INTERVIEW // Barney Artist: “Vulnerability is important in hip hop”


Barney Artists interview

The hip hop-jazz scene that’s been sweeping the nation since Tom Misch started amassing SoundCloud plays back in 2011 now has it’s very own truth teller; he goes by the name of Barney Artist. 

East London rapper Barney Artist has been working with names now synonymous with the scene – Mische, Alfa Mist and Jordan Rakei – since his self-released 2013 EP Decode, 2016’s mixtape Painting Colours, and now his debut album Home Is Where the Art Is. Released last month, the 13-track album sees the return of old friends Misch, Rakei and Emmavie, along with contributions from George the Poet and Dornik.     

Ahead of his Rough Trade Bristol session on 15 October (via the Colston Hall Presents series), the twenty-six-year old rapper treats Nitelife to a one on one. 

From start to finish, it seems that a rap album has never felt so honest. Even looking at the cover artwork you can acquire a sense of its essence; Barney sits smiling in a chair, surrounded by small sentimental pieces, from a djembe drum to pictures of his mum and dad.

I wanted to make the whole thing as introspective looking as I possibly can

‘The album came from a place where my family are a massive part of it. I wanted to make the whole thing as introspective looking as I possibly can, with all the items on the cover relating to the songs on the album. I wanted it to be something I’m really, really proud of, so all aspects represent them – it’s homely.”

This is another way in which Barney Artists subverts the expectations of a typical rapper, airing all his laundry with sometimes brutally honest lyrics, rather than pushing his messages within the easier-to-stomach confines of brag rap.  

‘It’s scary init?’ He says. ‘It’s a bit weird, I met someone the other day and they were talking about it and I was like, “hold on a minute, I’m talking about my actual life here”. I suppose it’s the best way – it means I don’t have to pretend to be a bad man, so when I get teabags from Tesco it isn’t awkward. Anyone who listens to the music kind of feels like they know me already. I don’t know how else to rap, to be honest, I don’t know how to create and make music without honesty.’ 

it means I don’t have to pretend to be a bad man, so when I get teabags from Tesco it isn’t awkward

‘I would of chosen a cooler rap name if I felt like I had a choice. For me, it’s almost like I can’t hide behind a stage name. My mum calls me Barney, my little sisters call me Barney, my aunt calls me Barney, my friends call me Barney, so if you are listening to my music you will also refer to me as Barney. Its a way of telling myself: you can’t lie, you have to be truthful – and that is my whole ethos.’

A blend of style is abundant throughout the record. This exciting new niche sets the rapper apart in ways that grows rather than diminishes his loyal fanbase. Barney Artist could be discovered on a range of online playlists, from hip hop to modern jazz, and with his fast-growing popularity, Barney Artist looks ready to step into the role of UK’s top hip hop-jazz fusion rapper, a position flirted with by Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Loyle Carner.  

Barney Artist looks ready to step into the role of UK’s top hip hop-jazz fusion rapper, a position flirted with by Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Loyle Carner

‘It’s great that people who know about this kind of music love it and are into it, but for me it’s also about the people who don’t know about it yet. So through the boys and everyone growing it together, it can hopefully spread out, so more young people can hear this kind of music. I think it’s important to balance things out, I’m not into the snobbery within jazz – that’s not fair. I didn’t grow up with a grand piano in my house. On the one hand I want the hip hop world to hear that you can be honest, you can be vulnerable and have a laugh. Vulnerability is really important in hip hop, because there’s not much of it. On the jazz side, I’m a black boy from from East London, I didn’t have much money; but you can still have a voice and a love for the music.’  

I’m not into the snobbery within jazz – that’s not fair. I didn’t grow up with a grand piano in my house

One gets the feeling that the chance to see Barney Artist in an intimate venue like Rough Trade Bristol isn’t one that will be around for too long. He’ll be supported on the night by some great Bristol talent, including Twizzy x Billy Whizz and rising ‘cosmic trap’ star Chikaya. 

‘Bristol might be one of the coolest cities in the UK, in terms of culture, history of music, authenticity and how it just feels like it’s constantly on the rise. To do Rough Trade, for me, is a big deal and I can’t wait to play the new album to all the cool cats of Bristol.’

Words by Archie Edwards

I can’t wait to play the new album to all the cool cats of Bristol

15 October –  Barney Artist, Rough Trade Bristol
Tickets // colstonhall.org

Previous INTERVIEW // Danny Byrd ups his game again with Atomic Funk
Next Bristol’s Falling Stacks and Cruelty handpicked to play IDLES aftershow    

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