Royal is a rising rap star in London’s underground scene, a preacher’s son inspired by the power of gospel music, the bravado of hip-hop and the defiant nature of punk Royal’s music is truly something unique, refreshing and distinctive. Having made a name for himself accompanying East London musician Hak Baker on stage as his boisterous drummer, Royal is now poised for his own rise to stardom.
With a wide range of musical influences, and as he tells us, the tenacious drive to “not stop creatin”, could 2021 prove to be the year Royal breakout?
We sat down with Royal to discuss the importance of creative control, voicing emotions, and why you should never beg it.
As an emerging artist trying to breakthrough within the internet age and the consistent demand for social media engagement, do you feel that there’s too much pressure to keep on creating in this day and age? How does that affect you creatively, does it keep you motivated or just exhausted?
I’m just I’m not stopping this year, because I’ve made the mistake before of making a song and then stopping and then going away for a while, so this year, I’m trying not to stop. I think that can be exhausting but I’m in a headspace right now, where I’ve got enough music to keep me going for about two years, I there’s already enough there. I don’t find it exhausting to keep making music because at the end of the day, that’s why I do what I do, I do it for fun. But what’s normally exhausting, is consistently promoting your music and sometimes social media is the only space to do that. Creating the music, yeah I can do that, and creating a backlog of songs that can keep me in people’s minds for a good few years, yeah, man, I enjoy the process.
I actually have become a bit obsessive about it, obsessive to the point where I want everything to be perfect. I just do everything myself, I’m even planning on running and my next music video. I gotta find the suitable venue, crew etc. and it takes up time. So I guess, it is exhausting to a point, but I love it, man, we do it for a reason.
So now you’re getting hands on with the music video, how important has creative control become to you in terms of visuals as well as your sound?
I think I think if you’re not in control of what you’re putting into the world, and how you’re being received then there’s no point in it. Yeah, in my mind, this is so important, I couldn’t imagine having, not having the control over my music or vision it is very important. So yeah, I believe that every aspect of it from the ground up, has to be me.
And you’re still a fully independent artist at the moment, right?
Yeah, still fully independent doing everything myself. Finding everything myself.
So would that be a deal breaker for you, if label was trying to take more control out of your hands?
Yeah, definitely, because at the end of the day, what I’m doing now is the building blocks and I think, in two to three years, I would like to be in a position where I’m fully self sufficient. You know, if God willing I’m earning money, that’d be great, that’s why don’t do it for that. I am self sufficient now, so why would I want to get to a point where I’m not. In fact, I want to get to a point where I can say, why would I need a label? Especially, if they’re not going to give me control? That’s the point I’m trying to get down the line.
I think it’s easier now more than ever, to be an independent artist, making your own money and managing your own career, which is great. Though, if you were going to join up with anyone, is there anyone in particular that you admire that you think you want to be a part of?
Good question. I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet regarding any labels that I’d like to be a part of because I think when you do think about that too much that’s when it takes away the fun. If you’re constantly thinking, oh, yeah, I’d love to be part of that, or sign to them, you know, you’re not as focussed on your authentic output. I mean, I try to never go into this to beg anyone’s approval or attention, you know. I see a lot of independent labels throwing out good stuff, London has a good number of small independent labels, and imprints of major labels who I would be happy to be a part of because they’ve got something good going and good relationships with their artists.
I totally agree with you as well, to be creating something for the sake of a goal isn’t as fruitful as actually creating for yourself.
Another thing I always like to ask, and try and get an understanding of is how people get settled on their name. How did you settle on Royal?
When I was coming up years ago, that was just my name on the streets and locally. Actually, it was Royal-T, I know that there’s another producer called Royal-T now, but back in the day when I was coming up rapping and just on road with my friends and stuff like that was just my name. I can’t remember who it was that gave me that name, I think it was one of the older guys. We were trying to think of names and it’s just the way I am that he said royalty suited me and then they eventually kind of shortened it to Royal. So yeah, I think it was just the older guys that gave me the name, it just came about from just knocking about, i’m not i’m not gonna try to make up some amazing story about how I got called the name because there’s nor really any of that.
So what age were you when you were starting making music and rapping and getting this name?
