In Depth: The NorthaZe

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People have either been sleeping under rocks, or must be fresh to northern UK hip-hop if until now they had never heard of The NorthaZe. The north’s most exciting rap duo consists of childhood friends Kosi Tides and Swish, both born in Leeds between ‘95 & ‘96, where they were raised and remained through adulthood. When they were teenagers, Kosi and Swish bonded through their mutual musical interests, beginning to bust rhymes and freestyle before deciding to take their shared passion for music more seriously. Emerging independently less than a decade ago, The NorthaZe became established by their debut release, Up North Trip in 2013. Fusing elements of traditional hip-hop with experimental underground sounds, The NorthaZe soon caught the attention of Blah Records, offering to release projects such as Mellow Thrills and Pulp Diction 3 on their platforms, showcasing The Northaze’s unique sound to Blah’s world-wide audience. Although Blah remain close affiliates, The NorthaZe remained independent having attained their own international following. In 2019 The NorthaZe plan to take the entertainment another step further, promising to drop at least one release unlike any heard before.

From early beginnings, music was instrumental to Kosi and Swish’s upbringings. As teenagers, they both listened to rap music regularly.UK for me as a starter,” said Swish, revealing where his musical influence stemmed from. “Things were a lot more relatable. Obviously, my influence came from Grime which is from the UK. Growing up that was where my influence came from, as well as what my Mum used to play back in the house when I grew up. Hip-hop, R&B, soul, she was into all of that.” ... “I'm more inspired by American rap,” said Kosi, “But that's only because of the versatility. There are many different horizons when I listen to that genre, so it can really stretch my mind to a lot of different places. I like to hear something different.”

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Studying at separate schools across Leeds, Kosi and Swish became acquainted through a mutual friend. Years after the duo formed their friendship, they started to write lyrics and practise spitting together. “I started writing bars from when I was like 15,” said Swish, sharing the history of how The NorthaZe happened. “I first did it with a boy called Kadeem / Kado but stopped doing that after time. Then I went into a clique called DSE, it was me, Kosi, Jav, Hessy, Panashe - I think that was all of us. As time went on, journeys happened and it boiled down to me and Kosi. I think that was like... 2013? Our name at first was called Saiyan Klan, but that didn't last too long - I'm glad we didn't. Kosi then came up with a name more fitting, which is perfect ain't it. We're from the North, rebirthed or recreated through these phases, so NorthaZe.”

Up North Trip was The NorthaZe’s debut release, the foundation of their young rap careers.It's literally a classic,” said Kosi, after Up North Trip was mentioned. “At the time it was all about DatPiff. Back in the day, DatPiff was the link for a lot of UK music so it's on there. That's probably the place it's going to stay, just because that was light work. I still don't think we're ready for physical copies. But if someone decided to download it, then put it on Apple music, I wouldn't take it down.” ... “In terms of testing our perceptions,” said Swish, continuing the conversation. “Sounds and where we wanted to land our feet in? Them times it was more trial and error, and then we put the most concise version of that onto Up North Trip.  I remember making the tunes, we found other beats which weren't ours - remixes. We got to a point in our time where we said no remixes. Everything had to be an original creation. But that's what Up North Trip was, just testing the waters again, finding our feet or what not. There was no physical copies because it literally wasn't taken in such a manner where we wanted to drop physical copies. To put it on CD / physical copies, that takes a lot of care and we have yet to get to that point. Truthfully, if electronics and the internet shut down tomorrow, you'd never hear it.”

After Up North Trip, The Northaze’s next release was called Bonsai. Dropped discreetly, the project was regarded by the duo as more of a stepping stone than a serious release. I think there's about eight tunes, no features,” explained Kosi, giving insight into his thoughts on Bonsai. “I'll be honest with you, I don't know where it is either! Unless people ask us about it, we'll never explain it because they were literally just stepping stones for us, to find out our artistry. We put it out onto the word and thought, 'Nah we're better than this.' We could delete Up North Trip but we're just not going to. Those two projects from them time were like training. Up until now, in terms of the significance of them, we hold them in a different way. We class our projects almost as sparring matches, a lot of them were trial and error even though it might sound like we had got it all figured out. We like to try new things, we've still  got a long way to go. We don't like to leave our whole journey for the world to see, until we're ready for that sort of thing.”

Our first four projects were all recorded in one place,” said Kosi, answering where The NorthaZe recorded their earliest projects. “Dubwhy Studios with EXP - a nice little studio in Leeds which has always shown us love. From start until maybe two and a half years ago, that was the only place we went. We never recorded anywhere else. Now we have a home studio, so we kind of do it ourselves. But I think we're probably going to venture there a few more times.”

