'That definitely reflects in my music – the influences from a lot of different cultures – so that’s something great about Birmingham'
Posted up outside his neighbor[u]rhood shop that befronts the cover art of his debut album fittingly titled Local, Yatez hopped on a call with us to discuss influences, the UK scene, its role, and what’s next for it, for him, and for music in general. Mocking the accent with which I say garage, jokingly promoting his own name, and proudly reminding me that he hails from Birmingham, not as many misconstrue, from London, the laid-back demeanor that defines him over the phone shapes the tropical, dancehall vibes of his latest single, Do For Your Love.
But, just like his young yet deep collection of wide-ranging music, there is much more depth and understanding in our conversation than one track would ever be enough to denote. Yatez is an artist of conscious depth who seems to understand that great things take time. But at a time when the young lyricist is doing anything and everything in his power to grow while still staying true to his roots, Yatez is primed to make some serious moves.
RNGLDR: Hometowns always play such an integral role in shaping art. Tell us about where you’re from.
Yatez: My hometown is Birmingham – the second city of the UK. I’m definitely a big Birmingham representative. A lot of the times when I’m traveling around – especially in the US – I’m quick to correct people when they say I’m from London because that happens a lot. We have to make sure people know that.
RNGLDR: I’m sure that’s a pretty common issue. People from the US aren’t the most geographically savvy.
YATEZ: Yeah mate, well you said that not me, so…
RNGLDR: What are the things you love most about Birmingham? How about the things you dislike?
YATEZ: It’s great to see so many cultures come together. I’ve got friends from all different backgrounds, all different religions, and we all come together as one. That definitely reflects in my music – the influences from a lot of different cultures – so that’s something that’s great about the place.
On the contrary, coming from Birmingham – even though as of recently it’s started to become more respected in the music scene – when for many years it’s been hard to get a break in the UK being from Birmingham or just being from outside of London. There isn’t much music industry support here and that’s still quite true. But there are artists that are doing well and paving the way people like me.
RNGLDR: Is it a matter of trying to differentiate yourself from London or just letting the natural process run its course?
YATEZ: A lot of the industry is obviously based in London, so people used to say that if you wanted to find success, you had to go to London, but these days, a lot of Birmingham artists are coming through and things are getting better.
RNGLDR: How did it feel for you to have such an anthemic Birmingham record –Birmingham Crew – catch serious traction?
YATEZ: It was great, man. It was a good feeling to make that happen. As you can tell, the whole thing was really natural. It was easy to pull the cameras out and just film where we were at. It’s nice to see something so naturally done created such a good project. Scrolling through the comments, there’s quite a lot of people not from Birmingham that still loved the track. It was a good feeling to do it for our city and get the positive feedback.
RNGLDR: Did your life change around the city after that?
YATEZ: I get recognized here and there – a few pictures and things like that. I wouldn’t say my life changed, but if I wear the coat I wore in the video, people recognize me. I don’t know what it is about it – I guess it’s a bit eye-catching – but Jesus, every time I wear that coat someone seems to point out something.
RNGLDR: When it comes to the UK, there aren’t really any places more influential on the global music scene. London in particular, but all of the UK in general seems to have a pretty strong stranglehold on the direction that music heads. Which UK-centered music movements have influenced you the most in your life?
YATEZ: That’s a tough one, really. To be honest, growing up I did listen to a lot of American music. But, if I was to name the English artists I was looking up to, it was the whole grime scene. There are a lot of grime MC’s I looked up to but if I had to name names, I’d say Skepta and Wretch 32 were the two I listened to the most when I was younger.
But there were also a lot of Birmingham records that I used to listen to as well. Zimbo and Twisted Revren – people you may not have heard of – but growing up, these were the guys around the town that were putting on for Birmingham and making good music.
RNGDLR: From an outside perspective, not being a straightforward grime, garage, or spoken word lyricists in the UK scene makes you and your delivery stand out a bit. Is the outside view of the UK as a place with much stronger ties to grime and garage than to standard hip-hop accurate? Or is the rest of the world missing out on the larger UK hip-hop scene?
YATEZ: Garage music and Drum & Bass were definitely big in the UK and definitely a foundation for a lot of the music we’re hearing now. But I mean, if people out there think that’s the main thing going on now, they’re a bit behind. In the UK, just like the rest of the world, there is every kind of music you can think of. I would say at the minute, a lot of afro-beats and things like that are doing well commercially. But there’s jazz, rappers, old school rappers, grime, garage, rock, everything.
RNGLDR: Other than yourself, who are some UK artists – maybe even Birmingham specifically – that we should be on the lookout for?
YATEZ: There’s a girl called Mahalia that I absolutely love who actually went to the same college as me. She’s really, really good. I love her voice. Her, Kojey Radical, and Jay Prince are definitely three names to look out for.
A few of my people are also doing really well. There’s a rapper called Mowgli that you should definitely look out for. And if you’re not familiar with Jaykae, definitely familiarize yourself with him. He’s a grime artist from here in Birmingham who I’m about to go on tour with.
RNGLDR: Your sound is also obviously inspired by dancehall – particularly your newest single, Do For Your Love. Dancehall, Caribbean, and West African music at a general scale play a huge role in the UK scene. Can you speak a little to that influence?
YATEZ: Being from Birmingham, it’s heavily populated by Jamaicans. A lot of my friends have Jamaican backgrounds so growing up I heard a lot of dancehall music. A lot. When I’m listening to what’s popping at the minute – a lot of afro-beats – that’s never really what I was listening to. I think it’s great, but growing up with my friends it was more dancehall. So, when me and my producer Mr. Mulligan – who is a great producer by the way – started making Do For Your Love, I wanted to go with a more dancehall kind of root. It happened really naturally. He sent me the beat, I was feeling it, and I put down something really simply. I think the reason behind that is because I heard it so much growing up.
