The longtime Londoner, a pure performer and purveyor of vibes, has been dreaming of the flashing lights of the strobe variety since his earliest days bouncing between Chakka Khan CD’s from his mums collection and the heartbreaking 808’s of old Kanye. Len’s astute awareness that a bad crowd is just a welcome challenge to connect has made him one of the most exciting up-and-coming live shows on the circuit, building worlds for his audience to explore and dissolve into that don’t dwindle with a shift in tempo but rather develop and unfold like a living novel.
Lens leaped to national notability in late 2019 when his album Miles Away From Mars caught the attention of countless culture shifting creatives within the UK scene, Fellow maestros of the microphone like MasterPeace, Ragz Originale, ayrtn & Oscar Worldpeace have all at one point or another rallied tor ratify Len as the next locksmith with the keys to the industry. Over the last two years Len has formed the foundations of a legacy as tracks like ‘Kylie Minogue’, ‘Devotion’ and ‘Brand New Bih’ have found fandom abroad and at home, landing him how own headline shows and tour spots with Sam Wise.
We caught up with Len to find out how his winding road to rap relevancy has taken him from Dead Ends to finding Solace, breaking down his musical influences, favourite creatives of the moment and his preference for Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood in the process.
What was on the CD shelf growing up & where did you hear the most music? Was it in the car going to school, at an uncle’s house, at the playground at school, or somewhere else?
I first started to listen to R&B at my mum’s house, she had a whole folder of classic R&B CDs. It was a lot of Luther Vandross, Chakka Khan, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, so my first entry to music was definitely through mum’s R&B collection. I started finding my music from 2008 onwards once I discovered Kanye West, up until that point I had only really been shown Dancehall, R&B and Gangster Rap so to see him somehow come up, particularly around the time of 808 & Heartbreaks, that was so versatile and could create something so left-field in a time where everyone is trying to create this “real hip-hop” way of thinking was super intriguing.
When you were dreaming of being a musician, were you dreaming about being out on stage or being in a proper professional studio? Cuz you know how they say there are recording artists and there are performing artists and it’s rare to find someone who can do both, I feel like you’re an artist that likes both but lives to be out on stage. Which of those aspects of artistry has come most naturally to you?
I feel like performing on stage is definitely what I care about the most, it’s my favourite thing about making music. It’s the best chance I have to connect with my crowd and build my own world for that time, having that chance is what means the most to me. When I was little I was always thinking of the flashing lights, not in the paparazzi sense, but being in a dark room and having a million lights focused on me.
Being on stage is something that came naturally but not to the extent that I have it now. Being on stage in the early stages felt like I had to do a lot more to get the atmosphere that I wanted. Everyone always thinks that to be good on stage all you have to do is scream and jump around, even I thought that for a while until I deeped that it’s up to me to make the room feel how I want it to feel. When I was starting, I would have a lot of good shows but then some I would be like “this crowd is wack”, until I realised that a crowd can only be wack because you’re not connecting with them.
That’s not to say that every bad crowd is the artist’s fault but there is always more that you can do as the one on stage to connect with your audience. I started watching a lot of Freddie Mercury’s shows and seeing how he controlled the crowd and noticed that you can’t just run through songs, you have to build and breathe to allow sections to develop in your set. After noticing that I dialed up my performance ability to a point where other artists will ask me to be a hype man for their set.
We all know there’s no one recipe for recording a record, inspiration can come from anywhere, but what’s the weirdest way/place/time that an idea for a record has come to you?
That’s tricky because I tend to draw inspiration from a lot of different sources like my surroundings, clothes or movies. Yesterday me & my producer Felix were at the Sony studios in Kings Cross having a smoke outside and used that setting for a lyric. However my easiest inspiration point is usually what I’m wearing, I try to get that description in a tune as early as possible. When I made the ‘Deceptikon’ track I was binge-watching Transformers movies till I came up with the “evil whip – Deceptikon” line. I’m someone who is very invested in pop culture and tapped into trends so things can kind of come from anywhere.
