I Can’t Wait To See U Again

“The roots of what I do start with poetry” – Louis Culture’s sound is the beating heart of UK rap
By Ella Joyce | Music | 9 May 2024

Over the last few years, Louis Culture has established himself as one of UK rap’s most defining figures, rising through the ranks alongside the likes of Finn Foxell and Lord Apex – building the foundation for a generation of rappers relinquishing inhibitions and thriving on instinct. Redefining a genre defined by an elusive air of masculinity, Culture’s appeal lies in the vulnerability at the core of his unpredictable voice. Press shuffle on his Spotify page and you could easily jump from left-field electronica and garage to subtle folk and hip-hop, then back to UK rap again – the one constant is a masterful lesson in songwriting.

Born and raised in Battersea, Culture sights the evolution of UK rap from the days of So Solid Crew and Jai Paul to the poetry his grandmother read to him as a child as formative to the work he now produces. Shifting from the thumping basslines on his debut EP Smile Soundsystem to his autobiographical sophomore project When Life Presents Obstacle, the musician’s latest release I Can’t Wait To See U Again is something new in its own right: a record centred around heartbreak and self-discovery; the title inspired by Culture’s inner monologue – “I can’t wait to see you again in a better form” – a message for his fans, his closest, and most of all, himself.

Photography by Zaineb Abelque

Ella Joyce: You’ve just got back home from your headline tour, how was it?
Louis Culture: It was surreal. Going into it there were certain cities I’d been to before and I knew what to expect but others I’d never been to. My agent is amazing, but I questioned them like, “Are you sure there are people who listen to me in these places? Are you sure people will show up?” And they did. Hearing their stories and experiences with my music was amazing, they would even ask for songs from years ago. I was making up for lost time because they might not have seen me play before or might have started listening during lockdown. It was a really wholesome experience. 

EJ: I was at your London show and there was such great energy in the room. I know your first-ever gig was at The Old Blue Last, how does it feel to now be filling out much bigger venues in the city?
LC: That show was completely full circle, just seeing the pool of people… To go from Old Blue Last to my first headline at Peckham Audio, which is still a 200-capacity venue and you can see everyone directly, then to Village Underground this time where it’s just a sea of people was mad. Even as I was performing – I was present the whole time but I was still processing what was going on. It was a mad way to end the UK shows.

Photography by Zaineb Abelque

“I hope people can listen back to my projects and see that I’ve grown in a certain way.”

EJ: When you’re making music, is performing and the crowd reaction something that’s on your mind?
LC: Definitely. When I’m making music I’m always thinking about the performance and envisioning how the videos may look. The live performance always comes into it, making a song like Twiss and thinking, “I want the venue to shake,” or making a song like Anyway and being like, “I hope the crowd sings this back to me.” I always keep those things in mind. Even with my first project Smile Soundsystem, it was very much made for a club space, but then we went into lockdown so I had to hold that. But when we were able to perform again it was everything I could have hoped for. 

EJ: You’ve been a key part of the UK rap scene for a while now, how would you describe it at the minute? Have you seen it change over the past few years?
LC: I think it’s beautiful. I don’t know if I can say I’ve seen my role change but I’ve seen my position change, when we came into it there may have been twenty of us and now we’re seeing the third generation come up where there is even more talent. Every area in London has their little scene going on, you’re starting to see people’s influence and I think that’s an amazing thing. I don’t know if I see my own influence, maybe people will look at me and think, “Your stuff made me realise I could do it too.” I feel some cadences come back to alternative music, like beat choices and style which is nice to see with British artists, especially coming from a time where the internet and America play a big part. Speaking of my position changing, I think younger artists know I always try to reach out to them and support them – I’m here for words of advice or encouragement, I’m rooting for them. I like where it’s going, I like that it’s bigger and I like that the identity is very London now.

EJ: Speaking on that idea of community, I wanted to ask you about your collective Elevation Meditation – it’s such a great group of artists. How did that come about?
LC: I met P-rallel when I was ten or twelve, we used to dance together – I really hope no one ever finds those videos. [laughs] He’s exactly the same person he was back then, he was driven, he was producing, DJing and engineering, he did everything. Growing up I would record at his and then I met [Lord] Apex through a mutual friend at school, P-rallel went to school with Finn [Foxell] and Finn went to school with Xav. That’s how Elevation came about, through us sharing a common interest. We all came from the ends but we weren’t necessarily speaking about the same things as everyone else, we were thinking more outside the box and our influences were more outside the box too. We support each other, it was so much better for us to come as a force even though we’ve now very much paved our way as solo artists. I feel like people seeing us together and having that to identify with was very key to our success.  

EJ: I wanted to talk to you about growing up in South London, how has it shaped you? Did it influence what you listened to when you were younger?
LC: It was very fruitful. We had So Solid Crew, who are maybe the most pioneering group to ever come out of London, South London specifically, and even more specifically Battersea. That was amazing. As a person who loves music videos, to see artists from Battersea doing videos with Hype Williams was very inspiring and they shot the Oh No video next to the youth centre I used to go to, that visibility and representation were very key for me. Growing up was fine, I got to see both sides of it. My mum was born and raised in South London as well, she put me in a position where… certain things may have been going on in Battersea at the time but she tried to put me in a school outside the area or take me on trips to see everything else while seeing Battersea at the same time. It was cool, I can’t complain, things were going on of course but I feel like I had a great childhood. South London music has always been there, you had Giggs, Che Lingo, Cassian – there are too many to name. I hope to do a proper podcast on what happened in South London in the early 2010s that led to this point because there is so much that doesn’t get spoken about. House of Pharaoh was a very pivotal point in South London alternative music, as well as King Krule.

