It’s no secret that our UK MC’s and rappers are making some serious waves across the world right now, and London born and bred rapper Samson Smiles is keen to do the same. He talks to me about his musical journey, his new music and his unwavering determination to win.
Over our Skype chat, Samson and I discuss – ‘Rainy Dayz’ and ‘I Want to Win’ – two songs from his upcoming EP Young King.
“Rainy Dayz has a similar theme to 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”, Samson says. “It’s about going through a bad time in life or just a struggle. As long as you’re staying in tune with yourself, whatever you tell yourself will come true.”
The video doesn’t directly depict the song. Set in an abandoned building, Samson is led to a room where he is then surrounded by a circle of people. He explains the concept further.
“It’s set in my imagination,” he says. “The building represents a place everyone goes to when they’re going through a bad time. It’s a place they go to get away from something in their own head. It’s almost like an AA meeting. The bridge says, ‘These days are getting longer and I can’t see where we’re going to be but if we hold on, we’ll make it through’.
“Towards the end, people get happier,’ Samson continues, ‘at the end of the video, we’re running down the stairs back into the world. Then I open my eyes and I’m awake again."
Smiles followed on the positivity theme with ‘I Want to Win’. Admittedly, upon first hearing it sounds like just another “make money all day” song. But in true Samson Smiles fashion, it has a deeper meaning.
"I know that there are people who want to die because their life is so bad," Samson says. ‘The song is saying: “I just want to throw my money in the sky”. To throw your money in the sky means you have an abundance of it. The money represents success. It’s a representation of winning at something. The theme is aspirational. It’s about where you can be in life.
Since then, Samson has released more singles and done various performances – his most recent one for private gig circuit Sofar.
Knowing where he can be is something that has driven Samson to continually make music for years.
‘’I’ve always taken music seriously; when I was 14 I saw this advert on TV for a particular album. I thought, ‘Kanye? What kind of African name is this?’ No one’s going to buy that. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it.
“When I got to school, my friend pulled out the CD and told me I had to listen to it. I was really into Jay Z at the time and just wasn’t into it. I took it home anyway and listened it to in a few days. It changed my life. That was College Dropout.
“That album made me feel like I had a million pounds in the bank,” Samson remembers.
“Even though I only had it for a few days, I couldn’t go to school without playing it and I had to remind myself of the treasure it was. I was into poetry, but I thought I could never be a rapper because I don’t sell drugs, don’t use drugs and have never shot a gun. Listening to Kanye West showed me that there was a way I could do it without being those things. When I started rapping, grime was huge and everyone was mcing. I think my style is more classic hip- hop.
At university, Samson began to experiment with his sound and resources. One of his first CD’s For Lovers Only, taught him a thing or two about himself. "That CD I made at uni is weird because apart form one track called ‘Tears in Her Eyes’ it wasn’t my sound, I was merely experimenting."
Samson recorded the album with a producer who was just starting out, and using friends to model alongside him, shot the CD cover with a photography student who needed images for his portfolio. He went to photography shop Snappy Snaps and collected unused CD cases that were due to be thrown away, and using a friends roommates printer, printed the art onto the CD’s.
“The thing that was special about this album is that I used what was around me to bring the CD to life. From the photographer to the producers, I hardly spent a dime. I think I spent about £5,” he says.
Fast forward to today, a mixtape and a few songs later, Samson is now continuing to churn out songs from Young King.
”Young King is a term that me and my friends have been using for a while Instead of saying ‘nigger’,” he explains. “I find that when you say it to young black guys, it makes them feel a certain way.
I understand the whole debate of trying to put a positive spin on it on the word nigger. But I think people are numb and don’t realise that while you may have taken away the sting of the word, the origin of it is still present.
“We have to spruce it up and modernise it. Young King and Queen is the way to do it. It might not mean you have a lot of money but you’re a king in your own self and you make moves in order to become the king of your mind, soul and household.”
While Samson is pushing another term to use instead of ‘nigger’ it doesn’t mean that people of other races are excluded, he is clear that the use of Young King is for everybody.
“People will either use difference to embrace or hate, Young King is a colourless term. It’s for everybody.
"The songs on the EP vary, from life to love but still follow the same vein. My songs say I’m still a young normal guy, but I do feel like its time to make some changes,” Samson says. “I grew up on 2pac, Nas, Common and among the normal everyday of them acting their age at the time, they still had the underlying responsibility of making their society better with the platform that they had. “I feel that musically, the young people of this generation don’t care. Especially here in the UK, a lot of the music is about spending money and girls. Yeah, great! But I still feel like s**t when I go home, because they’ve not done anything for me. So I think this is the perfect time for Samson Smiles.”
Throughout the years, as Samson has been eagerly perfecting his craft, his experiences with creativity have evolved. “Now, I’m more confident and in my element," he says. "My previous mixtape allowed me to make mistakes. Back in the day it was all about getting signed, but these days, there’s tools to make a way for yourself. You can see the difference in my videos from the writing and the directing of the video, I see I can get paid for this.”
It’s evident to see that Samson’s sound, goals and vision for his career have been shaped and moulded by experimenting and learning to grasp the different sides of music. As he continues to reach for the top, he offers some advice to who are also on the journey.
“Don’t expect anything, create your own luck. You say you want to win, but are you doing what it takes? Are you putting yourself in the right position? There’s always a way to get something done but are you willing? Go and get it, life isn’t guaranteed.”
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