What are you on with at the moment?
I’m just on the coach leaving Nottingham to go back up to London for a few days. I have a radio interview on a radio station called Represent FM, so I’m just going down to do that. I’ve just got a couple of meetings with my manager and the marketing guys who are helping me dish this new album out. I’m promoting heavily at the moment, so there’s a lot of stuff centred around that. My week’s usually made up of a performance and putting a track or video out.
What were your early experiences of poetry on the open mic circuits?
When I was about sixteen, I started going to my local theatre and they were doing spoken word workshops. I’d always been writing before, when I was at school, and at seventeen and eighteen, I performed at every open mic I could find. Sometimes it was four shows a week during college times. I was studying electronic engineering, so it was a nice creative outlet.
You were part of the Mouthy Poets, weren’t you?
I started going to their sessions when I first moved up to Nottingham, and wrote with them for a good year or so - it was a great reintroduction. Everyone has their own journey with their creative outlet - sometimes you get on with it and sometimes you fall out. I hadn’t written anything for a good four or five years. There was a Lyric Lounge in town, and I spoke to a guy I met there like “Yo, Jim man, is there any poetry going off in Nottingham?” and he was like “Yeah, come to Mouthy Poets.” After a year with them, I thought I’d put something together, so I sat down to write and produce a body of work I could call my own – The Undergrad.
Did you always know you were going to get back into poetry?
Realistically, I didn’t know how I was gonna get poetry to pay my bills, but I managed to find the perfect balance through working part-time and having time off to do the things I enjoy. I always wondered if I’d go back to it. I just had the time and was in the right space. Compared to when I was seventeen, I feel like I have more things to say. Sometimes you have to live before having something to say.
What do you draw your inspiration from?
I try to put together ideas that are all generated by my real life experiences. The concept of The Undergrad is broken down into the first, second and final years following college. The underlying question I’m asking is: Did I know about all my options when I was leaving? I had a lot of naïve ambition when I did leave college, and found myself a marketing and music apprenticeship at a record label for a year, which was an amazing opportunity and opened a lot of doors. But when that finished, things started to get real: applying for jobs, being on unpaid internships, and I think about these experiences in the second year. Then there’s the final year, which is when nothing went to plan. I lost a lot of friendships, and I moved up to Nottingham.
A lot of people go to uni, but I wanted to explore my options outside of that. An apprenticeship pays for you to study, work and get experience at the same time, without any debt whatsoever. That felt like the decision for me, but I wasn’t told about that option when I was in Key Skills classes at college. I heard “Go to university” and nothing else. Looking back made me put this work together.
Why release the album six tracks at a time?
There are a lot of tracks there, and it was a way for me to be able to take my time putting it out. I wanted a chance to showcase it to as many people as I could. It’s my first time putting out a body of work, so I’m just feeling it out as I go. At the moment, I’m putting out two tracks from each year, and when I actually release each body of work it’ll be the ambition body, the reality body and the sacrifice body. People will know what tracks belong to each year from the colour of the artwork: everything in the first year is yellow, the second year is blue and the final year is red.
Image: George Quann-Barnett
How would you describe the sound you and Shigeto produce together? And what’s your creative process like?
For this particular project, I wanted it to reflect my own music taste well. I’m into the forward-thinking sound, and I always have been. I wrote the poems first, because first and foremost I am a poet, so I found the sounds that would best illustrate and help convey the feeling behind the poems. That’s why you’ve got some stuff that’s house music, then some drum and bass, some electronic infused soul. There’s no one sound to the mixtape, but essentially it’s me speaking over music. The nature of a mixtape is to try and paint the vision of who you wanna be as a poet, so it was essentially me finding the sounds I like and simply recording over them. The tracks already exist, it’s all for promotional purposes.
How do the poetry scenes in London and Nottingham differ?
The obvious thing is the sheer size of London compared to Nottingham. There are still a lot of things going in Nottingham, it’s great to see. Mouthy Poets is a unique collective. They are large, well-structured, organised, and you get a lot from each session. They’re the page poets, the high-regarded poets who pay a lot of attention to their performances and the technicality of poetry. There is a scene in Nottingham but I haven’t been heavily on it at the moment, I’ve been focused on going to Mouthy Poets, working in Nottingham, and putting this body of work together.
What do you see for yourself in the future?
I wanna be in a position where my work reaches and touches people. That’s really my aim. Also, I want to entertain. There’s a side of poetry that can be quite deep and serious but nobody is one dimensional. There are so many aspects to my character that I wanna display through the art. I’d like to take it as far as I can.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I’m trying to find more opportunities to perform in Nottingham, so if anyone wants to get at me then please do. I try to keep my website and social media up to date so check it out if you’re interested.
Raphael Blake website
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