IN DEPTH: Abnormal Sleepz
Manchester’s Abnormal Sleepz has been making moves with his music for a while now and with his new album Kaleidoscope he will certainly be making a lot more and gaining a lot of new fans as soon as they hear it. We caught up with Sleepz to hear all about Kaleidoscope and it’s creation, the lead single and video for Textures, guest appearances on the album, hooking up with Lenzmans North Quarter label, his Manchester hometown, and what has shaped him as an artist. Don’t snooze on Abnormal Sleepz, and make sure you check out the album when it drops!
Your new album Kaleidoscope is out on Friday (6th September). What can we expect from the album when it drops?
In terms of the album, I would generally say it’s a mixture of vibes and feelings, although there’s a lot of different vibes on the album. I would say there’s a lot of honesty and. It’s definitely a journey from start to finish.
How did the recording and creation of the album go?
The creation side of things was funny because some of the tracks are around two years old and I’ve just built on them. As far as the music goes, it was me in my studio a lot of the time, I produced thirteen out of the fifteen tracks and it was a lot of me time in the studio, there weren’t a lot of people involved really.
You have said that the project is almost like a time in your life presented in snapshots, was this always what you wanted the album to be like?
Not necessarily, because for me I like to do things organically so it was in terms of how things had happened at that time. It was what I was going through because a lot of my music is representative of my life , thoughts and feelings at the time I write it, so it just naturally ended up that way.
Textures which features HMD is the first song to be released from the album so far, can you tell us what made you place that track to launch the album with?
Well, with Textures, in regards to that, it was probably the oldest track in terms of when it was created on the actual album and initially it was just going to be an album track but the the response that it got was amazing, and already to me and HMD, it was one of our favourite tracks from the ones that we’ve done together. It has a special place, but at the time I didn’t have much of a platform to put it out apart from Soundcloud so when I got together with Lenzman, he really, really liked that tune and he wanted to re-release it because it’s a crowd favourite and it was worth putting it back out and it’s a strong tune to introduce the album.
The video for the song references the Windrush generation. Did you want to pay tribute to that generation as it’s close to home for you?
Yeah, definitely because growing up in South Manchester and Moss Side, there was a lot of people including myself who had parents and grandparents from the generations that came over from the Caribbean to the UK and Manchester, especially in Moss Side, so it was very important that we represented that with something that a lot of people around us could relate to.
What has the reaction to Textures and it’s video been like so far?
The reactions been amazing to be honest, it’s had plenty of love and a lot of people have said they love it because It’s a bit different to your usual videos and it’s the first time I’ve done a video of that nature, with a team around me. It’s one of a kind so the vibe off the back of that has just been great - it’s nice to know that the hard work has paid off!
The album features guest spots from DRS, Fox And Misha B. Did you always want those artists on the album and what do they bring to the tracks?
Some of them were organic, like the one with Misha B, that was very organic in the sense that when she came to record one of her singles with me, we hadn’t seen each other for a while, but I grew up with her through high school and after her session which she recorded with me, I just pulled up a file and that was that and it just became what it was. The song with DRS, I felt he brought a grown vibe because the instrumental on Live & Learn it’s like old school hip hop and I felt that DRS would do a great job of rapping and singing over that sort of vibe because we are talking about living and learning. Fox, what can I say?! He brings the hype to everything he touches and he’s very unique in his style and his flows. I felt like the tune I put him on, it wasn’t necessarily his usual or typical vibe but I knew that he was versatile enough to do something special on it so he brought a different texture to that tune, a different layer to it. Misha, in terms of that track. It’s a very special track and vocally she’s one of the best out here in the UK and no one else could have really done what she did on the tune and I felt that the track needed her more than she needed the song. She brought an element to it and that made it special.
How would you say that your music has evolved from your earlier work to now with the Kaleidoscope album ?
Prior to this project, I didn’t have a studio, I didn’t have the facilities to produce all my own songs, whereas if I did before and I was able to be hands on, then I probably would have done a lot more producing on previous projects. I’ve definitely evolved in terms of what I’ve learnt and in terms of developing my sound but even so, with writing and the whole style of recording, writing and mixing my own work, it’s all developed together. It’s helped and it’s been like a training camp whereas before I didn’t have a studio to do that stuff and I was never going to learn.
The album will be coming out on Lenzmans label North Quarter. Were you a fan of his beforehand and how did you link up?
With regard to Lenz, I knew a few of the songs coming from the label especially because he linked up a lot of Manchester artists like Children Of Zeus and Fox and I was a fan of his style of drum & bass. I wouldn’t say that all styles of drum & bass are for me, but his style of liquid and the vibes that he brings to his sets and his productions, it was right up my lane. In terms of how we connected, it was more of an organic thing because he’s always been into hip hop and he picked up on my last project because we’ve got a mutual friend who shoots a lot of my videos and I respected what he was doing from afar, in terms of the drum & bass scene.
Will there a chance that you’ll feature on one his tracks in the future?
Maybe so. I’ve done bits and bobs for the label and I’ve hosted a few of his raves and a few of his gigs so it’s quite possible. We may do a few remixes, you never know but that’s something to discuss and it’ll happen organically.
Will you be playing any live dates in support of the album when it’s released?
Well in terms of the album at the moment, it’s on the motion of being planned but I am looking at doing a launch party so there will be an event. The plan was always to go and put on some sort of headline show before the year is out anyway. We’re going to do a show that launched the albums and it’ll be a celebration of that and that’ll be the next time I’ll be doing a live show.
What do you bring to your live performance to ensure you stand out as a performer?