So I started rapping probably when I was 14, writing lyrics, the first ever lyrics I spat over a beat was over a beat called DJ Mondie – Straight Riddim, that’s an old one and then 21 seconds by So Solid Crew. They were the two, the first two I tried to spit over and then from there I just started recording in my bedroom. I couldn’t afford like Cubase or anything expensive so I just had Mixcraft to record on, if anyone even knows it was like a cheap free demo, actually eventually I was able to buy and Mixcraft for about 70 pounds but it was so whack, haha.
So, is there a specific track, album or artist that totally changed your understanding of music?
When I was younger the Giggs albums influenced in a big way. There are others, but that’s the first that comes to mind. He was a big influence, I remember when I was about 14 or 15 it was all just Giggs. I used to rap like Giggs as well, at least tried to. So if we’re gonna talk rap-wise and flow, Giggs definitely inspired me. I’d listen to a lot of UK artists, Black the Ripper had a lot of tracks that inspired me when I was younger, there’s so many others that are just not coming to me right now. On the lyric side of things, that definitely came from Giggs and the Road rap era, there’s a rapper called Young Spray. But I used to listen to r&b as well, I liked Usher, the ‘Confessions’ album. When I first got a car, I had that album in my car for months. And when I was growing up, gospel music as well, Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, was probably what helped me musically when I was younger. So I think that those people definitely influenced me. Then, you know, later on in life, when I started getting older, I linked up with a guy called Ali, who’s kind of helped me and mentored me over the years, making music and I was in a band with him and the band was like, kind of rock and roll mixed with grime, and blues. So and that was a band called Kings of The City. So there’s a lot, man, there’s a lot, I’ve got a lot going on my mind musically all the time.
I was going to say, is there like a figure in your life that shaped your music taste as well?
So yeah, my dad played the keyboard and piano. So definitely seeing him influenced me to pick up an instrument and start playing the drums. So I’m a drummer, originally, so there’s that and then yeah, like I said, when I met Ali, he introduced me to more rock and roll, people like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, that kind of music. Then, this is more recently now, I’d say my friend Has Baker, he’s had a big influence on me as well. Because his style is just, guitar picking mixed with more gritty East London cockney vocals and melodies, he calls it G Folk. He’s a real creative, so yeah, when I first started with Hak’s music, and I started working for him and playing drums for him that kind of blew my mind as well. So, there’s no one person, I’d say it’s a combination of all of those things that I’ve kind of mentioned, that influenced and made me who I am today and I’m still growing as a musician and musically I’m still learning things.
Don’t say that’s the best way to be anyways, as an artist, like you’ve always got to keep moving forwards. So yeah, that was also something I wanted to ask, as you’ve grown older, how has the way you write and the way you approach writing and unwrapping changed?
Yeah, when I was younger I would have easily written about anything or just rapped about doing crazy stuff. Now I’ve gotten older, you kind of think about what you want to put out into the world, and now I try to write more about things that have happened to me or things that things that are important to me and things that other people can relate to. Because I think a lot of the music I was writing when I was younger was a bit senseless. I’ve always been a conscious artist, but there were more times when I was younger where I would have written something that was a bit senseless. Comparing that to now, where I think about everything before I put it out; double checking, triple checking everything I’ve done, to make sure that it makes sense. Because at the end of the day, you have to be real, you can’t just say anything, you have to just be yourself. If I want to speak about a heartbreak, I’ll speak about that, if I want to speak about someone who’s done me wrong or speak about my family issues, then I’ll do that too. I now know, what I should be talking about I know what I shouldn’t be talking about.
Is there an overall message that you want to communicate with your music, whether that’s through your lyrics, or just your presence and approach to the industry?
I think my next song will highlight this, the message I want to put out is that it’s okay to talk. I think it’s important because as men, we don’t talk about things and our feelings, even within my family I don’t want to speak about things. So the only way to get this stuff out is through the music because I don’t like to talk if something’s wrong with me, I’ll go for a whole few months, I can bottle things up. So it’s quite contradictory for me to be saying that it’s okay to talk but through my music, I’m trying to tell other people that also might have trouble talking that’s okay to let your feelings out. Everything I say in my music has really happened and it’s really, whatever is going on in my head you will hear, I transfer it all onto the music.
