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Interview | James Massiah

May 08, 2024 7 min read

“Things aren’t perfect but that’s perfect in it’s own way”: the underground London connoisseur talks new single, “Hot Forever”. 


Continuing to combine his manifold musical talents, the rapper, songwriter and producer talks embracing life in all its unvarnished glory on latest cut. 



Photography by Amy Gwatkin

“I just made peace with the fact that life comes in seasons,” James Massiah tells Man About Town of latest single, “Hot Forever”. The track sees the 33-year-old grapple with the need to embrace whichever of life’s waters he finds himself in — from heartbreak, hedonism to healing, whether navigating undulating waves or stronger currents. “Sometimes you're happy and sometimes you're sad,” he says. “[It’s about] realising the realities of life and coming to terms with them and then deciding how to act and move according to those truths.” 

“Hot Forever” is one example of a move executed adroitly as the multi-hyphenate continues to unite his longstanding felicity in the respective arts of songwriting, rap and production as part of upcoming sophomore EP, “True Romance”. Addictive, propulsive electronic production, Massiah’s slick hooks and lyrical persona signal once again that this epoch sees one of London’s longstanding captains of counterculture in full bloom and primed for his biggest audiences yet. 

Having left an indelible mark on the city’s underground creative scene for over a decade, both as a musician and poet, Massiah’s found fans in some of music’s most authoritative arbiters (Neneh Cherry, Massive Attack, Joy Orbison), become a mainstay tastemaker via online radio community NTS, received welcomings from art institutions (Tate Modern, The Courtald), parliament, and cultivated a space for articulating life, as he does so dextrously, with his poetry nights, Adult Entertainment.

Below, he talks “Hot Forever”, “True Romance”, partying through heartbreak, fostering connections through curiosity at Adult Entertainment and his favourite of the capital’s cultural innovators… 



Hey James! We love “Hot Forever”. Can you tell us the story of the day you made the track?
I'd had the skeleton of the beat for years, initially called "Eden Riddim". I remember that the initial production was quite raw and unconventional, as I'd made it when I was still figuring out how to work my way around Logic (DAW). I suppose in many ways I still am. I just knew that I wanted to update it and gradually new elements would come and go from the beat as the years went on. As the rest of the EP was coming together I brought the production more in line with the style and sound of the others and once I knew what the themes were and the general mood, I landed on something. I kept trying to figure out hooks. "Don't Cry" was one and then I called the loop "Don't Cry Riddim". I think it just made me think a bit about exactly what there was to be crying about. For me, relative to the subject matter of the record, the sense of time passing, lost loves, time spent not loving oneself. It was starting to feel more like a song of some kind of redemption, counselling. I just remember one day I was at my parent's house in Mitcham, in the living room with the laptop on the dining table and the "Don't Cry Riddim" on loop and then the story sort of just came to me. I remember a conversation I had with a friend who was in jail and just updating them on my life and how things were and I used that as the basis for the track. There was a happy ending, I was going to call the track "Skinny Black Family", sort of as an homage to "Fat White Family" and in keeping with this sort of warped "and we all lived happily ever after" notion. I guess it didn't feel true because things weren't and aren't perfect but that's perfect in its own way. So it became "Hot For A Season", and then eventually "Hot Forever", in a turn of optimism.


For anyone who’s a new inductee to the James Massiah experience – can you unpack how you became the multifaceted musician, producer, DJ and poet you are today?
I enjoyed most of my classes at school. I suppose also at church you operate across different disciplines too. I played the drums, some piano, wrote sermons. In school, I loved music, English, drama. I've also always loved and appreciated different art forms and artists from different disciplines have always interested and inspired me. My friendship group is diverse and I'm often being shown things that are new to me through the new people I meet week to week who offer a new perspective or take on a way of working. Stand-up, sculpture, painting, graffiti, dance, sound, gymnastics, journalism, criticism, philosophy, publishing, curation, coding, poetry, floristry, architecture – I’m always being shown new ways of being. I suppose it's also the fact that I also enjoy operating in the different mediums that I do, socially as much as anything else. I enjoy conversation and I like the different conversations you can have operating in different spaces and the conversation you can have with the art form or even the space itself. Or even with yourself, through that artform. Having to consider yourself and your experience in a different way being shown how many more masters there are at a given thing. It's exciting and it's humbling and it all feeds into each other.