RNGLDR: You also cite a lot of American hip-hop artists as being inspirations to your artistry. Who has had a particular impact? And in what ways?
YATEZ: Definitely J. Cole. I think J Cole is crazy, man. I definitely also have to say Drake. I don’t know what it is that makes people afraid to say Drake, but to me Drake is a living legend.
50 Cent has also been a huge influence on me..
RNGLDR: Releasing your debut full-length album, Local last year seems like it was the culmination of a lot in your life. With 18 tracks and more than an hour of consciously forward lyricism and deep music, what was the greater message you were trying to convey?
YATEZ: You know what, when we were making it, I had to get everything I had to say onto the project. With Local in particular, because it was the first one I put out, I had to make sure I really showed who I was. I think also that the reason it worked so well because something like 16 out of the 18 tracks were produced by Mr. Mulligan. It was special to me.
I don’t want to keep using the word natural but it’s the truth. Whatever the vibe was in the studio, that’s what was writing about. As a person, I wasn’t in a great place at the time, but I was trying to adapt the mindset to just keep going. One of the songs, Moving On, really captured the greater message of the whole thing. No matter the situation, you just keep moving forward and keep working hard.
Other than that, it was just me talking about my surroundings, situations, relationships, whatever it was. It’s all very real to me. The artwork is just literally me standing outside of my local shop. I’m actually standing outside of it right now. I did that because Local was so perfect for the name because everything about the project was so local. Every artist was from Birmingham… the photographer, the designer, everything about it was done locally so it’s one I’m happy with and will be proud of hopefully forever.
RNGLDR: What is it like now to have that debut project – and such a grand one – in your rearview? And what kind of personal role does it play for you at this point in your career?
YATEZ: It’s great. You know why I love that I did that? Because now, artists bring out one single at a time, and then another, and then another – this is the common practice of the day – but I don’t think the listener, the audience can really grasp who you are as an artist from one single at a time. For me, having a catalogue to look back on is beautiful because it means people can go back and see who I am and what’s coming up in the future. Obviously, one song isn’t going to represent an artist, especially not someone like me who branches out into so many different genres. I’ve got so many different flavors and so many things I work on in the studio, that if something were just standing on its own, I don’t think people would understand me much. With Local there, it gives the audience an understanding of me and my music.
That’s how I feel it should be, man. That’s really how I feel it should be. I know they say not to give away so much, but for me, if you want to build an organic audience and you want real people to understand your real music, you need to put out something with weight. One or two songs won’t build a story but Local has a story.
Going forward, releasing singles, whoever finds out about me can go back in on that project. That’s what it’s about.
RNGLDR: Since Local, you’ve been relatively quiet, only recently dropping Do For Your Love? Was it a much-needed break or have you been quietly stacking up more?
YATEZ: In January, I did the Local show. We sold out the venue in Birmingham, everyone loved the energy, and everyone was screaming the words. It took me back a bit. It was definitely a proud moment.
From there, this year I’ve had to take a step back to take a couple steps forward. I went to the States where I met my management and was writing for a few artists out there and things like that. As much as it looks like I’ve been quiet, I’ve actually been so busy.
Forward, it’s just release as much as I can because I need to let people know what I’ve been working on.
RNGLDR: In the videos for Do For Your Love and for Falling, it seems you like when you’re not in Birmingham, you’re at the beach. Have a taste for warmer climates?
YATEZ: I think anyone from England would enjoy going to a warmer climate. That’s only the truth.
In all seriousness, for Falling, we were all brainstorming ideas for the video and looked into where we could all fly to on a budget. We saw flights to Italy and storyboarded the whole thing.
For the Do For Your Love Video, it was a lot more thought out. And I think the Miami climate and the Miami environment suited the song perfectly. It’s a nice summer, sunny vibe so shooting the video in Birmingham wouldn’t have had the same effect.
RNGLDR: Speaking of tastes, and being an artist, we always have to ask, what role does fashion play in your life?
YATEZ: I wouldn’t say completely not. But I wouldn’t say it plays a big role in my life. My fashion is comfortable. If I’m comfy then I’m great. If I’m trying to dress to impress, I’m not saying I can’t do that, but on an everyday basis I just like to be comfortable. A lot of the time I’m wearing track suits and trainers, you know what I mean? That’s me, man. That’s how it’s always been.
RNGLDR: Do brands such as Stone Island, which has a cult following in the UK and sees more than a few cameos in the video for Birmingham Crew, resonate with you more than others?
YATEZ: I guess I’m just a product of my surroundings. Coming up, Stone Island is definitely a brand that I love. I’m influenced by the people around me, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve been exposed to, so I can turn it on when I need to.
RNGLDR: It’s no secret that some of the UK’s most prolific artists in the scene like Skepta, Giggs, Stormzy, etc. subscribe to the stylistic mantra of “track suit mafia”, a distinctly cozy take on the fashion game.
YATEZ: I think that’s just part of the culture, man. That’s just how we dress. That’s just how it is.
RNGLDR: What’s next for Yatez?
YATEZ: After this tour – maybe even while I’m on this tour – I’m definitely going to try to release a new video this month or next month and the single as well. So, definitely a new single from me by the end of the year. Looking into 2019, I’m definitely looking to put a new project out. It’s all about releasing music at the minute so I’m going to put out as much as I can.