With a great deal of pleasure, we checked out the Natty Wylah ep BRUCE sent to us courtesy of our friends at Rap and Soul Promotions. What a stomping eleven track project full of brooding atmospheric energy and lyrically profound bars tighter than that friend who suffers from long pocket short-hand syndrome.
Based in London the lyricists/producer/model comes from that cloth of verbalists intent on taking listeners on a journey where introspection and learning go hand in hand. Tight beats are of course obligatory and the project does not disappoint. Producers like Srigali and Purple Cloud providing that component. Importantly however the beats never take over on the Bruce Lee inspired ep. That's not saying that projects should only be about ‘lyrics' but in this case Natty Wylah's story telling delivery should be paramount. The twenty-seven year old artist truly excels in taking us on a journey of discovery where catharsis is key.
“The music is quite cathartic –it was definitely cathartic getting things off my chest. It helped me process a lot of thing that were difficult for me,” states Natty Wylah.
Brought up as an only child the half Chinese half Scottish emcee can credit the time spent “alone” and his mother's influence as a foundation for creative pursuits,
“My mum came to the uk when she was three so she did not hold on to much Chinese culture so I have never really known that side of my heritage. I was lucky because my mum was a painter so she was always doing stuff with me. I remember lots of creative pursuits so I have always been exposed to the visual arts while having good music around me. As an only child you have a lot of time with your imagination and doing weird stuff so that is probably where it has come from”.
One can argue that Natty Wylah has a natural flair for this whole emceeing thing enchanting listeners with his laid-back drawl. Stands to reason that he should be making a career of it? Not in the case of Natty Wylah who took a while to “find” music. Intrigued by the playground cyphers in his school at the height of the grime era, Natty Wylah never made the jump (at that time) to become an artist-“It was never a conscious decision”.
“I am not sure” he states when considering why he never used his talents for grime, “maybe it's because grime was more of an energy thing. Like I remember being in the playground and listening to the cyphers at the time. I always respected them and their craft. It's just the hip-hop I was listening to at the time just felt more poetic. I felt it helped me break things down on a more abstract level. Hip-hop was a bit more sit down listen and take it all in without necessarily being within someone's flow and energy.”
Natty Wylah readily admits that of course one cannot generalise about grime. Indeed he is at pains to acknowledge that “grime too is poetic” and not always about the bristling, braggadocios energy. We have to admit however we get exactly where he is coming from. Something about his lyrics requires that almost down-tempo like energy; a perfect conduit for his candid lyrical leanings.
Discussing his musical history it becomes clear that maybe the grime surge came at a time when creatively Natty Wylah was not ready. Checking his discography there is a prolonged gap between his debut ep Setting Sail (2012) and his next project Lover released on the cusp of (2019).
“I am not sure I can answer that” he states quizzically when questioned about the gap, “I put out my first mixtape when I was making tracks with the Revival Collective. The band broke-up but I was still writing. Then I went to uni-I was making music but I just never released anything. I expect I needed that period of time to take stock and realise what feels right to me. What I found out eventually was that ‘music' just felt right to me. I did not anticipate I would make music it just seemed to naturally happen”.
Now in a phase of absolute creativity which has seen the likes of Gilles Petersen rave about him, 2020/21 Natty Wylah has been a hive of activity and BRUCE (released on Gecky Records) is the latest reference point in that musical journey.
“I basically emptied the contents of my head out” he explains when talking about BRUCE, “It is about my experiences. I cannot pin-point actual themes but it moves around; girls, love, loss, identity, racism. I think in particular, there was this process to discover what it means to be in my skin and how I perceive others view me. Looking outwardly one of the reasons I picked out Bruce Lee is he is (certainly to my knowledge) one of the only ‘yellow skinned' icons in this Western world. I know you have Jet Li and Jackie Chan but I think they kind of fulfil the stereotypes. Bruce Lee was standing independently, outside of Western stereotypes and being who he wanted to be”.
In that process of being who he wants to be, Natty Wylah positively bristles against labels of any kind. He states rather memorably in the cut Who Am I (which is ironically or intentionally the name of a 1998 Jackie Chan movie)-
“I ain't from England and I ain't from China so fuck off with your labels”
The ep feels very much of now, primarily because the issues he discusses are of now. Just look at the past two years. An abundance of high profile racial issues, assumptions, polarisation and more have fuelled some very real socio-political problems. For Natty however BRUCE is very much grounded in the past and how he felt ‘then'.
“This mixtape has taken a long time. Some of those tracks are three years old. Currently I am working on a lot of new material and so the back catalogue is looking very healthy. And that is a good position to be in. The stuff from now is more representative of where I am now. That is the constant battle with releasing I expect. You almost fall out of love with the past material because you have had to analyse it looking for perfection (so to speak). The stuff that is fresh however has not gone through that detailed critique so you are still in love with it and you just really want to get that out.”
And new stuff is literally over flowing as he veers into new collaborations and self-producing. In fact the last track on BRUCE Pianos Out Of Tune is a self-produced cut. Work in the pipe line means that another prolonged gap between musical projects is not on the agenda.
“I have been collaborating with a band called Sunken (Poppy is the singer) and we have a five-track ep still in the pipeline but if we can perform that live it will be awesome. Also I am working with Joseph Efi who remixed Yester Moons (the track that Gilles Peterson liked) we have an ep on the way. He is just one of my favourite producers at the moment. He's like this Flying Lotus vibe so I am excited to be working with him. Really I am just excited about a lot of the musical projects I have coming up, experimenting with self-producing and just generally staying creatively energised about music”