- Words Liam Cattermole
Nearly a decade on from Lord Apex’s original mixtape uploads to Soundcloud, we find him on the cusp of releasing his debut album, The Good Fight. Here, he speaks its organic journey, manifestation and why Madlib will always be the G.O.A.T.
“When I first said it, I was moving off blind faith, but I was still thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna happen’”, explains Lord Apex, spinning a lighter through his fingers. Cosied up in a Canada Goose puffer, the rapper is reflecting on conversations that he would have with friends in “the dojo”, his family home-cum-manifestation spot, where they began speaking their dreams into existence.
More specifically, he’s referring to his collaboration with iconic American producer Madlib, ‘The Good Fight’, and the title track of his debut album. Shimmering with soulful keys, hypnotic melodies and boom-bap minimalism, the track knocks its listeners into a haze while Lord Apex’s conscience glides wistfully over.
“It is the theme song; it tells you the vibe of the whole project. In the first bar, I say, “7:27, something don’t feel right”, because I was writing the song at 7:27am in the morning and had a weird feeling. Instead of sitting on that feeling, I thought I’d write it”.
A line that rings true in the sentiment of his manifestations is, “Made moves that they thought I would never”. Receiving an original Madlib beat shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially for a UK artist that’s still so often associated with London’s ‘underground’ rap scene. What’s undeniable, though, is AP’s ascent on a global scale, as fans flock towards his DIY mentality and ability to go against the grain of hip-hop classicism.
“He was the one who showed me that you can break all the rules and rap”, says Lord Apex, highlighting Madlib’s non-conforming ethos. What is it that makes the beatmaker, in his eyes, the greatest of all time, I ask? “His level of ‘I don’t give a fuck’”, he laughs, adjusting the position of his furry bucket hat. With their propensity for the weird and otherworldly, it’s of no surprise that AP is so enamoured by the Californian’s production and that Madlib himself rates the wordsmith’s charismatic flows.
After seven mixtapes since 2016, The Good Fight stands as Lord Apex’s first studio album. Truly announcing himself to the world, AP is under no illusion that the 13 tracks will solidify what’s to come. At times, we hear the garrulous ramblings of braggadocio on previous projects, but for the most part, he proves a versatility that hasn’t been flaunted so blatantly before. From the psychotropic synths of ‘Dial Tone’ to the murky melodies of ‘Love Drunk Interlude’, produced by LA’s very own Eyedress, the assorted beat selection is only matched by his prismatic pen game. He was also more scrupulous on this album, rewriting rhymes, agonising over verses and being hyper-analytical of the production.
“If I was a fan of myself, I feel like this is the album I would want”, Lord Apex says frankly, adding: “I tried to make a lot of the project from the perspective of the people that listen to me”. It’s a testament then to his fans that The Good Fight is so ambidextrous. On ‘In You Heart’, a collaboration with Greentea Peng and Earbuds, he flexes his balladry abilities, singing a psychedelic love song in harmony with the south Londoner. AP informs me that the link-up was as organic as could be. Birthed from a delirious recording session, having had no sleep, the rapper sat at a piano and laid down some chords that became the substratum of Earbuds’ prevailing production. Fleshed out later with live instruments, the experience gave Lord Apex confidence in his own beat-making capabilities, which he hopes to capitalise on in the future.
Elsewhere on the tracklist, elusive emo-rapper Bones features on the indelible trap cut ‘Smoker’s Lounge’ and breezy East Coast emcee Mavi lays an insouciant verse on ‘Back Outside’. More glaring though is a collaboration with Freddie Gibbs: the Indiana provocateur leading a gangsta rap renaissance in the US. Going toe-to-toe with another generational lyricist is something that Lord Apex brushes off with striking nonchalance. He would back himself against anyone. “You can hear it, Freddie didn’t slack on that verse. I’m not the sort of person you want to do that with anyway, otherwise it’s gonna be bad for you”.
Supporting Freddie last year on his European tour, AP speaks affectionately of their genuine friendship. This feature wasn’t a half-arsed thank you, but rather a humble homage to the impact Lord Apex is having on hip-hop here. Still, he remains grateful for the love and reminisces about the shows fondly. “I’m very respectful”, he states, looking away from his phone and out the window in search of words. “I understood what my lane was. At that time, I wasn’t as big as I am now. Performing, getting paid and then watching someone I grew up listening to, that was the real win”, he proclaims with a grin filling his cheeks. “Freddie’s mad cool. We were smoking, doing all this mad chill stuff”.
It dawns on me that we’re 20 minutes into the interview and that this is the first time Lord Apex has brought up smoking. Since he started rapping, the 27-year-old has worn his lifestyle firmly on his sleeve, resonating with stoners around the world. Seminal lo-fi rap hit ‘Spliff in the Morning’ romanticises the meticulous act of grinding, rolling and smoking a joint. The revered Smoke Sessions series, a trilogy of mixtapes that laces his high-grade rap around an eclectic range of beats, follows suit, luring us into the hempy universe that’s sedated fans for nearly a decade.
