The Last Skeptik has worked behind the scenes producing for some of the biggest names in UK rap, but never felt ready to step up to the mic. That was until the breakdown of a relationship inspired him to write an album, See You in the Next Life, all about the experience. He tells GQ Middle East about 'beg friends', facing his fears and defeating his end of level boss.
GQ:What inspired you to write this record?
TLS: It’s the most normal thing in the world, an experience that unites and bonds us all: the devastation of a heartbreak. I was unlucky or lucky enough to go through it, about a year ago and it inspired me to write an entire album, inspired by every single part of the journey.
Was rapping and writing music a kind of catharthis, then?
I started rapping when I was in school with a rapper called Sway, who is one of the first incredible UK rappers. I didn’t quite have the confidence to rap on my own so I ended up producing and touring as a club DJ. I’ve put out so many records, so many debuts, so many EPs and albums but it was always featuring other rappers because I didn’t feel like the time was right for me to have my own voice. Nothing propelled me to find my own voice until I felt grief and loss. It’s been super empowering.
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‘See You In The Next Life’ is finally out now. It feels like my debut album. I never really had the confidence to be the main protagonist in my own life story til I went through a big boy year of self discovery, heart breaks and break downs that im still navigating through. But writing these beautiful 14 songs as a rapper (!!) and producer saved my life and gave me purpose. I hope it grabs you by the shoulders and pulls you out of your sadness too. I don’t have a machine behind me, so i truely appreciate every person that listens and shares. Spread it far and wide. Link in my bio, obvs. I don’t have a cd booklet for thank you’s so: Super love to the albums only two guests vocalists - @lcytn and @mattwillsmusic . Super giant love to the legendary @turkishdcypha for putting up with my billion ‘no no wait one more change’ texts when helping me mix it and then smashing the mastering. Couldn’t have it done it without you. Thanks to my wonderful guest musicians: @nickbriggssax @johngarnermusic @tomharle . Big love to the artists who made the animation slap, glueing the whole project together in such a seemless way: @studiomoebius @hanisha.t @spiralofsorts . And thanks to me for producing all the music cus tbh even tho im a barsman now no one can f*** with my beats . Also thank you to my friends for keeping me on the right path and talking to me when i havent left my room in 4 days. you know who you are. but specifically the words of encouragement at various stages from: @littleredonline @shaydrap @uche @kleptodj @complexion @akwasibmensa @soozilla and anyone else i’ve forgotten. Lets all heal today x
Is it hard being out from behind the decks?
I’ve done thousands of DJ shows in front of small crowds and huge crowds and I’m not nervous, but I am terrified about rapping in front of people. But I feel like the only thing that can drag you out of a dark place is confronting the ‘final boss’ and levelling up, and that’s what rapping is for me now. You have to push on and become a better version of you. Not to impress anyone else, not to belittle anyone, but to make yourself stronger and feel like you have a purpose.
How do you feel now looking back at what you’ve written on the album?
I’d be doing a huge disservice to myself if I took any lines that make me squirm off the record now. It’s dark and sad and honest and anxious and that’s fine.
There’s one song called Beg (I Actually Hate You). In the UK we have a term ‘beg friend’ and it’s the harshest song on the record. I thought a lot about not including it. But I owed it to myself not to paint what happened as a traumatic thing where I’m on the backfoot. It’s way more honest of me to put a song on there where I’m angry, because that’s what we all feel at some stage.
There’s upbeat tracks on here, too. Does it feel weird seeing people party to your pain?
I’m super happy with people interpreting it in whatever way they do. The only way I wouldn’t be happy with it is if people took it on board as an anti-women record. That is the furthest thing in the universe from what it’s about.
There’s no name calling or misogyny on the album. It’s really me admitting my flaws on the record and asking what I could have done better. I know it’s a two-way street. I’d hate for someone to hear it and think I’m badmouthing them. It’s a true account of how someone works through these stages. You Make Me Wanna (Kill) isn’t about wanting to kill a person, it’s about wanting to kill memories and being able to start from scratch. But if it helps anyone, I’m happy.
What happens now? Do you need more trauma for a new record?
I actually finished the album and that was me done. I thought: I don’t need to write about this anymore. I’m writing friendlier songs about the stage post-afterwards. Who knows? I think I’ve just found a way to write about all the things we experience in life in a tongue in cheek, relatable way. I’ve got no interest in watering down anything anymore.
See You in the Next Life is out now