The Nottingham-born producer and rapper talks influences, songwriting and manifesting collaborations
“Emotionally intelligent rave music” are not words one normally puts together, but the phrase wholly encapsulates the sound of Nottingham-born US-based producer and songwriter, skaiwater. Going from a SoundCloud staple “removed from the scene”, to opening for Lil Nas X on his US tour, skaiwater has quickly cultivated a large following of fellow ragers – fans of their distinct pairing of vulnerable, confessional lyrics and high-octane dance tracks that span EDM, Jersey club, jungle and more.
We caught up with ‘#miles’ singer to discuss their major influences, how they protect their sense of self in the music industry, and dancing on tables at Rough Trade Nottingham.
You’re from Nottingham, but you’re based in the US. Is the cross-Atlantic Influence what’s the driving force your sound or is it more of a UK influence?
I think I just grew up listening to a lot of different music. My dad was very pro-Black growing up, so I listened to a lot of different types of Black music from Jamaica, Africa or different sections of America, Black dance music.
When I first came into music, I was kind of just making what I liked to hear at the time, but when I went back to my roots and what I love from music, I think I was pulling a lot of things from there, production wise. So, Kanye or Timbaland or Kaytranada. I think the DIY aspect, too, is what drew me to that style of production.
Is that how Jersey dance music came into your work?
I think when I found like the dance culture from Philly and Jersey, it resonated in the same way a lot of garage music did when I was younger. It’s rare nowadays to see a group of Black people dancing unless it’s like a like a choreographed or coordinated thing. I don’t think you really see it [rave culture] the same way you used to in the UK, but I think I saw it over there. And that’s exactly what I want to bring to you.
How do you approach your writing process?
I do everything off the top off my head, honestly! [laughs] When I started making music, and coming out to New York for the first time, I was around a lot of drill rappers. Not really people from the R&B space or like a songwriting space. So, I was learning the [writing] process from people who were coming out in the drill scene in 2019. It was a whole different method to recording [music] that just stuck in my head. So I’ve been trying to adapt it to songwriting, too, because obviously [drill] is a different method of writing where you’re just saying the hardest sh*t off the top of your head. But I think there’s a way to adapt it so it’s emotionally intelligent, instead of just street-smart.
Do you feel like you adapted your DIY approach when you started working with people such as Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Nas X?
Not really, to be honest. When I was coming up in the SoundCloud underground, whenever I needed a feature, people would just send a verse in and then I’d just build around it. It’s really the same process now, especially for the more recent stuff – I’ve been working from home more. My collaborations are hardly ever in person, so I’ve not really had to adapt. But it’s all cool, I want to make sure my skills are being worked on at all times. There’s always something new to learn.
Did collaborative processes also shaped the way that you perform live?
I already had an idea of how I wanted to present myself on stage, so my style hasn’t changed much. I will say that when I was on tour with Lil Nas X, I did learn a lot about crowd interaction. I had to learn new techniques to perform for new crowds. I wouldn’t really call it a collaboration, but I think working with him has taught me stuff about life, and how to adapt to different kinds of people.
What kind of stuff did it teach you?
Presenting your music in different ways. I wasn’t really embracing the vocal side in my own sets, I was more focused on the energy. But on tour, you have to showcase what your music is and your intent to brand new people. Almost like an open mic [laughs]
You went from your SoundCloud producer days to having over million listeners on Spotify, all very quickly. How would you describe your experience of that?
I’ve realised that it got serious very quickly. It’s gone from being a hobby to now, where music is my purpose.
What keeps you grounded in ensuring that you’re making the music you want to make?
I really despise the idea of being swayed into doing some sh*t that isn’t for me, because it’s happened to me before. The industry we’re in can be very manipulative sometimes, so I have a guard up for that because I don’t like how it makes my heart look either.
What’s your dream venue?
MSG. I saw a performance at MSG and it was crazy. It was wild seeing that many people experience music at once. I want to reach that level at some point in my life.
Would you do a hometown show?
One hundred per cent. I feel like once I put more music out, and more people understand where I’m going as artist and the message I want to give to the world – I think then we’re going to have one of the greatest shows of all time. There’s not a lot of people from my hometown who come up and have their music celebrated by a wide group of people. So, I think it would be a way better celebration once everyone is on the same page.
I’ll be there. We’ll rage together.
Where was the first gig you ever played?
Rough Trade Nottingham. It was crazy, I don’t think people raged in that venue, like on tables or on the bar. So it was just funny to see the people working there react to how we were having fun.
You know that TikTok sound that goes “more energy, more energy”?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was that kind of vibe! I hope I get to do that again.
What can we expect from an album by skaiwater?
A more elevated version of my current sound, but I also want to introduce some new things. I want to see where else I can take production and where else I can take my voice.
Oh yes, let’s manifest.
I have tarot cards in the back. We’ll manifest collaborations with T2 and whoever else skai wants to work with. Asé. I appreciate the manifestations and blessings. I’ll see you in Nottingham, man!