Name: James The Prophet
Occupation: Rapper, producer
Current Release: James the Prophet's new single "Tobago" ft. Chester Watson is out now. Also available is his debut album, Unimaginable Storms, via Sony / Rupture.
Recommendations: Isaiah Rashad - The Sun’s Tirade; Smino - Blkswn
Two contemporary rap albums that in my opinion are masterpieces.
If you enjoyed this James The Prophet interview, follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud to stay up to date on his work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been drawn to music since a very young age, especially percussions as a child. In my teens I started doing graffiti which really introduced me to hip hop and all of its different forms of expression. I’m heavily influenced by 90s rap, of the likes of Biggie, Outkast, Nas and more modern artists like Smino or Isaiah Rashad.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
When I was younger, I had a very unique way of memorizing things which meant that I could learn entire verses in a few listens. I used this to practice rapping with legendary verses before writing my own. This really helped me study flow and eventually find my own sound which derives from my influences.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
As a tri-national with one foot in each country, I think my identity has a very strong influence on my creativity. My identity is what pushed me to make the music I do today, and throughout my life in France it often left me feeling on the fringe of traditional French culture. These experiences growing up here are what made me think outside the box.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
One of the most challenging parts in my creative process is finding the first few words of a verse. I like to use visual cues and observations to guide me in a certain direction. At times it was more difficult to find inspiration, but with regular practice it starts flowing.
Another of my challenges is not making my verses too dense, and trying to keep my thoughts concise and clear. With time I’ve learnt how to space out the words better, and rewrite verses less densely.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
As I am only 20, I’ve grown up with the technology and equipment necessary to make music, and have been playing around with it for a long time. Around the age of 15 I started getting interested in making a recording setup in my room, and I slowly acquired the hardware necessary. Since then I’ve bought quite a few keyboards, pads, plugins and sound cards. Nowadays there’s almost nothing stopping you from making your own music at home at very little cost - albeit you may get in trouble with your neighbors like I have.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
As I learn about more and more functionalities I’ve streamlined my music creation process, but I wouldn’t say anything has profoundly changed the way I make music yet. Presumably because I’ve grown up with computers around me and a lot of the technology is relatively user friendly if you know where to look for advice.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
All of the music I’ve made this far has been collaborative, as I consider it as a team effort between the producers, singers and sound engineers. Usually we’re all together when we make music, and a lot of the ideas come from what you could consider jamming. We discuss emotions, ideas and intentions then find sounds that fit.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I’m lucky enough to be full time in music, so I usually don’t separate it from the rest of my life. I live at my mom’s house with my sister, and they’re often at work in the day so I get to have my own routine and habits.
I try and do a bit of sport in the morning, then I take a cold shower to wake myself up. I write every day to practice finding inspiration and be able to write faster. I try and go out on on a walk or bike ride everyday around Paris, to see new sights and human interactions.
Unless I have plans I usually repeat this every day of the week, with no real distinction between week days and the weekend.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My career is still beginning and with the pandemic I was unable to perform for over a year, so I know the best is yet to come. I’ll be opening for Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) around France this fall so I’m sure that will be a very special moment in my life.
Otherwise, my album Unimaginable Storms makes me feel proud, and although I’m never usually satisfied with my music, I really love this project.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me, the most important thing is regularity. Eventually you become able to tap into this creative state and work with it whenever you need to. There are a lot of distractions and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. But the end result is always something you can be proud of.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I’m a very sensitive person so I avoid listening to music that will make me sad, because it can really hurt and put me in a bad state. It’s amazing that music can make all of us feel such inexplicable emotions.
I often use it as a tool for healing in a very abstract way. I don’t think a piece of music requires anything in particular to be able to heal and that’s the beauty of it. A song without words can touch you more than a long poem depending on the way you respond to it.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
As a white rapper, I think it’s extremely important to understand the origins of the music I’ve gravitated towards, who it belongs to, and what my contribution is. I feel like I have to be grateful to be able to be a part of this culture and it’s my duty to study and participate in the development of rap without straying from its roots.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I’m working on my first solo concert in October and this idea of combining senses is very important to preparing a great show. The music is obviously crucial but the lights, the bass and the way the stage is set up makes the show much more powerful.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I try and be as honest as I can in my music and touch upon subjects that I’ve experienced in my everyday life. Sometimes I feel like I have to talk about certain things in my music, even if everyone might not agree with my opinions and perspective.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
For me music is like a package which can touch people in so many different ways, much more than words alone. Music is something that guides most cultures around life and death, and often accompanies the departed at funerals. It has a very important role in putting life and death into perspective.