On growing up in South London, grime, Fruity Loops, making music videos, COLORS, carving out his own spaces, full circle moments and learning to live at God’s speed.
Kadiata is not your average rapper. Like a treasure hunter who’s already figured out where the loot is buried, he understands that the journey might not be straight forward — but that it’s just as important as the treasure itself. A self-described ‘observer’, he’s carved out a unique space for himself at the vanguard of UK rap by taking his time to grow into himself and the artist he wants to be. “It’s a constantly evolving picture”, he says as we begin our conversation on a gloomy Sunday evening. “Some days I wake up and everything feels amazing, some days I wake up and it feels like everything’s tumbling down. But I feel like it’s always gonna be like that. It just depends on how you wake up and view the world each morning.”
It’s through this lens that Kadiata has learned to adapt to whatever challenges come his way. Born in Angola, he moved to South London with his family aged just 4 years old. Unable to speak English and with very little to cling onto, he had to learn on his feet — and while he doesn’t remember much of that time, he recalls feeling a ‘big disconnect’. “I was bare fresh”, he says, moving his hands expressively. “I had to pick up things off the people next door and other kids at school … I just remember not being able to understand why they knew so much that I didn’t. Because I was so young, I didn’t even know where I’d moved from either so like, I was from a place that I didn’t really remember and now I was in this new place that felt completely different. It meant I didn’t know what was going on for me at all, especially culturally.”
“Obviously, it was sick because I got to grow up the British kinda way with British people and all the localisms, the culture”, he continues. “I did enjoy it once I got older and started to understand more about where I was. Primary school was a bit of a blur because I was still learning … like, everyone was just so quick with everything because they knew what everything was and what everything meant. I found myself like ‘rahhh how do they know that so quick’ all the time but I caught up eventually. I really enjoyed sedentary school you know, I was that kid. It opened a lot up for man. Actually … when did I first start writing bars? It might have been in primary school, you know. Yeah I think it was at primary school.”
“Actually … when did I first start writing bars? It might have been in primary school, you know.”
What was it that inspired him to start writing so young, I ask? “I proper just loved music”, he says without hesitation. “Whenever the radio would play at home or in the car, it’d be proper magnetising, I’d be drawn to it. I knew I liked it, I couldn’t explain how or why, but I was always drawn to it. As I got toward the last few years of primary school, I started to hear a lot more rap music and it just made sense to me. And then when I first heard Kano and Wiley and these man, I was like ‘rahhh, these man even sound like me!’ The minute I heard them, I wanted to have a go myself … so I did. Turns out I had bars as well. They weren’t great or anything but I had bars. Well, everyone at school told me I did, anyway.”
“Whenever the radio would play at home or in the car, it’d be proper magnetising, I’d be drawn to it. I knew I liked it, I couldn’t explain how or why, but I was always drawn to it.”
Once he got to secondary school, Kadiata’s obsession with music became more entrenched. He dabbled in a few other things — “I played a bit of Sunday league … I wasn’t by any means any good but you know” — but always found himself always circling back to music. “I was writing raps and whatever all the time, but I never felt like I was close enough to the music itself”, he explains. “Rapping is one thing but like, what first drew man to music was the musical element. I didn’t feel that connection writing over other people’s beats, so production seemed like something I should have a go at, you know … and my older brother put me onto it, still. He had a copy of one of the early Fruity Loops and yeah once I got going with that, I started experimenting, experimenting, experimenting … and I didn’t stop. To be honest, listening back to them now, my early beats were probably all proper shit but one thing I could give myself credit for was understanding chords and stuff like that. I didn’t necessarily know how to get a full production down, but I always understood chords in a way that if you listen back to my earliest stuff, you can sense that they were always emotive. I knew how I wanted things to sound. From then, being inside the music and writing my bars, I felt proper satisfied … and I’ve basically done the same thing to this day ever since.”
“To be honest, listening back to them now, my early beats were probably all proper shit but one thing I could give myself credit for was understanding chords and stuff like that.”
Inspired by the music he was surrounded by as a teen — Wiley, Ghetts, Scorcher, The Movement and later, UK Funky — his early output fell mostly within the grime canon. It was rough and ragged, but Kadiata was determined to improve and evolve. “You see grime, yeah?”, he asks. “If you stepped a little bit outside the parameters, man would be like ‘nah, that’s not grime’, so I liked the fact that people started to experiment when UK Funky came around. I’m not sure if experiment is the right word because music has always been music innit, but for me it was like ‘rahhh this is still British music, but it’s a little bit to the left’. That period encouraged me to be brave and find new avenues for my production … I was still making grime, but I knew I could make other stuff innit. That said, I didn’t have any identity or direction back then, I was just imitating what I could hear around me.” Did he have an artist name back then, I ask? “Clixx”, he says, chuckling to himself.
After finishing secondary school, Kadiata headed to college to study Music Production at South Thames College in Wandsworth — by now, he was steadfast in the conviction that music was where his future lay. College opened doors too, he acknowledges. “My school bubble was so small, so once I hit college it was like ‘oh shit’ … I kinda had to start all over again”, he reflects. “It was a mad eye opener, really. My music started to get better and better and just through meeting other people from different walks of life who also do music, I was like ‘rahhh, I didn’t know you could take this sound from that genre and put that there’ kinda thing. My mind was opening in real time.”
