When it comes to being poetic and nostalgic in hip-hop, there aren’t very many artists that solely focus on these traits. That is until you meet Otis Mensah. Born in Sheffield, United Kingdom, the 23-year-old starlet is gaining recognition in hip-hop not only for his music but for his passion for the genre. You hear it in his sound and feel it in his words. His creativity is very unique and just when you think you have him figured out, he takes a left and a right and just keeps driving. Listeners don’t even know where he’s going.
His latest work, Mum’s House Philosopher, is an album not to miss out on. Take an hour and dive into Mensah’s genius. It won’t disappoint you. PureGrainAudio had the pleasure of interviewing Mensah to discover more about this young artist.
Listening to your music, I can hear influences from many genres including hip-hop, jazz, and alternative. What genres do you draw inspirations from and how would you describe your music to a new listener?
Otis Mensah: Through my passion and love for hip-hop music and culture, I’ve gone on to take inspiration from an array of genres. I believe hip-hop music has that informative nature and power to it, it’s truly educative. From the samples used in some of my favorite hip-hop songs, I was able to go on and discover worlds of jazz, soul, electronic, indie.
From listening to A Tribe Called Quest and Diggable Planets, I went on to discover worlds of jazz that now influences my music in of itself, from listening to Kid Cudi and early Childish Gambino, I got in to obscure indie and experimental music, which influences my creativity. That’s one of the many beauty’s of hip-hop, it’s a world that leads to musical and cultural exploration and discovery. I’d describe my music as alternative hip-hop or experimental rap.
“Solar Eclipse” is the most recently released music video from Otis Mensah.
The uniqueness of your music is so impressive. If I had to make comparisons, I could hear glimpses of Chance the Rapper, Smino, and Open Mike Eagle. What do you think about these comparisons and who are some of your musical influences?
Mensah: I appreciate those comparisons! I’m a big fan of Open Mike Eagle, I truly appreciate the complexity and multifaceted nature to his music and writing, from the unique humor and philosophical perspective in his work. Although I have no real life connection, I feel very close to the art-rap world and term coined by Open Mike, with other artists, Milo & Busdriver. I love that they offer an alternative, as it feels, a completely different frequency from other hip-hop music and I consider my music to be an alternative of sorts, which is why I admire them.
Your flow is so unconventional; I’ve never heard anything like it…it almost has a poetic nature. Do you incorporate poetics or spoken word into your music? How do you come up with your lyrics?
Mensah: I don’t tend to make the distinction between my music and poetry, or rap music and poetry at all. I think that the term poetry often has certain connotations attached to it. I think people often perceive “poetry” as elitist or snobbish. However, in a folk-art sense, rap is one of the truest forms of poetry, in the people’s control. My understanding of life, philosophy, history, religion, spirituality, relationships, language, for the most part, was taught to me through hip-hop music. For me, rap music embodies poetry that informs, educates, unites, an art form that is emotive, vulnerable and honest. I see my music and poetry as one and the same.
I do, however, often make the distinction in creating, sometimes when I feel I can’t write within the four walls of an instrumental, rhythmically, I’ll write free-form, without music, as a stream of consciousness and often, this is was what I consider my poetry outside of my music. For me, the writing is a means of therapy and I often feel a build up in thoughts and emotions that lead me to write.
A lot of the hip-hop music coming out of the UK at the moment is very different than yours, I’m sure you’re familiar with the grime scene. What are your thoughts on grime and artists like Skepta and Giggs?
Mensah: I appreciate grime and artists like Skepta, Giggs and everything they mean for the UK. I think it’s important that we have that as a culture in the UK. However, on a personal level, I tend to feel, I can’t identify with the music and that it doesn’t provide a mental place that I can confide in or relate to, like I can with other artists from the UK such as Loyle Carner, Awate, Koyjey Radical, Ty, for example.
What do you like to do for fun other than making music?
Mensah: At this point, I don’t really know (laughs). I love music so much that it seems to seep through into all facets of my life. I am a fan first, I love discovering new music. I collect records and to me, there’s nothing greater then reaping the rewards of a day digging for some of my favorite hip-hop records and then ceremonially playing them on my record player at home, there’s a tangible beauty in it, I feel. I love live music and experiencing an artist connect with an audience and being able to part take in it, seeing the art manifest in real life. I’m inspired by art, I love film, I like to talk philosophy, I’d like to read more.
Considering that your music has such amazing production, what are your live performances like?
Mensah: I work with some incredible producers and musicians, it’s a blessing that you enjoy the production, thank you! So much love and thanks to my good friend and producer the intern. I’d like to think that my live performance is where the music can be manifested in real life, I’d say the performances are intimate and vulnerable, experimental and spontaneous.
Look “Outside The Cave” with this recently released video from Otis Mensah!
Your latest project is called Mum’s House Philosopher. What inspired the name for this project, did you actually work on it in your mum’s house? What is the vibe and goal for this project?
Mensah: Mum’s House Philosopher is a metaphor for laymen’s philosophy – intending the ordinary, the thinking behind the every day thought by everyday people; the esoteric in the ordinary, in a way. Also, meaning anyone can engage in philosophy (thinking beyond the surface and questioning social norms) even if, quite literally you’re contemplating from your mother’s house, as I feel there’s an empowerment in that. I did write many of the songs in my mum’s house, as I have with most of my songs. It’s a space where I have been able to work on my craft and build my career from.
Mum’s House Philosopher is an ode to the “colors of it all,” the oxymoronic nature of every breathing second on this piece of rock. This school of thought gives voice to the sunken place of sacrifice when we numb our code of ethics to make way for comfort and survival. These sounds are from a place that sees our philosophy depleted of sense, from a time when life feels like a string of contradictory truths, seemingly right in their own lane but, when thrusted together in the tumble dryer of life, seem nonsensical and paradoxical.
Imagine consuming the soul-stirring art painted by an unforgivable moral-monster, experiencing its beauty and how wrong it feels. In the same vein, imagine giving over power to the nurturing caress of faith that nullifies the voice of nihilism when realism calls for hopelessness because sometimes there’s an alchemy in believing against the odds. The goal of the project is to bring laughter and contemplation. I hope that the project is able to levitate people from the cave of manifested traumas, even if just for a moment. I hope this project inspires people to seek out the philosophy in the mundane.
What is next for Otis Mensah?
Mensah: I hope to release a music video for every song from the EP Mum’s House, Philosopher with my friend and visual, creative-partner, Miroslav Kiss (Grit Multimedia). I hope to release a new EP in the new year along with my first collection of written poetry, Safe Metamorphosis also in the new year. Most of all, I hope to continue traveling the UK and Europe sharing my art, daring to be vulnerable and connecting to people on an emotional-human level and hopefully inspire others to do the same.