Soul on the windowsill: Otis Mensah
Otis Mensah is one of those artists that moulds a room with his hands and voice. Captivatingly confident whilst pouring his heart out on the stage, I was lucky enough to share a bill with him supporting Abstract Orchestra at Sheffield’s premier hip hop venue, the O2 Academy (fka The Roxy). I threw a couple of questions over the Pennines to the homeland to see what he’s saying.
Great to meet you at Abstract Orchestra. How did you like their work? I know you’re a Dilla fan.
Likewise, was great to meet you too. I love Abstract Orchestra; it was such a blessing to be able to support them on two occasions, both for their J Dilla rendition and for the Madvillain show as a massive fan of both. It’s incredible to hear some of your favourite hip-hop songs in a new light with live instrumentation, played to such proficiency. It’s so clear that the artists and musicians who are a part of Abstract Orchestra truly love and respect the music they play and I think it really means a lot for the culture. I’d love to play with them one day!
I’ve been looking back over your Glastonbury performance. How was that for you?
It was an amazing experience. I’d never been to such a large festival even as a fan or listener so it was crazy to be able to go as an artist and contribute to it. I often feel I’m in isolation throughout the creative process and release of my music so I felt that having the opportunity to play at Glastonbury was almost a nod to say that what I had been doing was working. It just felt good to be able to share my art and perspective on a platform of that calibre and with BBC Introducing who have supported me throughout my artistic journey. It was a dope opportunity to connect with people who were not yet familiar with my music and also see some of my favourite artists like Anderson .Paak, Thundercat and Princess Nokia.
You’ve been performing live for a little while now… what have been your most difficult and your most rewarding experiences?
Yeah definitely, I’ve been trying to play live as much as possible, I feel it’s the best way to connect to people and gauge how different individuals interpret the art as a subjective experience. I’d say that my most difficult experience is always trying to win over an audience. I feel that when I’m playing to an audience that hasn’t heard me, it’s important to leave them with a strong representation of my music, character and message the best I possibly can because I feel it’s that first impression that will decipher whether someone will go home and check out your music and essentially come back to see you again in the future or not.
My most rewarding experience playing live would probably have been at my debut headline show at The Foodhall in Sheffield last September. The whole night really gave me such a confidence boost and sense of clarity in pursuing my vision. My dream is to be able to share my music on an international scale with a community of people that share a common love for the music and culture of hip-hop as well the art of vulnerability and expression. I felt that at my headline show at The Foodhall was the beginning of that vision, everyone at the show seemed to have such a receptive vibe and I felt I was able to get my perspective and art across.
I also supported one of my favourite artists of all time last year at Soup Kitchen in Manchester, P.O.S, so that was incredibly rewarding for me.
How’s Sheffield as a creative scene in 2018?
I feel like the Sheffield music scene right now is so rich and consists of so many different waves and styles of music. There’s so much talent and artistic forms of expression out here. I just feel we’re in need of a platform or more of a voice to transcend and reach more people outside of the scene. There’s so many artists curating exciting content right now, from collectives like ZONGO MUSIC with Franz Von, KOG and Tixxy Bang, to The Blancmange Lounge collective with Jackie Moonbather, Katie Pham & The Moonbathers and Rosie PM, they are all putting out so super dope content. As well as artists like Brandon Gray who I feel is about to kill the scene and artists like isaacxhopes who I feel creates a style of hip-hop music that I’ve never heard before, so they’re definitely some artists worth checking out from the scene that I’m a fan of myself right now.
I was talking to Ty the other day about rappers having a platform, and how they choose to use it. You seem to take the role seriously.
Yes definitely, I think it’s important for artists to bear in mind the voice they have and platform they’ve got, in some ways it’s a pedestal that I think should be revered. I’m all for artists expressing themselves authentically no matter what their story, I think that’s important for both the artists sake and listeners sake and I feel that we have a responsibility to be as honest and authentic as possible.
Personally I feel I have a responsibility in my role as an artist to push myself towards expression that’s honest and venerable because most of my favourite artists spoke on situations and feelings that they were experiencing as individuals that I found I could relate to which made me feel less alone in any one thing I was going through. It’s this that I consider important and that I want to be able to insight with my art.
What inspiration do you take from forward thinking artists you’re into, like the Brainfeeder crew or Anderson .Paak?
I’m definitely a fan of both Brainfeeder and Anderson .Paak! Brainfeeder are such an inspiration as a label that continuously put out genre bending, envelope-pushing music and art that’s so strange and wonderful but still reaches mainstream heights, like Flying Lotus and Thundercat working on To Pimp A Butterfly! I’ve always been a massive fan of Flying Lotus, I used to practice rapping and writing to his instrumentals and feel that his production sound was truly instrumental in shaping the path and direction I eventually decided to take when it came to working with different producers on music, I’d always use FlyLo as a reference point.
I love Anderson .Paak! I got the opportunity to see him live when I played at Glastonbury last year and it was amazing! I really appreciate his expression of the struggle as a starving artist on Malibu and seeing where he is as an artist now is so inspiring for me.
Oh Jane is a recent release, tell us a little about that one.
I was really excited to release Oh Jane as I feel it’s the best representation of me as an artist thus far, from lyrical content, to delivery/flow, sound and even visually in the music video. I got together with a friend and producer of mine called the intern during my time visiting Berlin toward the end of 2017. He played me the beat and I loved it, I felt the time signatures were really interesting and the way he had manipulated the sample was really unique. However, I didn’t quite know how to approach it, so it was a bit of a challenge at the start. But that night I couldn’t sleep so just got to writing and felt I was really able to spill out how I truly felt on it.
I began the song with a poem I wrote about nostalgia and how I feel an overarching, crippling reminiscence of the past can distort the present. I then went on in the verse to talk about how one navigates his way through life with this burden of nostalgia, also faced with a world and goal-driven society so heavily built around materialism, and the effects that this can have on your mental health. I tried to speak from personal experiences and be as open as I could.
I then went on to work on the music visuals with Miroslav Kiss of GRIT MULTIMEDIA & Raluca de soleil. We wanted to capsulate the songs introspective vibe in a minimalistic fashion, which is out now on my YouTube channel
What do the next few months bring?
I just intend on staying as consistent as possible, releasing more new music with visuals and trying to play live as much as I can to spread the word. I recently released a new single called Fisheye Jazz on my YouTube channel which is another jazz-rap collaboration with myself and the intern. I’m also hoping to release another new single in the next few months called Sanctified produced by Elijah Bane which I’m really excited about.
I’ll also be playing live in Sheffield for another headline show at Bungalows & Bears on 19th April as well as supporting the legendary Killah Priest at the Archway in London on 26th April too.