It is essential to occupy your own lane in music now more than ever, particularly if your goal is to stand out from the crowd. That’s certainly the case in the UK, where an artist can easily get lost in the rather saturated scene of UK rap. Which is why Curtis J’s endeavours strike a cord as an artist to keep an eye on.
The South Londoner’s blend of Afrobeats and hip hop is reeling listeners in, notably off the back of recent singles “Check Your Balance” and “The Man”. And though Curtis J has been on the grind for a while, his renewed output is gradually increasing, now gearing up for the drop of his latest offering, “Sweeter Love”.
To discuss the single and journey so far, Curtis J joins Mic Cheque for a conversation in the latest edition of The Spot Cheque.
How was it like growing up in South London?
Curtis: I was around a lot of different cultures. I remember growing up in primary school was me getting used to a new environment because I came from Nigeria. Around them times, everybody was scared of having children growing up in South-East. But it doesn’t matter about the area, it’s about you as a person.
Who were you listening to growing up?
Curtis: I’m a Peckham boy, so I was listening to Giggs and SN1. Moelogo, Naira Marley, Sneakbo. Pretty much anything from my area.
What do you feel like represents South London?
Curtis: All the youth know each other. Growing up in South London I knew that I’m guaranteed to see someone I know. We’re a small world but a huge community.
So what actually got you pursuing music?
Curtis: I’ve actually been doing music all my life. My family told me I could sing, but knowing me I didn’t want to go on X-Factor. I saw my cousin Kazeem [of Rough Copy] go on X-Factor, so that encouraged me to do this. Then my first time ever recording was in sixth form, where there was a studio. My first song wasn’t the best, but I started picking it up from there.
Knowing how much the London scene is dominated by rap, what made you want to pursue Afrobeats?
Curtis: I like to embrace my culture. There’s a lot of us that try act up because we’re in England, but embrace where you’re from. That’s what I’ve always adopted.
How do you try fuse Nigerian culture with London culture in your music?
Curtis: I merge Yoruba and English dialects and mix it all together. But I’m also trying to reach out to the whole of Africa and go globally and reach out to my entire fanbase.
How was the process of getting signed like?
Curtis: Big up Tiffany Calver. As soon as I dropped the preview for “Check Your Balance” my Twitter went crazy. I got offered deals from so many labels that it was hard for me to pick. Essentially I’m signed to Polydor but I’m also signed to No Request, which is Tiffany Calver’s label. I just went with my guts and felt like Tiffany wanted the best for me.
You seem to put a lot of focus on your music videos, such as “The Man” and “Check Your Balance”, why is that?
Curtis: With songs, people can have an image in their head. But when you have a video to match the song and the energy it just makes everything ten times better. In “The Man”, I’m playing two parts; a gangster Curtis and the General Curtis. Both are known as ‘the man’ in their sort of aspects – but who is the bigger man? It allows me to show different sides to me.
How would you describe your new single “Sweeter Love” and the creation behind it?
Curtis: That song was made from a 12-hour all-nighter session. I slept after doing two songs. I then wake up to a finished beat [by my producer, OluwaJBeats] and jumped on it. What got me into thinking of “Sweeter Love” was the saxophone. I recorded it and it was a vibe.
It feels like a summer anthem. Is that deliberate?
Curtis: “Sweeter Love” was definitely deliberate. This is marriage season where everyone’s finding young love. I don’t feel like people have made a song like it because it shows a lot of my culture, especially from the beat being different, which captured my ears.
What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration?
Curtis: I feel like what happens during my day to day inspire me. I made a song talking about private property after reading something. From that I can spark anything in my head.
What characterises your writing and recording process in the studio?
Curtis: What a lot of producers tend to be surprised about me is two things: I don’t write, and when I’m in the studio I like to hear the music from the speakers, rather than headphones. Everything’s just from the top of my head.
Do you have your head set on making full-length projects?
Curtis: I got a lot of singles, but I do feel like I’m a projects artist. I would like people to understand my music through my projects more.
In arguably a very saturated scene, in what ways do you think you can stand out?
Curtis: I’ve made a lot of songs, and I know my sound has changed from “Check Your Balance” a lot. I’m very picky with the songs that I like. There might be songs that you guys might really like but I know won’t go to the masses. I got a lot of fire coming.
Watch the music video to Curtis J’s “Sweeter Love” below.