Interview: Koder on honesty, international fanbase, future sounds & dream chat group

Koder is an artist of versatility and adaptation. His extensive career contains various areas of music and business, alongside his involvement in supporting other artists.

Here, we delve into why Koder is such a dynamic artist; his history; his international fanbase; pirate radio; pop-up studios; his latest EP Kameloeon; his honesty and openness in records; artists 'keeping it real'; lyricists to look out for; his involvement in nurturing young talent; the future sound to take public attention; and his dream group chat.
"I’m in it to tell my story in the most authentic and honest way possible."

From the streets of South London's Brockley, Koder began his music career through the help of the late O Boy and Change, and Knox (producer). Amping up the progression once his music perked the ears of those in his area, Koder went all in and built his own studio - learning all intricate details of how to engineer, record and mix vocals. His debut mixtape in 2013, The Calm, turned heads by its explosive energy, range of styles, and Koder's fiery delivery. This led to the stand out track, "Avenger"; taking inspiration from Koder's love of comics and his aims of dominating the scene.
The Naked EP brought the return of Lewisham's golden child after 2 years, providing a "an earnest effort encapsulating inner perspectives and melodic versatility". Here we see Koder slow down his sound - learning, evolving and experimenting. We are presented with honest, real-life analysis from Koder; something that brings a large relatability to his music, and shows his growth as a man.

In the meantime and between time, Koder has put the work in - from collaborations with certified MCs (the likes of Skepta, Novelist, and Rude Kid, to name a few); having a heavy presence on the live music scene; growing an international fanbase, most notably in Germany; and securing a brand partnership with Puma, which developed into the innovative 'pop-up studio'.

To conclude, we reach present day, to his latest project release - Kameleon EP 1. This following interview is an attempt to delve inside the mind of such a versatile artist; acknowledge his perspective; grasp his personal achievements and lessons; and present content that young artists and music intermediaries can learn from and run with.

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Pirate radio, cyphers, battles, clashes, sets, live bands, singles, projects, shows, festivals…; You have lived through and achieved a great deal in your career. Can you talk on the contrast of these different elements?

Pirate radio I’d say is where it all started. That’s where you learn performance techniques, how to hold the mic, how to keep people engaged, how to create an environment, learn which beats you sound good on and don’t, what beats compliment you. Because when the DJ mixes and you hear the next beat coming, and you’ve heard yourself on that beat, I'll know what bars to spit. You start to kind of build a formula from pirate radio and build experience as an MC.

With cyphers, you have to have a sharp pen for cyphers cause you’ve got loads of MC's and you might only have the opportunity to spit a 16 or a 32 bar. Whatever you come with has to be mind-blowing and has to spark a reaction you know, because you’ve got less time sometimes. I’ve been on sets where there’s 20, 30 people in the room you know what I mean, so sometimes you might only get the mic once, so you’ve gotta make sure when you get that mic, you’re saying something that gets the reaction or gets the reload or whatever.

Battles - yeah, I done Lord of the Mics. Yeah battles are interesting because in preparation I was able to really study grime history more. I wanted to like study all the clashes that had happened and what worked in that clash, why that person won that clash, and really study it - really study the art of war when it came to battling. So that took me on another journey through not only grime history but hip-hop history. Looking back at Jay-Z vs Nas, looking at what made that such a big clash, Skepta vs Devil Man, Wiley vs Kano, Nasty Jack vs Wiley, looking back at all those moments and taking certain elements and saying “Yo, I really need that wow factor, I need that shock factor, I need that lyrical part”. Ghetts vs Skepta, I learnt a lot from that clash, because obviously Skepta was super like straight forward flow, the clarities always there. Whereas Ghetts is more like, more of a skippy flow, so I saw which worked for both of them. I saw moments where Ghetts got him because he’s entertaining with the skippyness, but then Skepta just killed him with the simplicity, you know - so I was able to kind of like combine different skills.