I think that crowd interaction is impartial and the key because we vibe off each other’s energy and I need to make sure that whoever my audience is, no matter how many of them there are, that they’re OK and they’re with me and their energy is at a level where I can bounce off them and give the same energy back. With performances it’s all about being active, enjoying the music, performing it with confidence and getting the crowd involved.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in your career so far?
My most most memorable show is definitely, hands down, the headline show that I did in 2017. I went on tour. Springboard Live. We did a few dates, there was me and three other bands, I was the only rapper on the tour and whenever we went to our hometown that act would be the headliner so I headlined in Manchester and that was the most memorable, we played Band On The Wall. It was full to capacity, sold out, and that for me was a special one. I had my family, mum, dad, aunties, everyone, and that was the first time my family had seen me live, so for me that was definitely a moment. That show definitely sparked something in terms of playing live and headlining. It was definitely special!
Can you tell us about your work with Abnormal Substance and BPM?
Yeah, so Abnormal Substance, Ab Sub is basically a group that me, Mac and Padda formed. There was five of us, me, Mac, Padda, Romes and Piddy. Basically me and Mac between the years 2010-15 we made quite a few tapes and we were sort of like a duo and were in the studio every day and things were moving in a nice direction - building a movement and stuff and we wanted to extend that to people we were around every day. Romes is my cousin, Piddy I’ve known since primary school days and I’ve known Mac and Padda for such a long time too.
So, it’s basically like family?
Yeah, it’s like family so we formed Ab Sub and it was just a movement and it was us in our own environment doing what we do and it’s just been a progressive build up. It’s nice that everyone’s got their own individual music that’s going to drop before the years out. With BPM, it was a good few years ago and I started off as a host. I met some of the members of BPM through Mac and a couple of others and because I was doing my grime bits at that time, they took me on as a host which turned into me being part of the family. I became their resident host and I’ve done so many events, different vibes. Festivals and what not and again, BPM is just family because it’s more than just a night that’s put on in town, it became a label and a family. BPM, Ab Sub that’s family!
Manchester has always had a vibe when it comes to the musicians it creates. What does coming from Manchester mean to you as a person and as an artist?
It means a lot right now. With Manchester, we’ve always been sort of, I’d say, underrated across the board. Nowadays I think it’s a city that a lot of people want to come to. With the university, we’ve got so many students that come to Manchester now in between London and Birmingham. I think now because the scene is forming, it’s something that everyone should be proud of. Not everyone’s used to hearing a Notherner spit on a beat or rap to some boom bap or jump on drum & bass, but we’ve got legendary people who have come straight out of Manchester and done all of those things, so for me, it’s important because I’m a Northerner, I’m from Manchester, Moss Side and I’m representing not just my area and my town but I’m representing the people around me. Manchester’s more like a community, it’s small and everyone knows each other but everyone’s just doing their thing.
Which artists from Manchester are you feeling the most?
In Manchester at the moment I would say, straight off the bat, Children Of Zeus. They’re heavily inspirational right now with what they’re doing. I rate a lot of people, there’s the likes of Two4Kay, HMD obviously, my lot Ab Sub, KSR he’s a special one and I think k he’s the future of soul and R&B. LayFullstop, Sleazy, that’s a whole other side of Manchester with the trap but he can also rap and I respect his game, so versatile. There’s so many people. DRS, Strategy, Black Josh, Chunky. There’s too many artists to name to be honest!
Where did the name Abnormal Sleepz come from?
It weren’t always Abnormal, it used to be Sleepy and that just came from a joke in high school where every time I took off my glasses, I looked like I was heavily tired and it just sort of stuck. When we formed Abnormal Substance, because I was DJing as well, the name DJ Sleepy is not really a good name - know what I mean!? Being put on flyers as Sleepy weren’t really the one! I had to change it but I didn’t want to get rid of the Sleepy part, but I wanted to make it individual, so it became Sleepz and because of Abnormal Substance we added that.
How did you get into rapping, hip hop and music in general?
Music has always just ran through my blood. My dad was a DJ, he’s been DJing for years playing reggae and loves rock and all kinds of music. My older sister, she was always heavily into her hip hop and grime. The days when you used to tape cassettes from the radio, Tim Westwood sets and that and she used to put me onto a lot of stuff. She used to go to the grime raves, the Sidewinders. DJing with my dad from a young age opened my eyes up to a lot of music so throughout my life I’ve always been influenced by a lot of genres, however, coming up on the estate I did or in the schools that I did, spitting bars was the culture in the playground. If you weren’t spitting bars in the playground, even if you weren’t that into music, you wouldn’t find many people who weren’t doing that so grime was what I came up on and I loved hip hop, just the both of them together, I was heavily into it. When I was spitting grime, I was shying away from spitting my hip hop because it wasn’t cool back then but I did it anyway!
Is that why you’re so versatile, you can spit over a grime beat, or a boom bap beat or a soul groove?
Yeah man, because I was paying attention to those vibes and those were things that I was into. I wasn’t just taking it in, I was trying them myself and I wanted to be able to rap like that, I wanted to put myself across on a beat without having to spit aggressively on the mic.
What artists and albums have had the biggest effect on you as a musician?
I’d say rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. Erykah Badu, vocalist wise, your Jill Scott’s, Musiq Soulchild. That era, 90s R&B - but in terms of rappers, mainly I would say Rick Ross, it’s a weird one. He’s not my favourite rapper but I envy his ear for music and his beat selection so that influenced me heavily, listening to his stuff and listening to his beats and then you’ve got Kendrick who literally is a part of your life and he is speaking directly to you, down to how he actually raps, his delivery is just crazy so he’s always been someone I’ve looked at as an influence. Erykah Badu, that era of soul, that was everyday listening. That music and that vibe - that’s part of what I’m doing, my mellow vibes and my ear for music.
Interview by Gav Brown