As the late summer evening darkens overhead and we wait in a church garden in the centre of London, Kasien enters, a big grin on his face and a few outfit changes under his arm. His infectious energy is unquestionable and as he plays the camera it is easy to recognise the stage-diving, set killer I’d seen on video.
His latest EP ‘I Found Paradise In Hell’ is an energetic, performance-ready selection of hip-hop and trap beats paired with the skippy and effortless flow that Kasien (@kasienx) has displayed time and time again. Mission Statement caught up with the talented South London artist to ask him about lockdown, fashion, live shows and more.
Tell us your name, tell us what you do, tell us where you come from.
My name’s Kasien, I’m an artist originally from Nigeria and Jamaica, born and bred in South London.
Where abouts in South?
I grew up in Clapham Junction and Streatham – between the two – I was at my grandparent’s house for a long time then my mum got her own place in Streatham.
You’re proudly an independent artist. Why is that important to you and what has put you off joining a label?
I’m all about creative control and I love the fact that a lot of my friends are creatives as well… we can build together. Most labels put you towards the hottest thing, whether it’s the hottest producer, the hottest director, the hottest photographer, blah blah blah, and I’d rather build with my people and let them know that we’re putting out good art.
I’m keeping that creative control and building leverage so that when we do go to a major we’ll have creative control… because they’ve seen what we’ve done by ourselves.
So, you wouldn’t rule out signing to a label in the future?
Nah, not at all. When people sign too early they lose what it is that got them signed in the first place.
As we come into this ‘new normal’ how would you reflect on lockdown and can you give me one positive and one negative from the experience?
A positive was that I detoxed. I didn’t smoke any cigarettes, didn’t do any drugs, didn’t drink anything – only red wine actually – but I stopped drinking spirits. I worked out - which I hadn’t done in a long time - and started concentrating on myself, that self-love shit, so that was all positive.
A negative was not knowing what’s gonna happen. That fear of the unknown was something that really fucked with my head for the first month. When I shook that off, I embraced the positive side of things.
Following on from that, obviously lock down has brought an end to live performances and you were talking about the possibility of a headline show in 2020… how have you redirected that energy? Is there anything in the pipeline for when we can go ‘out’ again?
It’s super upsetting. We’d talked to a booking agent and the plan was to support an artist and build the hype in the UK and Europe and then end the year with a headline after the EP… which obviously can’t happen now.
All we can do now is keep building the catalogue. The thing about the best artists is that they can take you on a journey for hours and, before this EP, I didn’t even have enough music to take people on a journey for an hour.
I had 3 or 4 songs that people knew and the rest were ‘fillers’… so now, when things do come back, people will know more songs and more people can enjoy it.
As soon as they open this bitch back up, man’s there.
Talk to me about the live side of things, why is it so important to you to put on a good show?
I used to dance… that was my first experience of being on stage. I used to go youth centre when I got kicked out of school and they used to have a dance club there. When I was doing street dance and shit that’s when I found myself on stage, that was the place I felt most comfortable, I felt like I couldn’t be judged by anyone and I translated that same energy into performing live.
A lot of my favourite artists I’ve studied since I was a kid. My mum had Michael Jackson live tapes on VHS that I used to watch in the summer holidays and I watched Jay Z’s ‘Fade to Black’ as a kid which was crazy. I saw them create the song then skip to 6 months later and they’re performing at Madison Square Garden, I just couldn’t wait to have songs which I could perform.
Whether it was Ian Curtis or Liam Gallagher it was always about their persona on stage and giving feeling to their music and I couldn’t wait to take small things from them and make them my own.
Your fashion sense is somewhat different from your typical UK rapper, you seem to have shunned the black tracksuit in favour of a look more common in the American trap scene. Tell me about where your style comes from and what it means to you.
I wouldn’t say Americans are trying to be European but I remember back in the day when A$AP Nast used to be over here and wouldn’t wanna leave. Rocky and them would be over here and they got all their swag from us when it comes to the Air Maxes and that. Our swag now is Italian-road swag, we’re mixing Air Maxes with tailor fitted stuff and straight jeans.
When I first came back from Nigeria one of my boys took me to Selfridges and I swear to God before I went to Naija I’d never left South London, all I knew was JD Sports and Footlocker, all I knew was tracksuits and shit so when I started seeing stuff Pharrell was wearing in videos I was like, ‘What, I can actually buy this shit? This is available to buy?’ I just wanted to wear what my idols were wearing.
There was this blog called Upscale Hype back in the day that used to tell you what celebrities and certain people used to wear and I used to think, ‘What the fuck is Ambush, what the fuck is Saint Laurent, what the fuck is Rick Owens?’ I just wanted to dive into it more.
How did that relationship with the A$AP Mob start?
