After listening to his latest album SOUL SLOCAL, I was reminded of the fact that North London native ItsNate is one of the best rap artists in the UK, and far more people should be listening to his music, but I’m not sure if he thinks about things like that, or maybe he does, who knows?
What I do know though is that ItsNate has not been on my radar for years, I didn’t even realise he was still making some of the best rap music coming out of this country. On some level, I should blame myself for not knowing that ItsNate was still out here putting out opus after opus, because I haven’t had my music journalist hat on in years (but that’s a story for another day), and on another level, I wonder if the current UK rap zeitgeist has its ears open for ItsNate.
Whatever the case may be, we’re here now to talk about ItsNate and his incredible new record SOUL SLOCAL! It was Saturday, August 20, and I was checking my email, as you do, when I noticed that Nate had sent round his new album, and I thought, “who sends out music on a Saturday morning?“, but mostly I thought, “Wow! What a blast from the past, I haven’t heard new ItsNate music in ages, let me check it out“.
And once I pressed play on this thing, it was all she wrote! I literally cannot stop listening to this album. It is one of the best albums I have heard this year, alongside the new Asake album, Mr Money With The Vibe, and the album that Mosaic MSC released in April, This Is How I Thank The Lord.
Like I said above, I haven’t been wearing my music journalist hat for years now, but I really wanted to speak to ItsNate about this record, and in true Slocal fashion, he took me into his world, and shared how this masterpiece of an album came together.
As is immediately apparent when you start listening to SOUL SLOCAL, ItsNate wears his hometown on his sleeves, and he confesses as much, when speaking about what inspired the album. “North London. Family and friends. Our stories“, he says.
Going into more detail about the album’s themes and what he’s trying to articulate on the project, he adds that, “The album’s about London… North London, Islington in particular, the special feeling in the city during the warmer months. Optimism and pragmatism. It’s about the manor and the mandem, how a lot of me and my friends came up and how things have changed and certain things have remained the same“.
What about the creative process behind the project then, how did he and Swedish production duo Sum Comfort, who he describes as “too talented and too patient“, go about putting this thing together? Surprisingly (or perhaps not), ItsNate reveals a pretty laidback creative process for SOUL SLOCAL that also fostered “consistency and comfortability“.
He tells me that, “Sum Comfort and them send me the beat; I put it on my phone… walk through the ends on my errands and whatever and write raps. Come home and record in the crib, then send over to Sum, and then we’ll go back and forth on edits and additional production“.
ItsNate soon reveals that the above took over 18 months to come together. “We started working on this whilst I was still putting final touches on ‘Still Slocal’“, he reveals, “It’s been a journey. Me and Sum were just building for ages and ended up with so many tracks and we wanted to order it with the soul elements as an underpinning, saving the other tracks for something else“.
Significantly, ItsNate opens up the SOUL SLOCAL album with a track titled “Good Shape”, which sees the London rapper talking to himself but also talking to his listeners. “It’s a message for self and for others. We’re in good shape. We’re still ready. We’re not coming out here depleted. Man’s in good shape“, he tells me.
As the song tails off, ItsNate drops off this line, “taking all these body blows but still a brother’s standing“, which is relatable to all of us. As he explains it, “It’s just a comment on life, transitions. Hard times. Life will gut check you sometimes… but you have to roll with the punches and stand up. I’m going till the bell rings what’s good“.
In 2011, ItsNate was asking Twitter what we know about Dalston Beach, and fast-forward a decade, “Dalston Beach” is a song on SOUL SLOCAL in another homage to his London localilty. “I thought of that when I saw the seagulls circling above all the people and activity. Obviously Dalston doesn’t have a beach and it far from an ocean side paradise. But theres beauty in the chaos“, he adds.
That homage to his locality can be heard on songs like “Izzy Adesanya” and “North London Love Letter” – on the former, the “swagger and determination” of UFC champion Israel Adesanya reminds him of his hometown Islington, and on the latter, he extols the virtues of Islington, “That’s home. The bits. We need it on the map. It’s a special place, it gets over looked but not no more lot of talent out of my neck of the woods“.
I want to say that listeners may not expect songs like “Leng Out Of 10” and “Patterns” from ItsNate, but I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment of his music over the years, and his fans may very well say that these songs are very much within his wheelhouse. In any case, we dig deeper into these tracks.
About “Leng Out Of 10”, ItsNate simply says, “Fred (one half of Sum Comfort) sent me a loop and the words came. It was summer time so the season inspired, we get in our UK bag kinda often… Sum comfort bring a different energy to it. It helps“, adding about guest artist Tyra Daniel, “She nailed it. With no direction at all she found the pockets and killed it. The vibe she brought was so needed“.
On “Patterns”, I am especially in love with the bounce and drum patterns on the production, while his skippy flow takes the track to the next level, and ItsNate seems to agree, “Yeah it’s a cold one“, he answers, “I got the loop, and just kinda wanted to have some fun on it. Wanted dance with the drums a bit. Then the guys went back in on the production, and we got MikesPro involved and we got what ‘Patterns’ is now“.
While many like myself might have this notion of ItsNate as an introspective lyrical rapper, that’s not necessarily the case, and he is in braggadocios bag and flexing his rap skills on “Patterns”, and that is exactly the motive with a track like this, according to ItsNate, “I wanted to let people know you’re not doing what I’m doing. My patterns flow wise are different. My patterns out the booth are different. We are not the same“.
He further tears apart any preconceived notion of what a “lyrical rapper” should be on songs like “Stress Relief” and “Party & Bool”, where he shows his versatility and ability to make diverse crossover and well-rounded songs, and he does this without even trying, “I just make the songs that I like and they take shape they take shape. I been doing this a long time and trust my taste“, he adds.
However, on songs like “Canonbury Park North”, he fully embraces that ‘introspective lyrical rap’ side of his artistic repertoire, as he attests to on the song, “[…] I went the real talks and the thoughts route“. He unpacks that for me saying, “I’m a thoughtful guy and an earnest guy. So that’s my natural disposition… inauthenticity doesn’t sit well with me. So it reflects in how I approach the music and the industry. That’s the road for me. One that is often less travelled in my eyes“.
Before you know it, the album comes to an end with “Light Pollution”, and as ItsNate puts it, “this one is a shedding of the skin“. He describes it as “an intense diary entry I guess“, and he couldn’t be more spot on.
He adds that the song is a “summation of a few years and a few recurring thoughts. ‘Light Pollution’ is the brighting of the night sky by all the street lamps and buildings in cities. This song’s about cutting through the distractions and the smog. Getting to the core of it. Eye of the storm type beat“.
The ethereal chorus from Swedish Ethiopian singer Julía adds to the enchantment of the song, that it feels like a meticulous choice of a feature, but in keeping with the laidback organic creative process of the project, ItsNate confesses that, “Sum Comfort hooked that up, I wrote some phrases, she sang a top line; we went back and forth a couple times and it came out icy. We wanted something earnest and I think we got it“.
I think they got it too, not just on “Light Pollution, but ItsNate gets it all through this album.
As for what comes next for ItsNate, the North London rap keeps it slocal once again, “Music and life. And to get specific, I got sent some fire loops yesterday so I’m going to write to those, do some laundry and make a coffee“.
While we wait for those writings to manifest into perhaps his next record, I implore to press play on SOUL SLOCAL by ItsNate below, it is one of the best rap records of the year. Stream it everywhere else here, and you can also keep tabs on ItsNate on Twitter and Instagram.
Words by Ayo Adepoju