Otis Mensah on new tunes, being vulnerable and playing with Killah Priest

Gifted rapper-poet Otis Mensah is, frankly, smashing it so far this year. After releasing another single ‘Oh Jane’ in late January, receiving rising amounts of airplay in the process, he only went and announced that he’ll be supporting none other than Wu Tang royalty Killah Priest in the Big Smoke next month. At just 22-years-old, the guy is on fire.

With an upcoming free show at Bungalows (go check him, seriously) coming next month, Rachel Sutherland had a quick natter with the Sheffield artist about his hometown, creating a connection with listeners and transforming a sleepless night in Berlin into a writing session for his latest release.

Thanks for taking the time out of your day to chat with us today. How’s your day going?
Good thanks just been sorting out some gig dates, planning a few shows stuff like that!

Talking of upcoming gigs, you’ve got your debut show at Bungalows and Bears coming up next month. Hyped?
Yeah, it’s coming up on the on April 19th. I’m really looking forward to it as it’ll be the first time I’ve performed there. I’ve been to a couple of shows at Bungalows; I went to see Mick Jenkins there last year and I’ve been to one of their jazz nights which was really cool, so I’m buzzing to play it myself.

You performed recently at Peddler, too. How did that go down? 
Yeah, it was amazing – a bit cold but really enjoyable at the same time. Peddler is always a really cool vibe, there’s just a nice atmosphere there which makes it perfect for music performances.

Do you always prefer playing to a hometown audience? 
Yeah, it’s definitely always a blessing to play to people in your hometown. Sheffield’s got so much talent, and there are different pockets of creativity and art forms to take in so it’s nice to be in that environment. As a Sheffield-born artist, I am hoping to do more out of the city and kind of span out if possible; try to do more in Manchester, Leeds and London. But yeah, Sheffield is always a blessing.

Talking of spanning out, you’ve got a gig lined up with Killah Priest of Wu-Tang Clan in London next month. That’s pretty huge! How did that come around? 
I’m so excited for it, it’s going to be pretty incredible. I’m supporting him in April at Archspace, I think it’s a nice intimate venue so it’ll be cool to see if I can connect with people. I got the gig through sharing my music with a company called Grand District who are involved in bringing certain artists over and were booking different dates around the UK for Killah Priest. I genuinely can’t wait for that show.

Would you say that Wu-Tang Clan are one of your inspirations musically?
I’d say they stand as inspiration in the sense of hip-hop because I’m such a fan of the culture, the art form and genre. I appreciate what they contribute to hip-hop and lyrically I’ve always looked up to the members in Wu-Tang; I’ve always seen them as part of the lyrical elite, so yeah, they’re definitely influential in that way.

Pic: Lewis Evans

Who would you say are your main inspirations in the music world?
I’d say people who are more a little bit to the left and quite vulnerable lyrically, so people like Atmosphere, P.O.S, Open Mike Eagle, Milo, Busdriver.

Do you make yourself vulnerable in a lyrical sense? 
I hope so because I think that’s the most important thing of all in a sense. I feel like if you’re vulnerable with your art it puts you on a human level with the listener; it allows you to create that point of reliability and connection between you and the listener, which is what my favourite artists do for me. When I’m feeling a certain way about something, I’ll hear an artist that’ll say something about it and I’m able to relate to that. It’s so important.

Your new single ‘Oh Jane’ came out at the end of January. I think it’s a really sick tune.
Ah, thank you so much! Yeah it came out at the end of Jan on my YouTube channel and on my Spotify, it’s good to have it out there.

In terms of the music video for the single, is it just one continuous shot?
Yeah, so we just caught the sunset by my house. We were walking past the gap in between the two houses, saw the sunset and we were like ‘Oh, shall we shoot down here?’. We’d just come back from shooting another music video so it was a spot of luck. We shot it all in one shot and just wanted to get an introspective kind of feel, do you know what I mean? We wanted to try and display the themes in the song through the visuals, trying to do it in a minimalistic way.

Definitely the two really complement each other.
Ah amazing, thank you.

Has Jane heard it yet? That’s not her in the music video, is it?
Jane hasn’t heard it yet no, Jane’s in the imaginary world! That’s actually Raluca de Soleil, co-director.

Could you tell me a little bit about the writing process you went through with that song?
Sure. I was spending some time in a Berlin studio with a friend of mine, and  the producer called the intern who played me the instrumental and it had really interesting melody. I was really keen in writing over it but I didn’t know what to write. That night I couldn’t sleep, so I ended up putting my earphones in and it kind of came out as a stream of consciousness; I was just trying to get across the idea of nostalgia and growing up in the world in a system that’s so focused on achievements and materialism. It’s about how that affects mental health and can put a burden on how you see yourself, how you react to other people in society.

Did the poetry writing come first for you and did it then blend in to rapping?
I think my love for hip-hop was always the initial influence for me culturally. It just started off with me imitating the people who I look up to, beginning from the love of music, that genre and the culture.

 If you had to describe your music in three words what would they be?
Oh, that’s tricky. Introspective, sentimental and hip-hop.

What else have you got up your sleeve for this year?
I’m working on a continuous release of new singles, in the same nature of ‘Oh Jane’. The next thing I’m going to be releasing is called ‘Sanctified’ and I’m going to try and push it in the same way I did with ‘Oh Jane’. We shot some really interesting music videos for it. I’m also trying to do as many live shows as possible, I’m supporting Open Mike Eagle and Milo in Huddersfield on 20th March, of course the Bungalows and Bears on the 19th of April and then the Killah Priest show in London on the 26th. I’m just trying to do as much as possible outside of Sheffield as well.

Catch Otis at Bungalows on April 19th – fo’ FREE. 

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