Words and photography by Siân Irvine
This week on Ultravenus, we sat down with rising star Shocka, to talk about his heartfelt freestyles, feminism, and living consciously.
For those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself?
I go by the name of Shocka… government name is Kenneth, I’m from Nigeria, I’m 30 years old, and I’m an artist from north London.
You rose to prominence as part of grime trio Marvell. Can you tell us a bit about your musical journey?
My musical journey started before Marvell. I was actually in a group called Chain Gang… in London, we have groups. We have the younger version of a group, and the older version of a group. Chain Gang was the younger version of the group Combination Camp, and Combination Camp had Wretch 32 in it, you know Wretch?
So I’ve known about Wretch for years….
Yeah I like his fire in the booth.
So then I broke away from them and joined Marvell, and I was in Marvell for about 5 years. So if people don’t know who Marvell are, we were a grime trio consisting of me- Shocka, Double S, and an artist called Vertex, and we did so many amazing things… we toured with Chip, we toured with Skepta, and we toured with Diversity
Do you remember Diversity? From Britain’s got Talent,
Yeah the dance group?
That was amazing… that was in arenas and all sorts. And that’s just a bit of the journey. And now I’m here, doing my solo bit.
It’s going good.
What inspires you? Do you have a muse, or someone that you particularly look up to in the scene?
Wretch, who I mentioned before. He’s a major inspiration because he showed me how to be lyrical, and how you can affect people with words. Wretch is known to be a wordsmith. In our scene, different people have had number 1’s, and if you look at his number 1, it’s actually a deep song, which is different to what you’re used to hearing. Wretch’s number 1 was “Don’t Go”, which was a song talking about how much he loves music, and at the same time talking about a female. It had two meanings to it. So he inspired me a lot. Also, a person who’s really inspiring me right now is J Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. They taught me how to be a human being again, and I think that’s missing.
There’s an honesty in their music.
Yeah there’s an honesty, no other artist has shown me that. When I listen to Section.80- Kendrick’s album before he got signed- it blew me away. When I was going through a transition in my life where I was becoming more spiritual, and reading more, someone said to me you should check out Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, I listened to it and it changed my life. Kendrick and J Cole are major influences.
So we are gonna talk about Self Love. Your video for ‘Self Love’ included a very diverse group of people, from all walks of life. What drove you to break from the mould in terms of what people are used to seeing in music videos? Particularly within your area of music?
Do you know what? I have to give the credit to the director (Eric Myers) – the only part I played, was making the beautiful song Self Love.
Thank you- but the director, he came up with the idea. He messaged me one day and said I want to shoot a video for you, so we sat down just the way we’re sitting down and I played him the song. I said, I’ve got this amazing song called Self Love that I think will speak to so many people, but I don’t know what to do for the video… and he said I’ve got an idea- why don’t you bring people in who feel isolated within society, who feel like they’re different, and celebrate their differences, all in one place? I just thought… that is it. So I took to Instagram and I made a video saying, if you feel out of place in society or you feel different, or if there’s something different about you- your look, you height, your weight, whatever it is, talk to me because I’ve got an opportunity for you. I scaled it down to the five you see in the video. What I love about it is they all have unique stories. I did interviews with every single person.
Oh you did?
Yeah I interviewed them, I didn’t put them out though. But everyone has a unique story, we had Fatima, who has dwarfism, she had a unique story, the girl at the beginning who you can see her self harm scars, she had a unique story, everyone had a unique story. It couldn’t have gone better!
So obviously, these questions are for Ultravenus which is my blog all about intersectional feminism. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why, or why not?
I’m a humanist! Is that a word? I like to represent for human beings. But- I appreciate feminism, I did a freestyle the other day…
Yeah I saw it!
Yeah, about women. I have never got a response like that from women in my life! I got so many DMs from women saying we appreciate that freestyle! And it made me think to myself- what are they hearing the rest of the time? If I made just one freestyle dedicated to women, what are they hearing otherwise?
There’s not many people that ride for women like that. There’s not many people that actually actively put themselves out there and show a message of support. So I imagine, that’s why you got such a response, because it’s something different, not what we are used to hearing.
