I came across Chris ‘Mr Ekow’ Gaisie a couple of years ago. Hip hop has changed a lot in the last 15 years and the boom bap sound of the 90s that defined the genre has evolved and mutated in all sorts of directions. From a first listen to tracks like ‘When Space Stares Back’ or ‘Lift Off’ it is clear that Mr Ekow is part of this evolution. It’s refreshing to hear MCs who aren’t clinging on to the tropes of yesteryear, and with the release of his new EP ‘Between Haircuts’, we thought we’d catch up with the man himself.
So, introduce yourself, my good sir!
I’m Mr Ekow, a 25 year old rapper from Croydon who stands by the opinion that The Last Action Hero is a great film that was too ahead of its time – people weren’t ready for the satire!
Your style clearly shows a love for hiphop generally, but draws quite noticeably from some more recent developments in the genre.
Thanks, I’m glad that comes across. I’ve got a love for that 90s golden age of hip hop sound, but I think we’re in another one now!
The great stuff might not be all over the radio but there are so many incredible artists making dope and innovative hip hop around the globe – you just have to look a bit harder.
Who are your main influences and why? (One MC, one beatmaker, one album)
I’ll say Andre 3000 (Outkast) is a big one for me. On a purely technical level, I’ve always loved how he puts his rhymes together- his flow, his delivery and his wordplay. On top of that, his versatility and inclination to go completely left and try something different is inspiring.
Beatmaker is a tough one, but I’ll go for Flying Lotus. I was put on to him quite late in 2012, but it was like opening up a new world to my ears! Clearly inspired himself by the soulful swing of legends like Dilla and Madlib, but then completely owns his style as he injects his own insane electronic, nu jazz vibe.
As for album, I’ll go for Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner. It’s easily one of the most personally influential albums of my early teens. Not only is it sonically a beast, but it’s full of incredible, honest songwriting that’s stayed with me to this day. Mad to think he was only 18 when he released it and for me, it’s yet to be topped in the grime genre.
Although you are essentially a solo artist, your work is very collaborative, working with different beat makers, singers and rappers? What have you learnt about collaboration so far, and how do you choose who to work with?
I love collaboration! I think the whole focus on the ‘auteur’ does a bit of a disservice to the creative process – very rarely is it just one person doing everything. Most of my collaborations have just been through natural friendships and people who I personally admire artistically. Every now and then I’ll reach out to someone outside of my immediate network, just because I think what they do creatively is dope.
From collaborating, I’ve learnt that when you’re working with other people you have to develop a trust that allows them to truly add to the overall creative perspective. That looks different case-to-case and there are times where I’m more prescriptive in what I’m looking for or times I may have a creative disagreement, but it’s important that everyone feels at ease enough to have those conversations.
Your new EP, Between Haircuts is out now. What’s the thought behind that title? What themes do you address on the project?
In a broad sense it’s about dealing with the weird transitional periods of life. Especially as a Christian you get introduced to Jesus and the hope of heaven…. but then you still have to deal with a lot of not-so-great stuff in-between. I just wanted to do something real.
In society, especially in the Instagram age, we’re constantly trying to show our best side. Even in church, we’re super quick to dance around our problems with small chat and the usual “I’m blessed” rhetoric. I wanted to do away with the pretence and try to tackle some difficult subjects that I think a lot of people relate to.
The EP covers existential doubts around purpose, dealing with lust, escapism, losing faith and coming to terms with brokenness. I hope listeners are encouraged to face their issues and know that whatever stage they’re at in their journey, it is a journey, and you’ve got to keep going.
When do we get another Mr Ekow LP and what other plans do you have for the future?
Hopefully a 2018 LP release is doable, but in the meantime I plan to keep gigging. I usually play in an acoustic trio setup, which has worked really well. However the EP launch was the first time I had my own full band and I’d love to do more of that!
I may potentially look into running my own regular nights in Croydon too as the EP launch was a lot of fun– I got a ton of visual artists to exhibit their work that linked to the theme, as well as holding an open mic and support from local artist Ruth-Ellen. It was a really good vibe and I think Croydon is (finally) becoming quite the hotspot for arts scene.