After showing off his rapping prowess last year on the viral, drill-flecked TikTok hit ‘Own Brand (Freestyle)’ with his close friend Dréya Mac, London dancer and rap star Felixthe1st is hotly tipped to blow up. Still riding off the hype of his second-ever single – ‘Own Brand (Freestyle)’ recently surpassed 75 million streams – Felix is excited to chat to NME from his LA apartment as, for him, this interview “is one of the big ones,” he says over Zoom. “you used to see NME in WHSmith in the airport on holiday and buy it!”.
Despite always wanting to be a musician after flicking through his dad’s CD collections as a child, Felix initially found it hard to make the music he wanted. He soon turned to the next best thing: dancing. Felix made a name for himself in the scene, and eventually through his love for music, he got to know his future collaborator Dréya, who is also a dancer: “I kept annoying her into being my friend,” he says today.
After Felix released his fiery debut track ‘PSL (Please Say Less)’ in early 2021, he hit the studio with Dréya for a freestyle session – and the result was ‘Own Brand (Freestyle)’. “When we made it in the studio that day, I knew that TikTok was going to eat up this song,” Dréya told NME earlier this year. She was right: the pair are now internationally known for both the song and its accompanying dance routine. It’s safe to say the future looks bright for them.
As he prepares to release new music this summer, NME caught up with Felix to talk about his love for the UK underground rap scene, his signature face paint, and his plan to eventually “retire” from dancing.
You’re in LA at the moment. What are you currently working on out there?
“While I’ve been here, I’ve been working with a lot of American producers. I believe a lot of my music, sonically, is not American, but a lot of the beats [I need], you find in America. I’ve just been able to connect with a lot of the producers that I would have been speaking to online. We’ve had a bunch of sessions with people, and we’ve just been connecting with a couple of creatives out here for videos. It’s been really good.”
You have gone from starting out as a dancer to being celebrated for your music. How have you found that transition?
“A lot of people think I’m really insane because I worked so hard on establishing my name and building my buzz in the dance scene. But I didn’t throw it away because I’m still with my collective called We Ain’t Regular, and I dance with them sometimes. But, in general, I kind of just retired from dance.
I mean, music has always been my true love. I danced because I couldn’t make music, and now I can make music, [I stopped]. As a dancer, I know what kind of beats I’m trying to hear. So, as a musician, it’s now been easier to know what I want. But as I said before, it’s a bit more difficult [to balance both] just because I’ve set standards for myself.”
“With Slipknot, it’s the vibe of anti-establishment that I like. [Rock music] feels like it’s for lone wolves.”
‘Own Brand (Freestyle)’ blew up seemingly out of nowhere on TikTok. Do you ever worry about being seen as a ‘one-hit wonder’?
“I’m appreciative of everything that TikTok has done because it really helped me get to a position where I can do music full-time. I didn’t expect it [to blow up]. In all honesty, I thought it’d reach that underground scene I appreciate so much, and that it would be taken in by that audience specifically.
“But, due to social media, it did something else, something that I couldn’t expect to happen, and it’s changed my life. It’s given me the opportunity to connect with way more artists, people that inspire me, and people that made me want to make music. It’s given me the opportunity to give back to my family, hire them for jobs, and give people new opportunities. I know how crazy and how important the song was, but, it’s just the beginning.”
Do you want to crush the notion that UK trap stars are copycats of the US scene?
“I feel like I get what everyone’s saying about [my music] being American. It sounds quite American. I believe that, though, when I’m rapping in an English accent, it feels different. I don’t know what’s happened recently, but England feels different in general – we have a lot more eyes on us. A lot of people are starting to see what’s going on in the UK music scene. I’ve always been inspired by people like Lancey Foux – he’s one of the reasons I make music. He is happy doing what he wants, looking like he wants. I’ve been like that for a long time myself.
“I appreciate the [trap] sound but I don’t want to be just stuck in one genre, though. There’s a lot of different music I like: I love indie, jazz, rock and bedroom pop. There are a bunch of different things I want to mess around with, but right now I’m just enjoying myself and getting lit! It’s all a form of expression.”
The UK underground scene has always felt under-appreciated…
“It’s so sad because I think the underground scene in both the US and UK is the healthiest it has been. There are so many artists people should be fucking tapping into. People like Cal1sto, LEN, FimiGuerrero, Master Peace… there are so many people. It’s stupid that the sound that we’ve been waiting for, people are letting go over their heads. Seshi [who created the] I Am Next platform, he’s literally the plug. He understands what’s going on and knows what underground artists are about to come along. Sorry, I just get so excited [talking about the underground scene], but it’s mad right now!”
You mentioned that you’re a fan of rock music. Which artists inspire you?
“The thing is, sometimes it’s not specifically the music itself I’m inspired by. I’m inspired by rock basslines and the guitar work. Even just the imagery, too; take Slipknot, for example – their imagery is really fucking cool. Their masks just look so insane. It’s the same with KISS, too, as they inspired me with their face paint. My own face paint has come from a mix between rock [styles] and wrestling because a lot of wrestlers have alter-egos and face paint.
“With Slipknot specifically, however, it’s the vibe of anti-establishment that I like. [Rock music] feels like it’s for lone wolves. They don’t really care, and that’s one thing I’ve taken from that rock sort of sound. One day, I’ll have to have a show with some guitarists. I’ve got a couple of tracks where there are guitarists going crazy, but I’m trying to do a live show with just a guitarist, and stupid setup – the full works.”
What’s next for Felixthe1st?
“I don’t know what the fuck is next [for me] as I don’t even know how to describe it, bro! It’s a revolution. All I know is that I have a bunch of music that I’ll be dropping whenever the fuck I want for the rest of this year. I’m working on an EP, and I’m working on a mixtape. I’m not working on my [debut] album yet because when I want to do that, I want to be locked the fuck in. But, with these [upcoming] singles, we’re just doing crazy movies for them. We’re really going above with that stuff this year. You’re going to be seeing my face a lot.”