Barney Artist on Collaboration, Day Jobs, Candid Lyrics and Uganda Roots

— Features — Joshua French

London-based rapper Barney Artist has put in the hard yards for his recent successes. His sold out 2018 tour, cluster of dates supporting rap icon Common, and accomplished debut album — described as ‘personal, soulful and profoundly human,’ by Rapreviews — have all been achieved from a place of artistic independence. It wasn’t that long ago that Barney held down a retail job, but having reached a point where his art can now be the sole focus, we’re hearing him blossom in a beautiful way; his Bikes Are Bikes EP building upon the heartfelt hip-hop style he defined on his debut LP. His relationship with artists like Jordan Rakei, Alfa Mist, Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and George the Poet extends beyond studio collaboration, into podcasting, joint performances and much more, suggesting that a really significant, jazz-infused, contemporary rap and RnB movement could take hold around their work in the next few years. Ahead of Barney’s Tours are Tours tour, we had a quick chat with him about collaboration, day jobs, candid lyrics and Ugandan roots, setting up an in-depth Inception to Mixdown interview, that will be with you soon…

It’s great to see the brotherhood that yourself, Jordan, Tom, Alfa and Loyle share. How important is it, as an independent artist, to have guys with their skills that you can collaborate with, but then also confide in, get a second pair of ears for your ideas, hang with…?

‘I think it’s really important, collaboration. The skill sets that you learn…not just musically, but also mentally — it’s good to have people that you can bounce off, and who understand where you’re coming from, to also share tips on things that you might not have experienced already. I’m very, very lucky to have the boys around.’

You recently did a shoot for Lynx at Stratford Westfield, where you once worked. What would you say to aspiring artists in particular, who are holding down a 9 to 5, keeping things ticking over, about keeping a positive mindset and not letting the work you have to do detract too heavily from the work you dream of doing?

‘I think, with working, it’s really important to look at the positives in things. For example, structure: I think there’s a lot you can learn from structure, having something where you go, and a place that you can kind of get away from music, sometimes, because I think sometimes you can get caught up in it. I used working in retail as an escape, as it were. Obviously it can get really really tough, and I was really fortunate to work in some good places, I also worked in some bad places, but the skill set… talking to people and interacting with different people is something very valuable that you can use anywhere else.’

How easy or difficult do you find it to lay things bare in your music, as you do on a cut like Pure Silence? Is it cathartic to commit certain ideas to lyrics?

‘I find that I don’t write with the idea that people are gonna hear it, usually. It’s kind of like, I just bare all. I think it’s more difficult when it comes to performing it sometimes, because I’ve got to go back into that space that I wrote it from, and that can be quite tough. Yeh, it’s a very cathartic experience and I’m very fortunate that people relate to it and interact with it.

You have Ugandan heritage, which you represent at times through your work. Do you have aspirations to make musical connections there, perhaps link with some artists in Uganda?

‘Yeh, I’d love to link with some Ugandan artists. I’m a massive fan of Michael Kiwanuka, who’s Ugandan, obviously George the Poet, I’m on the latest podcast that he’s done, he’s Ugandan, he was on my album, Alfa obviously is Ugandan as well, so there’s a few of us. I’d love to go back there, making connections with the local people and stuff.’

How does it feel living in London in 2019? Could you ever see yourself being based elsewhere?

‘I do love London man, London just feels like home to me! I think, like, if I got like a lot of money, I might move to the outskirts, but I think London is where I feel is home.’

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