Congratulations on the upcoming release of your sophomore EP “True Romance” also! What does true romance feel like?
I think True Romance is more of a performance, maybe a ritual, than a feeling. Perhaps? More of behaviour or a set of behaviours. Maybe romance and love become interchangeable at a certain point. I don't really believe you can know if someone loves you. Even if they do, that feeling might change or fluctuate. I think romance is an accurate way of measuring "love" or at least desire, some sense of mutual interest. Maybe in some ways romance is truer than love.


The project sees the convergence of your love of songwriting, rap and production. Why did now feel like the right time to honour that with a body of work?
I suppose it's because I'm confident enough in my ability to express myself through each medium. The opportunity presented itself at such a time as when there was enough going on in my life to provide subject matter and I had a lot to process. I learnt a lot about production in the time since the last record and even developed my own points of reference and spent more time with producers in the studio learning from them. Molinaro, Vegyn, Lord Tusk, Daniel Avery, Joy Orbison and others tipped me off to little things I could do to help workflow and aid the process. I'd been enjoying writing the new poems series too, so I was in a habit of writing and really excited to be able to combine my love for writing with my love for music at a time when I had so much I wanted to say.


Thematically, “True Romance” reflects on the time that has intervened between your debut EP in 2019 and now. How do you think you’ve changed as a person and artist since then?
I'm wiser. Definitely wiser. Less foolish. Less easy to fool. I definitely fool around less.


The hedonism in your sound blends with notes on life’s ups and downs, not least regarding a breakup on “Heartbreak Freestyle”. How does it feel to invite people to dance to your heartbreak?
I definitely danced through it. Partied through it. The relationship as much as the demise of it. I was forced to look at myself through that relationship in a way that I hadn't before. There were other factors too of course but I think it was all set against the backdrop of music, sex, drugs, dancing, partying. Feasting. Drinking. Excess. Opulence. Decadence. It's really all music for dancing to. A lot of what carried me through this particular [period] and in fact what always has carried me is music. It feels right to add to the canon in that way.


True Romance is expansive in the genre influences it looks to. If you could make a playlist that defined the creation process — who would find their way on there?
Ninja Man. D'eon. Grimes. Super Cat. Dizzee Rascal. Timbaland. Cou Cou Chloe. Shygirl. Giggs. Ruff Sqwad. Lady Saw. Fred Hammond. Tom Tom Club. PDC. Nicodemus. Larry Heard. The Knife. Bill Nelson. Todd Rundgren. TLC. Ms Carrie Stacks. So Solid Crew. Macabre Unit. Mica Levi. Hype Williams. Alpha & Omega.


Your Adult Entertainment poetry nights continue to go from strength to strength. Can you tell us about the community that’s been cultivated through them?
I've become so close to so many of the people that I've met through Adult Entertainment. I've learned a lot about life and about poetry. It's a vital resource for me, creatively but also just as a person. To be so stimulated so often is such a blessing and I feel grateful to all of the people who come through from month to month and make it what it is. Adult Entertainment will take different forms as time goes on, but it's real now. It exists and it always will. As the ideas that form the basis of it always have and always will. It keeps me sharp and it keeps me curious. I’m always on the hunt for new writers or writers who are saying new things. I end up meeting all the other curious people and we have a chance to explore our curiosities together.  


You’ve been a longstanding, key voice in underground London culture for years now. What is exciting you most at the moment about the city’s creative output?
Chamber 45. Klein. Sleepier. Jawnino. Isaiah Hull. The Narrator. Life Is Beautiful. Hasani. Spanners. Jim. John Glacier. My friends Daisy and Bridgette. Fashion East. Lolina. Tyson. Wu-Lu. Susu. Impey. Shiva. Bafic. Theodor Black. Shimz. Whatever Tommy's working on. Lord Tusk. Venue MOT. Cold. 3o. Cajm. Ormside. Teeth Machine. Avalon. Fredwave. Louis. Jeshi. Kam. May. Tirzah. Lea Sen. Coby. Cosha. I'll always be excited about London.


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