Me and my guy Kelvin Crash put out an EP called K2. A lot of our OGs are friends with Rocky and all those guys so whenever they were in town we’d just be in the room. Ferg was the first to really fuck with Crash so then Rocky heard him. As we were making ‘K2’ Rocky called Crash saying to come to New York. Then when I got booked for South by South West we flew to New York on our way back and ended up just being with them man. While they were making ‘Testing’ we were doing ‘K2’ and whenever they finished recording they would just give us the studio and tell us to do whatever we wanted. Ever since then they’ve shown love.
You mentioned the three years you spent in Nigeria, how did that change you, both musically and more broadly as a person?
I went there in a transitional period for music in for Africa on the whole. When I went to Nigeria, being an African kid was laughed at in London. I’m half Jamaican, half Nigerian and the Jamaicans were always seen as being cool and Africans were seen differently so it was weird for me. I went at a time when Afro Beats was just coming up and by the time I came back to England for A-Levels D’Banj had just gone number 1 with Oliver Twist. That was the first popular Afro Beats song that I remember and he was a big artist in Nigeria so seeing that success definitely influenced me to tap into my Nigerian heritage.
As a person, I was losing myself over here, I got kicked out of multiple schools, that’s why my mum took me back. A lot of my family are on road, I’m the only one that hasn’t dabbled in that road shit and if I didn’t go to Nigeria, I don’t know…
It made me humble and more appreciative for what I’ve got. You see people out there that are in the gutter next to people driving a Range and that shit will make you think about life. When I came back I wasn’t such a wild child who didn’t give a fuck about anything. I still don’t give a fuck, I just do it in the right way.
You were on The Streets latest album ‘None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive’ with Mike Skinner, how did you end up working together?
He had heard 6FT Under – I don’t know how – and I was at a party he was at and he came up to me and said, “I fucking love your song, bro”, it was 2am, we were all fucked up and I thought, ‘This is Mike Skinner, he’s probably thinking of someone else’, so I just went along with it because I was happy he was even acknowledging me, you know.
So, I went home thinking that he definitely had the wrong person but the next day he followed me and DM’d me saying that he loves my song and he plays it all the time. Fast forward, he was like, ‘You should come studio and we should work’, then he sent me loads of Soundcloud songs which were songs from the album without the feature on them. One of the beats was Eskimo Ice and it just reminded me of being younger because my mum is a massive Streets fan, it sounded like old grimey, garage-y vibes so I said, ‘Let’s do this one’. I went to the studio - to Church Studio - we made the song and 95% of the time I thought I was dreaming.
I love that guy man. Then when I was supporting Slowthai and Mike Skinner was DJ’ing that’s when he whispered in my ear that I’d made the album.
Having just dropped the incredible ‘I Found Paradise in Hell’ just a few weeks back, you’ve definitely earnt yourself a break but you were saying you’re back in the studio tonight. What can we expect from Kasien in the near future?
The one thing I feel was my issue before was hesitation. I felt like everything needed to be absolutely perfect: mixing, visuals, everything. And that sort of attitude made me unsure about myself. As I’ve got older I’ve realised it’s all about growth, I want to grow and I want people to grow with me and be like ‘I remember when he was making that and now he’s making this’ or ‘I saw the artist he was before’.
People can expect more heat, I’m not gonna stop dropping.
What’s a better invention - the mobile phone or the aeroplane? Aeroplane.
Favourite takeaway? Jamaican. Rice and peas, lamb patty, sometimes dumplings.
Dream car? Ferrari Testarossa in cocaine white with a deep green leather interior.
Beer, wine, water or weed? Right now? Red wine. Pre-lockdown definitely a beer ting.
What’s one country you’d like to visit that you haven’t yet? What’s stopping you? Brazil or the Dominican Republic, Corona’s stopping me.
Piercings or tattoos? Tattoos, haven’t got any I’m proud of yet though. I feel like I know what I want now, I’m gonna get a Phoenix on the back of my head.
If you could choose what you’re remembered for when you die, what would it be? Being good company.
Biggest spend? Rick Owens jacket, £2,500.
Go-to news source? Twitter.
Favourite clothing brand? Nike. I’ve worn it all my life.
Favourite shoe? Air Force 1. Black or white. I used to have 30 pairs of rare Air Forces before my Grandma chucked them away.
What artist/genre would you be most surprised that you listen to? I love pop music. I like Dominic Fike he’s fire.
What do you see for your retirement? Bare kids, bare money, definitely not in the UK. In the islands or in Nigeria.
If you could have a chef, a driver or a cleaner (who does your laundry) – which would you have? Why? Chef definitely. I need to wake up with options. Need to know he/she knows exactly what I like and my favourite shit is just gonna be rotated.
‘I Found Paradise In Hell’ is available to stream on all music platforms now.
Words and Interview by: Finlay Gibson
Images by: Lukey @lukeyinit
Hair by: Shanice Noel @shanicenoelhair
Produced by: Jack Siggs @jacksiggs / MSM