Fresh off the release of his debut mixtape, the musician talks craftsmanship and cornershop snacks, plus the secret behind his viral hit ‘Number One Candidate’
AntsLive wants you to know that no green screen was used in the making of his viral music video. “Everything that you see… that’s all real,” he tells me excitedly at the start of our Zoom call. His dynamism is a trait that defines the rest of our conversation, a frenetic energy you find in young creatives whose minds can’t sit still. “I guess we just wanted to make a movie,” he goes on, “and I feel like that’s what we did.”
The movie in question, a music video for Ants’ track “Number One Candidate”, is racking up numbers across social media, and with good reason too – knowing that the rapper has to clarify that it’s “all real” is a testament to the video’s cinematic proportions. In the surreal clip, the north London export is transported to the Italian Alps, its panoramic views the backdrop for breakneck horse-riding, Bavarian milkmaid frolicking and even dinner with a talking goat. Ants’ funny, quick-fire bars (“I gotta let my skin fade marinate”), are evenly matched by frantic edits of the sweeping, alpine terrain. At the end, he gallops toward the sun, a fitting visual metaphor for his journey into the spotlight.
When we talk about the video’s reception, Ants is grateful. “I’ve had an amazing reaction,” he admits. “I just can’t thank people enough for taking the time to take me in.” “Number One Candidate” is the latest single from Ants’ brand new mixtape Just A Matter of Time, a project written and recorded over the best part of a year. With nine tracks and no features, it’s an assured, convincing debut that places the rapper’s talents front and centre, in all their blustering glory.
When it came to creating the tape versus promoting it, Ants was a man of two halves. In the studio, he doesn’t like to overthink it, arriving with an open mind and a willingness to collaborate. However, once playtime is over, that’s when the strategy begins. “The music itself, that has to be organic, but then when you piece the tape together, and promote it and market it – I like to plan and execute pretty specifically,” he discloses, showing an aptitude far beyond his 23 years. It seems that when it comes to his vision, AntsLive has his eyes firmly on the prize, and he’s not taking them off for anyone.
Below, the rapper talks TikTok dominance, music video artistry and proving his horse-riding instructor wrong.
Hi Ants! Congratulations on the release of Just A Matter of Time. How does it feel to have the mixtape out in the world?
AnstLive: Amazing, if I’m being honest. The reaction’s been crazy, and surpassed my expectations. I’m feeling over the moon.
The video for “Number One Candidate” has had a huge reaction online. Can you talk us through the process of making it?
AntsLive: I’ve got to shout out the director Tom Emmerson, who did an incredible job, and everyone who worked on the project. We started planning it the best part of a year ago. Tom had an idea of having a shot where I start off by galloping in on a horse. It’s pretty out there for a UK rapper. I was just massively drawn to it. As soon as I created “Number One Candidate” I think we both knew that was the song to do something as wild as that.
I learned to ride a horse about a week prior to flying to Italy, where we shot it in the Dolomites [a mountain range in the Italian Alps]. I guess we just wanted to make a movie, and I feel like that’s what we did.
You learned to ride a horse in a week?!
AntsLive: I thought I was going to turn into a vegetable when I got to Italy! Being on that horse was terrifying. But there’s just something in me that's always pushing me to go above and beyond in everything I do. When I was practising and people were telling me there was no way that I’d be able to gallop in the space of a week – “it’s unheard of!” – all I could think of is “I can’t wait to prove these people wrong”. I’m not going to act like it was smooth sailing, but we got it done.
‘We’re shooting at 2,500 feet in the air at minus four degrees and I’m riding a horse in a fucking string vest!’ – AntsLive
What do you think it is about this video that a lot of fans connected with?
AntsLive: Respectfully, I think [other] people make music videos and I aspire to make movies. Music videos in general are a bit of a dying art. There’s not as much focus on the visual aspect anymore, but for me, I’ve always grown up loving it. A big part of listening is the visual element to me. I just want to make movies and make sure that all my songs get the visuals that they deserve.
In some ways people weren’t expecting the video – does that make you feel underestimated?
AntsLive: Yes and no. People only expect what they’ve been given. What we did with “Number One Candidate” is something completely different, so I can’t blame the people for lowering their expectations when it comes to visuals. There are some amazing videos that are coming out of the rap scene right now, but I don't think any artist has done what I've done, which is push the boundaries of what you actually can do.
If you think about that video, I’ve learned an entirely new skill, I’m acting in it, we’re shooting at 2,500 feet in the air at minus four degrees, and I’m riding a horse in a fucking string vest! People can only expect what they’ve seen. The wow factor of it – the shock factor – was good to get the song going, but after that, I think people really were just drawn to the music as well and the project in general.
How would you describe your progression in the industry since your first release in 2020?
AntsLive: That’s the keyword, progression. Waves change, especially in the UK, where genres are quickly explored and then something new comes to the surface. But for me as an artist, my focus is always pushing myself out of my comfort zone, making music over different sounds and different beats, and then understanding what feels right in some kind of cohesive project, which is what Just A Matter of Time is.
I spend 10,000 hours plus in the studio, I dedicate myself to the craft, I listen to a variety of music, I write every day. I'm always trying to better myself. There are a lot of people that want to make it and I’ve just applied myself – more than the next man, to be honest with you.
What’s the last text you sent?
AntsLive: “I wanna do a Fire in the Booth” – I sent it to my manager.
The most recent picture on your camera roll?
AntsLive: A screenshot of my calendar, so I don’t forget what's going on.
What’s your ghost outfit?
AntsLive: It’s got to be my full Arsenal trackie from the ‘03-’04 invincible season. Beautiful, beautiful piece of cloth.
Would you record the soundtrack for Rishi Sunak’s next campaign for £10,000?
AntsLive: Hell no.
What’s your star sign and are you a typical one of that star sign?
AntsLive: I’m an Aquarius, but I have no idea what being an Aquarius means.
What’s on your For You Page right now?
AntsLive: Me! You can’t get away from me right now. There are so many videos with my song, but other than that my FYP is just rap, football and funny stuff.
If you could only listen to one musician for the rest of your life who would it be?
What would the line-up be in your nightmare blunt rotation?
AntsLive: Snoop or Wiz [Khalifa], because I would die! I don't even smoke like that… I would whitey so quickly.
Your favourite cornershop snack?
AntsLive: Good question, great question. The coconut Sun Exotic as a drink, and then as a snack I’ve got to say some Strawbs. Terrible habit, but Haribo Giant Strawbs. Too peng.
The most recent note from your Notes app?
AntsLive: It’s from yesterday at 4:30am, the start of a verse that I was writing. It just says “Life changed so quickly” as the first line.
Just A Matter of Time is out now on Payday Records.
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