Sheffield’s poet laureate Otis Mensah on his new EP, RAP POETICS

Since being named Sheffield first poet laureate last year, things have been pretty much non-stop for Otis Mensah. Multiple festival performances, gigs across Europe, a debut EP and the release of his first poetry book ‘SAFE METAMORPHIS’ are just a few highlights from a hectic 12 months from an artist dedicated to shining a light on the city’s burgeoning literary scene.

With little sign of slowing down, Mensah will release his second album Rap Poetics next month after heading out on a UK tour supporting the likes of Gilles Peterson, Sarathy Korwar and KOTA The Friend. Exposed’s Sally Strong went to find out what we can expect from his new material.

What themes are you exploring in this EP?
I’ve kinda taken it back to participating in the art of rap for fun, so really playing with words. In it I’m trying to alchemise worlds through playing with different rhyme patterns. So I am seeing where the word takes me. The overarching theme driving this EP is the idea of rap being a potent form of poetry. I want to dismantle the idea that rap is disposable or unintelligent. So much that I know about the world, about philosophy and about history stems from my studies through rap music and hip-hop culture. I see it as a stimulus for philosophy, personal studying, as well as looking at society.

How has your sound evolved since Mum’s House, Philosopher?
In a way I think that Rap Poetics is taking it back, as opposed to moving forward. I am going to the bare roots of what I do, so I am looking at pure and raw poetry. In Rap Poetics I’m not thinking about song structures as much, just having fun. Essentially I am giving over the song structures to the overarching message, so I’m letting the message drive the music.

“The overarching theme driving this EP is the idea of rap being a potent form of poetry. I want to dismantle the idea that rap is disposable or unintelligent”

When and where can we catch you performing Rap Poetics?
I’m going to be headlining at Yellow Arch on 9 November, so that’s super exciting as that’s when I’ll be launching the EP officially. I’ve also got a few shows coming up; I’ll be going to Germany in support of Reverie, an amazing MC from LA. I’ll also be doing No Bounds Festival on 13th October, playing at the Holt. Bits here and there when I am going to push the new EP.

Is there any particular songs which you’re excited to perform live?
I am excited about the last song live, ‘Grand Finale Funeral Show’. It’s really fun lyrically, it’s got this juxtaposing instrumental, and so it’s happy but really, really melancholic. I think it’s something that will work to rile up the audience live. I like to test myself live and see how I can channel my emotions on stage to the audience.

You were named Sheffield’s poet laureate in 2018; how has that helped or developed your music?
It’s given me a confidence boost in terms of standing as an advocate for rap as poetry. It’s strengthened my purpose about going into an institution. I am going into the art world and trying to break down the idea that poetry is something whitewashed or elitist. Through it I am showing that other forms of poetry exist that have huge impact in real life. So yes, it’s been an amazing journey so far.

Rap Poetics is released on 25 October.

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