Strandz is arguably one of the most talked about rappers of 2023. The German-born, south London-based artist has soared to prominence, even without a full-length project to his name. Garnering widespread acclaim with his Top 10-charting single ‘Us Against the World’, he’s been co-signed by the likes of Stormzy and Digga D. With esteemed rappers in his corner and bonafide hit under his belt, the Digga D remix of the track practically engineered itself.
With a magnetic flow and clear, cutting verses, Strandz’s music osculates between multiple worlds. For example, last year’s ‘4Eva Timeless’ is reminiscent of the Teflon-inspired raps of noughties, as well as the grand arrangements of legendary hip-hop producers Just Blaze and 9th Wonder. Strandz’s most recent offering, ‘J’adore’, is a bouncy, affectionate jam dedicated to his girlfriend, Lola, who lends her R&B-tinged vocals to the track’s refrain.
Strandz spent much his youth living between Germany, Nigeria and Croydon – but his love for music remained consistent throughout his teenage years. By studying his dad’s CD collection –which was stacked with Jay-Z and 50 Cent albums – as if it were his homework, Strandz developed a passion for a bold, bulletproof style of rap, the kind of music that would likely grace MTV Base. After his introduction into hip-hop culture, Strandz turned his hand to the piano while attending the prestigious BRIT School in his teen years.
Strandz caught up with NME at his studio as he discussed his most drop ‘J’adore’ and its stunning Paris and London-set visuals. “I don’t feel just bound to UK rap,” he says. “My music will always be centered in hip-hop, but that’s just the start. I’d love to use a Country sample and flip it in a crazy way.”
NME: Congrats on the success of ‘Us Against the World’. Are you surprised by the way the song has been received?
“I always wondered if the UK was ready for the kind of sound I was creating. I never felt nervous about releasing it. I always knew the song would find its core audience, whether on a major scale or not. My people and I loved it, so I thought people would take it in.
What inspired the Digga D remix?
“Digga D hopping on the remix was very organic. He’d already shown a lot of love towards the original. When remix conversations became a thing – he was the first person who popped into my mind. It didn’t feel like an industry thing; Digga did his thing. The thing is, I never set out to make a hit – I just wanted to make a great song. ‘Us Against the World’ hitting Top 10 on the charts is crazy, though.”
You attended the BRIT School. How has that moulded you artistically?
“The BRIT School was a big opportunity for me. It’s not a typical creative school that anyone can attend, you get me? The general idea is that if you can get through BRIT School – you’ll naturally do well. That all changed for me during my first assembly when the headmaster told us that the fact that we’d made it in was just the beginning.”
“When I was at school, I learned how to play the piano. There weren’t many people doing rap in the music course when I was there. Because of that, I knew I had to do something new, which has probably transferred into how I see my music today. I felt like I had to work harder than everyone else to maintain.”
You’ve lived in south London, Germany, and Nigeria. How has your global upbringing shaped your artistry?
“It opened up my mind from a young age. I think when you’re growing up, you live in this cocoon until you realise how big the world is. I’ve been blessed to see different environments from a young age. Still, when my family came to London, we couldn’t afford things like that, so we had to move to one of the cheapest areas. When I started seeing the ins and outs of street culture, it also gave me another perspective on how I saw the world – it’s a learning process. My upbringing alongside the BRIT School helped to broaden my horizons musically.”
Your latest single, ‘J’adore’, is reminiscent of 2000s ‘bling’ era rap. How did you get here stylistically?
“I actually made that song a couple of years ago, way before I understood the industry and trends as I do now. The track reflects where I am now and the sounds I listened to growing up. Coming up on 2000s rap, you clock those call-and-response songs were a big deal. With ‘J’adore’, I wrote a part of the song for a female voice, but I didn’t think it was right to get the maddest feature on the track as the female vocals were only on the chorus. Ultimately, I got my girlfriend to hop on it. We were in the studio for hours fine-tuning her part until we got it right.”
“I always wondered if the UK was ready for the kind of sound I was creating”
Do you ever feel hesitant to share your emotions in your music?
“A lot of my emotional transparency in my music is down to who I am as a person. I was talking about this the other day, and you don’t always see rappers talk about women or their feelings in a straightforward way because it’s probably not something they’re doing in their day-to-day life, either. It’s not their fault, like the way toxic masculinity and the way the world shapes us make us a type of way. You gotta be reflective and break the mould. That’s why my music sounds the way it does. All of that emotion is my real life.”
You’re a rap fanatic. On ‘Don’t Let Them See You Cry’, you name drop ‘Power of the Dollar’: 50 Cent’s debut unreleased album from 2000 – what made you do that?
“That’s funny, you know [laughs]. Sometimes when I throw something into a song – I don’t always think people will catch it. Sometimes the lines I put into a song are for and me alone. That line could be interpreted as referencing 50 Cent’s ‘Power Of The Dollar’. I came up on my dad’s CD collection and 2000s rap, so people like me might connect with that line.”
What’s next for Strandz?
“I’ve got a project in the works. I can’t say much about it, but it will be broad sonically. As I said before, my music reflects what’s going on in my life at any given moment, so all my new music reflects my current state of mind. I’m also going to be doing a lot more performing at events across the UK, so stay tuned in for more of that too.”