“Do you know what though, yeah?”, he continues. “Just before I left school, I tried to make my first music video. I had a phone with a camera on it, one of them Sony Ericsson ones, and I just got mad creative. My brother turned the lights on and off and shit like that, and we put it on YouTube. I showed all my friends at school and it was bare funny, like people actually vibed with it. As soon as I left and went to college, one of my bredrins called me and was like ‘ah bro, we want a music video, can you do one for us?’ and I was like, ‘uhhhh, alright?’. I made one for him and then his bredrin shouted me for one off the back of that, and then his bredrin shouted me and before I knew it, I had a YouTube channel called CL Vision. We had loads of different artists from all over London on there, it was mad still.” Is it still on YouTube, I ask? “Nah it got hacked innit”, he explains. “Haters … can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em! I kid you not though, at one point there was like GRM Daily, Link Up TV, UKOVERSTOOD and there was a next channel … ah what was it called, I can’t remember … but yeah after them, it was my channel. People were blowing from it and everything, so I was doing that a lot during college. I didn’t turn up on time very often ‘coz I’d be working on the channel … what’s £30 EMA when I could earn bread making videos? It’s weird though yeah because even while all that was going on, in my head I was still an artist. I still felt like I was good at what I did.”
“Just before I left school, I tried to make my first music video. I had a phone with a camera on it, one of them Sony Ericsson ones, and I just got mad creative. My brother turned the lights on and off and shit like that, and we put it on YouTube. I showed all my friends at school and it was bare funny, like people actually vibed with it.”
Indeed, so good that he was scouted by an indie label, who he signed a deal with shortly after leaving college. Still recording as Clixx, it was his first taste of the music industry proper — and it left a bit of a sour taste. “I just felt like my music changed too much”, he says, shrugging. “At the time, I didn’t really know what I was signing either, so I was making bare stuff but I wasn’t able to release any of it because my contract said that both me and the label had to sign off on music first. That’s basically the worst mistake you can make as a young artist innit. But yeah, that’s what happened, I can’t change it.”
It was during this time that Kadiata also headed off to Portsmouth University to continue studying Music Production, this time to degree level. How was it, I ask? “I dunno to be honest with you”, he says, looking up toward the ceiling. “I didn’t really have a uni experience. I went, I was going to lectures and doing the work I needed to do, but after that I was working on music for this label. I went out once or twice but I didn’t make enough friends. I was so uninvested in that side of it at the time, coupled with the fact that a lot of the people I met there weren’t my kinda people. Even the times I did go out, there were bare people on drugs and this and that … and like fair play to them guys but I came from the hood, selling that kinda shit. It meant that I just felt more inclined to crack on with my music. I made so much stuff but like I said, my music was changing and it just really didn’t work out with this label and I came home.”
Kadiata managed to get out of his deal by 2014 — a moment that served as a catalyst for the career he has today; no longer would he make music for anybody but himself. “I just started experimenting bare once I got back home to London”, he explains. “By the time 2015 came around, I was like ‘right, I’m gonna be me now’ and hence I changed my artist name from Clixx to my real name, Kadiata. My first single as Kadiata was ‘Goodnight’, which I put out in 2015. Some people didn’t really understand it because it was a little bit left and I was in my ‘I’m doing me’ bag, but I found the feedback interesting. Around that time, I met Ryan Bassil from Noisey, who was actually managing my good friend Miles From Kinshasa at the time. He’d heard my music through him and really vibed with ‘Goodnight’, so I sent him the music video which we’d shot in the ends. He ended up premiering it on Noisey and from there, I started to get quite a lot of attention.”
“My first single as Kadiata was ‘Goodnight’, which I put out in 2015. Some people didn’t really understand it because it was a little bit left and I was in my ‘I’m doing me’ bag, but I found the feedback interesting.”
It was the first in a series of releases that were met with mixed responses. Kadiata was making rap, but not as British rap fans knew it; it was similar but different. There was vulnerability, there was pain, there was angst, there was humour — but you didn’t have to read between the lines to find it. This was British rap that jumped off the lyric book straight into people’s hearts and minds. It was visceral, thoughtful, musical. “I think I released a song called ‘Mother Nurture’ with Miles after ‘Goodnight’”, he says, tracing his mind back. “The feedback was still similar but a US label wanted to put it out, so I let them. In hindsight, it didn’t do too much for me but it did bring my music to more Soundcloud users and back then it was still a big discovery platform. The grime resurgence was kinda happening back then too, still, so I did start to question whether I should go back to where I started. That resulted in me putting out a tune called ‘Dumb’ in 2016 and that gave me a few more opportunities, I had labels reaching out to me and what not. So there I was, three tunes in and I was already in the conversation, but I still felt that the grime thing wasn’t the right place for me to be able to spread my wings properly. So then I released ‘Onda’ and ever since then, I’ve known where I’ve wanted to get to.”
