So, it is the things that you see that are possible here. There are people doing insane stuff. And people are doing insane stuff in Wales as well. I just think there’s just so much around it. It’s hard to miss. Like, it’s so much out here. But if I had the choice, well, I’d be in Wales; I love it to death. And my boys, are there, my people.”

I interviewed Ogun recently, and he was talking about how sometimes Welsh hip hop is perceived outside of Wales. I wonder how you find that living in London now as a Welsh artist?

“I’m not gonna lie, it is so cliquey, And you find that people hear I’m Welsh and they’re like ‘oh, this is a Welsh rapper’ and they’re just not into it. But one thing I always said, one thing my dad raised me to do is to create the respect that you want. For example, if anyone has been to my live shows, know that I’ve put a lot of work into them, it’s tight it’s big and I put a lot of effort into it, in a humble way. But in a non-humble way, it’s like ‘look at my thing, now come try and ignore this!’ But yeah, I do find that I miss it. It’s gonna happen; it’s not my home. Even though I have a community here, it’s not my community.”

It even happens within Wales as well, doesn’t it? So you have the difference between like North Wales and South Wales – and even within South Wales, you have Cardiff and Swansea that are different scenes.

I don’t really see like that either. With what I do, if there are other people like covering music or there are other people doing things in music, I want to find ways to work with them. I don’t see it as a competition.

“It’s something that the music industry and major record labels have instilled in artists. And that’s simply because they win when there is competition, they earn more from that. But it’s nonexistent. Are people really gonna tell me that Michael (Jackson) and Prince couldn’t coexist in the same domain? But they tried to put some competition there? So it’s the same.”

You’ve released a few singles since last year including the soulful menace of ‘Play with Silver’ and an EP entitled Blood and Sweat and Fears. Where would you say musically you’ve shifted since this album came out?

“I was self-producing everything. Then I co-produced ‘Closer’ with a guy called Kiddas. But with my future music, it’s probably a lot more political and concentrates a lot on the nuances of racism, especially where I come from.”

“I’d say my stuff’s getting darker too. Like, at first my dad said this thing to me when we put the Pursuit out, he said, ‘you write differently now, your songs are different now. People are listening.’ And that was one thing I took definitely into this year when I was writing, after that project ‘was now I know people are listening’ but I still want to write exactly how I want to write, if that makes sense, instead of kind of pulling my punches. So, I’d say my music probably got a bit darker, and I don’t think I redact much anymore and that just comes with the confidence of releasing. really”

I read you also have a music company called Noctown which gives opportunities to young people in his community.

“So basically, we’re there to give opportunities that we didn’t have growing up. It’s me and my cousin, Ashton Hewitt who plays rugby for the Dragons at the moment. We’ve seen the problems of what happens when our communities aren’t given opportunities. We’ve basically created this thing that will one day hopefully give kids the opportunity in the arts. Also giving kids the opportunity in film, musicals, whatever, but we really want to push.” He explains.

“I remember when we first started doing it, I’d always feel there was an argument about it. Even as young people we kind of looked at it differently as well. I don’t think it just has to be just young people too. I feel like anyone that has a dream in the arts, I think, just because they’re no longer young anymore doesn’t mean that they can’t do it. We just want to offer those opportunities where possible with where the love is.”

INTRODUCING: Lemfreck "there is a beauty that is often born out of desperation"

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.