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Kingdom Rapper Discusses His New Album, Getting Into Music and How He’s Supporting Community Projects in Nottingham

25 January 22 interview: Katie Lyle
photos: Ali J

Kingdom Rapper, AKA Benje Howard, is a rapper making music with a message. We sit down with him to chat about everything from his new album - produced with Mark Gamble - to how he’s using his music to support community projects throughout Nottingham…

How did you end up getting into music?
It started back in the day, when I was at secondary school. I used to get bullied quite badly. Then at home, my mum and dad were recovering alcoholics. Music was escapism when I was growing up, it was therapy for me, kind of like going to the gym. It really helped with how I was feeling and then it just developed from going to college and finding a studio. I just realised it was something that I wanted to do more than anything.

2015 is when I actually took things really seriously. That was when I became a Christian after living a bit of a colourful life with many years of roadman antics. I found God after having a gun put to me, and I kind of prayed about that in my heart. I started taking my rap more seriously, it became a way to affect people and have a positive impact on the world. Share my hurts and my pains, my highs and lows, and hopefully do society a good service with the music.

You're really proud of your Nottingham roots, this can be heard throughout your music. How do you find Nottingham as a scene?
Notts has been my bread and butter. It's where my rap started. It's where my raps developed. And I've worked with so many different people, artists and producers. I've been to so many kinds of community centres and community recording places. I've been in and out of the schools, colleges, universities, prisons, and rehabs, and been able to connect to many people on different levels, different backgrounds, different talents. It's really developed me.

I've got a heart for people who haven't necessarily got a voice

You have had involvement in a scheme to teach rapping to inmates at HMP Nottingham…
I've got a heart for people who haven't necessarily got a voice. I currently work in a secure unit part time, which is with young people serving sentences. With HMP Nottingham, I got invited by the University of Surrey to sort a book that we published with the guys' memoirs from inside, and then I managed to rap and they invited me back in. I did something for Black History Month, performed and mingled with all the guys in the gym and spoke to them about life choices and stuff.

From the back of that we were asked to put together a project which would help the inmates to rap. It was a way to get their feelings out and talk about the future, what they would change, and their families. It went out in the Nottingham Post when I was doing it and I think a lot of the general public thought it was kind of a holiday camp for inmates, where we get to make music and have a party inside, but it definitely wasn't that. It was people seriously talking about their freedoms being lost and the mistakes they made, and how we can overcome that. They've not forgotten about this because they're locked inside.

A rehab asked me to go and speak to guys who are recovering addicts. Then colleges asked me to come in and speak to students. Then the University of Nottingham asked me to come and give my testimony and talk about life choices. If it comes to mending hearts, reaching out and having a chance to be able to build people back up, I'm all for that. It's what people have done for me. So I definitely think that my music is a tool, very much so. Not just to put tracks out there and do the fun stuff, but also to be able to roll my sleeves up and use our platform as a thing to shine the light in the darkness and try to make a change.

I think that we've hit a real sweet spot with our contrasting styles mixing and blending together to produce something really special

Your album is being produced by Nottingham producer Mark Gamble. How did this come about?
I was asked to feature on a song for somebody and I went through to Mark’s studio as an invite from someone else. I put this verse down, and I was actually struggling for studio time with people. I had places that I could have worked in but I wasn't finding my niche. I found Mark’s studio to be spot on. His production was amazing and his beat making capabilities were unreal. Probably about a month later, he messaged me and said he thought I was special and that he wanted to work with me and develop my next project, really just out of the blue.

I went to see him and we started work, which is just so completely different from anything I've ever done up to this point. We've ended up getting different people from the UK and all over in America to send in live tracks. It's just kind of snowballed a little bit. Mark’s given me so much time, I think that we've hit a real sweet spot with our contrasting styles mixing and blending together to produce something really special. He's been doing production for like 35 years and he's gone above and beyond. It's been an absolute blessing.

When is the new music coming out?
We’ve got a lot of songs written and recorded, and we're in the middle of shooting videos as well. I think what we're going to do is release a video and a single every month for the first three months of the year. We're just going to concentrate on plugging these three songs, then later on in the year, probably May, June time, we're going to release the whole project. The three songs that will be released in January, February and March set the stall out for what's to come for the rest.

Listen to Kingdom Rapper's latest album, The Changing Room, on Spotify

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