Louis VI Opens Up
After his sold-out first headliner show at the Bermondsey Social Club, and his new album SUGAR LIKE SALT, we spoke to producer, rapper and one half of OthaSoul ; Louis VI. Quietly making waves in the music industry both here and in the US, his new album sees collaborations with Mick Jenkins and Isaiah Rashad’s producer Jowin, while also impressively producing most of his own tracks. Weaving genre bending styles with his clever lyricism that deserves serious study, this multi-talented North Londoner took time to reflect with us on his growth since his stunning first EP The Lonely Road of the Dreamer, and much more.
Your stage name nods to your French roots, but also takes note of slavery. In Question Mark (from Lonely Road), you rap of your frustrations of people ‘questioning your blackness’. How do you navigate identity as someone with mixed heritage?
Yea I wanted my name to be honestly me as much as I could make it. The French side with the 16 Louis Kings of France, the replacing of my slave name with the number 6, and being born on the 6th meant I addressed a lot of the aspects of my identity in my name from the get go. It's definitely an ongoing struggle trying to find out where I fit in this world that seems so hellbent on race.
When I was young, there was no official concept of being 'Mixed Race', I had to tick the box that said 'Other' in the ethnic category forms. And me and all my mixed friends, that's how we felt in society, we felt other.
Colourism comes into it too, where my black friends would assume (and mostly rightly) that a 'white society' would treat us differently to someone of darker complexion, there’s definite ‘light skin privilege’. But on the other hand, we would also feel racism, discrimination and a general lack of acceptance from white people.
I'm racially ambiguous to a lot of people, especially in the winter where I look pasty as fuck! Even green sometimes which is peak haha! But times have evolved and things are definitely better. Now I'd say that racially, of course, I'm mixed race, but culturally, politically, I associate with black because that is the struggle right now, we need to come together- not divided based on shade. That's something colonialism tried to make us believe in to divide us.
It's crazy because race is only recent in human evolution and is really just a balance between maintaining two chemicals in the body, Folic acid & Vitamin D. UV destroys Folic acid but provides Vitamin D, so you need darker skin near the equator to protect your Folic acid from being broken down. But the further away from the equator you move, the less sunlight you get, so skin had to become paler to prevent vitamin D deficiency. I also recently did a genome test and it turns out my Caribbean family come from Nigeria, and previous to that, Senegal, Gambia and The Congo. It's a phrase that is often not fully felt to its true extent but we really are all African.
You’ve said that it was Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo that made you consciously change your writing direction. Looking back, what was your relationship to music before this track, were there any frustrations you kept coming across?
It was more changing to just being honest with myself & everyone around me. I wasn't going to say things that people felt 'a rapper should say' anymore. I'd been making music for a while before my Lonely Road of the Dreamer EP or Isaiah's album, both solo and with my group OthaSoul. Rapping back then though was about displaying my skills & narrating what I was seeing around me and it was sick still, but truth be told, I felt like I was ticking "rapper" boxes. I was unknowingly holding back myself in my music before.
You mentioned to Netil Radio that when you were younger you would get ‘Tourettes’ but with bars. Today, when it comes to creating new material, do you listen to these thoughts, or have you already got a good idea of where you think you’re going to take your music?
Today it's not as scrambled or tourettes-like. Sometimes it still bursts out like that and it's a great feeling, but now I'm usually writing a bar or two when I'm on the tube or walking. Sometimes I need to stop and get off my bike to write a bar.
But the process has changed. I like to hear the beat, instrumental, idea, whatever it is when there's a microphone so I can just record ideas, if there can't be a microphone then I voicenote, and freestyle some melodies and flows. I've gained enough confidence so that the right lyrics come and sit in those phrases I've freestyled. I'm usually going back and forth between the start and end of the verse these days. It's kinda like a jigsaw puzzle, I don't write linearly.
Why the use of jazz? What do you think it aids in storytelling that other genres don’t?
Jazz has always been part of my life so I could never remove it from my music. Even my more trappy or hip hop heavy shit still has the jazz in it; in my triplets in the way I rap, the chord uses when I throw in a 7th or 9th every now and then. Even in my most raw shit there's jazz because that came first.
Jazz has also got to be the freest of all the genres, it has the least constraints.
In my mind anything can be Jazz, as long as it's free and uses those beautiful notes.
THE LONELY ROAD OF THE DREAMER
Can you explain the things that were going through your mind when you wrote Fly Pigeon Fly? What does pigeon symbolise here?
