Meet West London artist and producer Xadi. You may have heard his newly released single - ‘Off the gas’ - notably his favourite song to date. Having just turned 24, Xadi has got plenty left in the tank, and it’s clear his heavy work-rate is nothing new…
When teachers suggested he lower his academic expectations, Xadi responded with years of hard work, resulting in him attending Cambridge University. He then balanced a physics degree with his involvement in ‘Footlights’ – the legendary Cambridge comedy troupe where the likes of David Mitchell, Richard Ayoade and Simon Bird cut their teeth.
Now, a few years after graduating, his tenacity and drive are firmly aimed towards achieving success in the music industry, with powerful lyrics and experimental production growing his audience at a healthy pace.
From the start of our conversation to the end, he revealed himself as a man with equal measures of moral awareness and dogged determination. His calm, considerate disposition lends itself to the introspective lyricism he’s known for, but his experiences and the experiences of his friends add a necessary sting to his rhymes: talking on blackness, mental health and the turbulence that comes hand-in-hand with city-life.
Whether he really does have his shit together or he’s just an excellent actor, I left the call looking forward to watching his journey unfold…
JS: JACK SIGGS
JS: What was your childhood like?
XA: “I've got three half-brothers, but I've kind of been raised as an only child. In the younger years it was your normal school life. But secondary school there were a couple of guys who I became incredibly close with… a lot of people from similar backgrounds to me as well, like single parent families. It became a type of family in itself. I see my culture as being this pocket of London I’m in where it's really family orientated. I think people find it unusual that every day we’re chilling together. My life’s focused around those friendships.”
JA: You’re quite reflective in your lyrics. When did you realise that was important to you?
XA: “I’m not a particularly open person, and I never paid much attention to being so. It’s really important to talk about mental health but there’s definitely a stigma associated with men… black men… talking about those things. But that stigma’s still in my own mind so even after I talk about it, I’m like ‘fuck’…
JS: You went to Cambridge Uni right? What did you study there and how do you think that level of education has influenced you?
XA: “I studied physics. That whole story was really mad because when I was at school I really wasn’t academically inclined… I wasn’t in top sets or anything. When I got to sixth form I was alright at science and thought I could do medicine. I had teachers say I should aim a bit lower. It was a normal state school, and we were just roaming the streets a lot as kids. So from sixteen to eighteen I studied relentlessly just to prove a point. I can’t be told that I can’t do something,
my whole life plan got diverted by trying to prove these people wrong.
Anyway, I did it and ended up going to Cambridge. I learnt how much I can do in a day… and I definitely transfer that to music. And I met so many people who just knew how to work hard. “
JS: Would you ever move abroad? If so where would you go?
XA: “Definitely. I have this discussion with mates sometimes… ‘if you could have three houses where money was no object, where would they be?
I would have one of them in Senegal which is where my dad and that whole side of my family is from. It’s a beautiful country and a different culture so I feel like being there's such a cleansing vibe. But the other place that's got a massive place in my heart is the Highlands of Scotland. If I was caked, I would build a studio looking out at the ocean up there”
JS: What music were you listening to back then?
XA: “It was quite varied to be honest. In my early teens it was indie rock music and hip-hop. A lot of Kanye but also Muse, Kings of Leon and stuff like that.
And I was definitely influenced by SBTV…Ghetts and stuff like that. But I was more a fan of everything that went with it than having always listened to that music.”
JS: What about your own sound… who influences you?
XA: “Super varied. In terms of my production… Kanye West. I see what he’s done over the years as so creatively interesting. I’ve been infatuated by those soul samples. Then lyrically, the rappers I’ve connected with are those who can grip you… Bugzy Malone, Dave… people who can grip you with a story.”
JS: Walk me through the music video situation ? What’s the creative process?
XA: “Yeah that’s another thing… I did some acting at Uni and I was on the committee of the Footlights. I’d never really been to see comedy but then someone took me to a show and I was like ‘I think I can do that’. Historically it’s been quite bad for diversity, but I think they’re open to change.
That’s how I met Patrick, who directed the video for ‘It’s Alright’. I hit him up and was like ‘I’ve got this track… would you be on making a video for it?’ We had a similar vision for the aesthetic, and he ended up getting a DOP on board and built the team. Everyone was so together and willing to contribute.
I would love to do a video for Off the gas. I don’t have a concrete idea for it but it’s night-time to me. The colour of the cover art is exactly how it made me feel before I knew that was gonna be the cover art. I think a video would be purpley and dark. Night-time shit.”
JS: I want to talk about your experience of lockdown and the Black Lives Matter resurgence. A lot of people seem to have found it both overwhelming and cathartic.
XA: “Initially I was kind of loving lockdown. I was chilling with my mum and girlfriend. It was just a nice dynamic and I didn’t feel guilty that I wasn’t downstairs because they had their own thing going on so I could just make music.
The discussion about race that came up… it spun me. I haven’t been spun in that way, about anything, in so long. I’m just used to seeing it, and I’ve kind of just accepted that that’s how life is. I’ve been stopped by the police so frequently and we know that if we’re driving around with white mates, we’re less likely to get stopped. It’s not normal, and we’ve all just accepted it as normal. I was really emotionally overwhelmed; in a way I don’t think I ever have been before. But as I started to get past that overwhelming feeling, I feel like I’m more in touch with my emotions. I’m allowing myself to be emotionally touched by stuff in a way I haven’t before.
With my other mates who are black and mixed race, I feel like we’ve had a lot of conversations which were way overdue.”
JS: Talk me through your writing and production process.
XA: “l always put the beats first. The writing process is so beat dependent. I don’t know what influences it, I just start writing, with a pen and pad. Because it means I can’t go backward without leaving a mark… I’m much more careful about what I write down.”
What’s a better invention - the mobile phone or the aeroplane?
Indian. Lamb vindaloo, pilau rice, bare poppadoms
Lamborghini Aventador. So tacky but I love it
Beer, wine, water or weed?
Music, TV/films or theatre?
Comedy or Drama?
What’s one country you’d like to visit that you haven’t yet? What’s stopping you? Iceland. I think it looks beautiful, it’s just really really expensive.
Piercings or tattoos?
I don’t have either and I don’t think I’d get either.
If you could choose what you’re remembered for when you die, what would it be? Lifting as I climb
I’m regularly buying shoes that I shouldn’t be buying. And studio equipment
I want everything. I’d love to get to a point where I’m a household name
Go-to news source?
I’m not in touch with the news. I find out most things through social media and if I need to double check I’ll go on BBC news
Favourite clothing brand?
Air Force 1. White.
Favourite artist outside your genre?
What artist/genre would people be most surprised that you listen to?
Dream job when you were 10?
Surfer. I’m not very good but I like the idea of that being my job
Words/interview: Jack Siggs
Images: Alice Drake