The worlds of hip-hop and art have never been on better terms than they have during this decade. Kendrick Lamar screened his m.A.A.d film at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Jay-Z staged his version of Marina Abramovich’s The Artist Is Present at New York’s MOMA, and Kanye, hip-hop’s most determined gallery-goer, has taken to calling recent album The Life Of Pablo a “living breathing changing creative expression”, adding hashtag #contemporary art for good measure.
Like Kanye, A$AP Ferg was also an art student, studying drawing and painting before pursuing music full time. While some might question rap’s romance with the art establishment, Ferg thinks the relationship has been there since hip-hop’s start, citing Fab 5 Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat as early examples of uptown and downtown worlds colliding.
“I look at music as art,” says the New Yorker on the phone. “I think more people should put out art… ”
Andra Day is at the airport, checking in for her flight from Boston to Philadelphia. I know this because people keep asking her stuff in one ear while she’s trying to concentrate on talking to Echoes via the phone pressed to her other. She’s winningly apologetic for the frequent distractions, but actually I’m impressed and entertained by her facility to pause mid-sentence, respond to, say, an enquiry about baggage to go on board or in the hold, and then return to the exact point in her answer to my question and continue as if nothing and no-one were trying to scramble her brain. Yes, I’m thinking, Ms Andra Day sounds like one sharp, determined cookie.
She can certainly sing. Most of the UK probably first encountered her back in December: Andra was the woman in the Apple TV ad with Stevie Wonder, duetting on the great man’s Someday At Christmas, as family gathered around the traditional tree and seasonal Mac laptop.
As those who grew up glued to ‘80s legwarmer-clad sitcoms will know, fame costs. As well as paying in sweat, Gregory Porter has transacted his way to stardom in the jazz world by the emotionally as well as physically taxing route of international touring, which means strings of dates all over Europe as well as North America. The road is long. Home time is short.
Symbolically, the 44-year-old singer gives me a further insight into his work-life balance from the very luxurious lobby of the Bloomsbury hotel in central London, thousands of miles away from his loved ones in California.
“I always had a busy schedule,” he says with a relaxed tone. “My days somehow got filled up with doing interviews and more concerts because the interest was there. So there was not a lot of time sitting by the fire contemplating life… ”
Elsewhere this issue we hear how the first generation of British born reggae musicians looked to Jamaica for approval. The situation is very different now. Younger musicians are no longer confined by cultural boundaries unless they choose that path for themselves, as certain Jamaican artists have done.
Natty isn’t one of them, and describes his music as “future roots.” It’s a label he shares with other mavericks like Ben Harper and Michael Franti, whose vocal style is a little similar. Being hard to define has its drawbacks since singer/songwriters like them tend to get overlooked, although there are distinct threads to Natty’s oeuvre. Reggae’s in there, certainly, but so is folk, pop, blues, soul, jazz and African music – genres that he’s absorbed through his multi-ethnic background and having been raised in the cultural melting-point that is north London.
“Growing up in Camden, near Finsbury Park, there was no way I was going to be playing straight reggae music, as if I was from Jamaica… ”