Lord Apex Stays On Top of UK Hip-Hop
Hypebeast caught up with the London-based rapper to discuss new music, being inspired by his mum’s Issey Miyake collection, breaking into America, and more.
For London-based native Lord Apex, rap was the foundation of his self-expression from childhood.
The 27-year-old admits he’s open to dipping his toes into any musical genre, but his personal connection with American rappers such as French Montana, Lil Wayne, and Mac Miller birthed his appreciation for U.S. hip-hop. In turn, his appreciation and understanding of the genre allowed him to spearhead a new-school wave of underground British hip-hop, over an almost-decade career.
Apex began MCing to himself in the late ’00s, often downloading beats online while piecing together hooks and rhymes and experimenting with his cadence. As time progressed, so did Apex’s abilities; the rapper went on to include more wit and relatability in his verses — often aligning with British stoners — with records like “Spliff in the Morning,” which took Britain’s burgeoning underground hip-hop scene by storm.
This momentum was carried over into his vastly popular Smoker Sessions series, a new trio of mixtapes that have encapsulated Apex’s evolution, not only as a musician but as a person, too. Packed with a collection of skits smoker anthems – take “I Need A Light,” “Sin City Kush,” and “High Forever,” as solid examples – Apex’s ‘90s-inspired sonics have continued to push boundaries for British artists to be able to break through into American markets and solidly prove that Brits can stand next to the best in one of America’s most guarded and precious genres.
“When I first started rapping, the comment that I would often see was: “I hate UK rap… but, Lord Apex!” I realized I was going to be that bridge — that’s why I take my job so seriously,” Lord Apex tells Hypebeast. This passion has continued to hold Apex in high regard, with a myriad of full-length projects under his belt, a just-finished first studio album, and a slew of experimental mixtapes lined up that can be expected to lean into R&B and rock influences.
With this in mind, Hypebeast caught up with Lord Apex to discuss his forthcoming studio album, staying at the forefront of music and fashion, and much more.
Hypebeast: Music aside, how are you?
Lord Apex: I appreciate that question! I think that’s something people don’t ask enough. I feel like I’m in the greatest space I’ve been in for a long time. I’ve been through some stuff, some of it public, some not, but where I’m at now, I feel mature and like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
What has the process been like putting this new album together?
I grew up in a generation where a standard album is 59 minutes. So whenever I’m creating, that tends to be the blueprint that I work around. But with this project, I intended it to be a longer album than it ended up being. It’s finished around 35-ish minutes, but it still feels like I’ve managed to speak on everything I wanted to speak about for people to get an accurate and up-to-date description of where I’m at now.
I’ve explained everything I needed to explain and managed to work with a lot of producers that I have a high level of respect for. I’ve even managed to think about some of the records I had a connection with when I was a child and growing up. I think, if I asked myself 10 or 15 years ago what I would want a Lord Apex album to sound like, I think I’ve come through on that with this one. It’s all sounding exactly how I want it to sound and it’s coming across as a great piece of work that people will like.
“My mum was a fashionista – her favorite brand was Issey Miyake, so I’d see her in her bag and I worked out later in life that you can make anything look good.”
How have you managed to keep your integrity and not bow down to the temptation of creating music more commercially acceptable?
You could say it’s deliberate. But the perfect thing about being myself is that I listen to every single genre of music. If you don’t know me on a personal level, you might see me as a certain type of person, but when I first came into music, one of my goals was to conquer every frequency style possible. I can imagine myself working on a mad rock album 10 years from now, and that’s not far from what I’m interested in doing.
So even now, there’s content that might sound different from the rest of my catalog, but it doesn’t feel far away from me, as I’m interested in every sort of sound. There’s nothing I can do that will make me feel uncomfortable, unless it’s a pop or commercial record.
Your music has a consistently dark undertone — why do you think that is?
On one end of the spectrum, I’m someone who over-analyzes and I critique myself a lot. A lot of the things I say – whether they sound dark or not – are all a part of my self-improvement. On the flip side, my life was just very emo growing up – it was never vibrant.
So, a lot of my music has been made to add a bit of vibrancy to my life, which is dark most of the time. I’m a Cancer, and I feel emotions a lot more than other people, even when I speak on emotions, I’m going to go way more in-depth. I try to show as much emotion as I can. With music, I feel like there’s always a point where we have to remind ourselves to do better. I just be emo sometimes, things come out a little sad – I don’t mean to, it just happens.
Talk to me about your hit record, “Vintage Garms,” and how that aligns with your personal fashion choices.