I never used to. I used to be one of those guys, talking about what girls can do for me, and using girls, but I think I’ve just grown. It happens over time, I’ve started to realise, I’ve started to appreciate women more. I’m in my 30s now so I’m starting to think about kids one day, and I’m thinking about what kind of parent I’ll be and what kind of mother I want for my children. I just think it’s so important to lift up women. And people don’t understand that. Like I said in the freestyle, God chose you lot to give birth, that’s a higher power. But I’ll keep it short, I could go on about this topic all day. Big up women!
So on the subject of women…Who do you think are the most prominent female artists in the scene at the moment?
I like Lady Leshurr, she’s doing amazing. I like… there’s a girl called Ms Banks, I like her, I think she’s amazing and what else is amazing is that she’s darkskin. Not even to go into race…
Nah, go into race.
There’s not a lot of darkskin girls on the scene… I don’t see darkskin girls rapping, so I hope Ms Banks is inspiring a whole new generation that can look up to her, because I think all you need in life is to see an example, and then we can emulate it and choose to go down that path. So I hope there’s little black girls who can see Ms Banks and get inspired. Who else do I like… I like Little Simz, she’s the female Kendrick. There’s a new singer called Hamza, she’s about to be big. IMDDB as well.
What has been the hardest part of your journey in music? Obviously it’s not an easy journey…
Yeah it’s not an easy journey. I think the hardest part of my journey was not being relevant. This industry thrives off of relevance… like if I do something now that ends up in the newspaper, everyone’s gonna be calling my phone. Like I never existed yesterday! That’s why I appreciate interviews like this, because when I saw the questions, I realised you did your homework, you listened to the EP and you’ve been following, so it’s a genuine interview, whereas if I were to go viral tomorrow, the only thing they’ll be asking about is that viral moment, nothing about my history or what I’ve done.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the scene?
2Pac said a quote… study the greats until they’re not great any more. That’s so important – any field you want to go into, follow the greatest and study them until they’re not great to you any more. Like I said, I’ve been studying Wretch, J Cole and Kendrick for so long, that I finally feel like I could step in the studio and go back to back with them, whereas when I started listening to them I was looking to them as giants. I’ve studied them for so long that I finally feel we are eye to eye, I feel like I could show them my work now. So for anyone looking to break the scene, I’d say study the greats in your field until they’re not great to you any more.
How do you tackle addressing such emotionally charged social issues in your work, such as the Grenfell tragedy?
I just spoke with my heart. I like to call myself a “heartist”, I throw that word around a lot. A heartist is someone who has to speak from their heart, and communicates with other people for, heart to heart. All my freestyles on Instagram are from the heart, and I guess that’s why people gravitate towards me, because they can tell it’s genuinely coming from my heart. I felt the need to say something, and it went viral.
On that note, how do you navigate the field of music as an artist who is actually trying to say something with their work? Is it hard?
It’s very hard because… as we know there are powers that be that can understand how much it can affect and change people’s minds. That’s why I’m so proud of Self Love, that’s my biggest achievement so far…
It’s your baby!
Yeah it’s my baby, coz even if ten people heard it, ten people can spread it to another ten, and another ten, and if there’s any message that I would like to spread right now, it would be self love. It’s difficult but I’m doing it anyway.
What does 2019 hold for you as an artist? You said you’ve got a busy month.
Yeah I’ve got a busy month…. my EP is coming 2019, it’s called Conscious Crud… I want to do another headline show, I did a launch party 2 years ago and it was amazing and since then I realised that I am a live performer and that’s what I want to do.
Can you tell us a little about Conscious Crud?
Conscious Crud… Conscious Crud is my baby as well! Like, Self Love is my first child. Conscious Crud is the second… my baby on the way! It’s the message I want to get out to my generation, to Britain and the world… I come from a cruddy background, and when I say crud I don’t just mean an area, it could be anything… abuse, addiction, knife crime, gang violence… that’s all crud, but the conscious balance is that I’ve evolved out of that and I’ve created a better life for myself, and I feel like everyone can relate to that… I’m trying to show there’s two sides to us as well, because most people like to separate the crud from the conscious, for example- if I go to my mum and talk about Crud, she’s like “don’t bring that to me!” But I’m like mum, you were once my age and I know you’ve been around crud before, we need to merge the two, because we have got two sides to us, we have got good and evil in us and there’s a balance to it… so that’s what Concious Crud is about.
Finally, for Ultravenus, is there anything you’d like to plug?
Yes, Concious Crud!
Find Shocka on Twitter and Instagram @shocka_artist
Self Love out now!