Meet UK MC Otis Mensah, the rapper who is driven by instrumentals

Otis Mensah is a young storytelling poet and rapper based out of the UK. Describing himself as an alternative hip hop artist, he has had one hell of a year performing at Glastonbury and releasing a number of singles.

We sit down with Otis to discuss inspirations, the art of rap and new music. Harry Upton writes.

Tell us about a typical day in the life of Otis Mensah?

A typical day for me usually consists of listening to a lot hip-hop music, a lot of boom bap and contemplation. Keeping up to date with all my favourite artists and discovering new realms of music and artistry. I spend of a lot my time working out my release schedule and writing new music and poetry, whilst monitoring my work and figuring out how to best progress to reach the goals that I’ve set myself for my music and art. I also try to keep up to date with emails and bookings as an independent artist. A typical day for me, when I have a show in the evening is usually spent rehearsing, drinking lots of honey/lemon tea; trying to preserve my voice and getting into the headspace I need to be in to perform to the best of my ability.

I recently had the opportunity to see you live and you have quite a unique style and flow, how would you describe it?

I’d describe the style and realm of music that I consider myself to be in as alternative hip-hop, which I feel necessitates a level of experimentation and openness stylistically when it comes to flow and my approach to writing music. I’d describe the style & flow as off-kilter and slightly to the left.

And you perform a mixture of spoken word and hip hop, was it always the plan to do both?

I feel like the two lend themselves to and fuel each other so it kind of happened naturally that I participated in both worlds of hip-hop and spoken word. When I feel that I can’t write within the parameters of an instrumental, I often find I’m able to write without music, which ends up sounding a lot more free-fall but in essence is the same expressionism. I don’t tend to think of them as separate and feel that the kind of hip-hop artists I’ve been inspired by naturally lean towards a style of hip-hop that is more poetic. My perception of rap as an art form is ‘rhythm-assisted-poetry,’ which is a term that I discovered online but feel best represents the art form that I love so much and see myself contributing to. I feel that versions of rap music that don’t fall under that definition are essentially pop music that uses or sometimes extorts the art of rap.

So who do you like listening to?

I listen to so much hip-hop, different styles, sub genres and cultures. Some of my favourites are people like Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi and Open Mike Eagle. I’m also a massive fan of the Rhymesayers collective so artists like Atmosphere, P.O.S, Dem Atlas. Common is also one of my favourite artists and enjoy listening to a lot of The Roots.

How do you go about writing new music?

Most of my writing is driven by the instrumental, I’m currently working alongside some incredible producers including the intern from Berlin, who creates soulful, jazzy, mellow, sample-driven, boombap instrumentation and hearing his instrumentals along with others lead me to the place where I’m able to sit and write. Writing for me is very personal and I use it as a means of therapy and expression. I find I’m able to write at points when there’s been a natural build-up of thoughts, ideas or worries, internally which eventually translates into what is my music and poetry, externally on paper.

Does it take on a new form when you perform live?

Yeah, it definitely takes on a new form when performing live, it almost feels that in focusing on the performance aspect of a song I disconnect slightly to the emotional attachment I made with the lyrics when writing them and I’m able to observe the music from a spectators standpoint to see how what I’m saying relates to others, which teaches me a lot about my own songs.

2017 looks like it's been a big year for you, what have been the highlights so far?

It’s been such an incredible journey so far, I’d say one of the highlights was being able to perform at Glastonbury Music Festival on the BBC Introducing stage. It was an amazing experience and showed me what is possible with my art and music. I found the whole experience truly inspiring and encouraging knowing that I was given the opportunity to perform on a stage of that calibre, at the same festival alongside some of my favourite artists. Another highlight was recently traveling to Berlin to meet up with my producer the intern and being able to sit together with him to discuss new ideas and music, whilst recording some new material in SoundCloud Studios.

For people who haven't seen you live, what could they expect?

I try to create an atmosphere live that resembles a journey from start to finish, where the audience can grow together with me, accompanied by some mellow, Boombap instrumentation, lyric heavy songs. I guess you can expect high energy, narrative, an introspective look into my life and potentially a light shined on our shared existential quarrels.

What's coming up next for Otis Mensah?

I plan on continuing a series of single releases that I started during the beginning of 2017, available on platforms like SoundCloudBandcamp and now Spotify, working with producers like; The Intern, Oskar Rice, Elijah Bane etc. In an attempt to remain consistent, continuing to grow and develop with my music and progress my sound and style. Along with releasing visuals to accompany the new music; telling the story of my music and trying to make an artistic statement from a perspective that hasn’t been reached before. I’m also currently planning a UK tour and will be playing live as much as possible; all updates on new music and live dates will be made available over on my Facebook/Instagram. Just continuing to reach the people who feel they can relate to my music and growing a community who are able to feel less alone in solidarity with the art and culture called Hip-Hop that we love so much.

What stimulates your soul?

Experiencing hip-hop music & culture, being able to contribute to that myself through writing & performing my music, reaching people through my art, and spending time with loved ones.