After releasing a string of trial and error projects, The NorthaZe caught the attention of Blah Records. In 2016, The NorthaZe released Mellow Thrills through Blah, exposing their unique hip-hop style to Blah’s world-wide fanbase. “We dropped a video called ‘Acme Creek’ in 2015,” said Swish, revealing how The NorthaZe became affiliated with Blah. “We were working on Mellow Thrills at the time. Lee Scott commented on the video and then messaged us about two months after it came out, he was basically like, 'Your music is sick, do you want to put it through this label?' We were already working on something else, so it kind of felt like everything fell into place anyway. It was originally Bisk who introduced us. We don't have any agreement, we aren't signed or anything. I don't know what it is with Lee, but we seem to have this mutual respect where no matter what, it's just always love. It's just some sort of relationship we have through music alone. Lee is the GOAT. He lives through his music, know what I mean? He's had a huge part in where we've ended up so far, so we're very, very grateful to him.”

From there we've been in a place where we can always be productive from the outside,” continued Swish, answering if life changed significantly following the release of Mellow Thrills. “From the inside we were always doing stuff, but in terms of people asking for shows? We got our first festival through Blah, so it definitely put us in a different place where you can start thinking more about the future and not the present. We had more to look forward to, Lee gave us that extra push which put us into the atmosphere where we could stride to go somewhere.”

On January 8th 2018, The NorthaZe dropped a visual for their single called Brew Talk, the first track lifted from their earliest release of 2018, Lunar Duplex. “The time we recorded that,” said Kosi, sharing memories from recording Brew Talk. “Was the time we were recording every other day possible. It was just non-stop music at one point, so I really like that song. That was very, 'this is not training - this is the real game' and I'm performing well. It was the most homely feel, it was really homely - the whole vibe of Brew Talk and Lunar Duplex. It just reminds me of home. It was all done in my living room, I mixed all of it. The name goes with what it was, inside the house. There was two of us, it was literally duplex. We only pretty much recorded at nighttime. The name didn't come from that, but that was what it was.”

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“We're really weird about this,” said Kosi, answering if the nine tracks featured on Lunar Duplex were all that were made or ones which made the final cut. “Because we already know it we're going to put it there - just from hearing the beat, because the beat talks to us and then the people, if you get me? We already know it's going to be special, once we hear something and we know that sound is 'the' sound, then we build around the sound. The sound gives us the emotion or thought, which gives us so much to build so much around it.” ...  It's definitely a two-way process,” added Swish. “Sound can be able to provoke emotions you want to us, it's important man. We're very picky with details, OK we have all the freedom in the world to do what we want. That still doesn't mean everything won't be more concise, with beats we want 100%. Anything less is just not worth our time. Sometimes that can be over a period, but then when it appears we know what time it is, to take over into that mind-state.”

Following the release of Lunar Duplex in May 2018, The NorthaZe dropped Pulp Diction 3 in August, just three months later. “We dropped Pulp Diction 2 in 2016,” said Kosi, explaining how they were ready to drop two projects within three months. “And basically planned to do Pulp Diction 3 so many times. We always ended up getting to the end of it thinking ,'this isn't it.' We thought right, all these beats from the second one were made by Jack Danz, so let’s go straight to the source. We said to Danz, 'Are you up for Pulp Diction 3?' and he was like, 'I'm more than up for Pulp Diction 3.' Then we literally just began recording from there - we'd go down there to record and mix it all, then we'd go home. We did that over a few months, it didn't take that long to make because it was all from home, based in the area. It came together really nicely. We thought, Lunar Duplex is one side of us - the sabre sound, but then you got the other side which people appreciate. We thought, let's give them both in 2018. Blending them together is the next path. The project was all produced by Jack Danz. Lee Scott is the guy who put us in a decent position in terms of music, then Blacks is our boy from the ends. So it's posse'd up basically. It was fun and I will do more features in the future, literally because of that project.”

We toured with Astroid Boys,” said Kosi, relieving memories from The NorthaZe touring over 2018. “Crazy shows. Good people as well man. To be honest, I spent so much time in the car, there was so much travelling... It was no sleep performing and travelling, but it was fun.” ...We had never been on them kind of stages before,” added Swish. “So for us to do it was like, training until next time we get the opportunity to do so. We got a feel for what was going on, it was sick. Real nice people.”

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“Definitely,” said Kosi, answering if people can expect The NorthaZe to drop a project in 2019. “I couldn't go a year without dropping a project. To be honest, we are working on our sound at the moment. We have a lot to put out, but in terms of formulating something which is what we exactly want it to be, we're still putting that together at the moment. A lot of the time, because we're so picky, we don't accept anything which isn't exactly how we want it. If it's not exactly how we want it to the T, we won't take it. And if we do take it, we won't treat it exactly how we want it, because it's not.” … “That's the way we are,” added Swish. “It's early in the year, there's always self-reflection, or self-analysis of what's going on. I think that we've got to a point where it's just a routine. You get all the information about what's going on at the moment. That's why we do it, that's how we function.”

Kosi, Swish, thank you for your time. Any final shouts?

“Shout out the North, Blah Records and Lee.”

Words by Evo @ethanevo

Photography by Rob Searle @rslbm

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