‘We need more options in the game and I want to be a part of that change’: An Interview with Phaze-What

Interview by Charles Odugbesan

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet Sudbury born and raised rapper Phaze-What to discuss all things music off the back of his new EP; I AINT FINISHED WITH YOU, being released. Phaze-What is a definite product of London’s rich and diverse culture. The braided hair and dress sense typifies London fashion, his music draws inspiration from many different homegrown sounds, be it rap, grime, house or garage and his words and viewpoints are bold and unapologetic. A retro coffee shop in Ealing Broadway was a cosy enough setting for us to have a little back and forth for an hour or so. 

Now talking of a real old school genre like garage, older fans may recognise the similarity of the name Phaze-What to a significant other. Even I myself wasn’t aware when he told me. My original rap name was Phaze-One. My older brother was a DJ and he would never let me touch any of his vinyls or go through his shit. So when he went to jail (I must have been around 14/15) I had the opportunity to go through everything! And as i’m going through his vinyls there’s one that sticks out to me: Nicole’s Groove by Phaze-One.

Ahh so that’s where the name came from? 

Yeah. And then eventually I ended up dropping the ‘one’ and becoming Phaze-What. 

The original Phaze One also ended up dropping that name too. These days he goes by the name Wiley. And it’s clear to see the influence that the Godfather, among others had with Phaze – You have to mention people like Wiley, Sway, Klashnekov, So Solid etc. They set the foundations for people like me to succeed and make money from this. You have to pay homage.

For sure. So how did you start out? Tell me about the journey.

So taking it back to school days… I hated school but I really liked English. I was good at creative writing, and making up stories and all of that. Around high school times, like Year 10, everyone’s rapping so I go home and I start writing lyrics. I felt like “Rah I’m alright at this” but I was writing for around 2 years before I even told anyone. I was bare shy.

Did rapping give you confidence then? (The man sitting across from me looked poised and assured. Anything but shy.)

Definitely! So fast forward 2 years now, I’m in college and I started rapping. I was destroying everyone around me and it gave me a confidence I had never had. Because of that, I almost felt indebted to rap. In the end I actually got kicked out of college.

Oh how come?

I skipped an important test to go to emcee tournament. But I won. So now I’m not in college, not working or making any money. I had to start spitting and I did it the old school way; hopping on buses and trains, going to sets and doing my thing. Slowly slowly, I started doing shows and then (myself and 9 others) formed the group Piff Gang, and that’s when we really kicked the door down and announced ourselves in the game.

Piff Gang were a talented collective of emcees and DJ’s who had been on tours and opened for the likes of Yung Lean, Action Bronson and ASAP Rocky.

I now wanted to ask Phaze how he felt about the rapidly growing scene here in the U.K. What kind of position it is in and his stance on it. It’s the biggest it’s ever been at the moment. Mandem all in the same situation tryna improve our lives and I’m happy for the success that everyone’s enjoying right now. But that being said, I also feel frustrated. Frustrated at the lack of diversity in the game right now.

How do you mean?

Well my music is Alternative Rap. If we’re talking about right now the scene is split into two. You have Drill Rap and you have the Afropop melodic singing type shit. After that, there’s not much else. We need more options in the game and I want to be a part of that change.

Do you ever feel pressured to make other, maybe more of the popular types of music these days?

Nah, I don’t feel pressured because ultimately I’m a very stubborn person. I’ve been rapping for 10 years plus now. I don’t see too many man that have been rapping for 10 years and are still the same person because this game changes you. I’ve seen people become parodies of themselves. Nowadays it’s about what character can you build and sell. It’s less music and more bullshit.

He then brought an analogy to me, stemming from a personal interest of his, that I had never heard but completely understood. Wrestling and the Rap game are the same. There are the same trials and tribulations but ultimately it’s all a facade. (Artists) are giving you an angle to pick up on because people love fantasy and stories. They don’t wanna hear about “a regular guy”.

A fear of mine that I brought up with Phaze is that in this day and age, music moves way too fast. It’s people’s attention span (getting shorter) and I’m not sure a lot of people recognise that. Kanye West dropped 5 albums every week in June and 3 days later they’re off it! Like big artists are dropping and they can’t hold people’s attention. But that’s evolution. 

So how do you deal with that?

So I’ve always been a fan of really short songs… like 45 seconds to a minute. And I think you’re gonna see more of that from me to adapt to how the world is moving. You can’t hold people for too long these days. You have to adapt to the times and adapt to the game. That’s what makes an artist great.

So there’s been three years of quiet and now you’re back with I AINT FINISHED WITH YOU. Where have you been?

I’m quite an impulsive person. So before I dropped IAFWU, I hadn’t dropped nothing for 3 years (the last project being The Sweet Chin Move in 2015)… and there were times where I was done with music, tired of it. It was a mixture of frustration, but more so a feeling of panic that I had got to 30 and I didn’t really have a solid foundation. But I can’t leave this shit. Whenever I’ve gone to leave, I just get dragged back in. I felt like I was done with it, but it’s not done with me! So IAFWU is a self explanatory statement.

I feel like IAFWU was you setting yourself up for an album or future project. Any truth to that?

Yeah defintely. My next project is ready. I’ve got the name but I can’t give you that yet! I’ve actually got the next two ready but right now I’m working on my album – Gabos. That’s not going to be ready for a while though. Slowly I wanna start letting people in on the stories I have to tell through the music. That’s the kind of growth I want to display that I look for when I listen to other artists. It’s important to show that.

And just like that, an hour with Phaze-What had passed. I though to myself that today I had met a strong minded individual, brimming with talent and proud of his originality. Someone with a keen eye for a story, whether consumed or conveyed, but at the same time adamant on mainatining his principles. After 3 years he’s made a return with his EP I AINT FINISHED WITH YOU and he’s just getting started. Enjoy this EP and keep your eyes peeled for future releases from Phaze-What!!

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