WHY I RATE: Rarelyalways

Selected by: James Keith
Photography: SORAstudio

Name: Rarelyalways

Where He’s From: Hackney, East London

Genre: UK Rap/Spoken Word

File Next To: Tricky, Saul Williams, Wu-Lu, Lex Amor

When He Started: 2018

Sounds Like: “My sound usually incorporates various Afro-centric rhythms within the rhythm section, sketchbook garage instruments and sharp scratchy noises. I tend to use the same sound engineers to mix my sessions; if it’s not my go-to’s in South London, I’m definitely calling CLB who understands 1) I’m very intentional 2) I’m a compulsive tweaker 3) vocals need to cut through like a shark’s teeth in chocolate.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “Wonderful world by Louie Armstrong. Till this day, I stand by my word when I say it’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard—the lyrics are timeless. I first stumbled across this happy/sad song in my Catholic primary school, during our class singing session. Once a week, we spent an hour with the piano teacher and either singing hymns or American folk songs.”

East London’s Rarelyalways has been a few years in the making, but even though his music—a mesmerising blend of spoken word poetry and rap with a hint of punk distortion—feels bold and fully formed in its identity. Truth is, it’s still evolving, and will probably keep evolving for years to come.

Comparisons to Tricky and Roots Manuva have been forthcoming and you can certainly hear some of the same connections to Black Britain’s history of soundsystem culture; you can even hear touches of both artists’ flair for the poetic, but there’s a great deal more to the Hackney artist than that. As much as anything, their sounds are products of their own eras, and so too is RarelyAlways’ sound. The shadow of grime and 2010s UK rap can be heard in the lurching bass and commanding rhetoric, but the most fundamental elements of RarelyAlways’ music are its Afro-centric influences and the way he filters them through his 21st century lens.

Take his two most recent releases, “Hungry” and “Lamenting”. A driving wall of low-end underpins both, but the vocals themselves are delivered with laser-like precision for maximum impact. Every line is allowed to breathe, whether he’s slow and measured on “Lamenting” with lines like “Calm, connected, I’m eager”, or when he gallops ahead moments later with “Anyway, that’s water under the bridge now, we’re not crying over spilled milk”. Despite all that, he’s hesitant to even say he even has a style. “Everything I listen to inspires me which causes challenges,” he tells TRENCH. “I occasionally struggle to create tracks that sonically match. Recently, I’ve been trying to be consistent with approach in production, using familiar references. Fingers crossed, by the end of 2022, I’ll have an undisputed, distinctive sound.”

In terms of influences, they’re unsurprisingly broad and well-informed. “It was difficult to really specify my favourite genre of music growing up,” he says. “All sorts were circulating in the house. The common culprits were ‘70s funk, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Brothers Johnson or a whole heap of Bob James and fusion jazz.” Later, he would start making his own music as Razor, hungrily devouring influence from all over the place to see what would come out. Then, towards the end of the 2010s, Razor was shortened to R.A, which ultimately became Rarelyalways, and he released his first official single, “Again”, with long-standing collaborator and producer CLB.

Now two years deep into his career, and without much of a chance to take his music to live audiences, Rarelyalways is raring to go. He’s already got an EP lined up, Manic, and he’s ready to take it out into the wild. “I’d say my next big goal is putting together a killer live set with musicians who never got the recognition they deserved. That sense of fulfilment will be an overwhelming feeling, one that money can’t buy.”

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on June 02, 2021