Ears has been a part of the grime scene since it originated and while his output hasn’t been as prolific as some of his peers, he certainly has the flow and skill to stand toe to toe with them. After a bit of hiatus, Ears has returned with a slew of new material headed by Back To The Future Part II and collaborations (including a feature on Wiley’s Godfather 3 album) with the promise of a whole lot more to come. We caught up with Ears to hear all about what he has coming up in the future and his recent music as well as going back and hearing about his come up and history in the grime scene, working with JME and Wiley, performing in New York with D Double E and Jammer, who his influences are and legendary sets and clashes.
Your latest album Back To The Future Part II came out last year. What’s the reaction to the album been like so far?
Oh! This definitely wasn’t an album. It’s more a compilation of tracks I had accumulated over some time (years actually) and I felt they really worked well together as a complete body of work. So I put it out, but yeah the reaction I’ve had has been pretty good actually. I wasn’t sure how it would go down after my fairly long hiatus from putting out projects. I also wasn’t sure how people who were already familiar with my music would digest it, because it was a little different to what people are used to hearing me on but all in all I think it went down well! I was surprised to see which songs people gravitated towards and how people were actually listening and dissecting lyrics, messages in the songs and even picking up on smaller nuances like influences on certain tracks and references I made. That told me a lot about the type of audience I have. Pretty dope!
Who did you work with in the album in terms of production and what did they bring to the album and its sound?
I just went to some tried and trusted producers and friends of mine that i’ve worked with over the years and throughout my career. So it was pretty casual when collaborating. They all brought something different to the table which I think I was able to utilise. For instance on tracks like “Bloops” featuring JME, I had the idea and concept of how I wanted the beat to sound in my head way before it was made and I knew there was only one man for the job! So I reached out to my best friend/business partner/ in house producer Flamin. He’s like Professor X from X-Men when it comes to sound. He’s got this innate talent to take the sound you’re describing to him from out of your head and actualise it to a T! I’m not sure how he does it, but it’s quite remarkable and so I knew I had to go to him if I wanted to create this track. He also worked on ‘Final Warning’, ‘Roll The Dice” (alongside another producer friend Kojo), ‘Jessie Ware’ ‘Ears Free’ and ‘House Party’ so he produced the majority of the tracks on the project. I also worked with producers lIke Scotti Dee. He’s dope when it comes to getting that authentic UK flavour and I captured that with him on tracks like “10/TEN’ and ‘PlayersOnly’ which were both video singles for the project actually and the more recently recorded tracks on it. For the track ‘Ladies Love’ I worked with a long time friend and talented producer called Footsteps and for the track ‘To The Sky’ I worked with a producer called ‘JWT’ who again I had worked with in the past and we had good chemistry.
Did you always plan to open up with the energetic 10/TEN and Players Only tracks as a statement of intent with the album?
No not at all, like I said ’10/TEN’ and ‘PlayersOnly’ were actually the last tracks to be recorded for the project so it wasn’t until I knew it was done recording and it came time to figure out the tracklist that that thought came to mind. So it was quite the opposite.
You released 10/TEN and Players Only as singles before the album dropped. Did you want to build up momentum with these songs?
Yeah for sure. I knew these tracks would go down well, but not only that, it was a better representation of where I was at as an artist for those who may not have ever heard my music before at all, and for those that had too! Some of the other tracks had been recorded as long as 4 years prior, so wasn’t necessarily what space I was in or current skill level, I had evolved. So this had a lot to do with the choice for those tracks being chosen too.
There a lot of introspective moments on the album, did you always want to include that side of you as an artist?
Ah yeah for sure! That’s the main thing I’ve always wanted to do but been too afraid to be vulnerable or show people insights to how I’m feeling but really deep down that’s all I want to do is express, heal from my music, and help and heal others through my music if i’m able and they can relate or take something from it. Even if I just spark a thought or provoke a perspective. That’s what I wanna do, and there will be more of that.
Aside from grime the album has a lot of garage, r&b and hip hop influences on it. Did you want to feature of your musical influences with this album?
Do you know what, I thought it was important that people understand my sound and brand per sae. Because Rollin’G (my label) is about Rhythm & Grime. So it’s music has elements of everything I was influenced by fused with grime, so I was kind of preparing people for what’s to come from me musically so that
Did you want to call the album Back To The Future as a reference to that?
Spot on! Yeah, you got it.
How was it working with JME on the track Bloops?
Well I’m a fan first and foremost and for obvious reasons, he’s one of my favourite MC’S that ever buss mic so working with him is always fun.
Are you working on any new music at the moment and how have you been keeping busy with everything that has gone on this year?
Ah yeah I’m working on a few new projects man so recording right now with a bunch of different vibes. I’m super happy with how they are piecing together so can’t wait to finish them all. I have been keeping myself busy outside of my projects with collaborations for other artists projects and singles, and so anyone one reading this right now can hit me up for a collab and feature verse (for the low). I’ve been knocking them out as well as dubplate specials, radio drops and all kinds of collabs in the last year which I never really had much time for before things slowed down but it’s been mad fun connecting with artists and DJ’s/producers from all over. Dope.
What have you got planned for 2021 with your music?
In short, A LOT!
You also feature on the recent the single Snorkel by Sylva Grey. How was it working with him and would you work with him again?
Yeah this was a pretty dope collab. He’s one of the artists I connected with recently and really thought he had some talent so jumped on the feature. It was cool working with him and I’d definitely do it again.
Has your Rollin G Entertainment got anything upcoming in the next few months?
Yeah, I have a few things in the pipeline for the brand and label that i’m looking forward to announcing. Don’t wanna say too much though as I quite like the element of surprise.
You got the Nang colouring book: grime editions well. How did that idea come about and how has it been received?