Photography by Zaineb Abelque

“Every area in London has their little scene going on, you’re starting to see people’s influence and I think that’s an amazing thing.”

EJ: As someone who loved music videos growing up, how does your visual process work? You mentioned earlier that they evolve alongside each track.
LC: They very much go hand in hand for me. Growing up I was a visual learner and I’ve always been a massive music nerd consuming endless Wikipedia pages, YouTube videos, MTV Base when it was a thing and my aunt’s old VHS recordings of MTV from the 90s. With music videos, sometimes I’m blessed with seeing the idea in my head and having the visual references to piece it together, then I may take clips from my favourite videos and make a treatment using that. I’ve been blessed to work with so many great directors and creatives who have helped materialise the things I see in my head. 

EJ: I wanted to touch upon your songwriting process because your lyrics have such a vivid storytelling quality…
LC: Definitely. Literacy has just always been important in my life since day dot. My mum was either reading me books from a young age or trying to get me to read them, and my nan had a love of poetry. I was top set in English at school and I think writing has always been at the forefront. I feel like I’m at a stage where it’s very much about songwriting, creating these moments whether it be for people to relate to or to create moments in a performance where the crowd can sing a part. The writing process varies but the roots of what I do start with poetry, that was what got me into rapping. 

Photography by Zaineb Abelque

EJ: With that storytelling quality comes a certain level of vulnerability which hasn’t always been a default mode for male rappers, have you noticed that change?
LC: I think so. Even though it’s always been there to a degree, it’s taken time. Depending on your environment it can be easier to do or more difficult. Some people are taught to be open about their feelings, whereas for others it takes processing your past or trauma. Some people are actively trying to work on themselves and you’ll see them start to open up more, with your Jay-Z’s, Kendrick’s and J-Cole’s you’re seeing them slowly process the things they’ve been through and open up. I think it’s great and I’m trying to do the same, I hope people can listen back to my projects and see that I’ve grown in a certain way.

EJ: Let’s talk about your latest EP that has just dropped, when did it start to take shape?
LC: It started at the end of 2022, off the back of my last project [When Life Presents] Obstacle. I had a song called Babe which might be coming out soon, but that was the first piece. There were initially a lot of dance songs, but the subject matter evolved into me processing a break-up with someone I was seeing. I built a project around that, but at the same time it was me finding ways to vent about the situation and counselling myself to a certain extent. I’m really proud of this project, I feel like it’s a great well-rounded representation of who I am at this time. I was trying to juice out as much of the situation from myself as I could. I had to drop a tour poster with Andy [Carnegie-Brown] and we were in a rush trying to figure things out, I had to name the tour and everyone was waiting on me but I was like, “The music isn’t finished, I don’t know what to do!” Then I remember hitting Andy and I was like, “You know what, it’s called I Can’t Wait To See U Again.” It’s called that because I’m saying to the audience I can’t wait to see you guys again, I’m saying to this girl who I haven’t seen because we split and she doesn’t live near me I can’t wait to see you again and I’m saying to myself I can’t wait to see you again in a better form. That’s how the project name came about and the music was just me making something built around that situation. 

Ella: You mentioned there were a lot of dance tracks on the original cut – you never stick to one genre, which I really like…
Louis: That’s my biggest problem! [both laugh] Putting a set list together for the show was so hard because it’s like, “What do you mean you want a garage song and then folk music and then UK rap,” but thank you for saying you like it. [laughs] It was so mad but we did it in the end. 

“I’m really proud of this project, I don’t have any regrets about how it was made, I feel like it’s a great well-rounded representation of who I am at this time.”

Photography by Zaineb Abelque

EJ: This EP does feel different though, Smile Soundsystem was very dance-influenced and Obstacle felt more narrative-driven. Do you consciously try to make each project an individual entity or is it more that you’re just influenced by whatever it is you’re surrounded by at that time?
LC: I’m very much influenced by what I’m doing the time. Smile was made from being with P-rallel and being out clubbing all the time, the rest of my friends were DJing too and I wanted to encapsulate. Obstacle was me having to backtrack and be like, “I haven’t told my story yet, let me try and make an autobiographical thing.” I Can’t Wait To See U Again was looking at Obstacle and being like, “Let me see if I can strip this back and make something people can sing or sing back to me.” I think going into the next one I’m trying to collide them and make it a bit more cohesive, that’s my next challenge. 

EJ: You’ve collaborated with some really great musicians – what do you look for when you’re making music with somebody? And is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with in the future?
LC: I either look for their perspective or if I’m a bit more hands-on then I’m looking to bring out the best of them. Sometimes it might be something I haven’t seen them channel already or it’s something I know they can channel and I’m just trying to pull out a bit more. I would love to collaborate with Grian [Chatten] from Fontaines D.C. I think that’d be cold, Sampha would be hard, Ragz Originale would be hard. I need a Stevie Wonder feature but I also need a Paul McCartney feature too. I need both of them ASAP, even if I could just meet Paul McCartney, I’d be blessed – I’m trying to link up. Will.i.am is one as well. Side note, people don’t give Will.i.am his flowers, I watched an interview with him yesterday. He made American Boy, he made Ordinary People for John Legend, and he made the Black Eyed Peas stuff – give him his flowers! [both laugh] 

I Can’t Wait To See U Again by Louis Culture is out now. 

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