Mad About: Proph

Joe Simpson

By Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson

19 May 2023

Hailing from Thornton Heath in South London, Proph has quickly become one of the most exciting talents the UK Rap scene has to offer. Still at a relatively early stage of his career, the artist has demonstrated an ability to produce at an elite level, as well as possessing one of the sharpest pens in this country. Fresh from releasing his stunning debut EP, ‘Lost In Translation’, we caught up with Proph to discuss his musical journey so far, his influences, and his creative process:

How did you get into making music?

I’ve been musical. I started to write songs when I was about seven or eight – obviously they were trash but you have to start somewhere. Then when I was ten I started doing theatre stuff which added another aspect to it. When I was in secondary school, that love for music kind of just turned into the love for Hip Hop and Rap and all that stuff. I guess it’s just been like a continuous journey from then really. There’s always been some form of music in my life from the beginning,

You also taught yourself production. What was that process like for you?

It was fairly quick, to be honest. I was 15 I believe, and it was a quick process because I was so obsessed with it. At that time, all I really cared about was just getting better and finding my sound and all that stuff. I think that in a year or two years time, I was probably quite advanced for someone who has taught themselves, because that’s literally the only thing I did.I think it helped develop my mind musically, as well, in terms of how I made music because now there’s a whole other aspect that I can show.

You’re obviously still in the early stages of your career, but could you pick a moment of breakthrough that made you think that you could do this professionally?

That’s a good question. I think I’ve had a lot of little moments that make up an overall journey but if I had to pick one I would say my performance at Amazing Grace. I was playing at a showcase for emerging artists and yeah, that performance just felt mad special. I was the last performer and the reception was crazy. I feel like that performance led on to me doing Wireless and all those things there. Obviously there have been moments before and since but that one really hit home and showed me that this is actually something that’s tangible.

Who would you say are the biggest influences on your music?

Obviously I grew up on a lot of Rap, Hip-Hop, maybe some R&B and older stuff like Soul as well. I always say my favourite is Lauryn Hill. Even just in my style, the way I rap, the way I sound on my vocal inflections is quite Lauryn Hill-esque. Even though it’s different I can hear the inspiration. Artists like her, Biggie, Kendrick, Michael Jackson. Just great artists.

Do you feel more influenced by the US than the UK?

I feel like the US scene is more of an inspiration to me because of the artistry. Obviously I’m from the UK and I make UK Rap so UK music is very much the essence of what I do and obviously I listen to a bunch of guys from the UK.  I think it’s just because the US scene has had so much longer to marinate as well, and they’ve had time to really create these incredible artists who have the classic bodies of work and stuff like that. I think it just comes down to the artistry for me. 

You’ve recently dropped your debut EP ‘Lost In Translation’. What does that title mean to you?

The idea came from when I was first getting into the challenge of making music when I was 16. It was kind of just an expression of how I felt at the time. I think it came from being in that state of mind, feeling like I couldn’t communicate in any sense of the word. The only way I felt that I could was through music. That was the first meaning of being lost in translation. The second was based on how my life was going at that time as well. We all grow up with lessons from our parents, schools, church, wherever. These messages can get warped because of factors like where you’re from and become lost in translation. I kind of saw it as a cycle of problems coming from within me as well as coming from where I’m from. I feel like that’s a story that you can see in ghettos everywhere. I just wanted to shed light on that.

That kind of attention to detail runs throughout the project, even to the artwork. What’s the story behind the cover?

I designed it, and then I gave it to an artist because I can’t draw for shit (laughs). The artwork is basically supposed to be a calculation of the area I’m from, so you have like, actual things that I grew up around. You have the corner shop I grew up by on the left side, the ice cream truck and the kids and such and such. You know, it’s like a double edged sword kind of thing. There’s a light and a dark side which is the whole essence of the tape. Then the teacher is pointing towards the track list as a lesson, which is how I constructed the project. The first song is an introduction to my mind state, ‘Sincerely Yours’ is about loneliness, ‘Grand National’ is about pride, ‘Regardless’ is about love and so on. Then the other side is darker and shows feds arresting people, someone smoking by the corner. It’s kind of just trying to encapsulate that conflict of the mind represented by the area.

