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Keyah Blu
KEYAH/BLUPhotography Quann

KEYAH/BLU makes raw and real rap music with an unmistakable voice

The south east London rapper, singer, and Joy Orbison collaborator discusses her new EP, Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming

KEYAH/BLU says that her new EP, Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming, was inspired by “the usual – sex, love, and the omnipresent feeling that I’m wasting time”. It’s a description that fits the south east London rapper and singer’s music to a tee: frank, matter-of-fact, relatable, real.

Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming is full of ethereal atmospheres, as sparse and hazy as a misremembered night out. These highs are punctured by booming lows, with beats that put an unusual twist on the rhythms of London dance music and sound system culture. Over these, the south east London rapper and singer delivers bars in her unmistakable voice about detachment, emotionally and physically, with each song referencing a different experience or lover. “There are times I could have cared more, times I cared too much and times where I haven’t cared at all – something I feel rings true in all aspects of life.”

Whereas previous tracks like “Til Bliss”, not to mention frequent collaborations with Denzel Himself, had taken on a hip hop direction, Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming is slightly more electronic flavour – perhaps not surprising given her recent collaboration with UK producer and DJ Joy Orbison, who returns to provide additional production on “If You Know”.

Following the EP’s release, we caught up with KEYAH/BLU to learn more about her world.

Were you a good kid in school?

KEYAH/BLU: School was pretty bleak for me the whole ride. I went to a girls’ school in south east London – I don’t even think I need to say any more. I didn’t really have many friends, so I was always by myself reading or writing something, or with the one or two people who’d spend their breaks in the music room. I couldn’t even play any instruments or sing or anything, but I was always there just chilling. I wouldn’t say I was good or bad in school, I was kinda just there.

Were any members of your family creative? Has that had an impact on the music you make today?

KEYAH/BLU: When I was growing up, my mum used to run a night called Organic every other Sunday in the upstairs room of a pub in Camberwell. There were about eight or nine resident artists, including herself, and a house band. My dad would do the show photography – he’s so sick – and I would usually shadow him more than anyone. I was way more into visual arts than music at the time. That was my first real taste of being around a creative scene and I loved it, really, although at the time I didn’t really embrace it because I was so young. Rehearsals would take place at my house a lot so I was always surrounded by super talented people and musicians. I was only about eight or nine at the time, and had no idea that I’d ever get into music myself, but can definitely see now how I was basically just being a sponge the whole time, soaking it all up.

What can you tell us about Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming?

KEYAH/BLU: I started putting Sorry..., together at the beginning of 2019, after a really emotionally charged trip to New York. I was in like three really crazy situation-ships at the time and everything kinda went to shit while I was out there. I fell out with a lot of friends, I broke up with my boyfriend, and I was having serious problems with pretty much everyone else. I ended up recording “The Final Finesse” on one of my last nights in NY. It was everything I was feeling in the moment, and a declaration to myself that I was over love. That was kind of the start. I came home and was like, “Fuck it, it’s time to put a project together.” I had been putting so much focus into my sex/love life and I felt like I needed to focus on myself for a bit. So, I started working. Some of the stuff I wrote new, and some ideas I pulled from older projects, so even though I started building the project in 2019, there’s stuff I wrote from like 2017 in there. I just needed to get it off my chest.

How has your creative process evolved since you started making it?

KEYAH/BLU: I took so many Ls making this project, just because I didn’t really have anyone telling me how to do anything. I was really making it all up as I went along, from recording to producing. I think my process has always been very private and insular – it’s usually just me sitting in my old room at my mum’s house with the mic and a few zoots. I would sleep on the sofa and we would start beefing when I was there for too long. Writing is easy for me in that setting. But I’m definitely in a place now where I’m more comfortable going to the studio, or working with other people. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, I know that having an engineer in the room can really be a shout and make recording super efficient, whereas before, engineers weren’t even a concept in my head. I was too closed off and shy. The L’s I took making this project were really just the biggest lessons ever and I’m super excited to get back in the studio.

“My voice is my hallmark. How you’d describe my voice, I don’t know, but the music itself is so fluid” – KEYAH/BLU

What are the hallmarks of a KEYAH/BLU song?

KEYAH/BLU: I think my voice is my hallmark. How you’d describe my voice, I don’t know, but the music itself is so fluid. I don’t even know what kind of music I make. When people ask me I literally run away. Genres are overrated.

Are you more of a studio person or a live person?

KEYAH/BLU: I’m definitely more at home when I’m creating. Live has never been an issue for me because I come from a performing arts background, but nothing hits like sitting in the dark with a fat zoot, finding the perfect words and cadence and melodies to describe a moment or feeling. I might come out with one good line and just listen to it for ages. That’s my favourite part of this whole thing – it’s really where and how I find myself. 

What was the last show you binge-watched?

KEYAH/BLU: Last week me and bae watched Night on Earth on Netflix. Can’t say I “binge-watched” because there was only three episodes, but still, it was crazy. And it’s narrated by Samira Wiley who’s just an all- round queen. Ten out of ten, recommend. I think before that, I binge-watched Watchmen. Again, ten out of ten, would recommend. Regina King killed that shit.

What was the last song that made you cry?

KEYAH/BLU: “Theme for the Cross” by King Krule. I was sat by myself at the kitchen table one night just after Man Alive! came out, listening to the album for like the second time. The song came on and I just bawled into my spag bol. I can’t remember the last time I was that moved by a piece of music.

Are you a spiritual person?

KEYAH/BLU: I don’t subscribe to organised religion but, yeah, I’m actively connected with the Source. I try to make my spiritual practises a part of my day-to-day but it’s not something I talk about much. Me and God got a secret handshake and mad inside jokes, word to Chance.