- Koder Live Set. Boiler Room. London. Nov 2016.

Live bands, that’s more musical in terms of you get time to improvise. I started quite early on – I remember performing with a live band in 2012, opening up for N-Dubz at Somerset House. But even before that, when I went to college, we had to deconstruct songs and make our own live versions. I was always the rapper and executive producer of the song, so live band experience I had it from day. With live its more of an authentic experience I’d say, so you really have to work the crowd and be ready to improvise if needs be. Like be ready to just go into a freestyle or do some crowd participation and know the band’s names because at the end you have to big up the band, you don’t wanna be like “yeah big up ermmm my man on keys…” - like performance etiquette and just growing as a performer.

Festivals is the same I’d say. Festivals is about whatever you've been doing on a smaller scale but doing it on a larger scale. So say for example, you have a venue that’s got 100 capacity and you’ve mastered how to engage in that intimate setting, it’s okay to bring that same energy to 10,000, 5,000 people, it could be 400, it’s how can I give them that same personal experience but spread it amongst thousands of people. Bringing that new energy and converting people that are seeing you for the first time. When I did Ends festival, going on stage and converting people to follow my journey, you know.

So, this is the contrast of the different elements. It’s just being ready. I’d say the through-line between all elements is being ready and being prepared and treating every show like it’s your last or your first, and just never looking at one show bigger than the other. Just looking at it like “okay if I’ve agreed to see a show, I’ve also signed up to give my best”. I can’t be like “I’ve got a festival and a show at a rave, but then give the festival all my energy” - nah, give everything. When we were doing rehearsals for the festivals, we were also rehearsing for Clash Magazine, we were just building a set that we know works; that can be adapted to anything.
"...literally you’re in there, and at any moment, a new challenger could walk in."
I’m always working towards a project as I like to make my releases cohesive. Sometimes a song might come out as a single in that process, but I’m always project driven. I always think conceptually, and I think being single driven can limit creativity.

What has been your fondest memory of pirate radio?

You got me going through my memory bank right now! I’d say Ladywell 2006/7, Kenny Allstar’s DJ’ing Grime Online, that was where all the top MC’s from Lewisham would come through and just spit. We’d be in there spitting for four hours sometimes and new MC’s would just walk in. You’d be in there and the door would open, and it might be Kozzie or Tigz Man, it might be Ben A.D or Black Mafia’s; literally you’re in there, and at any moment, a new challenger could walk in. You could of just spat all your bars that you’ve ever wrote and then all of a sudden five MC’s roll in with fresh bars, so now you have to go and think of other bars; it kept you on your toes. And because it was so local as well, no one cared about cameras in your face; everything was just raw and authentic like you just rolled up however you rolled up. “Phone Line Crew” is about me going radio, after doing other things and then going straight to radio and spitting, so I’d say that’s the best experience because that was the proving ground. If you didn’t have bars, you couldn’t step in that room. Sometimes with the more industry stuff and organised stuff that brands put on, and stuff that’s a lot more organised and you have a month to prepare, it can get a bit like you’re acting up to the camera, whereas this was like, “okay it’s Friday, we know every Friday that sets are on, you’re either gonna go or you’re not”. If you’re not going, it’s because you haven’t got bars. Me and Tempo where in there every week. There were times where me and Tempo were there so long with Kenny, that every MC would leave, and me and Tempo would still be there going back to back - that was a true indication.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

