So, patient and loyal Cowbellites, the time has come to give you the exclusive interview you all so heartily deserve. I was humbled to sit down with the one and only Karim Benotmane a.k.a Karim Tha Peasant, who has been creating quite the buzz in the London music scene. We met on the Southbank and had a ‘sophisticated’ coffee in the National Theatre chill out space. This was strangely symbolic because our mutual (and fabulous) friend, who was the one to make this all happen, met Karim at a National Youth Theatre course in the summer of 2014.
So we’ve established that Karim knows how to spit bars with the style and grace of a young Kanye (his biggest hero). What we don’t know is what’s going on underneath. Where did this guy come from? How did he learn to do things so good? How has he managed to accomplish more in one summer than I have in 19 years on the earth? With these burning questions and more, I began the interview. What follows is a world exclusive. Drop the mic…
I was surprised to discover that the beats on the album are mainly “internet based”. (It is possible that that is the most 21st century phrase I’ve ever said). Karim explained that he had made what are now called “internet friends”, who had helped him produce the entire album’s groovilicious beats. I was impressed by this technique, which reveals the outrageous advantage of being an artist in this day and age. Music is no longer about who you happen to meet at your high school or who your parents know. It’s now your choice who you seek out and collaborate with.
As to his composition style, so much of what sounds so incredibly natural and off the cuff on the record is apparently just that. “I freestyle all the time. That’s how I start most of my songs. I’ll put the beat on, rap over it then pick the bits that stand out to form the finished song.” For a rapper, I imagine that this is the most authentic way to build up your flow. Rather than forcing anything, Karim manages to make his music sound like a Shakesperian soliloquy in it’s rawness. Elevator Freestyle is the song that comes to mind when discussing this, (the smile on Karim’s face when I mention this song reveals his complete commitment to this record).
Humour is one thing that seemed to come up a lot in our conversation. Like us here at We Need More Cowbell, Karim seems to appreciate the value of a good laugh when it comes to music. “Elevator Freestyle is a very English song because it’s so tongue in cheek,” Karim chuckles at this, and we seem to agree that the British understand what it means to laugh at yourself more than most other countries. One thing that Karim does so well is floating between emotional states. I point out that half the album is darker than the other. While songs like Elevator Freestyle and Me, Myself and I could put a smile on anyone’s face, the album also leads us down darker paths with tracks like E.O T.F.
Karim recognises this but challenges my attempts to fit his music into certain categories.“Trying to put people in the box like that is very anti progressive,” he furrows his brow. “Cause then that’s it. You’re boxed in for life.” He mentions people like Skepta and Pharrell, who he calls artists that push their genre “away from the norm”. “I thought to myself, let me make a whole album out of the norm.” This is the most quotable quotation of the interview, although it’s honestly a hard choice because Karim is an incredibly eloquent and wise 18 year old.
I mention the strong theme of friendship in his work and he tells me I’ve hit the nail on the head (number 1 interviewer wutwut). “My biggest inspiration is friendship,” he tells me. “Friendship is all the inspiration I need, and I count my family as friends too.” Excuse me whilst I wipe a tear from my eye. Here’s a man that knows what’s most important, even in the muddy world of music. It’s friends that have made Karim’s album what it is. They’ve sat there and given him critique after honest critique and he thinks that’s the coolest thing about the album.
He hasn’t always been surrounded by inspiring people though.“At school I felt kind of dragged down by the negative energy and lack of inspiration.” It was NYT that brought out the artist dwelling inside. He found a secure group that all had the same “progressive” mindset as him, that all wanted to “vibe” (I love this phrase and will be recycling it so watch out). So in true Karim style, he capitalised on the opportunity to be surrounded by artists and began creating a network of groove-minded souls to accompany him on his journey to greatness.
The features are some of the shining parts of the album, with brand spanking new talent enhancing Karim’s smooth flow. “All the features on mad are very good friends. Before I knew them as artists, I mean.” This is something you probably already know, (if you’ve gotten your ass into gear and listened to the damn album), because of the outrageously endearing clips of Karim and his mates chatting. We discuss them and he tells me: “I wanted to bring everyone that listens to it into the studio with me. I don’t wanna be some superficial artist removed from the people that listen to my stuff. They’re part of this process too.”
Karim is not only humble, but honest and passionate. There’s something about the way he talks that feels like he’s lived far beyond his 18 years. He’s clear about his priorities and cares so deeply about his art that talking to him makes you wanna go and make a hip hop album of your very own. Most of all, Karim knows how not to let the struggle get you down. He knows that it’s not worth dwelling on the negative, but instead to accept (to quote Eponine) that “rain will make the flowers grow”.
I’ll leave you with Karim’s greatest epithet: “If we can do that in a summer, imagine what we can do in a year.”
Peace out Cowfolk,