Potter Payper

Selected by: Rahel Aklilu

Name: Potter Payper

Where He’s From: Essex

When He Started: 2005

Genre: Pain-rap

File Next To: Mover, Nines, Joe Black, Squeeks

Sounds Like: Old-school East Coast hip-hop with a cockney accent.

UK rap’s favourite bespectacled wordsmith is back on the scene after some time away. Born Jamel Bousbaa to an Algerian father and Irish mother, Potter Payper has returned with a statement project that solidifies his status as a seasoned pro in a scene that has shifted dramatically in his absence.

During the 2010s, when the ‘road rap’ scene was booming, Potter was never inactive for long and his explosive BL@CKBOX freestyle in 2013 marked him as a rapper to watch before dropping a string of projects including the elemental Training Day, which would form the basis of a trilogy that has developed and defined the artist that we see today. Although he was “making music in 2005, 2006, back in youth club days”, it was the aforementioned BL@CKBOX freestyle that would propel him into the spotlight and place him next to vets such as J Spades, Benny Banks and Joe Black in “best lyricist” conversations.

Unfortunately, having spent life in and out of jail over the last fourteen years, Potter explains in TD3 opener “Sorry” that “when you’re rapping what you’re living, it’s what happens,” but he also paints a broader picture of life as an inmate, exploring the realities of “all of your friends vanishing” and dehumanisation on the song “A6586AM” (his prison number). Ironically, he hasn’t let his stints away prevent him from releasing music; his 2018 project, Regina v Jamel Bousbaa—featuring Skrapz, Blade Brown, Ms Banks and S36—was released mid-sentence. Originally sentenced to five years in prison on a drugs charge, Potter recounts how Stormzy’s infamous Glastonbury shoutout of UK rap talent spurred him on to keep his head down and pen strong with a year and a half of his sentence left.

Hardened and smartened by life since his chesty Training Day 2 offering in 2016 (hosted by DJ Kenny Allstar), the final instalment in the trilogy reflects Potter’s own growth—both in tone and subject matter. Fresh from prison and with anybody from the industry no more than a DM away, Potter makes a statement in only one feature on the entire project being Mover, who delivers his verse via voice recording whilst serving a life sentence. Having also been the only feature on Training Day 2 fan favourite “Muni”, the significance of the two’s friendship cannot be understated. By a stroke of luck, they crossed paths again during their respective sentences and became cellmates for a short time, their camaraderie reflecting in their musical chemistry.

Still gritty but more introspective, with most of it written during his stint in prison, Training Day 3 is hopeful in many ways. Now facing life as a free man and disillusioned with the glorification of crime we see so often, Potter seems optimistic for a future as a legitimate rap artist that his loved ones can be proud of. Any listener of his work, which he describes as “honest music”, will be aware of how important his recently deceased grandmother was in his life, having brought him up. Indeed, Potter’s proudest moment was receiving a call from his grandmother, saying that she could see the billboards he’d put up outside of her house.

Potter’s distinct ability to paint a vivid picture of his life in Essex takes listeners on a relatable journey of grief and harsh realities of child poverty, prison, and broken families. The touching single “When I Was Little” recounts his childhood, from being “sent to Feltham for the summertime” as well as witnessing domestic abuse, all the way to the current success he’s gained from being able to “put pain on a beat and touch souls like this.” This storytelling style of social commentary draws inspiration from the hip-hop Potter listened to growing up, citing New York crews The Lox and Dipset as influences, alongside “lots of dancehall and reggae” from his Irish mum. What really resonated though, was City High’s 1999 song “What Would You Do?” as a child, an evergreen hit that managed to weave a story of abuse and heartbreak over Wyclef Jean’s guitar-led production.

Although he hasn’t gone on tour yet, a recent pop-up tour across Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and London—following TD3’s release—was met with eager reception, with queues snaking around buildings as fans clamoured to get physical copies signed and a pic with the man of the hour. The London pop-up, organised by Sanctuary Ldn, allowed visitors to write a ‘Letter to Mover’ in reference to Potter’s 2018 ode to his friend, as well as buy Mover’s latest tape, Exit Wounds 3. “The pop-up shop tour was completely spontaneous,” he says, “with no tour manager but the help of a few good people in each city picking venues on the day.” With his upcoming UK tour having sold out pre-sale allocations in a matter of hours, plus a 2020 MOBO nomination for Best Hip-Hop, there is no doubt that the world is ready to see Potter Payper’s game face for his imminent album, the next big goal of his bright career.

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Posted on December 02, 2020