London’s One Acen may have grown up around the DIY ethic, hunger and ambition of a pioneering generation of grime MCs and producers, but he has taken that attitude and applied it to infectious hooks and playful lyrics that he hopes will have his music reaching far beyond the UK.
From a young age, One Acen was writing bars and making beats based around the 140bpm culture that surrounded him, until he realised the structure of R&B and hip-hop would allow him to experiment further. “It’s a different type of energy,” he explains. “With something like hip-hop, you can get more. You can get more melodic songs out of hip-hop or R&B. And even before I was singing, I wanted to make more melodic songs in general.”
The result is his unique blend of UK rap, afrobeats and R&B-influenced afro-swing: “I think a song from me, or a melody from me, or a chorus from me, is quite distinctive,” he says. “It’s not solely afro-swing or solely afrobeats. You get what I’m saying? It’s a different kind of thing.”
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His first major breakthrough came when he joined Hardy Caprio for ‘Unsigned’, which currently sits on over 14 million plays on YouTube and has lead to a string of collaborations from the pair. Acen’s hook perfectly tied his collaborator’s verses together, leading to chart success and radio playlisting. As the streams continued to increase and the views went up, it was time for Acen to become an established artist in his own right.
“Everyone knew there was a guy on the chorus [of ‘Unsigned’] but they weren’t actually sure,” he admits. However, the perception began to change when he followed up with the WSTRN-assisted ‘Vice Versa’ in January this year. “A lot of musicians have come up to me [since] and been like ‘Yo, that song is crazy!’ I think I got a lot of respect from my peers just from that specific song. I felt the shift straight away”, he offers. “Like, that’s the beginning of people knowing me not just for a hook I’ve done on someone else’s tune, but for my own song.”
As well as transferring his energy from the studio to a track, One Acen has been proving himself on the live circuit, headlining O2 Academy Islington with a line-up of special guests including Hardy Caprio, Afro B, WSTRN and B Young. However, he claims his most significant performance so far was playing Reading & Leeds Festival last year. “Lotto Boyzz brought me and Hardy out and it was just insane. It was probably the biggest crowd I’ve done,” he recalls. “It was the first time I realised I’d made a big song. We did ‘Unsigned’ and people were just going crazy”.
As a musician, One Acen is still very much in a discovery period. He’s experimenting with his vocals, honing his writing skills and continuing with his own production. “It’s always nice to know what you want,” he says of working with his own beats. “It can just be all me for the whole day, just creating the track from top to bottom. It’s hard to work with other producers because I know exactly where I wanna go with the song. [Producing myself] gives me more direction”.
While exhibiting fearless ambition, One Acen also seems to have a maturity gained from observing the artists who’ve fallen on the mainstream frontline in the past. “Eventually, I see myself being a global artist and not just a UK artist,” he says, confidently. “It will be down to the quality of the songs. I think that’s what prevents a lot of people from really venturing overseas. I definitely want to conquer the UK before I do that. It’s not a rush. I want the UK to be like ‘Yo, this guy… he’s quality!”
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Words: Patrick Fennelly
Photo Credit: Ashley Verse
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