And across the project you show a lot of variety in your production style. Do you have a favourite track from it?

I love all of them but if I had to choose one it would be ‘Westbrook Road’ just because it was the first song I made for the project. The first draft of that song was made three years ago and it holds a lot of weight for me personally. I just think the storytelling and the intricacies of the writing process really come through. I based some of the writing from a William Blake poem called ‘London’. This was when I was studying poetry and I ended up sampling some of his writing in the song when I say, ‘Dawn to evening, Marks of weakness, Marks of woe.’ I wanted to encapsulate London in the same way that he did. It’s little things and details like that which really hit home for me because I know what went into the making of it.

Your latest single, ‘Grand National’ taps into that 90’s/00’s instrumental style which is making a comeback right now thanks to artists like yourself and Strandz. Who else in your generation are you checking for?

Like you said, I think Strandz is cold. I think I’m probably biased because there’s a lot of people from my hood and round Croydon sides that I think are sick and are definitely going to have their time soon. Kamal as well, he’s from north but I think he’s cold too. With all these guys I feel like there’s a new sort of system where different sounds are being made. I feel like it’s a lot more free as well. I feel like popular UK music has been quite constricted. You had to look a certain way and sound a certain way but now it’s a lot more free. We can just do what we want to do and people are still taking it in.

On the project you show an ability across production, lyrics, and even vocals. What do you think is your greatest asset?

I think my best asset is being a musician. I know how to pull all those things together and just kind of have an oversight of like, “Well, this sounds good/It doesn’t sound good/Where’s this going to come in?” I think of it as crafting music and I feel like all three of them kind of come underneath that. It’s a bit of a cop out answer but..(laughs)

When I make music I can kind of almost be selfish because I’m very picky about how it sounds. I feel like this beginning chapter has kind of been set out now with my production. I want to broaden everything and get new ideas, stretch my boundaries, if that makes sense.

You’ve recently received love from the likes of Chip, Kenny Allstar, Wretch 32. What’s that been like for you?

It’s been crazy. Obviously these are guys that I grew up listening to. The first freestyle I ever recorded was over a Chip beat. I quoted Wretch in my Black Box Freestyle which was one of the first things I ever put out as well. To be with these guys now is just crazy. It’s a thing that just feels right, though. I try to not let these things get to my head but at the same time I don’t want to downplay them. It’s obviously a good indication that I’m doing the right thing so it’s nice, for sure.

Do you have anyone you would like to collaborate with in the future?

Yeah, I’ve got a few on the list. I’m gonna shoot for the stars because I feel like I can visualise it and make it happen. I would love to work on an album with someone like Pharrell. That’s my biggest inspiration, production wise. I think he’s the GOAT. Other people from our scene like Wretch, Ghetts, Stormz. I grew up listening to them so that would be super impactful to me. Cleo Sol and Tems as well – they’re both hard.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and going forward?

I’m pushing this project until the end of the summer because I want it to have its shine and have as many people take it in as possible. I’m also planning a headline show at the end of the year too. Then we’re just going to hit them again at the end of the year and work on more collaborations with other artists. Obviously, up to this point, I haven’t really done that too much. I’m also working on my second project already, so I’m just trying to stay at people’s throats, really and truly■ 

Thoughtful with an underlying confidence, it is clear that Proph has a passion for his craft that more than comes through in his musical output. The rapper has a unique skill set that positions him as an artist who can be a leader of the new generation coming through right now. ‘Lost In Translation’ gave us a glimpse of the talent that Proph has to offer, and it feels as if we will be seeing a lot more of him for many years to come.