I think the obvious thing to say would be The Ends, but it’s not. Like because of what happened, it’s a very sick moment that I will never forget, but I’d say I done a LDNZ one time at a club called Kamio in Dalston, and we had over 500 people that came and I remember thinking, “rah, man’s running the whole show, booked the venue”. Octavian and Jay Lewn was on that line-up; just artists that are doing their thing now. Hache, Sharna Cane, Nina Rose hosted, and I just ran the event. I’d say that’s my proudest moment because it was a grind, I saw the results of actually marketing, selling tickets and having everyone there. I performed at the end and everyone knew the lyrics, so I’d say it was one of my proudest moments because I was able to see the fruits of my labour, and my hard work really come to life and I was like “yo!” That moment showed me anything is possible because I thought of that concept on a notepad and I believed in it, and then we filled up the whole room and gave artists a mad platform. So, for me that would be my proudest moment but it’s hard cause I've got different moments for different things. If you said my most selfish moment, then I would say The Ends festival and going on stage with Ghetts because that’s one of my favourite MC’s and it’s like everything I mentioned in my first answer, prepared me for the moment. Ghetts just calls you on stage, from the crowd and you’re prepared.

- Koder, ENDZ Festival. Vlog & Live Performance. Jun 2019.

As I understand, from a previous interview of yours, you have a significant and strong fanbase in Germany. Why do you think they connect with you so much?

I think it’s transparency, you know. I think people see that I’m an artist that’s willing to go above and beyond to deliver an experience, and I think that's what translates and breaks down every language barrier; any cultural misunderstanding or cultural barrier. Them being able to look in my eyes on stage and know like “Yo, I’m not playing, I haven’t come to play games, I’ve come to leave this stage exhausted, I’ve come to give you all of me”. I think that’s what translates because when I do speak to people and they comment on my shows, a lot of them are like, “Yo, your show is one of the best shows I've seen in my life”. When I done Splash people were saying, “Yo, I was on my way to watch Young Thug and I stopped at your stage and I missed Young Thug to watch you, and you’re one of the best performers I’ve ever seen”. So, when people are saying stuff like that to you, I think that does come from the level I go to when I’m performing. I’ve always had this idea that you leave me in the room with any audience and I will convert them. I've always had that belief because I know if there’s anything, man ain’t good at math, man ain’t good at science but I’m good at performing. I'm good at being an artist so I know if you put me in a room with strangers from all different backgrounds, I can convert them. They’re gonna be like “I don’t normally like that music, but I like that” and that's why the brand is called Undeniable, because it’s that thing of going above and beyond and people feeling the energy so much that they can’t deny it.
"I can name you German artists, New Zealand artists, producers in each country because I’ve invested my time in the actual place; not just gone and taken the bag, and come back."
So, I’d say that’s what translates internationally. And as well, you can come up and talk to me, so a lot of people that are rocking with me, are rocking with me because some of them have seen me perform and then was able to come and talk to me and have real conversations. Then they tell their friends, then next time I’m in the country and they bring five friends along, then those five friends have a similar experience, then they bring friends along and then you start to build this support base. It's building relationships and making friends. What’s difficult is having friends in another country, but those friends then respecting you as an artist, are two different things. You can have friends that support your journey, but having friends that are actually a fan of your music are two different things. They’re not just coming because you’re cool, they’re coming because this is gonna be lit and I’m one of their favourite artists. So, when I do a show, I’m able to get the respect as an artist and not just their friend, and I’m able to build little support bases in all different countries just based on that same energy. Like not just going to pimp out the place, like actually going and caring about the culture. Right now, I can name you German artists, New Zealand artists, producers in each country because I’ve invested my time in the actual place; not just gone and taken the bag, and come back, you know. UFO361, LUCIANO, RIN, SHINDY in Germany, yeah those are the few that I rock with. I don’t understand what they’re saying, but I feel what they’re saying. And New Zealand: ENO, DIRTY, OMNIPOTENT, RAIZA BIZA, JESS B, BLAZE THE, EMPEROR, VAYNE, DEBRIS. The lists are mad but like I said, I’ve invested in both scenes by actually taking an interest in the sound enough to follow artists’ journeys.



Recently you created the Undeniable pop-up studio with Puma. How did this idea form? How was it successful? And what take-aways did you gather from this?

That opportunity sparked when I was at Splash Festival in Germany. I had a booking out there and I went to Splash because my boy was running the studio there. There was a night when no one was using it, so there was a few of us chilling, we start making a beat and I’m like, “let's leave the windows open because obviously we’re at a festival in the VIP area, you never know who might walk past”.