Do you think there’s still like a bit of snobbery, or bias against rap music? Do you find that people are less supportive of you trying to follow a rap career rather than a more ‘traditional’ music path, as say a drummer?
I think it’s changing now. I think it’s definitely different now than it used to be back back years ago. When I was younger people used to laugh, if we rapped or spat, over grime, they wouldn’t get it they’d just look at us and laugh. I remember in school, I went to a school out in the country, not even in the city or anything and there wasn’t a lot of people into ‘black music’ and I was one of the only black people in the school, so when we used to rap people used to laugh and just never used to get in or never even want to understand it. So now it’s definitely changed. I mean, you can see the drill thing. It’s young black kids finding that it’s literally possible for them to completely change their lives from making music and that’s a beautiful thing.
So yeah, there definitely was a snobbery and a kind of bias against the rappers and stuff because of all the violence and stuff that would happen around it, but I feel that people now know that this violence and stuff happens with or without the music. It’s happening anyway. I mean, some bad music might influence some people to do some bad things, but in my opinion, music doesn’t motivate you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be capable of doing. So I think that the bias against the rappers was there for a long time, and it still is there, but there’s now a lot more positives that come from the rappers and the people coming out of that scene than before.
Another tough question but over the course of the last year, it really placed a spotlight on some of the problems still present within the music business. I’m just wondering if you have any reflections on how you would change things if you could?
I think trying to answer that is difficult. I think at the end of the day, when you talk about industry, we’re talking about money, right? A lot of the guys at the top in the UK, who have probably benefited greatly from these young black kids making music are white people. When you look at it like that, it’s easy to think how can we change that, and the reality is, you can’t, the only way to change that is ownership. But, I can still understand the major label pull when you’re an upcoming rapper and you start making some big songs, and you’ve never really had that much money, when you get this major label coming up to you and offering a 100 grand, or 200 grand, straight away it’s always gonna be a pull for these young artists.
There’s a few out there doing it independently, that haven’t signed themselves out and instead stayed independent, and I guarantee if there was more and there was more of an education about ownership about how these deals work then then the a lot of these kids would be better off. They would then know, if that’s what they want to get into in that certain stage, and maybe some of them they won’t need a label. So that’s it, I think Education is the key. There needs to be more of an education about ownership, and about how to how to keep your own rights.
I mean, I watched an interview the other day about Russ, the drill rapper from South London. He was talking about how he signed a contract for 30 grand and then they tied him in to a 24 album deal, and he was a big artist at the time, for the numbers that he was doing, that’s just that’s ridiculous. If he had someone to sit him down and and show another way, saying let’s do this for the next few years and you’ll be good anyway… But there’s a couple of independent labels doing right by the people at the moment, one I can think of off the top of my head is FAMM, with Jorja Smith and ENNY, they’re independent and they know what they’re doing.
So, following on from the importance of education, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given, and I hate to keep saying his name because he’s gonna get bigheaded over this, but it was from my boy Ali. He taught me a lot of valuable stuff, a lot of valuable things. Even though he’s a nutter, taught me a lot of valuable things and I can’t even think of anything specifically, cuz I’ve probably know Ali for a good 10 years now, actually probably longer, since I was young. He taught me some valuable stuff about the industry and he always just taught me, and I think it’s one of the most valuable kind of things I learned from him is, don’t beg it. People might not understand what I mean by that, but it’s like, always know your worth, you should never have to beg for someone’s time or attention.
That comes with the music thing too. Even if you’re out and you see other artists, there’s nothing wrong with showing appreciation and love, but I’ve been around industry people for a long time now and something you need to remember is that there just human as well. Often, if you want that collab with them, if you want that that feature with them, don’t act out of character and keep your composure at all times, because at end of the day less people will know and no one likes a beg. No one likes a beg man, there’s nothing wrong showing appreciation but if you feel like you’re begging, you probably are. Just do your thing, be a nice person at all times but just don’t beg it, if you feel the love isn’t being reciprocated somewhere then f**k it.
This isn’t related just to the music industry though, do your own thing at all times and just be be militant and vigilant because the world’s full of people that will take your kindness for weakness and flip it and make you look insignificant.
