It’s hard to know what to expect when interviewing anyone in the current climate, what with the pandemic plunging social interactions online. But no Zoom call could diminish the brilliant energy of Potter Payper. Sat behind a blank screen, but by no means diminished by its cover, Potter manages to execute passion and personality into the call – mirroring the same qualities that are respected in the delivery of his music. I guess this should have come as no surprise. Potter as an artist is one who, throughout multiple highs and lows in the past years, has always persevered. Approaching multiple hurdles on his path he’s always powered through, landing on both feet, and successfully navigating his career path towards dominating the UK rap game. The ability to exert that same passion through a screen for an interview is one tiny aspect of this.
Today marks the release of Potter’s highly anticipated mixtape ‘Thanks For Waiting’ so it felt necessary to explore the evolution of him, as a person and as a rapper, up until now. The interview delves into the rappers authentic, emotional, and inspiring past which has resulted in who we now see as Potter Payper. But with the release of ‘Thanks For Waiting’ comes the next step in his ever-developing journey. He is not just a rapper but a dream-maker and that transition, from a dream to a reality, is a mark of his mastery.
- - -
- - -
Potter Payper has undoubtedly experienced a whirlwind ride since his Blackbox freestyle in 2013 - from the highs of the wildly successful ‘Training Day’ mixtape and its sequel in 2018, to the lows of his untimely jail sentence back in 2018. Potter’s ability to spin these experiences, and the internal emotion influenced by each one, into lyrical genius is what coats his tracks with a timeless quality. Unlike other artists, who don’t generally conceive the effect their songs can have on a person, Potter creates music that speaks to people, that allows them to experience the energy he manifests with them. His recent Training Day Tour proved this - especially with ‘Purple Rain’ which, he tells me, is his favourite track to perform live, yet one that is “bittersweet”. The performance of a track, which is hailed for its sweeping flow and profound lyrics - “it’s so sad and it's so true and it's so raw and it's so honest”- allowed the rapper “to see the profound effect that it has on everyone and even myself”. Purple Rain, from the 2013 mixtape ‘Training Day’, first showcased Potters ability to mould an authentic depiction of street life with words. The production of tracks containing these lyrics would bridge gaps between his listeners across the UK, connecting them as they related their own experiences to his own deep pain. Potter recollects the moment he looked “in the crowd, a big crowd of people” during his performance of ‘Purple Rain’ at Wireless in September and seeing “my little sister crying. Out of all them people”.
The ability to move people emotionally is part of the reason his network of fans accumulated so strongly at the beginning of his career and have stayed put since. Potter’s discography boasts his skill for lyricism, which reveal an emotionally intelligent mindset. Although moving people with his music throughout his career, Potter explains that “I haven't ever written with the mindset that I'm gonna perform the song in front of people… I think that's maybe what has enabled me to write so raw. And so honestly”.
The production of emotional honesty, which is so excellently expressed in Potter’s writing, gives each track its authenticity. His ability to express the internal can’t be taught, influenced instead by real life. Potter Payper, real name Jamel Bousbaa, grew up in Barking, and could never have expected to see himself where he is now. It’s a subject rooted in his music and personal history, referred to in tracks such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ with the line “where I’m from people never progress”. He explains his dream as a rapper, commenting that “some kids probably dream about being footballers, chefs, scientists, astronauts, whatever. God knows. Police, even. But me personally, I never had a dream like that. My dream was literally a dream, I very much understood that my dream was a dream, and it would never happen”. Potter instead recalls the juxtaposing reality of crime and street life, a reality he didn’t expect to be any different - “I always thought that crime would be my escape from this life. And that music was just a dream”. He continues, light-heartedly alluding to the solace of crime with an early memory, watching Aladdin as a kid - “he used to knick the stuff … havin’ a whale of a time getting chased around the market!”
- - -
- - -
Although Potter Payper was never blessed with the three wishes of a genie, his dream very much became a reality – a reality that meant he progressed, despite where he was from. Looking back proves this progression and his evolving as an artist. But who exactly influenced him to begin rapping? He answers, “it wasn’t a person, it was a place” - Baseline Youth Club on his estate in Barking.
