[Written for IAmMusic.TV in October 2012. See the published version here.]
Although you may not have heard his name much yet, Cynikal is far from new to the music scene. Since writing his first rap at the age of 11, he’s received airplay on KISS, Choice FM and Radio 1xtra (to name a few), gained over 100, 000 views on his YouTube account and most recently performed at the prestigious Olympic Park during the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The rapper’s slow and steady rise in the industry has been well calculated and is built on years of hard work, determination and studying his craft. While a number of artists often plunge straight into music and hope for the best, Cynikal has taken the time to truly understand the career path he has chosen and has even graduated with a degree in sound engineering.
“I went away to uni in Leeds… so I just used that time to really just develop,” he explains. “I think you’ve got to develop as an artist before you’re ready to unleash yourself on to the world because otherwise you’ll get picked apart.
“I’ve taken that time to find my feet, find my sound, find my personality as a person because my personality reflects through my music. If I’m unsure as to who I am then the music’s going to sound unsure, therefore the listener isn’t going to buy into it, so that’s what I’ve been doing across the last 11 years.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the art if you don’t understand it. I’ve learnt so much across the genres. I’m classically trained, I used to play jazz piano and I know about production. I’m a sound engineering graduate aswell and obviously then I’m a rapper, which is my main thing and I made sure I learnt about all those elements so you can put me in a room with somebody from any different genre and I’ll be able to have a conversation with them.”
And he can definitely hold a conversation. As the interview gets under way and I start to get to know Cynikal a little better, I feel like I’m just catching up with an old mate over a drink. So I use this opportunity to touch on the potentially sensitive subject of him being an Indian rapper in a genre dominated by black artists. However, he doesn’t seem fazed at all.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he says. “It’s like osmosis. I’m like that salt particle coming into a saturated market and I’m just going to freshen it up, so that’s how I see things. I used to see it as a burden. I used to be like ‘How the hell is the industry going to accept someone that looks so different, that sounds so different, that’s had such a different upbringing?’ I went to private school aswell, so that’s like crazy for a rapper.
“But then the older I got, the more I realised, the more different you are, the better chance you have. I’m not trying to be different, I’m just who I am and it’s actually at the other end of the spectrum to a lot of rappers. Rap is all about story telling and I’ve got a very different story to tell. I don’t need to talk about how different it is, it is different. You’ve got to turn everything into a positive.”
Being Indian myself (and knowing how career orientated the culture can be), I wondered what his parents thought of his aspirations to become a hip-hop artist. However, they seem to have given him that push he needed to truly embrace the art.
“The more I did it, the more they supported it, especially when they saw that I had a talent at it. It got to the point where it was my parents that suggested I studied music at college and I did that full time and that changed my life because I had the most amazing teacher. I got a triple distinction in music at college aswell, so after that they were like ‘ok cool, go for it’.
“And then I got a first at uni in music aswell and I got invited to perform at my graduation ceremony. It was mad. I’m probably the only rapper that’s ever done that. I was in my robe, I had my band on stage and I got the whole graduation ceremony soul clapping, it was crazy.
“I proved to my parents that there is something there by getting those grades, especially because I was doing something that was very different to what any other Asian family would expect from their child. I think I needed to prove to them that I’m worthy of their support and I think that’s fair.”
After hearing his ‘osmosis’ theory, it then makes sense that the 25-year-old’s musical inspiration comes from other artists who stood out in their particular genres, whether it was due to their race or political views.
“I think the biggest inspirations in my career have been Tupac, Eminem, Michael Jackson, R Kelly, D’Angelo, J Dilla, Questlove… those kinds of people. People that really put their soul and passion into their music and almost possibly might not have succeeded.
“People want everything to be rosy and when you’re hitting them with truths, which is what all those artists did, it’s a bit too much and a bit too political. Those kind of artists really affected my career and that’s why I’m such a passionate person. I feel like they raised me…”
Cynikal couldn’t be more unlike his self appointed moniker if he tried. If anything, he should be called ‘Logikal’ (ha), as he carefully approaches each topic we discuss with a well thought out answer. Like, for example, his reason why UK rap is suddenly being brought to the forefront of today’s music scene…
“People are used to hearing that kind of sound on Radio 1 and winning Brits, so now for someone like me, if I was going to come through and do something, it’s no longer going to be a shock. Rap is part of UK culture now, on a countrywide scale. So he’s made life easier for us lot coming up.”
This year Tinie extended his mainstream image further by appearing on The X Factor as a guest mentor. However, Cynikal strongly believes that these types of programmes give an unfair advantage to people that haven’t worked as hard to earn a place in the music industry.
“I just feel like there’s people like me that put so much time, effort and sacrifice into music and then people that have just got a bit of a hobby go on to some talent show and now they have everything I ever wanted, but they don’t even really want it,” he explains.
“I want it so bad that I put all this work in to make sure I get it. I feel like I’m Richard Branson, I’m starting an empire and I feel like they’re the Euromillions winner. Like who deserves their wealth more? I’d rather be Richard Branson and I just don’t feel it’s right that there’s a Euromillions for being an artist, like a creative. There shouldn’t be that. I think you have to work your way because music is a business and if you haven’t put that structure in place, I don’t think you deserve it.”
Well, Cynikal certainly knows a thing or two about putting a structure in place. It’s evident that his route is planned out and has been for years, which is why I have no doubt that this – combined with his unfaltering self belief – will see him succeed.
The ‘Breakfast’ mixtape is available for download now. For more information go to:
Official site – www.cynikalmusic.com
Twitter – @CynikalMusic