There was loads of people there, I met A Boogie, anyone could walk past and be feeling it and jump on a song with me. So I’m in the booth now and I’m recording for time, and then I come out the booth and there’s a whole party going on because there’s people that had been walking past and come into the studio and partying to the song I just made and singing to the hook so I’m like, “Rah this is dope”. And then one of the guys there happened to work for Puma and we just became friends. So, he was working on a project and he brought me, and the Undeniable team, to an Arsenal game and said he wanted to bring some of the players to check out my studio. He wanted to bring me into the football world and bring the Puma Young Guns into the music world; so it was just a visit to the studio to explain my recording process. But then Jean Michel makes a mad beat and then the players just start writing bars and I’m like “Okay, I didn’t expect this but cool”. So, I’m like “Yo, you lot got bars”, then it just turned into a party in the studio and the players start writing and recording verses, and then Yannick who works for Puma, said he wanted to do it again. He spoke to us about it and was like “Yo, I want to do that again but at the Puma headquarters with a similar vibe”. I had a track called Win, and Puma got behind it from early so he’s like, “Let’s base it around Win, shoot a video and build Undeniable Studios at the Puma Headquarters in Germany”. So, they flew us out there to perform, build the studio, shoot the video and let the players make their own version of Win.


So yeah, it’s been a relationship that’s been building. I really like Puma because they believe in my ideas and even willing to listen to my ideas. A lot of the time you can work with corporate brands and they just wanna give you products to advertise; you don’t even know who works at these companies really, you just have an email and they just send you to a store to get stuff to advertise for them. But with Puma, I’ve actually been able to build friendships off it, and go to the headquarters and meet people, and see how things are put together and have more than just a business relationship. It’s still a business relationship at the core, but there’s respect for what I do and for what they do. We can go and pitch them an idea and they’re gonna listen to it, and if it works, they’re gonna give us the resources necessary to bring that idea to life. I think that’s what it’s about - brands that are willing to get behind an artist’s message. Puma’s behind Nipsey (rest in peace), Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Emery Jones; so many artists that have a message, that are hustlers that have changed their lives around but are still hustling. So, when I worked with them, I saw that, “Yeah, you lot are really willing to hear new ideas”.

Kameleon is very honest in its content. Do you use music as a release? And how do you find the confidence to deliver your life on record - its ups and downs?

I can’t help it man. There are times when I try and write about being the best rapper in the world, but I don’t feel no connection with that because I’m not in it to try and be the best rapper, I’m in it to tell my story in the most authentic and honest way possible. My hunger to get better as a rapper is just so you connect with my story more; whilst making it more entertaining. With that being said, when it comes to honesty, that’s just at the centre of everything I do. Everything I do is grounded in reality and I’ve got no choice but to tell my story. Because, I do think about generations ahead and having kids one day, and them being able to have an album or a collection of albums, where they know my thoughts and what I was thinking. My grandchildren can listen to it and be like “Rah this is what grandad was thinking” or, “This is how he saw the world” - this is what my relationship was like with my mum, or this is how I transitioned in my area, or this is what I thought about politics at the time; it’s basically like an audiobook. There are certain people, you read their biographies about certain times in history, and you’re able to get an understanding about that time because of their honesty in the situation - like a diary basically. And I just wanna be as honest in my diary as possible, because I think when you give people honesty, they’re able to make decisions based on being given real advice or information. So, I’d say it's a gift and a curse but more a gift, because I can’t do anything but write from a real place.