With ‘Onda’ crystallising his vision, Kadiata was again on the radar of some of the UK’s most impressionable labels; “a lot of them reached out to say they found me interesting”, he recalls. “I basically streamlined my whole formula within that one song and I’ve just expanded on it ever since. From that one song, I knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to sound.” Such was its impact, he was recruited for a groundbreaking COLORS session in 2017, where he performed debut 2015 single ‘Goodnight’. “Looking back in hindsight now, it feels like it was mad early for me”, he says, smiling. “I didn’t have that much music out back then but maybe that was the point, I dunno. I remember just getting an email from a good friend of mine to this day, Florina, and she was just reached out to say ‘yeah I think you’re sick, we’d love for you to come over and record a COLORS session’ kinda thing. At the time, I was seeing bare of them so I was gassed. I went over to Berlin to record it and it was vibe though, still … I really enjoyed it.” Over 440,000 views later, it still serves as a great entry point into Kadiata’s world, as both an artist and a performer.
Later in 2017, he released his debut EP proper ‘Dnt Tell Me Plz’ — a downbeat five-track mini opus that captured Kadiata at arguably his most experimental point so far — before taking some time out to learn about meditation in the quest to find good headspace. “2017 was a crazy year, man”, he concedes. “I learnt so much about music and myself and I actually met so many good people in the industry that year as well. I think that’s when I first linked up properly with Sam Wise and we made ‘When The Sun Comes Out’ together. I made ‘Art Hoes’ in 2017 too, still.”
A further slew of singles would follow throughout 2018 and 2019, with Kadiata continuing to spread his wings and find his range. Now part of a wider collective of UK artists operating within a similar rap space — alongside Miles From Kinshasa, Knucks, Sam Wise, Oscar #Worldpeace, Jords et al — his music finally had a home; a place for it to be fully understood and contextualised. “I think ever since everyone in this kinda scene started linking up, it’s been very clear that what we’re doing over here is very different from the mainstream”, he acknowledges. “To put it in a sentence, we just care a lot more about the music. We wanna take more risks, we wanna break boundaries, we wanna trail-blaze. I feel like we’ve done that so far.”
“To put it in a sentence, we just care a lot more about the music. We wanna take more risks, we wanna break boundaries, we wanna trail-blaze.”
What separates Kadiata further from his peers though, is his ability behind the buttons. To this day, he still produces much of his own output and is also a go-to producer for many behind-the-scenes — a duality that he’s more than happy to maintain. “I feel like artists are aware that I’m not gonna serve them what’s already out there”, he says of his beat-making. “People have learnt to find the beauty in that, you know. There are tunes out there that I’ve produced that don’t sound like anything else and they’ve done really well. Like, I produced ‘Night Time’ by Master Peace, ‘Rack Up’ by Sam Wise is one of mine, ‘Dreaming Fool’ by JGrrey, ‘Regardless’ by Miraa May … there’s a load more but I can’t remember them all. I think it puts me in an interesting space. A good position.”
His latest releases echo those sentiments further, too. ‘Blind, this summer’, a seven-track EP released in April 2020 was followed by ‘Lost, This Winter’ back in July — two records that rank as Kadiata’s most extensive and most thematically ambitious so far. “Lost, This Winter’ is a very thought-provoking record, still”, he explains. “I was in my thoughts a lot while I was making it during lockdown, especially living alone for parts of it, so a lot of the topics I speak about were based on my real experiences at the time. All the tracks have a certain bop to them, even though it’s quite a serious record … I think that was the point. I wanted people to take it in but still be able to vibe with it. ‘Blind, this summer’ … that was very interesting as well because in hindsight, I feel like I might have rushed it a bit. I hadn’t dropped a project in a long time and people were asking after one because I’d dropped single after single, so I got a bunch of tunes and put them together … but I still wanted to tell a story with it. I wanted people to learn about the kind of person that I am and I did that by formatting it in the context of a relationship, rather than just outwardly telling bare facts about me. Now you gotta look out for ‘Sprung, This Spring’ and ‘Fall, This Autumn’.”
On the immediate horizon, Kadiata plays two sold-out headline shows at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington this week (October 12 & 13) — a space he already has history with. “I’ve been looking forward to these shows for a long time”, he says, grinning. “Wanna know a fun fact actually? I opened up for Rex Orange County at the Waiting Room back in 2016, so that’s a little interesting full circle moment for me.”
“Wanna know a fun fact actually? I opened up for Rex Orange County at the Waiting Room back in 2016, so that’s a little interesting full circle moment for me.”
As for his long-term plans? “I wanna be known for being just as good as an artist as I am a producer”, he concludes. “It doesn’t have to be me as an artist, I’m just trying to make good music for whoever. I guess I need to find a balance between showing people I can be a genius producer, but also make their favourite song as an artist at the same time. What I’ve learned over the last 18 months or so though is that I can be very impatient, I always wanna get shit done, but sometimes you’ve gotta go at God’s speed. You gotta let things be at the time they’re supposed to be, you know.”
Kadiata plays The Waiting Room on October 12 & 13.
Keep up to date with Kadiata HERE.