Selected by: James Keith

Name: Venna

Where He’s From: South London

Genre: Jazz/Alternative Hip-Hop

File Next To: Knucks, Henry Wu, Kadiata, Emil

When He Started: 2017

Sounds Like: “Mixing the old with the new to create timeless records.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “‘Strasbourg St Denis’ by Roy Hargrove is one of the first jazz records that made me fall in love with jazz and making jazz music. I remember hearing that tune in band practice when I was 12, and I still listen to it to this day.”

For the past few years, the name Venna has been cropping up with increasing frequency. His name is often seen next to his old friend, the UK rapper Knucks, but he’s also lent sax riffs to Wizkid’s Made In Lagos and worked with Burna Boy no fewer than three times—all of which have been momentous in their own way. The first was for a track called “Ja Ara E”, which ended up on Beyoncé’s Lion King album, the second was alongside Diddy on Twice As Tall extract “Alarm Clocks”, and third was on African Giant cut “Anybody”, which earned him a Grammy. What’s crazy is that he only made his on-wax debut in 2017, playing on Tiana Major9’s “Merry Go”.

Such is Venna’s presence on every record he’s touched, he never feels like a hired gun (the riff he adds to the final act of p-rallel’s “WestBorn”, which he also co-produced, is one of many examples of this). His searing, bluesy sax-playing and his relaxed yet heady production style are both characters in their own right, carrying as much weight and influence on a track as any vocalist. Still, they were always other people’s records, so his enthusiasm for doing things his way is entirely understandable. Now, five years on from “Merry Go” and he’s stepping out of the shadows with his own project, Venology.

Venology dropped at the top of this month and it’s a meeting point of his talents as a musician and producer, artforms he’s been perfecting since he first started to play piano as a six-year-old. The sax followed at 12 and by 17, he was producing his own music. All of this, he says, was informed by his mum’s impeccable tastes. “She always played music that fed your soul,” he tells TRENCH. “A lot of R&B, gospel and soul music was the soundtrack for my household growing up. My mum doesn’t like any music that has profanity in it.”

That familial, intimate quality feeds right into what Venna does today; not just in the soul and jazz influences in his music, but in the collaborators he chooses. Regular sparring partner Knucks makes an early appearance on “Standard”, while JVCK JAMES, Jada Marie and Emil complete the list of credited appearances. Behind the scenes, Radiant Child’s Marco Bernardis has a co-writer credit on every track, and guitarist William Bui and black midi drummer Morgan Simpson both lend their respective talents. The net result is that precise-yet-spontaneous energy that all musicians chase, but can only a small circle of like-minded friends can achieve.

Venna could’ve started releasing his own material earlier—after all, plenty of others trusted him with their music, but taking his time to make a record as personal and thoughtful as Venology has proved to be the sage decision. “I’m really proud of the fact that I’m dropping my own music right now,” he says. “It’s been a really long time coming and I’m just grateful that the music sounds amazing and that the world can hear it!” But, he adds, this is only the beginning: “The next goal of mine is to make a classic album for myself that will live way past my lifetime.”

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on September 23, 2021