When I first saw ICIE perform it was alongside his younger brother Bless. They were in a group called Commission and they were headlining an urban Christian show in South London. I was there from the start of the show and generally, everyone that performed got a decent response and received generous applause.
When Commission stepped on the stage, there was a clear difference. I looked around and nearly the whole of the concert hall were reciting their lyrics word for word. The crowd were on their feet and it was clear that they were onto something special. What impressed me the most was their British uniqueness. They were clearly proud of where they came from. A lot of rappers at the time were influenced by America but not Commission. Their sound and their style was British through and through. With Icie, it was always clear to see that lyricism was a strong part of his skills set. His freestyles and poetry resonated with his fan base and cemented his as one of the most passionate rappers in Britain. I recently caught up with Icie to see what he’s been up to lately. I've been watching for a distance and I am extremely impressed with his consistent and passionate approach to his music. ICIE told me about what the Phoenix means to him, why he moved from rap to grime and back again, and how rappers can so easily be unoriginal by copying each other.
1. You recently released an EP called ‘The Phoenix’. It's a great body of work. Why did you choose that name?
Well...my favourite subject in school was history and I remember one of the topics was Greek Mythology - looking at the Phoenix which had to go through the fire to be reborn. A few years ago my whole album was lost and I had to start from scratch, and I was ready to quit music but I didn't. I felt like that was my own personal experience of going through the fire and coming out stronger… coming out reborn.
2. Your fans will notice that you seem to have changed from Grime to Rap and your music is a lot more personal and heartfelt. What inspired this?
Interestingly enough before Grime my first-hand experience of music was rap, then, moving into Grime was just another way to express myself. However, after awhile I found it difficult to say everything I wanted in a fast-paced 16 bar verse… I wanted to say so much more. I decided to go back to rap because it enabled me to breathe on a track and to cater to more topic matters. I've always tried to make my music heartfelt and personal because that's all I have ...my story...my testimony. People connect to music they can relate to, so when you keep it honest and real I feel people automatically connect with it because whether rich or poor we're all human, we all have the ability to feel.
3. Is there anyone that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Hmmmm...It's funny because I'm very selective when looking at who to work with, because I don't work with anyone unless the music requires it. If I listen to a beat and I feel it needs a singer I will hunt out a singer on soundcloud or twitter that best suits that tone and feel. If I feel the song needs another rapper onboard then it has to fit the composition of the song. So I don't collab for collab sake, and that's not to be diva-ish it’s just to preserve the art… to keep it as authentic and genuine as possible. That being said, there are a few artists that I would love to work with because I can envision the music being impactful, namely JoJoey, Temzi, Kwabs, Frank Ocean, Daley, Mali and Wretch 32.
4. You’ve been doing this for over a decade. That's a fairly long time. Is there any new talent that has impressed you. If so, who?
A decade lol… I'm always on the lookout for new talent because I like to AnR my own projects and find undiscovered vocalists and rappers, but in this climate of music it’s sometimes hard to be impressed because there is almost an over-saturation of music. However at the moment there's a few people that stand out to me in regards to their approach to music - namely three lyricists from the UK - JoJoey, Bonkaz and Cadet.
Bonkaz i've been able to have chats with just on a Twitter DM level and what I love is his approach to music which is to be comfortable in who you are and the music you make. He mentioned to me he loves all type of music and that it's important for an artist to not be afraid to stay true to who they are musically and as a person. To not feel pressured by society but to embrace your truth and share it with the world.
Cadet is a heartfelt, passionate spitter that i've seen to be consistent in his delivery. He is an amazing storyteller and puts his all into his bars. I watch or hear him and it inspires me to write more, it inspires me to delve deeper and bring music to the forefront from different angles for people to connect with.
JoJoey is a rapper on FIRE: this guy brings his testimony of faith in a fresh, raw way that I know can connect on a street level. His voice and clarity in delivery stood out to me just through a 15sec instagram post. I had to reach out to him immediately and see if we can get some work done.So watch this space!
5. If you weren’t a rapper, what would you be doing right now?You're quite stylish. Fashion maybe?
Boy!… I'd be working in advertising as a copywriter. Those are the people that work on text for advertising campaigns. That was my dream job before music came along.
6. You’re really vocal about your approach to music and you push boundaries and challenge thought patterns. Do you think you have a responsibility to do this?
Yes, I feel a responsibility to God and the gift within me. My purpose is to create heartfelt music and then provide avenues to share it. I am then responsible for how that is played out on a practical level, from my onstage performances to the branding and marketing. I have to provide excellence and diversity for God to work with.
7. You talk about what it means to be a man in your latest offerings. Do you think the role of the man is misconstrued and if so, what should the role of a man be?
To be honest I'm still a man becoming a man, and even that phrase in itself is riddled with ambiguity, because what is a man nowadays? How do we define such a final state. One thing I do know is that the perception of what a man 'should be' needs to be addressed because in this day and age the mans’ role is becoming less rigid and more fluid. You have single-parent fathers stepping in to fulfill both a mother and father role.You have males more in touch with their emotions and self-grooming. You have some unemployed men selling drugs to provide for their dependants. Each of these scenarios beckons the question: Is that a MAN? Manhood needs to truly be unpacked.
8. You’re married. How easy or hard is it to keep your wife happy and pursue your musical aspirations?
My wife is one of the BEST gifts ever given to me. God knew what type of woman I needed on this journey and Diana fits in perfectly. Diana doesn't ask for much - she is a content woman in our love for each other and so is very understanding when it comes to the music. If I havn't gone to the studio for weeks on end she'll enquire as to why; she attends every performance possible and is my NO.1 fan. I remember trying to get an SBTV F64 and she helped start a campaign - we printed flyers and everything. She makes this journey smooth, I just have to ensure I carve out quality time with her and remember i'm a husband before a lyricist.
9. After working so hard for so long, what keeps you going?
PURPOSE. In my teens I grew up in my home church Jesus House - based in Brent Cross, London. Our youth pastor - Pasto Bajo Akisanya - spent the better part of 3 years instilling into us a sense of purpose on this earth. He would force me and others to get up and sing or rap in the service, right there on the spot. It was cringe-worthy at the time, but made us confident in our talents and abilities.
I believe there is a purpose for us being here. Find what you're good at and let God use you. I have never ever let go of those words and those teachings, and they govern my life. I know I have been created to make music that connects and impacts people and until the day I die I will continue to do just that irrespective of the hurdles that come my way.
The Phoenix is out now via all digital outlets.
LISTEN TO THE PHOENIX HERE