So speaking a moment ago about inspiring and upcoming talent, is there anyone that you’ve been listening to a lot over lockdown that you’d recommend?
I really like Tiana Major9 she’s an R&B singer, more Neo-Soul kind of vibes, she’s really dope. I like Giveon, I listen to a lot of R&B you know. I listen to this rapper Potter Payper because of how real his stuff is and how raw is and then also I’ve been listening to SAULT, I’m a big fan of them.
I can’t pronounce the name but Khruangbin they have music that’s got me through, so do Puma Blue and Arlo Parks. I like that stuff too, all the closer to indie stuff, and then I like the rap and the road stuff as well.
I get you, people’s tastes seem to be much more diverse because of streaming culture. Do you feel like you can’t just be a rapper anymore and have to be more diverse as an artist as a result?
I think I’ve always wanted to sing and I’ve kind of, over the years, developed my voice. My rap brain is still there, but I like coming more melodic now. I like putting down the melodies now that I can sing, so why not put the melodies in there? Yeah, man, I think it makes it more interesting when you’re playing with some nice melodies or something out of your comfort zone, it definitely makes it more interesting. I love guitar sounds, I love lo-fi keys. I think it just makes you extra creative, I’m feeling extra creative at the moment.
Is there anyone that you’d want to collaborate with in the future that like you haven’t yet? Who’s the dream collab?
Dream collab? Boy, that’s a good question. Robert Glasper, probably. Yeah, I’m gonna put it out into the universe now, if I could do a track with Robert Glasper and Brandy, or even another person would be Anthony Hamilton. If I could get on the track one day with Robert Glasper AND Anthony Hamilton, that might just be it man, I might just finish there. That’d be my goal. That would be mad.
What’s your favorite track at the moment?
That Tiana Major9 song it’s called ‘Exclusively’. It’s really chilled man, and there’s a lot going on in my life right now, so like that kind of soulful music helps me to chill out and relax at the moment. I think she’s from a gospel background and she’s from the UK as well, man. I don’t know the girl but I’m proud of her, I think she’s already won a BET award too, I think it was her track with Stormzy or something.
So when live shows happen again, who do you want to see perform first?
There’s too many, man. I know there’s a festival called Yam Carnival, there’s a few decent artist there. NAO, I’ve seen before but she’s a great performer. I’m a big fan of Afrobeatas well, when I saw that lineup the other day I thought that there were a few people that I’d like to go see, just for the energy man, I need some good vibes and some energy whenever this lockdown stuff is done.
I also want to perform myself, whenever it opens up again. I’m mainly looking forward to doing things myself or performing with Hak again, and Hak should have a big gig coming up this year…
Do you have any advice for someone that is hoping to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in music? And what do you think is the most important thing to do?
Know what you’re getting into it for, know what you’re doing it for and why your stepping into it. If you’re thinking I just want to pay the bills off and want to be able to make money that’s the wrong reason and I’ll tell you why it’s the wrong reason; because you can go and get any job and do that.
I feel there’s so many people making music nowadays just because they can. Anyone can get a laptop, anyone can get a mic and think okay, I can put something out. I still ask myself that sometimes: Why am I making music? I’m making music because I don’t go a day without feeling the need to be creative, it’s not because it’s a choice. It’s literally not a choice for me. Any other real musician will say the same thing, it’s literally not a choice. It’s not a chore to go to the studio, it’s literally as though my brain is mostly creative, and it has to put this feeling or thought into a melody or into a lyric, and that’s why I do music.
So I’d say to any up and coming artist, know what you’re doing and know why you’re doing it, and be consistent from the get go. Do your reading, know your rights and read up on contracts, try and read up on everything.
Do you have a Guilty Pleasure track?
I don’t know if this is a guilty pleasure track but John Legend and Ludacris, ‘Tonight (Best You ever Had)’. It’s not too bad that one, but it’s the first that came to my mind. It’s a good song to play for the galdem, I’ll have to play when I’m with the wifey or something now, haha.
What is the best ‘Pop Song’ ever written?
First thing that comes to my head is 2pac ‘Changes’… You know what, I think that might be it. There’s a lot of other songs out there, but 2pac ‘Changes’, it’s a very important song, and it may even hold more weight now than before.