GREATEST / Lancey Foux
Meet the 25-year-old East London rap prodigy and muse to Matthew Williams.
Lancey Foux is a 25-year-old rapper from London with the attitude of a rock star and the bone structure of a supermodel—so much so that he’s become something of a fashion muse to 1017 ALYX 9SM and Givenchy designer Matthew Williams. But beneath the surface he’s a curious young artist discovering inspiration in everything available to him, chopping up grime, Atlanta trap, punk, drill, indie rock and the sweet melodies of R&B for his songs.
His recent mixtape, First Degree, is a buzzy, hyper ride through moments of introspection, scorn, philosophizing, paranoia and, on a number of occasions, profound vulnerability (like on the piercing “Honest”), all wrapped up in a glitchy, relentless, hypnotic ambience.
Born and raised in the English capital, Foux, like many artists of his generation, has an aura of mystique around him, usually only offering hazy, dimly lit looks at his life and preferring silence to the standard interview. But, Zooming in from the driver’s seat of his car in London, he’s surprisingly candid and open when asked about his life and work. Though his success and swagger now make him seem almost preternaturally blessed, it hasn’t been an easy road for him.
Gearing up to release another album, LIFE IN HELL, later this year, Foux discusses the thrills and difficulties that have inspired his meteoric rise—and why the best is still to come.
How do big moments like dropping a new track or music video feel for you?
I don't really like looking at myself too much. So when I drop a video, I’m a bit in the middle: I'm not all the way happy, but I'm not sad. I'm about to be excited but I don't get there. Especially now when I drop videos, it's like, “that's cool,” but it's not it.
Does that mean you’ve never been wholly satisfied with something you’ve released?
No, never. I'm a bit hard on myself. There's no such thing as perfection, but there's a certain place I see in my mind I haven't got to yet. Every song I make, every video I do, it's like it's about to get there. But it hasn't yet.
There's no such thing as perfection,
but there's a certain place I see in my mind I haven't got to yet.
When you think about that place you’re trying to get to, what comes to mind?
I think about Michael Jackson and Prince a lot. Every time I watched a video of theirs or heard a song [by them], or saw them accepting an award or getting caught by paparazzi, it was a moment. That's what I'm trying to get to. I'm trying to get to that point where it's almost effortless.
When I wake up in the morning, get dressed, jump in my car, I feel like the guy that I'm seeing in my head when no one's watching. But when it comes to my art and something that I'm working on, I never get that feeling because [...] I don't know. There's so many complex situations in music and art that I haven't figured out yet. I'm trying every day to figure out what it is I need to do to get to my perfection.
With creativity, some of what comes out and the quality of it is in your control, but some of it is something else. It's not all in your control.
It's a higher spirit or a higher power. It doesn't have 100% to do with us. We're the vessel. That thing, that moment of magic, is not on us.
Your biggest hit, “India,” is a sweet little love song but some of your newer work has a harder edge. What caused that evolution?
I don't really like that song.
For a lot of people, that's the first song they heard by me, but that song is not me. “India” is a pop song. You don't have to think about it too much. I'm not always trying to make a fucking catchy song. I'm trying to say something in my music. I'm trying to explain to people, “stop being stupid out here, understand what life is, understand who you are as a person.”
I've been talking about life and dying and self-reflection in 80% of my music. I'm from a place where it's dark. Shit happens, people die. That was my environment for a long time before I made music.
Tell me about that environment.
I'm from Newham, East London, which is like being from Harlem or Brooklyn. It's a really small area, everyone knows each other. A lot of crime but a lot of talented people. A lot of my friends I grew up with were footballers, things like that.
I had, basically, a plug. I owed him some money. He happened to be at a studio—he was starting a label at the time—with an artist. The artist was there for 13 or 14 hours, and he ain't made one song. I was like, “I can make a song. Let me do something.” I went on YouTube, found some weird beats, some trip hop-type beats, and made three songs in three hours.
When I went home, I just fell in love. I couldn't stop listening to the songs. I couldn't believe that it was me. From then on, I was addicted to making music. I wasn't thinking, “I want to be an artist.” I was thinking, “I want to make music.”
And then when I was about 18, I got arrested. Funny enough, the next day I was supposed to have my first show.
I'm sitting in the cell thinking, “I'm going to miss the show. I've got no money now because they raided my house. Car's been impounded. I've got nothing. Nothing at all. All I have really is this music, isn't it?”
They released me the next day, and when I went home, my mom was there. She was tired of my antics already. Tired of whatever I was doing. I was always getting into something. This time, instead of screaming at me, she said, “You know what? This time is your last time. You don't get no other time. You got to learn from this.” Before that point, I never really listened to my mom. [But this time] I listened. It never left my head what she said.
I ended up making the show that night and I can’t explain the feeling [I had]. I was meant to be there. Since that show, I never looked back. I stayed in the studio. I learned my craft. I got better.
I do everything for my art. I do a lot of modeling. I work with brands but that doesn't come close to the music. I could live and die on the stage. I don't feel like I could live and die at a photo shoot, or live and die on the streets. [It’s] the stage. To tell my story, to do my craft and live by it. That's everything's to me.
In the past, you’ve said rock is a big influence on your music, even citing Alice Cooper as a big inspiration.
I listen to bands like Lush, Swervedriver, Siouxsie and the Banshees. I listen to a lot of shoegaze-type music, actually. But Alice Cooper and David Bowie? Those are two people I see as the epitome of it. The whole mood. The whole swagger. When I hear Killer, I'm like, “Damn. What's going on through your mind?”
With rap, it's very easy to string some words together and think about a party vibe or think about what your friends want to hear. With rock, it's way more emotional. It's way more about the feeling. That's what I'm trying to do with my music. And even with my new album, it's very much about the feeling. I've still got bars in there, I've still got lyrics and I've still got stories, but it's so much more about the feeling. You can hear a song and not understand English and feel what I'm trying to give off.
I'm sitting in the cell thinking, ‘I'm going to miss the show. I've got no money now because they raided my house. Car's been impounded. I've got nothing. Nothing at all. All I have really is this music, isn't it?’
I love that you love shoegaze.
Do you play guitar?
I was teaching myself for a while and I just stopped. So I'm not the best at it. I should get back into it.
Could you see yourself going in a full-on indie rock direction?
Definitely. I just feel like I have to complete rap. People need to understand my ability as a rapper, and once they do, I'm ready to go.
You’re finishing up a new album, LIFE IN HELL. How’s it sounding?
It's magic, pain, understanding, realization and wonder. There are so many tones that it's not a consistent sound. It's many different sounds. There's so many parts of me. On First Degree, it's my street side, my aggressive side, but I also have a side that's super vulnerable. When I get around my nieces and nephews, who are young, I just want to be a kid. I don't care nothing about the streets or nothing about adult life.
And then, sometimes, I want to be a prophet and I want to teach. And sometimes I want to be a lover and tell my girl how much I love her, and how much I appreciate her. And sometimes I want to be a talented rapper. I want to showcase my lyrics and showcase my bars.
People are used to artists being one way, especially nowadays when an artist can come out of the blue, drop three songs that are the same and blow up. And then when they do something else, they’re kind of stuck. I never wanted to be that. I want to be able to do whatever I want, whatever I feel. My album is doing that. I'm trying to be my best.