At the same time, if I wanna make a record that’s just about being that rapper, if I need to tap into that, I just go do a grime set and just lick off everyone’s head. The difficult bit about being honest, which I realised this year, sometimes I have conversations on records that I haven’t actually had with the people I’m talking about, so it gets tricky because this year I’ve only realised that. So there’s certain things I’ve said about my mum on records, or girlfriends, friends, and they might be at the show hearing how I feel about a certain situation for the first time when everyone else is hearing it - I never took that into consideration before. Before it was just about a release, getting it off my chest, where I’m just so in music mode and in the moment - so now I feel like there’s gonna be more conversations I have outside of music. My music has sparked conversations and started dialogue in my family that wouldn’t really have been spoken about. And where I’ve got a team now, Undeniable, I have a lot more time to think, and because of that it means I have time to think about other things, like the impact my music has on the people close to me. If a girlfriend done me wrong today, I might make a song about it tomorrow and we might be friends again next week, but that song still comes out and it becomes a moment in time. I remember I had a song called “A Week Ago”, about a friend supposedly snitching and it went viral around the whole hood. It was on a channel called Rap City and it had like 80,000 views and just went viral in Lewisham because everyone knew the story, they knew who I was talking about, etc. Me and that person’s cool now but when we had a conversation about it, they was pissed off but it was like “Yo, when you left me in the hood for everyone to think whatever they was thinking, because you went and done what you done. You was my best friend and everyone looked at me like ‘Oh, are you guilty by association?’, and I’m having problems in my area because of that, I had to express it”. I had to make a record and explain to everyone like “Yo, he's who he is and I’m who I am, leave me alone init”. Now we’re cool, not tight but cool, because we had a conversation based off the fact that I turned the situation into a movie.

There is a continued debate in rap about “keeping it real”. Do you think rappers should spit their reality no matter what it is? Can an artist be successful creating content that the consumer wants, but may not be true to that artist?

100%, fakeness is like Wi-Fi right now - it’s just everywhere. At any moment someone could just wake up out of bed and decide this is who I am; I’m going where I want, and this is who I am. I used to be a badman, used to be this or that, then they just try and authenticate it by consistently doing it. If you consistently give people something for long enough, they’re gonna believe it. If you’re pretending that you’re a badboy for long enough, you actually end up getting into badboy situations because that’s the energy you’re attracting. And then you might do a badboy ting and just punch a man over, and then all of a sudden, it just validates everything you were saying. So, the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing works for some people but in terms of longevity, I don’t think it works. I don’t think there’s an artist that was able to keep up a lie for over 10 years, or long enough for us to still listen to their music now. I think when you listen to Jay-Z’s story, 50 Cent, Nas, like real authentic stories; they’ve had the same consistent message because their story’s real. If we take it to the UK and you listen to Ghetts, or Skepta, or Kano, or Wiley; those kinds of people who have been the staple of our industry. Giggs is the prime example. Giggs is the nicest person when you meet him; he’s very cool but people still have that level of respect for Giggs, where it’s like, people don’t even wanna say ‘I don’t like that Giggs tune’. They’ll say it in secret but there’s still that thing of ‘we don’t talk bad about Giggs’, because his story's authentic, and people respect that, and look where Giggs is now.
"I just think it’s about giving your truth, but at the same time there’s no rules."
We all have a Giggs story. You could bring people from different sides of London and sit us in a room, and we could talk for hours about a song that Giggs has, that was the soundtrack to our life at one point, and that song was a real song. But I think in London it’s harder to get away with the fakery because it’s so small. Like in America, you could be in Atlanta chatting shit and a man from New York believes you. Whereas in London, automatically a man would just phone up someone in their area and be like, “Is my man really on it?” And they’ll be like, “Nah man he’s a dickhead, he got boxed up”. And then you'll be like, “Okay cool”, and then you’ll just watch it like, “Okay, I don’t wanna watch it, it's not real”. So, I think it’s harder to be fake here at the moment, but that could change. I mean you had people thinking Big Shaq was a real artist; people in America thinking it was real. It was like, we all knew in London that it was comedy but then you have people in America where they're so used to these people who are mad characters and saw Big Shaq and thought, “Yeah that’s a real person, because in America, there’s people like him”. I think in the UK, no disrespect to America, because [the UK is] a lot smaller, a rep check can happen in two seconds.
So, on the other side of the question, I just think it’s about giving your truth, but at the same time there’s no rules. There’s music I like, and I don’t know the person’s back story, I just like the sound of it. I don’t actually care to a certain extent if they’re doing it or not, but if I’ve invested in your journey then I do want to know that it’s authentic, if that makes sense. There are some people I can just listen to when I need to turn up or I’m getting ready to go out and I don’t really care whether they’re telling the truth or not. If I’m taking time to listen to you, I’ve got my headphones in and I’m zoning, then I want it to be a real experience, you know.

