Interview

Rootwords, world citizen rapper

With the release of his second album, Warning Signs, the English rapper Rootwords continues to reveal his conscious lyrics.

Sophia Bischoff - 2018-06-01
Rootwords, world citizen rapper - ©Guillaume Megevand
©Guillaume Megevand
Rootwords, world citizen rapper - ©Guillaume Megevand
©Guillaume Megevand
Rootwords, world citizen rapper - ©Guillaume Megevand
©Guillaume Megevand

Originally from Zambia, Rootwords is a real world citizen rapper. Born in the United States, he grew up in Switzerland before getting the opportunity to travel around the world. From these adventures, he collected experiences that have made him an accomplished MC. It was at the age of 16 that Rootwords puts his first rhymes on paper. Passionate from the soul, a feeling of rebellion pushed him to leave his International Relations and Law studies to devote himself exclusively to music. The following years were spent perfecting his flow and lyrics on the underground hiphop circuit.

 

A prolific artist

The year 2011 heralded a new turning point in Rootwords’ career. He released Press Rewind to Begin, an EP with a hiphop character sprinkled with reggae overtones. He also appeared on the compilation Downtown Boogie (Couleur3) and, in duet with Bastian Baker on the album by the Swiss producer Yvan Peacemaker, The Elixir. A prolific artist, in 2013 he released the EP All Good and, in 2014, his first album, The Rush. Two projects that confirmed his status as a rapper who counts on the Swiss musical landscape. Whether solo or in collaboration, Rootwords has always revealed a precise and conscious style in his chameleon flow.

 

World stages and rewards

Armed with his live band The Block Notes, Rootwords has performed on regional and international stages such as Paléo Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, Reggae Sun Ska (France), Selvamonos (Peru), Bushfire (Swaziland) and CMJ Festival in New York. Musical recognition soon followed. In 2018, he was nominated at the Swiss Music Awards in the "Best Romandie Act" category and released a second album, Warning Signs. Interview.

©Guillaume Megevand

 

Who is Rootwords?

Rootwords  My name combines The Roots, the hip-hop band, and Wordsworth, the MC. I am convinced that words are of great importance and that they should be used judiciously, both written and spoken. I feel that I have lived many different lives and have a lot to say. It is these thoughts and experiences that I share through my rhymes. Hip-hop is my way of life.

How would you define your lyrics?

R. There are always several levels in my texts. I choose words and phrases that are easily understandable in order to remain accessible, to convey and to make my emotions felt. I like to think that my rhymes are "simply complex".

Rootwords - A Matter of Time

There are collaborations with artists from all over the world on this LP. Can you tell us the story of these meetings?

R. That's the hiphop spirit! I invited two rappers to come for a freestyle session, I gave them carte blanche. J-Fever, a Chinese freestyle champion, came to Switzerland for a TV show, he rapped on the hypothetical fall of the Great Wall of China, which is a fairly revolutionary thought if one takes into account the political context of his country. The second artist is the young and avant-garde Robin Third Floor from Durban, South Africa. I met him on tour. He rapped on the themes of freedom and success, which are also related to the revolution. I love these two freestylers as they manifest two free spirits who are not influenced by money, politics or any other reductive factor.

Is there an event that served as a starting point for this album?

R. My drummer sent me ideas that he had for some of the instrumentals. There was a rhythm where the drums were quite complex and unusual. When I listened to it, I was able to nod along, despite the fact that the rhythm was weird. With The Block Notes, we ended up in the studio and we started working on an idea for this rhythm. Then the text was born and, in its wake, the song Clockwork. We made a hip-hop composition with an electro sound and built on several levels. I wrote the lyrics and rhymes in order to allow the instrumental to breathe. In hindsight, this song is the spine of the album - even though no other track sounds like it!

 

You were born in the United States of parents of Zambian origin and you live in Switzerland. With the current president, the US is going through a particular time. Do you still consider yourself an American citizen? Does the US today influence your lyrics?

R. I decided that Switzerland is my home because this is where I live and grew up. But, as you can imagine, people do not consider me Swiss, despite the fact that my parents have lived here for 27 years! This also applies to other nations I am attached to. When I go to the US, the Americans tell me that I have an English accent, which is probably true since I lived in England for a few years. And when I'm in Zambia, I'm sometimes considered the "English man". Taking this into account, borders and nationalities cannot define me in a clear and precise way. My attitude and the way I see the world is a mixture of all these countries that I experienced growing up. I think that's why my words speak to a number of people.

Do you think rap has the power to change things?

Do you think rap has the power to change things? R. I think that, in general, words, messages and ideologies have the power to change things,  for better or for worse. Nevertheless, today, I think people spend less time focusing and paying attention. Our attention is being held hostage by the current tools of communication. We have no time to meditate. Our words are reduced to statuses, catchy phrases, emojis and punchlines. We attach importance to celebrity. Quality is linked to popularity. The result? We forget the value of research, we accept blindly what is shared and we lose our critical thinking. When it comes to rap (which is a very popular art form), what is in fashion becomes a universal truth for all those who consume it blindly, without anyone looking for alternative artists themselves. As a result, the majority of rap that could change things remains hidden and worthless for the masses.

What do you think of the rap scene in Switzerland?

R. I think it is beautiful and alive. There are many players in the game and young people who are making waves beyond the Swiss borders. For those who are serious and surrounded by good teams, their careers are certainly on the right track. But as always, what really matters is how much fight and stamina you have in you. Will you be able to maintain yourself, to reinvent yourself, to evolve? Do you have a long or short term vision? In Switzerland, Zambia, England and Australia, I have met people who rapped and made music but who did not have the strength to fully walk that path. I would even say that the majority of people I’ve met in the music industry have stopped rapping or decreed that hip-hop is just a hobby. I made an extreme choice by leaving university for rap. No matter what happens, I will continue to rap and do whatever it takes to make it grow spiritually and economically.

Rootwords' website

Warnin Signs' Bandcamp

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