NME Radar: Breakout

AntsLive’s ‘Number One Candidate’ is the UK rap anthem of the future

Accompanied by a richly detailed music video, the track balances wit with more revealing moments of introspection

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

AntsLive is determined to be a flag-bearer for a new generation of UK rap stars. The north London artist thinks beyond the frameworks laid by rappers before him, as shown in the Wes Anderson-style music video for his breakthrough single, ‘Number One Candidate’. The clip has been omnipresent across social media lately, garnering over 1.3 million TikTok hits alone. Throughout, the 23-year-old raps over trumpet flares and potent 808s while galloping on a horse against the vast, luscious backdrop of the Italian Alps.

“I’ve always been a confident little shit! I only had horse riding lessons for a few days before shooting the video. In the video, it’s like I’m trying to show a day in the life of AntsLive,” he tells NME over Zoom. “The instructors told me it wasn’t possible to learn quickly, but I said, ‘Nah, we’re galloping innit!’”

The video gives plenty of insight into the rapper’s personality, as it contains a nod to his lifelong football team, Arsenal – who are currently experiencing a successful streak in tandem with Ants himself. At one point, we see Ants dressed in a vintage Arsenal shirt, before dressing up as legendary footballer Ian Wright by sporting a gold tooth and a flat cap.

‘Number One Candidate’ is the centrepiece of Ants’ newly-released debut EP, ‘Just a Matter of Time’. After working on it for the “best part of a year”, Ants believes now is the optimum time to showcase this project to the world. “To put the EP out right now feels perfect,” he explains, beaming with pride. “Not only in terms of timing, but it feels like the perfect moment in my life to be satisfied with a body of work like that. It introduces me to the game and showcases stylistically all the sounds that I want to explore going forward.”

NME caught up with Ants to discuss his singular artistic vision, the secret to continued TikTok success, and the importance of making himself stand out against other rappers.

NME: Where does your stage name come from?

“All my people call me Ants! It’s an abbreviation for my name. And AntsLive, well, ‘live’ comes as part of an abbreviation for ‘Ants live through my speaker’. I showed one of my bredrins my songs and he was instantly like, ‘Yo! Ants live through my speaker!’ – and it stuck. Also, obviously in the UK people know that when saying something is ‘live’, it’s like saying it’s ‘lit’. Livest in the city – I want to embody that.”

How has the music that you’ve listened to throughout your life influenced the music that you make?

“I don’t really have any borders with what I listen to, and it’s always been like that. Some days I listen to only 50 Cent, and other days I listen to indie rock or something! I might not necessarily do a deep dive into an artist or genre, but I like hearing different sounds. If it evokes a feeling in me, then I’m trying to convey that. The tape is quite versatile and there are most definitely some mixed influences.

“I also don’t overthink what I do when I make music, and I don’t go out of my way looking for things to inspire me. I just consume a lot of music and everything that I make is generally created from an organic feeling of what my mood is, and who I’m in the room with. If I hear some chords or an 808 pattern and it triggers a feeling in me, I can just incorporate it naturally. What inspires me is just the feeling of making music itself and trying to transmit that feeling.”

Credit: Zek Snaps

Sonically, the songs on your new mixtape are so varied. Would you say that you’re trying to create a distinct AntsLive ‘identity’, or are you just experimenting? 

“Both, to be honest with you. I didn’t deconstruct what I wanted my songs to sound like as I was making them. But when I put everything together, it just made sense for me. I just felt like these were the best songs, sonically, to show where I am right now. The thing that brings everything together is just me, which sounds really cliché. I try to be my authentic self as much as possible. Whoever is reading this, if you were to listen to the tape fully you’d understand.”

How would you say you’ve grown as an artist since you first started out?

“When I first started making music I was trash! I have a line in ‘Don Corleone’ that says, ‘Wake up in the studio, this ain’t my first rodeo’ – that’s for real. I’m in the studio every day expanding my skill set.”

“I had a concrete vision to make a UK anthem with ‘Number One Candidate'”

What were the main influences for the ‘Number One Candidate’ video?

“I have to shout out the director Tom Emmerson, he’s a genius. I have to give a lot of credit to his vision. We made a video prior called ‘Tweakin’, and it had a different feel, so we wanted to transpire that into this. I’m a believer in music videos in general. It’s a dying art, people don’t necessarily put in as much time and effort anymore. I feel like because people consume music differently with streaming. But I want to make movies that accompany the songs, they deserve it.

“I had a concrete vision to make a UK anthem with ‘Number One Candidate’, especially with the brass and horn sounds. I didn’t feel like a UK artist had explored that sound fully and combined it with rap. As soon as you hear those trumpets you know it’s a big song, and when I made it I sent it to my manager and we knew it was the one.”

Was the vintage Arsenal shirt in the video from your own wardrobe?

“Yes! Come on you Gunners! I have to shout out this person in the YouTube video comments, but someone noticed the Ian Wright vibe I was going for with the gold tooth, cap and Arsenal shirt. It was a little easter egg I put in there for the Arsenal fans.”

How else does your love of football come into your work?

“I grew up playing a lot of football, and I feel like the mentality, discipline and focus in sport all translate into my music. These are things I learnt from my first coach in football.”

Credit: Zek Snaps

You’ve been pushing this video on TikTok. Do you feel there’s an expectation for artists to promote their work in this way?

“No pressure. None. My producer gave me some great advice. I didn’t really understand TikTok, but he said, ‘TikTok is like shooting in the open gym. No one will see when you miss, but everyone will see when you hit.’ That’s my advice to anyone. As soon as he said that to me I just thought, ‘Fuck it, I’ll do 5 TikToks a day, every day.’”

When you look back at your career to date, what makes you feel proud?

“My appearance at Reading Festival just over a year ago. Going onto that stage and seeing literally 10,000 people who didn’t know who I was… I gave the performance of my life, and I got hundreds of messages from new fans saying that I was their favourite performer of the whole weekend. So that really validated [my live show] for me.”

What’s next for AntsLive?

“I’m dropping a project a lot sooner than people think. The ball is going to keep rolling. If you lot are enjoying it – then trust me it’s going to get better. I’d love to be able to do a European tour, the vision has always been to take this global.”

AntsLive’s new mixtape ‘Just A Matter Of Time’ is out now


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