I think my fashion choices and music are so aligned. I love fashion through and through. Sometimes, I might wake up and be inspired by a Wu-Tang-inspired fit – the pants are two sizes bigger. Sometimes, I wake up and I think “Where’s the flared shirt?” Let me get on my Prince vibe. I appreciate the spectrum of style… from Kurt Cobain to Anna Wintour. Even with women’s fashion, my mum was a fashionista – her favorite brand was Issey Miyake. I’d see her in her bag and I worked out later in life that you can make anything look good. I think it’s come from a confidence instilled in myself, I was always known as best dressed before I started music.
My fashion choices change with each album. The era I’m in right now, I’m working with a lot more brands. So, a lot of the looks are seeded, but I’m working with what I get, but I’m working with brands I love, so it’s cool. I’m not even in my high-fashion bag yet, so I haven’t even hit my full potential yet – just give me another five years.
“My life was just very emo growing up – it was never vibrant.”
Your sound is very underground, but how have you managed to create a huge fan base that has been with you for years?
If there is anyone in the UK that I would like to be compared to in that respect, it’s Little Simz. When I entered the game, I understood that my position in the music scene was an “undercover hip-hop nerd.” I’ve seen what goes on behind the scenes and I’ve realized what happens and what needs to happen for people to find a specific audience. I feel like I took it upon myself to be the guy that exposed that.
I view myself as a hip-hop head, so I feel like I know what hip-hop heads want. Any genre that I’m into, I know what that fan wants because I consider myself to be one of the biggest fans of that. So, when it came to finding my audience, I asked myself, “What would I want my favorite artist to move like?” Then, when I got into rap heavily in my teens, I naturally gravitated to the super-consistent rappers, who dropped very frequently and didn’t seem like they were compromising on the quality of the music.
So, for me, the guys I loved back in the day were French Montana, Lil Wayne, Mac Miller – anybody that had an extensive catalog was my kind of artist. So, that’s what I aim for, I try to keep my name in the mix as often as I can.
“I see myself as one of the only rappers Americans seem comfortable with, but, it’s a narrative I want to change.”
How have you been able to garner such respect in America as a British hip-hop artist, being that the culture across the pond is so Americanized and precious to the community over there?
I grew up with those comments, when I first started rapping, the comment that I would often see was: “I hate UK rap… but, Lord Apex!” I realized I was going to be that bridge, that’s why I take it so seriously. I knew that from the get-go my sound was going to be much closer to the stuff they can naturally digest. So, I see myself as one of the only rappers Americans seem comfortable with, but, it’s a narrative I want to change. I don’t believe that – especially being someone from the UK – we have so much talent, but we can’t seem to get past British voices. It’s not right – we know what we sound like to them, but it’s just not like that. It is what it is, but the more they start to see different examples of British rap, the more they will start to open up to it.
How much have you evolved as a person and musician over your career?
I’m still very go-with-the-flow with life, but I do, now, understand that if there’s a certain level you’re trying to reach, you have to have a master plan.
As time progresses, I add things to my plan, but I do it maturely. I don’t know what’s wrong with my brain – I get a super cool idea and I want to share it with the world. When I did that earlier in my career, I felt like I jinxed a lot of projects I was working on by announcing them before they were ready. I still do it a little bit now… much like Kanye! But that’s just something that happens when you’re super passionate about something, you just want to share it with the world.
I’m trying to keep things more silent and reserved and keep a bigger element of surprise. I’m a lot more patient with people and understanding different things. I’ve been through a lot more relationships and met more women, so I try to incorporate that into the music more and give a more mature outlook on certain emotions as opposed to teenage love.
Outside that, I’m singing a lot more! I’m on grown-and-sexy vibes with the music, but I’m still jokey. My main thing is just incorporating all experiences into the music, and I’ve made sure I’ve made music around moments that one day I wasn’t confident to share. I aspire to grow.
Talk to me about your latest release, “Smokers Lounge.”
I recorded that record recently. I made it as I was working on the album, but as I say, life has been living, and I was going through a slump where I didn’t have the energy and I wasn’t motivated to record. I realized that everything I was fortunate enough to experience was a blessing; I’ve toured, about to create my first studio album, sixteen projects deep – this is serious! Everything that I had ever asked for is here, so instead of sitting in the crib and procrastinating, let’s get it done.
So, “Smokers Lounge” came from me being in a writer’s block and I turned on a mic and decided, whatever comes out — that’s the song. I punched it in line for line and then realized that I could hear BONES on it. I never get that feeling with other artists, but I decided to gamble and take a chance. I got the verse back in a week and the rest has been history — the song has been going crazy.
What’s next for Lord Apex?
In the spirit of keeping true to myself, I have a whole bunch of albums in the stash — I can’t reveal any names, but what I can say is, there’s an alternative R&B project there, I have a few collaboration projects that are fully produced by rappers, and I have some songs that feature my own production. But, as I’ve only just delved into my own production, nothing has been finalized. One of the songs on the upcoming album is co-produced by me though, so that’s a start!