When a new British rapper is invited to spit a freestyle on a popular grime platform like Tim & Barry TV, you’d expect to hear them rap over Wiley’s ‘Morgue’ beat or even keep it traditional and rip through Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook Ones Part II’. But 20-year-old Master Peace would rather head-butt a wall than play it safe — instead, he unexpectedly chose to rap over Norwegian boy band A-ha’s 1980s’ pop classic ‘Take On Me’.
Boasting that he “never gets tired”, Master Peace raps ferociously – his voice sometimes straining as he forgets to pause for breath – for two minutes straight. The juxtaposition of his blunt, urgent vocals paired with such an iconic cheesy synth pop instrumental is slightly unsettling to sit through, but that’s exactly the point: the genre-splicing artist enjoys lulling you into a false sense of security before violently ripping the carpet from underneath you.
“A lot of rap music just sounds the same and everything is watered down,” the 20-year-old tells NME over the phone, his voice full of excitement. “It’s basically McDonald’s music – created quickly for a quick buck, but there’s nothing really going on at a deeper level and it doesn’t make your hairs stand up. I want to be the opposite of that.”
“A lot of rap music just sounds the same and everything is watered down. I want to be the opposite of that” – Master Peace
He explains further: “One minute, I might sing an indie love song or some surfer rock and then it might transition into chaotic punk and hood raps. You’ll never be able to predict what’s coming next and you’re either going to fucking love it or fucking hate it, like Marmite, but so long as you feel something, I’ve done my job!”
Beyond new song ‘Night Time’, you won’t find much music from Master Peace, but the handful of tracks you do come across are packed with personality and catchy choruses. ‘Buck Me’ transitions from a goofy, strangely soothing, melodic trap banger about “not being down for cuddling” into a series of urgent rapid fire raps filled with outlandish boasts that recall Wu Tang’s ODB at his most horny and eccentric. ‘Please Don’t Touch Me’, meanwhile, is a more traditional emo-rap anthem, with the mournful guitar line inspiring a fine balance between introspection and a pledge to become the “Black Cobain”. Master Peace says he recorded both of the songs in around 30 minutes, as he wanted them to sound as raw as possible.
Master Peace gigs, which see him enthusiastically moshing in the crowd, have already become the stuff of legend among underground British rap fans, and rather than put out new music in a traditional way, the new artist says he’d rather tour and play his new tunes to sweaty strangers. He wants to become famous by giving his all on a stage and building a word of mouth buzz that gradually spreads, opposed to relying on an algorithm putting his songs on the right playlists.
“If you wanted to go hear Bowie’s new songs back in the day, you’d have to go see him live,” he explains. “You couldn’t find those songs unless they were released and that’s how he debuted them. I feel like everybody lets the internet rush them into releasing stuff, and that’s why their music comes out sounding whack. I’d rather unleash it to a crowd and see their reaction before putting it on a streaming platform. Even if the crowd has never heard me before, they instinctively know my lyrics, because these songs are so primal.”
His rough-around-the-edges rapping style, which is built on recording everything in one take and not covering up any of the imperfections, echoes the punk ethos of fellow British rap renegade Slowthai, but Master Peace has much more of an indie pop sensibility and, well, quirky mix of influences. “I grew up listening to The Veronicas, Paramore and Fleetwood Mac, but also Nirvana, Biggie and Big L,” he admits. “You can hear all of those artists in me if you listen hard enough.”
Growing up in Morden, South East London, Master Peace says he always felt like an outcast. The other kids on his estate were obsessed by road rap and unapologetically hood artists like K Koke, Giggs and Joe Black, but Master Peace’s favourite song growing up was ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt. “I never followed the crowd, even if that meant I got teased,” he reflects, manically laughing.
As someone with ADHD, Master Peace says music provided him with an escapist outlet for his bounds of energy, keeping him out of trouble. “There was always crime going on and I saw a lot of friends get lost in the system, whether that was getting arrested or dying. I didn’t want to be another number, I wanted to be a rock star instead; even if the teachers probably didn’t believe that was possible!” he explains.
“I never really liked school like that and because I had ADHD, I never really wanted to be in somewhere where they forced me to sit down and write. I needed to be up and active. I loved drama as I could be the centre of attraction and really channel my energy into becoming a character. I’m someone that’s always craved standing out among the crowd. That is in my DNA.”
Currently putting the finishing touches on his debut EP, Master Peace, rather ambitiously, says he has his sights set on becoming “the biggest artist in the world.” He believes the UK music scene is in desperate need of rule breakers and iconoclasts, and that in an era where the lines between genres have almost blurred completely, he’s exactly what a new-age rock star looks like. No wonder he’s already got a fan in grime-icon Skepta, who showed some love for his new song ‘Night Time’ on Instagram last week.
Any final words? “I feel like you’re never going to see another Master Peace. Like, if I packed it all in today, I highly doubt that anyone else is going to be able to come in and do what I do. I live, breath, eat and shit this music thing. People who call me a grime rapper are wrong, I’m a rock star. When this EP drops, a lot of people are going to be eating their words, mate, trust me.”