Potter Payper Is the UK Rapper Bringing ‘Real Back In Style’

10 years since his debut ‘Training Day’ mixtape, the Essex-raised rapper gears up for the release of his debut album.

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Since Essex-born rapper Potter Payper was released from prison in June 2020, life has been pretty crazy.

Born Jamel Bousbaa, the Romford-raised musician was sentenced to a six-year sentence on drug charges, however, during his time in jail, the rhymer heard a now-iconic speech from UK rap star Stormzy – during Big Mike’s Glastonbury headline performance – and he labeled Potter Payper as one of the rappers leading the now-globally heard UK rap scene.

Following Stormzy’s shoutout, Potter Payper began writing rigorously from his cell. Telling stories about life confined within his four walls – and the occasional free time in the yard – Payper was telling real-life stories, tales riddled with trauma, anxiety, and hope that his life would be granted a second chance to put things right.

When Payper was released from prison, he quickly released his 2020 Vision EP the same month he got home, gearing us up nicely for the much-anticipated Training Day 3 mixtape. The project was the third in a series of iconic road rap mixtapes that used a collection of clever samples (such as Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” for example) to underpin vivid accounts of street politics and the trials and tribulations that led to his previous sentencing.

Training Day 3 then went on to grab number three in the official UK charts, and since the release, Potter Payper enjoyed a UK tour, before dropping a collaborative mixtape in the form of Thanks For Waiting, featuring the likes of Unknown T, Rimzee, Digga D, his good friend Smurke, and many more.

The project was brilliantly received by the British public, so much so, the mixtape-closing “Gangsteritus,” featuring Tiggs Da Author, was quickly picked up by the hit Netflix series Top Boy to close out the second season. Since then, Potter Payper’s musical presence has increased tenfold on a commercial level, leading us up to today, the day he announced the release of his debut album, Real Back In Style.

And while the Potter Payper admits he can’t get past track six of his album without crying, he sounds grateful and content while completing a press trip in Oslo. “I started this journey 10 years ago, I’m having this interview with you today talking about my debut album in the middle of Oslo,” he said. “I’ve just been noticed by a young Somalian lad. My cameraman is here filming it all and I’ve got to say thank God, I’m very grateful that I’m here.”

Now, with his debut album dropping imminently, Hypebeast caught up with Potter Payper to talk about Real Back In Style, life in jail, and how he sees the current landscape of the British music scene.

How are you doing, Potter?

I’m all good brother. Happy to be finished with my album – happy with my album. Happy for my music to just be out, I haven’t been outside for some time, basically. I’m excited to start dropping again and excited about what’s to come. I don’t want to give away too much, but yeah, I’m not dropping an album and going quiet again – I’m not in jail anymore.

You said in a previous interview that you wanted your debut album to reach the same cinematic and musical value as your record “Gangsteritus.” Would you say you’ve achieved that?

Above and beyond, I’d say. I’d say I put everything into it to make sure that it was everything I said it was going to be and more. When I listen back myself now the mixes are in, as one body of work, it brings me to tears. Not because I’m sad, but because… I can’t get past track six without crying. I just feel it – if it can do that to me, then it can do it to someone else. I literally cried in the gym this morning listening to it. I got to track five and started crying – but then I did six more pull-ups I could never have done.

“This is different from every other project because I put myself in shoes that I had thought I took off a long time ago – the smelly, old ones.”

How much more of yourself have you put into this new project, as opposed to previous releases?

As opposed to like literally any project I’ve ever done is like this is obviously coming from a different time and space in my life. But very, my music is always reflective of my life or my day-to-day life. This is different from every other project because I put myself in shoes that I had thought I took off a long time ago – the smelly, old ones.

I put myself through mentally the most I’ve ever put myself through. I’m most known for the Training Day things that were written in jail, in prison, they weren’t written from a very loud, confident, happy, self-worth kind of place. I was at my rawest emotion and I hadn’t really tapped into that outside until this album, didn’t really know how to tap into that without going over the edge and going back to jail, or without it affecting my relationships.

The message of it all, I would say, is who’s the biggest exports from our country musically? Yeah, are that in terms of rap music – they are not who they are off of that camera. They have manufactured images, maybe by themselves, or maybe with help from industry. But, either way, they are not themselves in any way, shape, or form. My whole journey has been that I’m unapologetically myself. And I stay true to my craft, the sound of who I am as a person at different points in times in my life. Sometimes I’m flush, sometimes I’m high, and sometimes I’m low and that reflects in my music heavily.