The pigeon symbolises me as a rapper from London. A rapper from the UK in New York, 6 years ago, spitting bars to a bunch of people at a block party in the Hood in Brooklyn. Green Ave in Bushwick, specifically (this was before gentrification changed it so much). Everyone vibed, and they got gassed to hear someone from the UK spit bars as well as- or even better- than they could. But it was this common feeling from them that I was this 'other thing', this foreign rapper with an 'accent', this London Pigeon, that could never blow because I wasn't American. The pigeon is an archetypal London image so I used that to represent this London rapper (me), but like that Kendrick song Black Boy Fly it was the pigeon, in the face of all odds, flying.
You often weave imagery of London and emotions, to project your wider feelings at the time. Is there something unique to London for you that makes it natural to draw this symmetry?
London is a very emotional city because maybe it's so stunted on a surface level. People don't talk to each other as much in public like in the rest of the world, so it's full of beautiful moments when they do.
Or things of tension- it's a grey city, the weather can be oppressive, so it pushes you into your thoughts. The architecture, the streets, the sounds, the people...everything is colluding to this strange tension here and it is an easy metaphor for my feelings. Much more than somewhere like LA with all its palm trees. To me, that's too light, but maybe that's just a reflection of my emotions at the moment!
SUGAR LIKE SALT
How would you summarise the vibe of the new album in comparison to your debut EP?
Lonely Road of the Dreamer EP: Introspective & deep purple. SUGAR LIKE SALT Album: Outrospective, awakened, energy and orange.
Nice! The album is very much placed in America, in that it was written and recorded there. 'Thurgood' and 'We Been Runnin’ make reference to police brutality and hostility towards the black community. Was this more informed by anything you saw/experienced in the US or were you drawing from a wider space when you decided to speak about this?
Actually the album is completely split between the UK & America in writing and recording. Subject matter was deeply influenced by my time over there and the black community for sure.
Thurgood is named after Thurgood Marshall who set up the NAACP's legal branch, fought the infamous Brown vs. Board of Education case, and was the first black Justice in America in the Supreme Court. But I felt strongly that I was in a unique position in that I could draw comparisons from both black communities in the UK and the US and found a thousand and one things the same with police brutality and hostility. It's well documented in the States but in the UK we are only just really starting to look at real history. Books like Why I'm No Longer Speaking to White People About Race and Akala's book Natives are really the first to document Black British history in the UK.
In answer to your question, I'm drawing from the more documented US account of black struggles and seeing it in my own city, from a UK perspective. I'm trying to bridge the gap because in the end we are all part of a global black population.
In Free Your Mind, you evoke themes of childhood and nostalgia and draw parallels between adulthood and childhood. Why?
Hmmmm. That's a good question, I'm guessing you mean references to playground games like stuck-in-the-mud?
I guess it’s about the realisation that becoming an adult isn't this sudden being able to handle your shit ‘cos you’re older. In a way it's just a bigger and more mental playground but you still that same kid. It's a trip actually.
Stylistically, the new album sees you really pushing beyond labels like ‘Jazz’ and ‘Hip Hop’. Was this a natural progression for you or a specific goal you set yourself?
I'm glad you say that actually. The labels have always fallen short of most music that's out there, I feel. It was definitely a natural progression; I draw inspiration from so many different genres. I mean damn, Rage Against the Machine & Nirvana might still be my favourite bands, I love country & blues, and the list goes on, so I knew personally I was never going to produce one type of music or sound that stays in a definable genre, it was just when the listeners would clock that themselves. I mean fam, I wanna do a funk album one day forreal! I try to do stuff that scares me because that's what's going to make you better as an artist, like singing more and using more harmonies. Can't just be honest in my music, I've gotta be honest and just let out whatever comes when I hear the music, because that's my true reaction to it.
Can you talk us through the WEST track?
Haha sure. The sun sets on an old relationship and the sun sets in the WEST. It's about having moved on, getting back on your shit, elevating but suddenly being pulled back down by something from past relationship. You feel good, you feel like a new version of yourself for a while, but then a few months down the line you catch yourself thinking about that past love and you're like shit?! I swear I was feeling real good a second ago, like what just happened? Why am I thinking of this person? It happened to me late at night, and I was still recording in my bedroom so I had to be super close to the mic so I didn't wake anyone. That feeling comes out of nowhere. Sunsets on an old relationship, but at some point the sunrise on a love sets. All your feels, no matter how deep you bury them, eventually get revealed.
Finally, what’s next for OthaSoul?!
A lot of new wavey music. I don't think people are ready ;)