West London native Bawo is shifting the boundaries of UK Rap with his fluid approach to the genre, combining singing and rapping on varied production to create his signature new-school sound. Melodious hooks, confessional lyrics and tranquilising flows epitomise Bawo’s style and draw listeners to his music. His latest 7-track EP Legitimate Cause is a conceptual project exploring music being a genuine career path for Bawo and the need to shut down naysayers. The London artist has gone from strength to strength over the past few years and kicked off 2023 by opening for the highly esteemed rap veteran The Alchemist in London.
Ahead of his upcoming sold-out show at the ICA in London this Saturday, March 11, Bawo is as pensive and relatable as his music. On the call, he chats about his musical inspirations, creative process, and latest project Legitimate Cause.
How did you first get into music?
I was born into it; music was always played around the house. All sorts of music were played, whether it be hip-hop, country, or African gospel music. I was also addicted to MTV, so I was singing at any opportunity.
I feel like everyone remembers how MTV shaped their childhood; glad to hear you were obsessed with it too. Congratulations on your latest project “Legitimate Cause” what was the inspiration behind it?
Musically, I just wanted to have an even stronger attempt at creating the sound that I can hear in my head; I feel like I’m closer to that [sound] with this tape. I wanted it to be fun and evoke different emotions. I also wanted to show how important music is to me and how much of a real job it is – especially with the office and suit.
What is your favourite song on Legitimate Cause?
It changes a lot, but I would say right now it’s between ‘Same Team’ and ‘Not Just Yet.’
What kind of vibe are you trying to explore with your music? What kind of emotions are you trying to evoke?
Generally speaking, I want people to feel like they matter. I think it’s very easy, especially for people living in cities to feel like they don’t matter. I want my music to help people believe in themselves or make a hard day easier.
That’s very thoughtful. Expanding on that which themes do you find yourself revisiting in your music?
Reflection, the past and a yearning to grow. I can be kind of hard on myself and I think that I use music to sort of go over situations and reflect a lot.
How would you describe Bawo in and outside of music?
I’m just a normal guy so I struggle to describe myself. I love music and I just do my best to make the best music I can, hopefully, that comes across well. But outside of music, I like to chill with friends, watch a lot of Netflix, and exercise. But mainly chill with friends and travel. It doesn’t matter where I go; it could be somewhere in the UK or around the world. I love going to places I haven’t been to before. There’s just an abundance of inspiration everywhere.
What would you say your creative process is like when you’re making music?
I am inspired by everything. I write almost every day; it’s just how I communicate. I just try and make the music I want to hear. It could be sketches, and I’m not too fussed about the structure of the song. I also play music as much as possible; I’m never sitting in silence. It inspires me.
What is your favourite thing about being an artist as well?
The element of freedom that comes with it. I’m quite stubborn and have always struggled with having a boss. It’s not that I can’t work with other people or anything like that, but I like the freedom that making music gives me, and I’m very grateful for that.
Are there any difficulties you face or things you find difficult to navigate?
I would say the hardest thing so far is wearing many hats and thinking about how people will perceive my music, so I don’t let myself get caught up in it. Having to move like I’m more than one person is difficult.
Are there any unusual things or rituals you do?
I used to listen to motivational talks on YouTube, especially about fear and how to face your fears. Sometimes I would get worried about being on stage especially if it wasn’t my show. But now I just listen to music that makes me not take myself too seriously and have fun. I listen to a lot of Young Thug before I perform; he sounds like he has a lot of fun making music.
What are your upcoming plans?
The plans are to go on tour and when I last performed, everywhere was sick but cities like Cardiff and Bristol were very special to me, the energies there are insane – so that should be good. Hopefully, I will feature at some festivals this summer too. But the plan is just to make the best music possible with people who also have that intention as well. I’m not sure about another project later this year. I just want to continue making great music.
Follow Bawo here for more, and stream his new EP Legitimate Cause here.