When it comes to working with producers, do you prefer to work with the same guy to build that chemistry or do you like new ideas and new thoughts?
I like to build relationships and make sure that nothing is a fluke. I’ve had it a million times where a producer will send me one beat that I’ll think it’s the craziest thing ever but then everything after will fall flat. However, when that rare guy comes along with consistent heat then of course I’m going to keep him around. I don’t cut producers off by any means but there are a few guys that I will work with a lot more than others.
New producers are always welcome too because at the end of the day there’s only so much one guy can do. Another element is that a lot of producers have a million ideas but those ideas are all tailored to the version of Len that they know already. If I’ve dropped three tracks in four months then a lot of people reach out with thousands of options just for that era of Len, they’re so used to one sound from me that when I’m looking to change sounds it can be hard to find someone who gets it – that’s where new producers come in.
Your record ‘Solace’ is not like anything we’ve heard from you production-wise before. It’s amazing to hear your voice on that Liquid rolling DnB style of beat. Where did this one come from? Have you been listening to a lot of DnB? Were you filling a vibe for a live show that you didn’t think you had?
It’s so funny because DnB is something that only came onto the horizon for me last year. When PinkPanthress popped off I instantly took notice and was saying to everyone “wooow are you hearing this, this is crazy! I had no concept of how long DnB had been going or the subculture behind it. However, once it was on my radar I started digging into it and learning a lot more about it. I was listening to a lot of Aphex Twin around that time too and that’s what led me to produce the beat for Solace alongside a producer called Bloco Beats. I made another track last year when I was in a toxic situation where the love was real but the way we went about it was all wrong from both sides, so I tried to channel all of that into Solace. This sound is something I want to continue experimenting with. When I play around with a new sound, rarely, I’ll just do the one track.
Your live shows are like a different world you get to enter and I’m sure that’s something you’re very intentional about creating. How does that transition when it comes to building an album, are you headed in with a specific idea or sound to thread through the whole album?
I never want a project to feel like it’s all one sound, it’s important to me that an album feels like a journey. You’re not going down a straight road when you’re listening to an album like Dead End, there is still a clear direction where you’re going but there are twists and turns on your path to get there. I can’t make a tape just to give people new songs. It has to be that I’m giving you a new journey to go on or a new world to explore.
You don’t seem to be one of these artists that milks feature verses. Your album Days Before Interstellar only had one feature on it. What’s your mindset when it comes to letting other artists in on your creations? Does it have to be a very specific person or setting?
I only get features if I know you’re the person for this certain record. Collaboration can only make sense if it makes sense on the track, I can’t just throw everyone I know in the music industry onto a project. I do have a lot of tracks recorded and stored away with other people but it’s about the timing and when it conceptually fits with whatever I’m looking to put out.
As a big Anime & Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood fan, I have to ask why you think Brotherhood is better than the original Fullmetal Alchemist? Does stringency to the source material ultimately make it a better experience?
I think Brotherhood is much more seasoned, I don’t like Animes that are trying to explain every little detail of a situation and I feel Brotherhood just makes way more sense. It’s fast-paced, the action is better and there’s no time wasted on things outside the main storyline. The story runs a lot smoother, plus in my opinion, the animation is stronger in Brotherhood, it’s so raw.
What have you been rocking over the festive season? Who’s been at the top of your playlist?
When you look back on Miles Away From Mars three years after its release do you have a ‘proudest track’ from the album today?
I think ‘Turned Out Okay’, it’s a track that everyone comes to me to chat about when they dive deep into my discography. I think it aged well, particularly the subject manner. Listening to my old stuff kind of cringes me out but my girl loves a lot of the old tunes so when we are driving she likes to play some.
Who are 3 creatives of any discipline your loving atm?I’m loving Fimiguerrero’s music. On a Djing thing, probably Genius, she’s a superstar man. Then lastly I’ll go with my friend DW who is an incredible artist whose paintings just capture messages on another level and it’s crazy to see someone who truly has their own style.
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