Lord Apex always knew that he wanted to be an artist with an extensive catalogue; he’s a fan of consistency and counts prolific mixtape rappers like Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and Curren$y as key inspirations. One of the reasons he’s been able to churn out projects so quickly is attending a studio out of the back of a local youth club when he was younger. With minutes to record your bars, you had to come prepared: a trait he carries to this day. But to really kick on, AP knew that he needed a crew of complementary individuals who share his ardent spirit.
This is where Elevation Meditation comes in; the collective formed of Lord Apex, Louis Culture, Finn Foxell, p-rallel, xav and other London-based artists following creative endeavours. Bubbling on SoundCloud, before leading a surge of experimental UK rap from their bedrooms, the crew have since dispersed into different scenes, but AP knows that their bond remains unbreakable. “When we come together, it’s dangerous”, he declares, alluding to the possibility of forthcoming music. “But have you seen how hard it is to get every member of Wu-Tang together? We’re so strong sound-wise, so if we ever do this project, it will be in-house producers only. With all our brands together, it’ll be fault-proof”.
Apart from Louis Culture, Elevation Meditation’s members are all from west London. Having grown up in White City, Lord Apex then moved out to east but has since returned to his beloved quadrant. During our conversation, AP is his most animated when talking about the area’s musical lineage and rich cultural history. “When I first started repping west, we were bottom of the food chain. I had to remind people that we’ve had legends here”.
“It’s a history thing for me, and if you know your shit, you’ll know there’s loads of history in Shephard’s Bush and White City. People are too focused on hip-hop; they don’t consider other scenes. West for me is the home of the alternative, and the people that are just gonna go fucking crazy”.
AP himself descends from music heredity. His dad used to rap over reggae, bashment and hip-hop and took his DJing as far as Japan and Detroit. A product of several artistically gifted family members, Lord Apex has managed to progress his career further than any of them. Born Shaeem Santino Wright, a recent conversation with his father revealed that his forename was inspired by Shyheim, one of the youngest rappers affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan. “Even though it’s new for us to be speaking again, he’s my guy. I look at him as my twin”, he says endearingly, harking back to conversations with his dad that invigorated The Good Fight.
One of the debut album’s sincerest moments comes on ‘MUUMA’, produced by DJ Khalil. Dismantling rap’s bravado and shedding all levels of vulnerability, the track touches upon Lord Apex’s relationship with his mother, “the most talented and amazing person on the planet”, he professes.
“‘Cuz lord knows when I was growing up the block was never sweet / I’d rather smoke and make a beat, you’ve always made me feel achieved / you always made me feel unique and always gave me space to breathe”.
Paying homage to Kanye West’s The College Dropout era both sonically and thematically, the cut acknowledges her importance to the Lord Apex story. It was also written in a moment of self-loathing, as he reflects on his absence from their relationship since dedicating himself to music. “This game comes with sacrifices and sometimes people don’t understand how serious they can be”, he claims earnestly; for the past two years, he’s missed his mother’s birthday because of a heavy touring schedule. “Sometimes I’ll be FaceTiming her on stage and making fans sing Happy Birthday, but that’s not what I want to be doing.” Still, his mum’s a fan of the song, and as he rightfully raps on the track, it’s her talent and faith that’s made him a star.
Nevertheless, Lord Apex will be hitting an extensive UK and European tour next spring. Kicking off in Amsterdam, before finishing at London’s KOKO on 4/20, the 25 dates sprawl 15 countries and will honour The Good Fight’s righteousness. Committing to staying fit and making a few lifestyle changes, self-improvement is a key theme this time out. “Man, I might not smoke until that date”, he lies, referencing the ritualistic day of weed-oriented celebration. However, AP does appreciate, that since this isn’t a Smoke Sessions tour, he can make it more salutary. He’ll be more hands-on with the merch too; carefully curating a range of garments that matches The Good Fight’s holistic energy while providing fans with something they’d truly want to wear.
Despite an impending masterpiece, co-signs from hip-hop’s greats and a fanbase riding with him through thick and thin, AP believes: “We’re nowhere near where we need to be”. Working with Earbuds and other producers across The Good Fight had an unequivocal effect on the rapper, who’s exploring the possibilities of producing more forthrightly.
Lord Apex’s aims are simple: continuing to mastermind the entire spectrum of his artistic output, while adding a few more strings to his bow. “The sky’s the limit and I’m still in the sky right now”, he affirms before returning to the meaning behind his debut album. “The Good Fight, for me, is about fighting for the good and positive in the world, but the meaning changes every time I think about it. I think I just want people to stand up for what they believe in”.
Lord Apex’s The Good Fight is out now.