“I got kicked out of school in Year 7… while I was out of education I used to have to go and do basic skills at my youth club, with a youth worker basically, from nine till twelve. So, when I’d do that, I would never engage innit. I wouldn't attend. But in the back of the place, where all the older youts would go, there was a recording studio with all the older guys… but you havdto be over thirteen or something to use it. Obviously, I was probably like eleven at these times, eleven or twelve, Year Seven. So just on a cusp of being allowed in. And basically they used to bribe me that, if you come and do your work, then basically tonight at four o'clock, you can come back, and you can get in, and you can have a session with these guys. And I just used to want to be – at these times I don't even know if it was really about the music or the spit - I just used to want to be around these guys… imitating their lyrics and their style and their words and everything about it man. The life innit, this life. I just looked up to them”.
Little did Potter know; he was laying the foundations of an extraordinary career that would place him in the limelight as a rapper. Potter has evidently built on these foundations, so where is he now in his career? “I'm just about shocking and surprising people and hitting benchmarks innit really with this UK rap stuff”. Part of this surprise, although there are certainly more to come, is the release of ‘Thanks For Waiting’ – a wildly different mixtape to his ‘Training Day’ trilogy and a product of his musical and personal growth. Change is part of the evolution of Potter Payper. Discussing the release of ‘Catch Up’ featuring M Huncho ahead of the mixtape, Potter remarked of “some people saying ‘oh the Huncho song, it sounds like it's more Huncho than Potter’. Well duh? Because, I mean it, that's the direction that I gave him - that I want a Huncho song. I can make Potter songs all day long man. I would have just made Training Day four, or I just would have made my album, I would have just carried on making another mixtape saga”.
‘Thanks For Waiting’ boasts a track list featuring some of the UK’s best - Unknown T, Digga D, Suspect and NSG alongside M Huncho, to name a few. Potter reveals that even in jail, he “knew always that I was gonna work with these guys”. They’re the result of a three-part process, which involved questioning “who do I, fuck with like on a personal level, and who do I know and like”, “whose music do I like to listen to” and “are they credible in what they say, are they credible as human beings?” These decisions along with an awareness that “these people are all vibe creators” show Potter’s self-governing music style. He isn’t afraid to make these bold decisions, such as shifting the focus of his own inner turmoil to the perspective of other rappers.
- - -
- - -
Potter Payper has always been celebrated for his versatility. ‘Thanks For Waiting’ is further indication of this. By collaborating with other rappers on the new mixtape, Potter successfully isolates it from mainstream music and genres, where “everything is reused and recycled a million times”. He remarks that “the only place where the artist is still the artist is in the rapping. Rappers that put their heart and their emotion and their craft and their brain into it, regardless of what's popular and what's popular at the time”. But by lessening the focus his previous lyricism had on his own “internal mental, physical and emotional struggles” by no means neglects the struggles underlying the critically acclaimed Training Day Trilogy. He explains that the triptych was the documentation of “everything I was going through”, the “hard times” and the “internal pain”. Reflecting on the past he admits: “I couldn’t really process it… that’s why I’m constantly writing in a reflective state of mind, because hindsight’s a bitch”.
Potter realises the potential that collaborations offer; “you never know what kind of song you’re gonna make with this guy because he's a whole different musical entity to me - he's got his own stuff going on and coming into that space. I always learn from it, I always get confidence, I always gain from it”. Without a doubt, it’s a recipe for innately powerful music and is sure to keep Potter’s music in a class of its own. However, it’s no wonder that by comparison the Training Day Trilogy has been described by Potter as a diary. With the new direction of his music – what does that make ‘Thanks For Waiting’?
“If Training Day Trilogy was my diary, then ‘Thanks For Waiting’ has been me stretching my legs… this is just me stretching my legs man, and just trying to … have a bit of fun. Honestly like fucking hell, I’ve been down and up for so long. Surely I can, surely I can jump on a Huncho tune or an NSG tune and have a good time”.
So, Potter Payper is up, his legs cemented securely in the UK rap scene. After navigating his career over so many hurdles up until now, is the different approach in ‘Thanks For Waiting’ a risk? “It is a risk. But it’s a risk that I’m like dying to take”.
And with risks, come rewards.
- - -
- - -
'Thanks For Waiting' is out now.
Words: Amelia Kelly