NME Radar: Breakout

Songer: a fearless new voice from UK rap’s underground scene

Through his captivating songs, the Reading artist exorcises his past with lyrics that span grief, love, and intimacy

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

“I‘m in the best headspace I’ve ever been in my life,” says Songer, sipping a cappuccino and reflecting on the process of creating his upcoming third album ‘Skala’, his most upbeat, self-assured project yet. Named after his pet dog and opened by a lyrical passage about what he’s learned from her carefree, present-minded outlook, it’s a record shaped by a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. This perspective comes through strongly during the hour NME spends with Songer, nestled in the corner of a Shoreditch hotel. The 22-year-old rapper is fresh off a train from Wokingham, Reading, where he was born and raised. And for an artist who stands unapologetically outside the London bubble, the reach he’s achieved so far is impressive.

To date, he’s racked just under 20 million views on one of the most explosive Bl@ckbox Freestyles to date, collaborated with artists like Bradford MC trio Bad Boy Chiller Crew and drum ‘n’ bass producer Vibe Chemistry, and dropped multiple projects including 2019 debut ‘Dream Workz’ and pensive, confessional 2021 follow-up ‘The Sunrise Project’. Guided by a deep talent for wordplay that goes far beyond cheap puns and rehashed double entendres, Songer is an artist who considers each word painstakingly.

An enigmatic character committed to repping for his town and rapping eloquently about issues ranging from his experiences of anxiety and depression, his relationship struggles, and the importance of advocating for anti-racism, Songer is a genuine storyteller and a unique voice within UK rap music. A recent collab with grime legend D Double E on ‘04.59’ highlighted the credit he’s garnered in the game. Heavyweight features like that only strengthen the anticipation for ‘Skala’, an album that breezes fluently between carefree party anthems and poignant, hopeful bars about grief and depression, perfectly capturing the wide-ranging scope of UK rap in 2023.

NME: What are the best and worst things about being a rapper from Reading?

“There was no pressure to be a rapper, no competition in terms of ‘Am I better than this person?’, and that enabled me to grow and grow. You very quickly develop a fanbase that wants you to do well; they just love the fact that I’m doing it, and that I’m from Wokingham. It’s also a setback in that it’s very comfortable – in London, I feel like I push myself more. And obviously, your audience is smaller, because in London, you’ve got the soul of the UK rap scene, so it’s kind of a blessing and a curse.”

Who were your major influences growing up?

“Growing up, my music tastes were so varied. I loved James Morrison. I loved the Black Eyed Peas, I loved Oasis, Stereophonics. I loved Tinie Tempah, and when I went to see him, J Cole was supporting in Bournemouth – that’s mental to think about! I was so excited to see Tinie Tempah that I did a load of research on who was supporting, so by the time I’d seen the show J Cole had released ‘Who Dat’, ‘Work Out’, and I was already hooked.”

Those eclectic tastes come through on the diverse range of beats you use, spanning hip-hop, garage, and drum ‘n’ bass. Has that diversity in terms of sound ever held you back?

“It might have held me back from the outside looking in. If I look at ‘Endlessly’, which is on 10 million streams, if I made three ‘Endlessly’s, that would’ve taken me to a place that might appear from the outside as further along the line. But on a mental level, a long-term level, and a spiritual level, and to the fanbase that support me and grew up with me, I don’t think it’s held me back at all, I feel like that’s my USP.”

Credit: Press

Let’s talk about D Double E. He takes ‘04.59’ to another level – how did the collab come about? 

“Every time I hear that song, when D Double’s ad-libs come on, I get goosebumps. Because when you first start getting into UK rap, that’s the guy. Originally D Double wasn’t on that track. I said to my manager, ‘It would be so sick if we could get D Double on the remix for this’. So we got in contact with Double, and we sent him the track, and literally within two days, he sent it back with a verse on the end. And I was like, ‘Bro, why would we do a remix?’

“When I met him for the video, he was everything you would want him to be. We’d hired this place for the video, everyone was drunk, and we had decks and a mic; everyone was just proper having a good time – he jumped in, and he was having it off. I love that video because what you see is what you get.”

Your 2021 Sunrise Session on Bl@ckBox contained some powerful lyrics about tackling racism as a white rapper. Do you have a responsibility to be even more vocal about inequality and discrimination?

“I think everyone has a responsibility to call out discrimination and inequality wherever they see it, full stop. You can never lose track of the fact that this is a Black genre that I’m in love with, so I have to respect that, and I always will, publicly. It’s important to speak about those topics because if you wanna speak about the world, you can’t ignore one of the biggest parts of the world, and that is societal injustices. If you want to be a writer and a voice, you want to be on the right side of history.”

“If you want to be a writer and a voice, you want to be on the right side of history.”

You lost a close friend, Luke, aged 19, and have often rapped about that experience and the grief that followed. Can you share what happened and how it affected you?

“All of my friends went on holiday, and I didn’t go, thank god. The night before they were flying home, he fell off a balcony and died. We were 19. From that exact moment, life did not seem real for nearly two years. We had a big friendship group, so no one lost the only person they could speak to, which was a beauty in all of it; it brought us closer together.

“There were still good days and bad days, but nothing seemed to quite make sense. The reason I still write about [the death] and probably will always still write about it is that I can’t not. I love that boy, I always will, and it will always be one of the biggest things that happened in my life. In the song called ‘From Us To You’, which I wrote for his funeral, I say, ‘You died young so that your spirit could never grow old / You’re young at heart forever’, and I think there’s comfort in that. He was such a good person, such a funny person, and his soul was so exciting. He gets to stay like that forever.”

There’s a lot of stigma attached to men speaking out about depression and grief. Was opening up about your feelings difficult to begin with?

“100%. My brain is a funny place with big highs and big lows. I’ll go through periods where I’m absolutely fine, then one thing will flip, and I’ll spiral. When I was writing ‘I’d Rather You Cheat’ and a lot of ‘The Sunrise Project’, that spiral became a pool. I wasn’t just like ‘Ah, I’m being an idiot’ and carrying on with the rest of my week; I was in a proper rut, and I couldn’t climb out of it. That’s why ‘The Sunrise Project’ sounded how it did; it was almost from a place of ‘If I don’t say it, it’s gonna eat me up’. I’m never worried about being vulnerable in music.”

Songer with D Double E. Credit: Press

Despite that, ‘Skala’ is still packed with positive energy, and one key factor behind that is your relationship with your girlfriend. How important is it for you to share that side of your life?

“It’s definitely a more uplifting album. I’m in the best headspace I’ve ever been in in my life. Over the last year or so, my girlfriend has been probably the biggest thing in my life. Letting her know ‘I really do love you, and I will love you publicly’ helps the relationship. Because it’s not easy, when someone is coming up, especially in the genre of rap, with its stereotypes and stigmas, for a girlfriend to just unapologetically be herself in any room she’s in, support what I do unapologetically, put up with a playful bar. The album is a nod to her, an acknowledgement of ‘I see you, and I hear you, and I love you’. I’m never ashamed of who I am, whether it’s about a relationship, whether it’s about grief, whether it’s about pain.”

Can you describe the feeling of being onstage during the sold-out ‘Story So Far’ tour?

“The transition of extreme nerves to extreme beauty, like ‘This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of’, that transition was a feeling that now I’ll crave forever. It’s been a journey going through it with a fanbase that’s so loyal and so supportive. They knew every word. It had been four years since they’d first got involved, so for them to finally watch it live, and for me to finally see the people that love it, that feeling was indescribable.”

Songer’s new album ‘Skala’ will be released on April 21


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