Hard Graft and Flowers in Bloom: An Interview with aka RéY


image: Blackmagic cinema
image: Blackmagic cinema

I’m sitting in a gastro-pub in King’s Cross, central London with underground lyricist Lanre ‘aka RéY’ Diko. He is effusive, in his own easy-going way, as he describes the concept behind his latest project. Rightly so. It’s a milestone of sorts. aka RéY has been about the graft, as long as I’ve known him. We first met when he worked at the once-independent local cinema I used to frequent. He’d be doing box office duty, serving behind the bar or wielding a mop. Little did I know that this this down-to-earth, London-born Nigerian kid from Peckham, was a multi-lingual Politics graduate. His back-to-back shifts were funding his long-term goal to make music full time. Much of this came to light years later, when I interviewed him for my postgrad thesis. It was too good a conversation to languish in the obscurities of academia.

So here we are doing it again, for public consumption. Three years and a couple of independent releases later.

First things first. Whatever happened to the politics career?

‘I wanted to work for the government-when I was a bit more naïve -or think tanks and foundations; those kind of organisations. I thought that would be more my fit.’

Life had other ideas. A series of events foregrounded music’s importance to Réy, including his encounters with prejudice whilst studying in Spain. He would turn turn to his personal collection for for solace. This growing fascination was to become much more besides.

‘I didn’t think it would end up in raps. I did a few talent shows and stuff like that. Always thought it was a bit of fun’.

Some friendly intervention accelerated the transition.

‘A friend of mine had a little studio in his house. I said “ Ah, there’s this song that I really like by Four Tet called Crawl, End Crawl.” I played it to him and he said “It would be amazing to rap to…” He just made me write to it and I was like “Okay”’

Positive feedback for this off-the-cuff demo buoyed aka RéY’s creativity. Even after landing what would have once been his dream job, the music started to take over.

‘While I was working for the Nike Foundation, and I was doing 50-plus hours, I would still go home and do the music thing and then on the weekends I’d have studio time’ ‘It was really hard and quite demanding. I don’t think I realised how much [the music] kept me going until I finished a project and I was like “Oh, maybe I should do another one”’.

Fast forward a decade or so. aka RéY had moved into the service industry. Of course, shift work can also be exhausting. The trade-off is that it has allowed him the flexibility to concentrate on his craft. It’s hard to keep up with aka RéY’s output. He gives a quick overview. Akarey - Prologs 2 ‘This album is the fourth in the series that’s called The Prologs. It’s all about the journey to become good at what I do. log01 was about time and the symbol was an hour glass. log02 was me having loads of epiphanies and the symbol for that was a lightbulb. The third one was a fingerprint [signifying] identity. It was me figuring out things about who I think I am, how I’m perceived, getting round that whole headf*** basically.’

Would that include deciding on a sound or was it more personal introspection?

‘It’s funny you ask that. The first two in the series were all samples but not in a really obvious way. The third log was when we (with producer Jasper Dent) started to come up with our own music and be confident in it. I beatboxed the [demo]. It started out fairly simple and it just became increasingly complex. And so now I’m hearing quite a lot of the instrumentation before I’m getting to the studio, which obviously helps explaining to the musicians what I need from them.’ log04 is thus far his most ambitious project. ‘We haven’t come up with a symbol yet. It is meant to be about starting to know where you’re supposed to go. It’s like the feeling of completion. The symbol could be a chrysalis into a butterfly or a flower in bloom.’

Running through some of its track list, aka RéY expounds on the album’s thematic arc.

So Many Ways is about you getting to a fork in the road. There are ton of ways you can go and be distracted. There’s a metaphor in it about women as well. I think to be a settled and focused person, you can’t be chasing loads of women…’

Isn’t this just evidence of single-mindedness; a disciplined character?

‘If you think about it, you only have a certain bandwidth’ he reflects ‘In a relationship, there are six things you have to remember: One, who you think you are. Secondly, who they think you are and then who you actually are. Then you’ve got to remember their history; their perception of their history, maybe your perception of their history and maybe where they see themselves going in the future. There’s a lot to remember when you’re having a relationship, whether it be platonic or amorous. I think you can’t have loads of girlfriends. It doesn’t work. There won’t be longevity in it. It won’t be as real or as fulfilling as you want it to be. It’s just pragmatic. Anybody who tells you they can manage, they’re just lying.’ He laughs gamely ‘They’re bulls****** themselves, they’re bulls****** the people they’re messing with. It’s bull****. Anyway, that’s what I think…’

(c) Iulia Strat
(c) Iulia Strat

log04 will be a multi-media feat, aka RéY further explains.

‘ [The album] sits at the centre of this bigger project. I wanted it to be transcendent. Let’s be honest, although there is some altruism, it’s also to make myself stand out. But at the core of it, I want to inspire other creatives to be honest. ‘We’re putting out a proposition to different artists-I have about 12 so far-and we’re going to ask them to come up with that fourth symbol. It’s a visual representation of what it feels like when you’re about to bloom; to bring things into fruition that you’ve been planning. There’s no prescriptive brief that limits their medium, just the concept. Then we’ll do an exhibition of whatever people come up with.’

‘ So that’s the first bit. The second bit is a remix album. We’re going to parcel out the stems and send it out to a list of producers. The idea is for them to come back with 2-5 tracks that are different from my sound, which for the most part is reflective; more personal. I want the [producers] to come up with upbeat tracks; more soundscape, more beautiful…’

aka RéY and his team will then pass them on to some discerning artistic friends-or curators- for the next democratic part of the process.

’If enough people like it, then it will make the remix album. And then there’ll be a whole social media campaign around it. When the producers receive the tracks, they’ll tweet, Facebook, Instagram… Then when the album comes out- on New Year’s Day hopefully- if you’re one of the curators, and your track made it on you say “I love this track! I’m so happy it made it on to the album”, you tweet, Facebook whatever…’

(c) Wunmi Onibudo
(c) Wunmi Onibudo

If all this wasn’t enough to get the creative juices flowing, there’s another dimension to log04 which, wait for it, aka RéY says he’s ‘really excited about’. He leans over, eager to tell.

‘We’re also interviewing creators of all different fields, to talk about the realities around mastering your craft. So not the Instagram highlights; the actual day-to-day slog…Living in a big city. What’s that like? How much time do you actually spend mastering your craft? Those kinds of things. Every time I’ve spoken to people, they’ve given me a different angle. ‘My chief aim of these ‘Mastery Interviews’ is to inspire people by learning from somebody else’s process and journey. But secondly, it’s to assure people that it’s okay. Whatever you’re going through, somebody else has gone through it. Some people beat themselves up for procrastination for example. They get so down in the dumps, they don’t do anything the next day. “I’m a fraud blah, blah, blah” then they have to spend the whole day getting their head right because they have sunk themselves. ‘I think some of that could be alleviated by other people saying “Oh, I did that too. That’s how I felt.…” or “I survived it and I can see the end of the tunnel”’.

This is an edited version of the full interview.

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The single ‘Untitled‘ is available on:

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