Real Back In Style shows that I signed a major deal with a major label. So now people would expect what comes obviously, I would expect: major success. A man like me, as an artist, I don’t really get major success in our country because I can’t be championed for who I am and what I say. The main message of the album is that I have always been told that I need to compromise myself to achieve mainstream success, but this project is showing that you don’t need to do that.

Your Training Day 3 mixtape went to number three in the charts, did you make that project with chart success in mind?

None of the music I have ever released has been put out to achieve chart success. I come from a drug dealing background, let’s not hide behind no curtains anymore. It’s Real Back In Style, that’s where I’ve come from. So anytime I’m looking at a situation, I’m trying to look at the numbers. Not the money, but to be the biggest and best at what I do in my field, I need to hit all of the sales. I need to hit more sales than the next man, the man next to me, with his microphone, if he was a drug dealer with the same drugs as me on the same block – I’m saying mine is a little better.

I’m not saying you can’t buy from them. But when I can put something out, you need to buy it because I’ve got the best – that’s how I look at the charts. I don’t look at it as like, Oh, I’ve charted I’ve got X amount of money because when you sign deals, you haven’t got any money, that isn’t yours. I’m lucky enough to have had that independent success. But 95% of my peers haven’t had that and don’t have that and won’t probably ever have that.

The measure of it is the legacy that I leave behind and the door I kick off and leave open for like-minded people and for the same rappers that are around me; Rimzee, Youngs Teflon, Tiny Boost. It’s crazy that these people haven’t been at the forefront of UK rap, but with this album, I hope it brings the shift and transition that we are champions for who we are and what we are.

How come you chose the new record “Multifaceted” to be the album-leading single?

I feel like nobody is rapping like that from start to finish, especially from our country and our generation, our time. That’s why I’ve put it out because the things that I’m saying, it’s undeniable and it has been for 10 years. This year is the 10-year anniversary of Training Day 1. That’s why this year, I’m in my bag so badly. I started this journey 10 years ago, I’m having this interview with you today talking about my debut album in the middle of Oslo and I’ve just been noticed by a young Somalian lad. My cameraman is here filming it all and I’ve got to say thank God, I’m very grateful that I’m here.

“There are a lot of rappers that are now achieving real success commercially, and I believe that they can only do that now because of me, and I can only do it now because of the people that came before me.”

Having been in the UK rap game for a decade now, do you see yourself as an older to some of your peers?

One million percent. I would say I’m an older, but not the oldest. I had this conversation with Giggs, he called to congratulate me about Thanks For Waiting hitting number eight in the charts and I said that chart positioning wasn’t great – a lot of negativity. I said I had been doing it for ages and Giggs told me that he had been doing it for longer!

He told me that all of the things that are so easy to come by these days haven’t always been so easy to come by. It humbled me, and it’s made me realize that I am lucky enough to have the longevity of seeing out the era where our sound wasn’t accepted and now I’m happy to be at the forefront of this thing. There are a lot of rappers that are now achieving real success commercially, and I believe that they can only do that now because of me, and I can only do it now because of the people that came before me. It’s a journey that we’re all on, but I’m glad that I have been able to play my part.

“The measure of it is the legacy that I leave behind and the door I kick off and leave open for like-minded people and for the same rappers that are around me.”

Your last project Thanks For Waiting was a collaboration mixtape. What did you learn from that creative experience?

Working with other artists I have learned that the more times you work with them, the better the outcome is going to be. That project was the first time working with a lot of those guys. It was the first time I shared my process with people who weren’t around before the music. Now, I have learned that there is no such thing as me jumping on someone else’s song, it becomes a collaborative thing that we experience and work on together. We speak, catch a vibe, and we don’t compete, we just enjoy the process and enjoy the music.

On this new album, I don’t have any features – I don’t need one. I am me, I am legend. If it’s not that, I would rather do it myself. In my best projects, I haven’t had a feature, so this album is all me. Of course, throughout the process, I worked with a lot of people, and there are people on my list that I want to check off. The album is very personal to me, so I didn’t want to bring anyone on the journey with me.

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