An interview with Drae Da Skimask

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The title of ‘producer’ doesn’t really sell the art of what producers really do, especially in an age where anyone can get a cracked copy of Logic or Ableton and stick ‘producer’ in their Twitter bio. Technically, Drae Da Skimask is a producer, although the way he creates worlds, spans new dimensions and sums it all up without lyrics seems a little more than just plain old production.

With a penchant for slightly eerie, forever stoned and groovy beats, Drae has produced for some of London’s slickest rappers including Onoe Caponoe, Jesse James Solomon and Piff Gang. Drae's sounds pools a load of influence. From more archetypal Southern and East Coast Hip Hop sounds to jazz and funk all with a distinctly abrasive and rather London aesthetic.

His SoundCloud is a constant smorgasbord of influence with tracks and remixes appearing several times a week while his full-length effort '95 Mindfulness is both a fitting introduction and whistle stop tour of the rather varied talent and sound of this exciting young producer. Overdiluted recently caught up with Drae to find out a little more about the guy behind the Skimask. Check it out below...

OD: Tell me who you are.

I'm Drae Da Skimask, I mix and produce, you'll find me anywhere between west and south east London, I just turned 20 in November and music is all I do. I've had jobs in banking and investment but I left all of that for some peace, now I'm just working on music, selling beats and playing out to make a living. 

OD: Where does the name come from? 

I'm not even sure anymore, there were too many Dres in music so I threw the A. I don't know about the rest haha. 

OD: So your latest project '95 Mindfulness has been out for a few months now - how does it feel to have a full, album-length project out?

Same old really haha, I give all the credit to Jon Phonics really, though. I just gave him the music, he did the rest. It did a lot better than I expected my shit to do haha. 

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OD: What is the meaning behind the title '95 Mindfulness?

To be honest, I was in a trippy place when I started putting it all together, I can't remember exactly why I called it that but I'm sure it was relative at the time haha. The tape itself was like me advertising all the different kinda styles I mess around with to people who've never heard my shit before. It's the only project I've worked on without a concept, when you listen to "au loin" or when you hear the "coming down" album next year, you'll hear a story.

OD: This is your first release with Astral Black. How did you come about working with those guys and how useful is label support to an independent artist? 

It was all through SoundCloud really, Jon hit me up about doing a project on Astral Black. I'd had offers to do projects before that and was just too lazy but I saw Phonics, Budgie and JD Reid on Astral Black (as well as a load of other live producers) and wanted to do some work. I don't know about other labels, I've spoken to some people at labels and there's just not a lot of creative freedom or patience; they lack the human touch. But Astral Black have been real cool and working with Jon Phonics I've learnt a lot about the business side of things and definitely grown up a lot as a producer. I'd like to think I'm a lot more professional nowadays haha.

I'd say label support is good for independent artists depending on the label and depending on how you're doing on your own... I think SoundCloud and youtube are changing how it all works. 

OD: The title of one track on '95 Mindfulness references ASAP YAMS, did you know him?

I wouldn't even go as far as saying I knew him but I was introduced to him through Milkavelli. I got the chance to have a long chat with Yams, show him my music and he was real down to earth. When he passed away in January I just wanted to pay a tribute.  

OD: Take me through how you got into making music. What did you start out listening to, when did you start making music and how did that change over time.

I started making music in like 2007 when Walkman phones had that beat making app haha. When I started secondary school everyone was a mc there's was a lot of playground cyphers going on haha. I wanted to be involved but I couldn't write bars for shit. My cousin showed me FL [Fruity Loops] so I just started making beats and taking them into school on my phone. It was all grime back then but I was never a good grime producer either , I pretty much gave up for a year or two. I started making hip-hop beats in like 2010 but I'd say I've only taken it seriously the last year or two.

OD: How do you go about creating tracks? What do you start out with and how do work to build that up into a full track?

I make tracks every day with a day or 2 off to come back with a different slightly approach. I always start with a sample, occasionally I'll create my own melodies with synths and plugins and shit but once I have the melody looped, I'll either make a more orthodox hip hop sounding beat or more of a southern trap sounding beat. I can't spend too long on a beat or I'll go off it and probably delete it. 

OD: I write about fashion + music, so how do these two mix for you - are you into your clothes? Describe your style and tell me a few brands you like to wear. 

I'm not really fussed about fashion in music, some people care more about the fashion and the look of things than the actual sound of shit and I think that's wack. As far clothes go the majority of my wardrobe’s Ralph Lauren and North Face.

OD: What's the best thing about doing music? 

I don't know really, it's fun to earn from something you've made in the comfort of your own home haha. 

OD: Who would you like to work with?

A lot of people I've already worked with or been speaking to for years. I'd like to work with Budgie, he's one of my favourite producers in London. I'd like to do some work with JD Reid, all his shits crazy... BLVCSVND from Cali, GrimmDoza, Mike Labyrinth, Loud Lord and as far as rappers go - Xoxaine Deezy, Sensei, Rejjie Snow, Phaze, Sha Hef, Playboi Carti, Father... I could go on and on haha. 

OD: What are you listening at the moment and what upcoming artists are you excited by?

A lot of the people I just mentioned. I listen to all kinda shit; anything from Young Thug, Future, Gucci Mane etc to Pete Rock, Dilla, ATCQ etc to Dam Funk, Denise Williams, Zapp Band. I listen to a lot of jazz and funk when I'm high with my chick haha. Sensei's new project 'Live from Los Santos' is live and I'm feeling LNDN DRGS new project a lot, too.

OD: What plans do you have into 2016?

Hopefully a lot more physical releases like tapes and vinyl and stuff. I'm in the process of releasing an album entitled ‘Coming Down’ on Astral Black and probably a few more pieces later on in the year. I don't know about shows at the moment, they pop up here and there haha.

keep up with Drae's SoundCloud here or sign up for the monthly Overdiluted round up here