Talking Mixtapes with Cynikal

Here’s my latest article with UK hip-hop artist Cynikal. It was extremely interesting talking to him and he has some great knowledge and insight into the industry. This is backed up by his music; his ‘Breakfast’ mixtape is an excellent debut. This project was the main focus of the article.

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After steadily making a name for himself through Youtube videos, radio airplay and live appearances, young up-and-coming artist, Cynikal, felt it was time to drop his first big project to the people. In May 2012, the London born rapper dropped his debut mixtape, “Breakfast”. I spoke to him about this, the concept of mixtapes on the whole and his emergence as a thriving UK artist.

By releasing a large body of work in this 10 track project, the Essex-residing musician hoped that he could reach out to key names in the industry as well as letting the listener get to know him on a more personal level. Titled ‘Breakfast’, the rapper/producer sees the mixtape as the beginning of a new day and the reception to the mixtape has been positive, surpassing all of his expectations. “This was just supposed to be a warm up to get people talking” he reflects. Speaking of warm ups, the British artist relates his project to J. Cole’s second mixtape, released in 2009,incidentally titled, “The Warm Up”, which did so much to boost his following across the globe. “The main reason for the mixtape was to give people an insight into who I am as a person, and it was really to introduce myself to some of the key people in the industry and let them know “Yo, what’s up? How’s it going? This is me and what I’m about”.

Whilst in the past mixtapes have not been treated with the effort and intensity to that of an album, Cynikal argues that for an independent artist they are crucial. “You’ve probably got to treat the mixtape with even more importance because that’s the reason you will get signed”. However, initially the graduate of the prestigious Leeds College of Music academy went about his first mixtape in a similar manner to that of a stereotypical mixtape, heavy with covers and lacking a personal stamp upon it. Yet after speaking to friend in the industry, he agreed that he needed to make his project unique. “We’ve got more of a 50-50 split of refixes and original tunes, but even with the refixes I’ve really had to make them mine…you have to treat a refix like it’s an album tune, like it’s yours”. For instance, Cynikal features remakes of J. Cole ‘Losing Your Balance’ and Drake ‘Fear’, yet it is clear through the lyricism, added energy and production that the rapper has consciously sought to mark his own stamp on the songs, rather than simply rap over them. Overall, it is an impressive first time venture from the youngster.

Mixtapes being so diverse in their nature, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a particularly successful one. The purpose for most artists with a mixtape is based on the idea to build upon a following, keep fans entertained with good music and most importantly to stay relevant between albums. Cynikal highlights that a mixture between honesty and creativity with not only the lyricism, but the sound, is the key to a fulfilling mixtape. Above all that, the mixtape gives the artist the ability to express themselves with a great deal of creative freedom that they wouldn’t get from producing an album under a record label. “You’ve got the creative freedom in the mixtape. You don’t have to sell as it’s not about selling. It’s free. So whatever you feel like doing, that’s your chance” Cynikal adds.

The British Asian musician certainly agrees that mixtapes have evolved in recent times, with them now being seen more as a prelude to an upcoming album, or filler between albums. He has plans to release his own debut EP in 2013, admitting that the listener will certainly see a change-up from his previous work, though he feels that this variation will simply be a result of natural progression. “It will be a different sound because I believe everybody changes over time and it’s been over 6 months since I dropped that tape and probably 18 months since I started working on it and different influences have come into play and that’s what’s going to happen between albums always” sights the rapper.

With over 6 months having passed since the release of the mixtape, the rapper seems happy enough with the progress he has made with his career. He singles out live shows as his key strength, and having appeared at Lovebox and the Underage Festival amongst others, it is hard to argue with him. He stresses that it is these performances and confidence to showcase his talents to a wide audience on a stage, is allowing him to separate himself from those artists around him. “The more live shows I do, the more people come on board because that is something I work really hard on. It’s difficult with tracks because there are so many floating about. Not as many artists are doing shows as they are putting out tracks” he points out. He also argues that in the modern age of music downloads and internet blogs, it is crucial to get your work out there on as many different formats as possible, whether that be through social media or his well-publicised Bandcamp. “You’ve just got to be everywhere, as you don’t know which avenue is going to help you pop off”.

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