Well that’s one of the things I’m yet to announce but it seems your tapped in and ahead of the game! I haven’t actually released the colouring book yet. I just met with Wiley when doing a track for him on his album and brought the book along to get his approval. I was only going to show him, get his opinion on it, gift him the first copy, and also show him I’m doing my part for the culture, but he was so excited and proud he ended up posting it on his instagram. like an hour after I left the studio (Which i wasn’t expecting until it was out at least) But you know what Wiley’s like, completely random! I’m super thankful though. I got to see the response from the fans. And I was quite surprised at how enthusiastic people were about the book! Everybody saying how sick it was and asking where they could buy it, but it’s s not out yet. That’s one of the things I have planned for 2021 under my Rollin’G Entertainment brand, and I will be announcing a release date shortly.
How did it feel to be back in Jammer’s basement for the Practice Hours video and what memories does that spot hold to you?
Ah man it felt like old times. That place is like a mecca for grime, and for me personally it holds sooo many great memories. Some that are pivotal to the building of my character and DNA as an artist. So yeah man. SICK!
The first time I heard you was on Saw It Coming and Happy Dayz then Verb & Pronoun Boy and Backward Riddim were big tunes. What was the experience of making those tracks?
Aha okay, so you heard me pretty early on then. Thats dope. Fun fact: My boy Footsteps who I mentioned earlier, produced ‘Happy Dayz’ and we both really hate that track but erm…yeah, working on those tracks at that time was literally all fun and games. There was no real pressure involved in the creation because it was all experimental and for me new, so I didn’t have much of a critical opinion about what I was making so it was a really carefree time and experience looking back.
What was the experience of making your first album A Breath Of Fresh Ears like compared to your newer material?
So different. Making Breath of Fresh Ears was a statement piece so I didn’t want to veer to far left or right. In only making what was kind of expected of me. Not even wanting to try out new things for that project so much. I was very meticulous about it. We all were. Now I’m meticulous but not in the same way. My palette is broader but I’m more flexible, open.
You featured with Wiley again on his Godfather 3 album last year. How was it working on that?
Wicked. Pure jokes and vibes in that studio session man. He’s the GOAT!
As an MC, do you always want to bring such an energetic dynamic to your performances?
Nah not really. Depends on the song, mood. Overall you just wanna give a good show and create an experience.
You played at Rothko in New York way back in 2005 with D Double E and Jammer. How was that experience? I was in New York but had to fly back the day of the show! Would have loved to have seen it!
Aha man really? That sucks for you! I remember that show and it was pretty epic. Imagine watching D Double spit his bars and everybody standing still in awe. Not losing their minds, but really enjoying every second of what they were listening to. It was so funny because it was the first time 90% of the people there had ever heard grime so they didn’t know how to move to the music or even if they should! And it was my first time performing in America so for me I was HYPE!. I had so much fun going back to back with Double and Jam that night. Another Fun Fact: That was my very first groupie experience that night. Ahh man. the good old days!
How was it bringing grime to the home of hip hop and how much has hip hop influences you as an artist?
Oh I really enjoyed being able to do that so early on in my career and then look now at how they understand our culture, get the music now and know how to move to it and now there’s American grime, which is dope! because Hip hop is closely linked and has influenced me soo much in the music I’m making even today. There are so many elements I used and use that are all Hip hop influenced.
Do you feel like when it comes to grime and your music, that you are “most known, unknown” as Three 6 Mafia used to say in that you are respected as a legendary and unique MC from those who know but haven’t got your dues from a larger audience as yet?
You know what. I’ve only recently begun to understand and see that some people might see me as “legendary” and I’m not mad at that at all. I’ll take it! As far as respected, I still feel personally I have a lot of work to put in to be respected by a larger audience. Fans are fickle these days and there’s a lot of herd mentality so i’m not that focused on their praises. As long as I get the respect from my peers and artists and producers that I respect and love, then that’s fine. I do know that everybody gets their turn though, and I’m more prepared and ready for when it’s mine.
How did you get started as an MC?
I used to write poetry. That led to me reciting my poems over music. Which then led to me deciding to write lyrics as an MC. And…here we are.
What are your favourite memories of the early days of grime and when you were just starting as an MC?
Going to youth clubs all over London spraying down sets! Pirate radio, Going record shops, Listening as a fan to these MC’s and DJ’s we all know and love now and putting a face to the names and voices for the first time. That was nang!
What were some of your favourite sets that you have ever done?
Ah man, there’s been so many. But one that stands out is the first time I went on the radio with Nasty Crew on Dejavu. And I’m talking the sick N.A.S.T.Y Crew, with Sharky Major, D Double E, Hyper, Jammer, DJ Mac 10, MC Stormin (God rest his soul), Monkey, Footsie and Kano. Mate! I thought I had clocked life!
What were some of the most memorable clashes you did and what were the outcomes?
Probably the one with Tinchy Stryder because till this day it’s still brought up and I hear about it all the time. So yeah definitely most memorable.
Who are your biggest influences as an MC and on your whole music career?
There are too many to mention them all but I’d say, Andre 3000, He is No.1 in the world. Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Nas, Micheal Jackson, MC Hammer, Nipsey Hussle and 2 Pac. Oh and Stephen Fry.
What albums and artists have you been listening to throughout the year?
To be honest not that many. I tend not to listen to music when I’m in a creative space myself and working on music but a little Brent Fiyahs. Post Malone, 070 Shake and Big Sean.
What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Ah that’s a tough question. I feel like the best are yet to come, but I’d say working with some of my favorite artists like Wiley and JME, smoking weed with Cypress Hill and the tour I did in Australia and New Zealand were great highlights for me.
I’m a music journalist based in the U.K. with a love for bass music in many forms from drum & bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime. Always looking to check out new music as well as digging back for the classics and attending as many events as possible.