Commencing music aged 12, until now; what do you think is the most powerful piece of knowledge you've gained?

Persistence breaks resistance - that’s it.

As an MC capable of switching styles, and with UK drill dominating the street currently; what do you think the next musical trend will sound like?

I think garage. I think it’s gonna be very garage influenced, the next sound. Not saying my sound will be, I’m saying the next sound, the next trend will be garage. It might even be a bit of drum and bass, some liquid drum and bass; something that’s not too heavy. Like some Soulful drum n bass or garage, I think its gonna go back to that.

Is there one artist that currently impresses you that we may not know about?

Kye Maroon definitely. She’s just raw talent, unapologetic, fearless; and just willing to push, to be Undeniable, the greatest. When I work with her, and when you hear her, she just wants to be better. She’s on that journey of wanting to be the best to ever do it. So, I’d say she’s really exciting.
Someone who’s got music out, I would say Yizzy. Watching his journey has been crazy. Seeing him grow as an artist, as an MC, becoming his own person, battling off all these MC’s, shutting down all the critics consistently, still has a message in his music spreading positivity. So, I think yeah, Yizzy and Kye Maroon are two artists I’ve always got time for and keep my eyes on.

You once said in the 2013 Respect interview that, in 10 years’ time, you like to be working with new artists and supporting new talent. How is that progress?
"[It's] crazy to hear that because it’s actually starting to manifest."
I’ve got my own music studio where I’ve got new talent coming through consistently. I’ve put on over 6 or 7 showcases where I’ve given artists platforms to perform. I had my own radio show in New Zealand where I was playing new artists all the time. I mentor a few artists. I’ve given artists opportunities where I’ve connected them with SBTV or different platforms for them to get their stuff out there.

It’s crazy I said that because at the time, I wasn’t doing that at this scale. At the that time, I had a very personal creative process whereas now, I’m in the studio and we’re recording and there’s a few people in there sometimes now. So, I’d say that’s crazy to hear that because it’s actually starting to manifest, I guess. When I done that interview, I had never put on shows, I had never really done anything; I hadn’t even done a headline show. I think my first headline show was 2015 Naked EP, so hearing that is mad. I think I did that interview in 2013, so that’s crazy.

Who would you have in your dream group chat?

Rihanna, Alhan, Charlamagne Tha God, Julie Adenuga, and I need a troll… and my boy Joey, well my boy Julian because he’s too funny. He’ll be in there saying “Ayo Rhi Rhi, hear what I’m saying yeah” and tryna draw Rhi Rhi all the time, or we’ll just drop a name in the group chat and the banter would just be mad - the different elements would be crazy. Because Rihanna just wouldn’t care about anything. She’s the person who never replies or just do one-word things. She’s got banter but I don’t think she’s there to entertain her own banter. You know some people drop a joke in the group chat, and they stay doing a joke off the back of the joke, and they go back and forth about their joke. I think she would just make her joke, make her statement and just dip; and then everyone would just be left like, “Oh shit!” And I think Julie would just be in there saying, “That’s not funny”. Like someone would just crack a joke and she’ll be like, “Yeah that’s not funny”, and then that will be funny, you know what I mean. And the voice notes would just be lit. So yeah, I think that would be the dream group chat. I might make that group chat one day still…



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Image credit: Graeme Day