In the most recent edition of Cultivation Interviews we spoke to the extremely talented, Camden based MC and writer, Awate.
We discuss everything with Awate – from his musical inspirations, touring worldwide with Lowkey, growing up on “the most violent council estate in Camden”, being wrongfully arrested by the police and his thoughts on ‘new age’ rap.
Awate, now firmly a Cultivation favourite, has recently released ‘Happiness’ – his debut LP and has put out music consistently for a number of years now. The MOBO supported rapper is known for his electric live performances, well-thought out music videos and his elite levels of lyrical ability.
In the past year, he has featured on Spotify’s ‘Alternative Hip-Hop playlist’, been interviewed on 1xtra and has been longlisted for the ‘Unsigned music awards 2018’.
For those who don’t know yet – who is AWATE and how would you describe your music?
AWATE is me. I was born in Saudi Arabia on the day the 30 year war ended in my country, Eritrea and grew up in the most violent council estate in Camden. My music is super melodic and funky and is about triumphs over adversity.
You’ve recently released your debut LP ‘Happiness’ , are there any messages you wish to get across with this release, what was your creative target?
My aims since starting music in 2003 have always been to drop a classic album. Something that would be a significant to the genre and culture in it’s quality and timelessness.
When I finally got to linking with Turkish who produced the entire album, I was fighting for my freedom and mental health due to the racist police and courts. Because of that, I was making music for the same reasons why I started them, as the only creative release I had from being the target of state violence, it just happened it wasn’t racist teachers now, it was the feds.
“My aims since starting music in 2003 have always been to drop a classic album. Something that would be a significant to the genre and culture in it’s quality and timelessness.”
Tell us about making your name at the iconic Deal Real – how has this influenced your music today?
Ah deal real was the spot! When my mentor, Stylah, told me about it and took me, I was in awe. It was a hip-hop shop off Carnaby Street in the middle of London that would have an open mic every Friday night.
I first went in 2006 when Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang was hitting the open mic to promote his show the next day. Picture 100 people in a shop that fit 30 people with another hundred outside trying to see and hear what was going on through the window. The whole scene was there on a weekly basis and I had to rap my way from the outside to being on the mic a couple months later when Doc Brown passed me the mic at 15 years of age.
“Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang was hitting the open mic to promote his show the next day”
How has growing up in Camden developed/influenced your music?
I grew up in a borough known for art and music scenes, drugs and mental illness. The one place in London where people dress like it’s Halloween every day. For my creativity it meant that there was an abundance of influences and a unique angle that I could take, coming from Camden and not having a rapper properly represent the area before.
“The one place in London where people dress like it’s Halloween every day”
I was fortunate because the era that I started making music was the golden age for public spending and arts/youth funding. Camden Council and charities were paying for anyone who wanted it to go to music studios and train or were allowing estate youth centres to build their own. That’s mostly gone now.
You’ve toured worldwide with Lowkey, how has this developed your own sound?
Being with him to see the development of his audience, from us doing random club gigs for fifty people at times, to him selling out The Coronet or The Garage for three nights on a tour has made me believe that attaining recognition by cultivating your own fanbase is possible.
He was literally my favorite rapper in the world when I met him in ’06 outside Deal Real and it’s been his humbleness and independent mindstate that I’ve admired over the years.
If you could collaborate with any artist, past or present, who would it be and why?
Probably Dr. Dre. I’ve tried to perfect my craft to the level that hopefully if we were in the studio, he wouldn’t have to shout at me to rewrite or re record my verse a hundred times but if he did it would be just as special! His ear in terms of mixing is next level.
“he wouldn’t have to shout at me to rewrite or re record my verse a hundred times but if he did it would be just as special!”
In one of your videos – ‘Out Here’ – you are being filmed as you are arrested, how did this occur and was this the reason for the song?
The occurred because some fascists and neo-Nazis came to northwest London and instead of doing literally anything about their Nazi salutes, monkey mimes or deeply offensive chants, the racist Metropolitan Police saw fit to arrest only me on that day, for opposing their hatred.
It wasn’t the direct reason for the song, I would say the triumph over the police on appeal after I was actually convicted of that shit was the inspiration for the chorus.
We’ve also read how you’ve had four court cases with the police and have won them all – why did this occur?
It was just a two year campaign of unlawful harassment from the feds and CPS. Three of the arrests involved six or more officers violently attacking and detaining me, punching me in the face in the van while I was handcuffed behind my back and then lying in court to make me out to be some kind of Bruce Willis figure.
“Three of the arrests involved six or more officers violently attacking and detaining me, punching me in the face in the van while I was handcuffed behind my back”
If you want to know anything about the police worldwide, just know that when they have nothing on you, especially after calling half the station out to arrest you, they’ll charge you with assault PC which is the most bullshit charge they can try to pin on you. One of the reasons why I beat them four times after each of the incidents!
You yourself are an extremely talented rapper lyrically – what are your thoughts on the recent criticisms surrounding the recent rise of some more controversial sub-genres within rap such as Drill in the UK or the rise of artists such as Lil Yachty (for example) in the US?
They’re abysmal at rapping but make music that people like. It’s the responsibility of rappers who don’t like it to get better, understand why it’s working and emulate their success without emulating their sound.
You have in the past written for the Guardian, how did this occur? Why did you want to do this?
I’m a proper rapper, that makes me a talented writer in any form. I don’t make music that’s overtly political and the best way to express a point may be in the form of an editorial, joke, film or rap. Also, my mum always wanted me to write for the Guardian.
“I’m a proper rapper, that makes me a talented writer in any form.”
In one of your articles you discuss the police controversially blocking gigs – tell us why you wanted to speak out against this.
Because there are such few places for young people to learn their crafts or for a vibrant culture to be cultivated due to these structural decisions. A third of the venues in London have disappeared in the last decade due to gentrification, property developers and the police and right wing media actively targeting black and other working class subcultures.
What’s next for you? Any new music/shows/videos coming soon?
Building on Happiness with more music not too far in the future, a couple more videos from it first. Have some exciting surprises.
I’m going on my own tour in May, hitting Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow from 23-26 May so if you’re in those places and are up for having a great night, come down!
By Greg Kennedy
Many thanks to Awate for chatting to us.
Buy tickets for his tour and see recent releases in the links above.
Check out his socials here: