After a two-year absence of new releases, the Afro-Irish musician and producer GNS returns with his latest single “LOVE A LIE,” which is a collaboration with the highly coveted artist V-Sensei. The single was released last Tuesday at time of publication and, the weekend prior, GNS and V-Sensei met at a coffee shop with Post-Burnout‘s Aaron Kavanagh to this discuss their single, the evolution of hip-hop, societal expectations, the power of music collectives, the trials of self-releasing and self-producing, and balancing art with life and work.
Yeah, I guess the first thing I’ll ask both of you guys is how, individually, did you get into hip-hop and rap?
V-Sensei: Ohhh…will I go first?
V-Sensei: For me, it was, in secondary school, I was keen on Juice WRLD, Michael Jackson. When I was growing up, it was Sam Smith, will.i.am, Black Eyed Peas.
V-Sensei: And from there, like, will.i.am was the best rapper, and the Black Eyed Peas! [Laughs] So, there was no debate; I was like, “Oh, that’s something that I want to do.” Then, as I got older, I came into secondary school, I had the opportunity to do music, but I didn’t play any instruments, I couldn’t sing as much as I do now, so I was like, “What do I do?” So, it came to me sitting at home, playing rap beats, rapping for hours, no matter what song it was. And then, in secondary school, they caught me rapping on top of rap songs. You know, like, the endless songs, where the beat cuts?
GNS: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
V-Sensei: I’d be rapping and rapping and rapping. And then, it wasn’t until like fifth, sixth year that I started rapping properly. It was like…it was just a [Clicks fingers] flip-on switch. Everybody’s like, “FL Studio.” I was like, “What’s that?” And that’s the dawn, you know?
V-Sensei: And, after that, it was smooth sailing from there; I’ve been rapping ever since. But the only thing I would regret when I was coming into hip-hop music and stuff was the fact that I listened to so much Juice WRLD, it kind of made me oblivious to all the other music genres. So, it really just was emo rap and hip-hop. So, then I started rapping and I got offered Music Technology in Maynooth, but I also wasn’t making too much music.
GNS: Oh, we could’ve…! Awwhh!
V-Sensei: I wasn’t making too much music!
V-Sensei: So, I was like, “Oh, no!” But on the other hand, I did want to be a nurse, so I did a PLC in Nursing and now, full-time nurse, student nurse or whatever. But never stopped rapping, never stopped making music, you know? Unless you get discouraged then…[Laughs] Once you get discouraged, you’re like, “Ah, my career!” Imagine you’re a famous rapper, you’re like, “I’m discouraged! No more career for me!” And that’s the thing I was scared of, I was like, “Is rap a stable career in Ireland?” But to me, it didn’t look like it was, so I was like, “Plan B.” But, at the end of the day, I’m still here, rapping. But that’s how I got in. It’s great.
V-Sensei: Spill the beans, man! [All laugh] Spill the beans!
GNS: Um, mine has drama a little bit. A friend of mine from Balbriggan – Balbriggan, where I used to live – producer, good one. I was his friend, we would hang out and make beats together. He was a really, really good rapper to work with, right? This was, like, when I was in, like, fifth or sixth year of secondary school. And then I was thinking, “OK, I’m his friend. Let me just try it out, because why not? You know, why not?” And then it didn’t work out; I mean, it just didn’t work out, as in, like, me and him just didn’t work together properly, you get me? The beats he made, I didn’t really rock with it. I did but, like, I couldn’t actually, you know, flow with it, if you get me.
GNS: I was bad as well; I could not form a beat. I didn’t know about music, about rapping, about anything. I was actually a “beginner” beginner. I was on YouTube, looking up how to open a beat, how to flow. I did not know anything! I knew nothing, I knew nothing!
GNS: Um, what’s it? I think one summer, for a whole six months, I think I was writing music – Santan Dave, rapper, lyricist, he’s just that guy….
V-Sensei: He’s so unique with it, as well.
GNS: Very unique. He’s just very, very smart with his music. Anyway, I loved that, right? And that’s kind of what inspired me to just keep writing more. One summer, a friend of mine and I were split on the interface, on the mic. We got the whole set-up in his bedroom; we made one song in that one day. It wasn’t amazing, it was good! I like it! [All laugh]
V-Sensei: That’s very humble! [Laughs] Did I tell you about my first song? Let’s not talk!
GNS: But it was fun to make; it was kind of cool. The thing is, he made the beat for me, right? I loved the beat. I asked him, “Could you please do it again? Could you make me more?” He said no. He said no.
V-Sensei: Why?! [Laughs]
GNS: Why? Because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work.
GNS: So, he told me, “Themba, here’s the keyboards to make it yourself,” you get me? So, from there as well, I learnt music theory, how to play keys, and produce for myself and engineer for myself, as well. And then, now I’m doing the whole shebang.
Yeah. So, when you kind of learnt how to produce and stuff like that…because I was talking to a lot of people, like, the pandemic was a big one, where it’s just like everyone had to learn…like, no matter what you were doing, it’s like, if you’re a musician, you have to know how to self-produce and stuff, but you guys were ahead of that?
GNS: I feel like I was, yeah. I was like, only half-a-year in.
GNS: So, about one year ahead of it. Because, when COVID hit, I was turning 20, right?
GNS: Yeah. I was producing during the ’19 summer. I made five beats that summer…
V-Sensei: Five beats that summer!
GNS: Five fully finished beats and I put a lot of time, effort, studying. Plus, I was playing keys. Yeah. From there, I just got better.
V-Sensei: I like that. For me, it was just a lot of playing guitar. Over quarantine, it wasn’t producing, it was playing guitar, and learning how to rap with the guitar.
GNS: That’s sick!
V-Sensei: But like the whole Ed Sheeran… [To GNS] Have you ever seen Ed Sheeran perform?
V-Sensei: Yeah. With the whole slaps on the guitar, and it’s ridiculous.
GNS: It’s crazy.
V-Sensei: That’s what I love. Quarantine, I wasn’t too much into producing, I was just making guitar loops and singing over them.
GNS: You should do it live!
GNS: It’s a plan!
V-Sensei: It’s in motion! Don’t worry!
[To GNS] So, I mean, you have a background in I think it was International Business and Music Studies, is that correct?
GNS: Yes. That’s me. That’s what I did in college.
So, how do you think that has added to your career, and also just you as a musician, I guess?
GNS: I guess the music part of it helped me with learning about…how do I put this? I guess my mind about music in the past was just the fact that it was a laptop, headphones, beats and a microphone and that’s it. When I went to college, I learnt about recording guitar, recording drums, recording a lot of things differently. The biggest skill was production, if that makes sense. Live production. And the business side of it, that helped me keep track of…that helped me stay focused. I have a whole release strategy – like that’s how I have your email! [All laugh]
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
GNS: That’s how he has it as well, you get me? [Laughs] I have a whole planned strategy that I’ve made over the last few years, about releasing my EPK, about pictures, and I guess how to present myself and now it’s through business, I guess. That kind of mindset, business mindset. That’s definitely helped. And yeah, I guess I have two minds about music…
V-Sensei: Did you feel…when you started out, right?
V-Sensei: Did you have, like, a release strategy or was it just drop music?
GNS: Just drop music! [Laughs]
V-Sensei: I feel like that’s what it was for me! I assumed that if I make good music, composed music, no matter what [All laugh] everybody would listen! It’s not the case! Now, it’s like you really have to put time into your marketing strategy…
V-Sensei: …and your strategy for dropping the singles. Because if you’re screaming on the road, “Hey! Hey!,” and nobody knows who you are, nobody’s going to listen to your songs!
GNS: That’s true.
Do you guys think you can circumvent the PR…like the need to hook-up with a PR company, or do you think you can do it yourself?
GNS: Hmm…yes, I believe so. I think so. I think so, yeah.
V-Sensei: I think so, too.
GNS: I think with time, with practice, consistency as well…
GNS: I think it’s fine. Like, Chance the Rapper, he was on the streets handing out CDs, you get me? And do you know [the collective] Gliders?
V-Sensei: They would’ve done in [Mentions location which wasn’t picked up by recorder], they were handing out CDs for the EP.
GNS: Yeah, I feel like they’re a good example of…they did it very in-house based.
GNS: And it didn’t get helped by…do you know Wave God Tonero?
V-Sensei: Wave God Tonero? No, no, no. I’ve heard of him, though.
GNS: Yeah. He’s an artist, I think also a PR manager, as well. But I think he was more in-house than, you know, most producers, if that makes sense. I feel like Gliders are very much a good example of how like, for example, how they don’t need big brands…
V-Sensei: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
GNS: It’s in-house, it’s music, it’s good music as well and it’s just their energy, their vibe, their creativity, that kind of thing.
Yeah, you can do your own in-house stuff. I think a lot of people are doing those kind of collectives stuff now and maybe that’s an alternative way to go, you know what I mean?
V-Sensei: Yeah, that might be the new wave of music, one that alternative rap…because I know plenty of people who think that, even though they’re big artists, they can’t pull in a giant crowd. But, with people like Gliders, since it’s a whole community, everybody’s coming through.
V-Sensei: They can host a gig, like they just did there…and then everybody came through, I was like, “Man, that whole community, they have it on lock.”
Yeah, but you can kind of do things on your own terms I think, in the sense that you don’t have to play by the rules of the big PR companies, you don’t have to go through like Ticketmaster or something like that, you can go, “Fuck it, we’re just going to hook up our own thing here,” you know what I mean? And I think that’s the way everyone’s gone, especially now with self-releasing and stuff, it’s like anyone can release stuff on the internet, like, you don’t need to be on like Capitol Records to do it, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
GNS and V-Sensei: Yeah!
V, I wanted to ask you, because you were talking about doing nursing, I was like how do you…because, with nursing, the time schedule is brutal. It’s so unforgiving.
V-Sensei: Yeah, the time schedule…
So, how do you balance the two?
V-Sensei: At the moment, I’m currently doing work placement at this nursing home, and the shifts are like eleven hours.
V-Sensei: But it’s…I mean, it’s two ten-hour shifts and one eleven-hour shift. But, since I’m finished college…the way Trinity works is, they throw you on placement when you’re finished all your classes, so you don’t have to worry about assignments and stuff and this and that. So, for me, it’s like I’m only doing three days this week but every other day, since I’m finished college, I’m practically on my summer holidays but I work as a nurse, so my days…So, Monday, I’d be in a nursing home; Tuesday, I’d be in a nursing home; Friday, I’d be in a nursing home. But every other day, it’s like summer holidays, so I can still make music on the time off.
GNS: Yeah, I get that, yeah.
V-Sensei: Like, even this morning, I was just recording the whole day! And I was asking him [GNS], I was like, “What are we doing today?!” [All laugh]
So, with the nursing schedule, I’ve known people in it, and it is kind of like you work so many hours, like a ridiculous amount of hours, and then it’s just like you get a couple of days off and it’s like that’s used to promote yourself and stuff like that?
Do you feel like you ever rest, though? Because like if you’re not doing nursing, you’re doing your music and it’s like…
V-Sensei: You sound like my dad.
…it just seems brutal.
V-Sensei: Sounds like my dad. My dad says that to me all the time, he’s like, “You never rest!” Because like, I’ll come back from like a ten-hour shift and then let’s say you wake up at five A.M. to be in work [at] seven-thirty, and you finish at, let’s say, half-five, half-six. By the time I make it home at seven o’clock…so I’ve been on my feet thirteen hours, but when I get home, I’m still going to record, you know? And then, the next day, I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m going to the studio.” The next day, I’ll be like, “I have a photoshoot.” So, my dad is always looking at me and he’s like, “You don’t rest.” And I get sick a lot so that’s how I know I work too hard.
V-Sensei: But how do I manage it? There’s no management! [All laugh] It’s just work, work, work.
V-Sensei: It’s more like ambition. If your ambition disappears…Like, if I didn’t have a passion for music, I wouldn’t wake up.
V-Sensei: Like, I would just be sleeping in. I would be sleeping in, and I would be like, “Ah, it will do itself!” [All laugh] You know what I mean? Like, “It will do itself!” But I’m glad I do because now I wake up every morning and I’m like, “Oh, I need to finish this. I need to send this to so-and-so. I need to send this email. I need to book this gig.”
Do you think if you had time off you would even…like, because I know even for myself, when I get time off from work and time off from this, it’s like I just feel so useless or something. I don’t know if…
V-Sensei: Oh, no, no, no! It’s happened! It’s happened where like, I would go periods of time and I’d be like, “I don’t have a job.” [Laughs] I’d be like, “I’m on my college break.” You know, over Christmas I was like, “Man, I’m so…What do I actually do?”
V-Sensei: And I remember asking my friends, I was like, “What did I do that made you guys think that I was so interesting?” And they would bring me back to life. They’d be like, “You used to play guitar!” and I’d be like, “Oh, yeah! Yeah! I did!” They’d be like, “You used to watch anime!” I’d be like, “Whoa, I did, yeah!” You know? All the good parts of my life is kind of my friends reminding me what I did.
V-Sensei: That’s nice.
V-Sensei: It’s complicated but hopefully it works out, like.
GNS: It’s like anything.
Talking about the collab you guys did. I was wondering how you guys met actually, first of all?
GNS and V-Sensei: Ahhh!!
V-Sensei: Vision Lab?
GNS: Vision Lab, The Open Mic. Very first one. [V-Sensei laughs] I remember the day, as well. The thing is, right, I was in the backstage, right? I see a whole entourage. I see one guy in the middle with glasses. I’m like, “That’s V-Sensei. That’s V-Sensei.” I just guessed, I just guessed.
V-Sensei: It’s ‘cause Vision Lab was the first ever open mic that we did or the first ever performance that I did. So, for me, it kind of kicked off the whole doing gigs in Ireland. ‘Cause I didn’t think – like I said before – I didn’t think that music would be a stable career, you know? And I was like, “Oh, what’s going on in Ireland?” Until Vision Lab, which was a studio I went to, and they said they were having an open mic, and I was like, “Would love to do that!” And we went, and I met him, I met Olivia [Emade], I met…who else?
GNS: Oh, yeah. Olivia.
V-Sensei: Everybody else kind of slips my mind. You know, because the only people I kind of remember is yourself and Olivia from that.
GNS: Who else was there, though?
V-Sensei: Our boy Jaq – Jaq Reidy – and Saint, your man Saint, as well.
GNS: Yeah, that makes sense.
V-Sensei: Yeah, and now, since then – it’s the same with Jaq – it kicked off everything. We went from Jaq’s World I and Jaq’s World II, coming up on the 31st of March, which I’m going to be performing at as well. So, I think it’s like full circle, you know?
GNS: No pun intended!
What made you guys want to collab, then? Did you see similarities in your music or production or anything?
GNS: I have faith in his sound. I like your sound.
V-Sensei: It was guitar. This guy, it’s him moving on a guitar and I was like, “He can make loops and make beats?,” and I was like, “How?,” you know? And then he hit me up. He was like, “We should work.” I was like, “Yes, we should work.” And then he came to my house, and he showed me a beat he made and then he played it for me on my guitar, which I thought was…
V-Sensei: …magical! I was like, “We must, we must.” And after that, we made a couple of songs, that being one of them.
The single we’re talking about is “LOVE A LIE,” and I was wondering what you thought both of you guys brought to it, individually?
GNS: Individually? I guess the beat was one thing I brought to it. The writing was really back and forth between us, yeah.
V-Sensei: I think the energy and the tone of our voices, although similar, are very different, you know? Because I bring the whole emo rap, melodic element, you know, and then he brings the straight, Santan Dave lyricism to it and they just compliment each other really well throughout the track. So, when you listen to the track it’s like, errrrrrrr!, and it turns into actual, like, actual words! [Laughs]
GNS: [Laughs] Actual words?
V-Sensei: Yeah, actual words! I’m sorry…
GNS: No, your words are good too.
V-Sensei: Half the time, I think I’m mumbling but to other people…See this is the thing, how I knew I made it in music is when people started singing my lyrics back to me, you know? Because that’s how I knew, I was like, “I mumble a lot” and they were like, “No, you don’t.”
GNS: It’s good to have lyrics that are catchy.
So, as rappers, what do you think that entails for people going forward? Because I think people understand, as you were saying, the idea of picking up a guitar and doing music that way, in terms of being a singer-songwriter kind of thing. I think when it comes to hip-hop and rap, I think people don’t really understand…they don’t understand, for example, how samples work or how, you know, beats work or anything like that. It sounds like magic or something. [Laughs] I don’t know.
What does that actually entail for you guys, to actually…?
GNS: I guess…your question, I don’t think I understand it. Do you mean like how do I make the samples…?
V-Sensei: No, what does it mean to be a rapper…
No, I was just wondering how you kind of get into it, because I think people can understand…if you’re learning guitar, let’s say, there’s an understanding that, “OK, if I want to play like this person, I learn their music like this,” but if you’re wanting to sound like Tyler [,the Creator] for example, what does that actually entail for you guys?
GNS: Oh, OK. If I want to sound like Tyler…
Or whoever, like. I’m just using him as an example.
GNS: But Tyler’s a good one though…
Because I remember you mentioned him in the write-up. [Laughs]
GNS: So, Tyler is mainly synths and keys. Also, with Tyler, I would listen to his music a lot and then find, I guess, a vibe in that and get my keyboard out and just start playing it.
GNS: And sing about what he would sing about, if that makes sense. Of course, what would kind of make sense to me as well. I’ll try and just bring out my inner Tyler, if that makes sense. I’ll play like…not play like him but play as if I was playing with him.
V-Sensei: I get what you’re trying at. To me it’s the Juice WRLD. It’s the sad, emo guitars. It’s the very sad synths and the bouncy, gross 808s and then, when you’re talking about rap, what they would rap about, for me I think that’s what being a rapper is – as well as being a musician is – finding what people can relate to. And the reason I would like Juice WRLD is because I relate to heartbreak and, when you talk about rapping about what he would rap about, there was a lot of heartbreak songs, which is kind of what I rap about from time to time, so often, you know? Ultimately, you’re kind of creating your own sound, as well as drawing the person who inspired you because it’s not just their experience, it’s your experience, and then you’re relating it to yourself, then relating it to other people.
You mention acts like Tyler and Juice WRLD, do you feel that now the realm of creativity in terms of what you can express – both musically and lyrically – has opened up, say, more than where hip-hop was, thirty, twenty years ago or something like that?
GNS: Yeah. It’s so different now.
V-Sensei: I love it.
GNS: It’s so different.
V-Sensei: There’s some parts that I like about it, there’s other parts that I hate about it.
GNS: Like what?
V-Sensei: Like, have you noticed now how drill is no longer becoming drill anymore?
GNS: Kind of.
V-Sensei: It’s kind of just becoming resampling old songs, taking that melody, and flipping it in the same cadence and rapping about something else.
GNS: Yeah. Awhh!!
V-Sensei: You know what I mean?
GNS: Yeah, yeah. I get what you mean. Yeah.
V-Sensei: I’m trying to think of a very good example.
GNS: I think one is Tyler, the Creator won Best Hip-Hop album against DJ Khaled. That was crazy.
V-Sensei: Was Kendrick on that as well?
GNS: I don’t know. I don’t think so. But Tyler won though, right? I think when he won that, that opened up…not opened up but like it gave, I guess, how do I put this? Status to that sound and that genre. Frank Ocean, as well, who’s an amazing artist. He’s bi and he raps – he can rap and he does rap sometimes. Anyway, I feel like that’s also one way he’s breaking the stereotype, especially in hip-hop and rap. Who else? Lil Nas X as well. Lil Nas X is a crazy artist.
V-Sensei: Oh, my God!
GNS: Do you know that on his album, right, only had like two or three features because the rest of the guys didn’t want to be on it?
GNS: Yeah, they didn’t want to.
V-Sensei: I love that man’s album. No matter how much hate that album gets, I love that album to date. When it came out, I rinsed it. Oh, my God.
GNS: He’s talented, he’s talented.
Also, I mean, the social evolution I think of hip-hop. Like, I remember the Dublin rap scene, ten years ago, it was so common like for people to be blatantly sexist or homophobic or something like that, where it seems as now, everyone’s kind of a little more socially conscious, everyone knows that’s not cool anymore. I think like, ten years ago, everyone had the same sources, which were like maybe like N.W.A., Eminem, stuff like that, and it’s like everyone was trying to emulate that style but it just didn’t work. They were trying to do offbeat humour kind of but it just came across as kind of fucked up.
V-Sensei: [Laughs] “It came across as fucked up!” I know what you mean. That’s just society growing up. Anything you can think about in society will change, no matter what you’re thinking of.
GNS: Yeah. Even now, fashion society. I like fashion in Dublin. It’s kind of a bit different nowadays. I see some people…
V-Sensei: Oh, man. Fashion, I only copped onto when I entered “college” college, you know?
GNS: Yeah, same.
V-Sensei: University. It’s like, there were so many things that I thought were so basic that are now fashionable.
GNS: Really? Like what?
V-Sensei: Like, just wearing a polo shirt, you know? But now it’s advanced! It’s like polo shirt, plus a jumper! [All laugh] Now it’s like, “Damn, I’m not stylish anymore!”
GNS: I hear that. Yeah, I hear that.
I think the barriers of expression are kind of breaking down, in terms of like fashion or art or music. Do you feel like nowadays it has to be…like, I could imagine now a gig where it’s like you could have any kind of artist on and people would go to it, whereas – again, I’m just even going back to like ten years ago or something – it seemed like everything was more fragmented. It was like, “No, you’re into rap and you have to go to these shows, and you’re into punk and you have to go to these shows, and you’re into indie and you have to go to these shows…”
V-Sensei: Ah, yes! Yes!
…where it seems as now, nobody seems to give a fuck anymore. There is kind of like, “Let’s just hang out and do something interesting.” Do you think that’s how it is now?
GNS: Kind of, yeah. A little bit. Like, at the open mic night, there was a lot of us that mixed like R&B and hip-hop and rap. And, at the last one, it was your gig as well…
GNS: We had Joe Butler, who did basically…what would you call that? Punk?
V-Sensei: I would call that punk.
GNS: Punk rock? Postpunk?
GNS: Yeah, punk rock. It was different…
V-Sensei: It was so different!
GNS: It was nice. No-one saw it coming as well, do you get me? But I like that. I like that it was there, and it was just like, “Yeah.” And it was art. It was art as music. I feel like most people now understand how there are different levels of art.
GNS: And, yeah, they just appreciate it more. The same way I do.
V-Sensei: I feel like, especially…do you want me to tell you the whole reason about Joe Butler on the card, as well?
V-Sensei: Yeah, he was very scared to perform that song. I think you saw that in rehearsal?
GNS: Yeah, I saw that.
V-Sensei: And he was asking me, he was like, “I don’t want to perform that song because I think everybody coming to the gig is expecting a certain type of rap.”
V-Sensei: And I think I sat down and had a chat with him. I was like, “There’s no way you can say that because music is universal. If anybody doesn’t like the type of music…If nobody can appreciate your kind of music as well as mine, I don’t want them at the gig.”
GNS: I like that. I like that.
V-Sensei: So, taking away from what we were all doing on the card, which was rap – emo rap and, you know, boomba, like Jaq Reidy – I think Joe Butler was the fresh air, and that’s what everybody said to me afterwards; they were like, “Who was that kid?” and I was like, “That’s what I like to hear.”
GNS: Because it’s different, then everybody wonders what it is.
V-Sensei: And us trying to decipher what it is: Pop? Punk rock? And I still can’t put it into a genre. [Laughs]
GNS: He’s just so talented, like.
Do you think genre barriers are even disappearing, in a way? Do you think anyone even still gives a shit? Because I see so much stuff being described as like “alternative” or “indie,” and it just seems, at this point, is doesn’t matter anymore, you know what I mean?
GNS: It’s too much. It’s too much, yeah.
V-Sensei: Have you seen the Lil Yachty album…?
GNS: I love it!
V-Sensei: …where everybody’s like, “First psychedelic rock album.” So good! I get what you mean but we’re not going to try…it’s crazy.
GNS: It’s nice, though. It’s different.
V-Sensei: It’s so different. Discovering new genres and creating new genres is what people are doing now.
V-Sensei: That’s like saying “hyperpop R&B.”
V-Sensei: Do you know what I mean, like? These genres that don’t exist are being created and then there always has to be the one person who owns the sound.
GNS: That’s true, yeah.
V-Sensei: And psychedelic rock, or psychedelic rap, is now owned by Lil Yachty at the moment.
GNS: For now it is, yeah.
V-Sensei: For now. Now everybody’s going to start making psychedelic rap and then it’s going to become normal and then it’s going to become just like the rest. But that’s music for you, so fluid.
Do you think, as music producers, it’s important to have versatile knowledge of music but also taste in music? Because, as I was saying, like I remember when the Dublin rap scene was sort of new, everybody only listened to [Dr. ] Dre and his production so everyone was trying to reproduce that, you know? His style. But that was it, and I think the music became very similar because nobody was expanding their taste, you know what I mean?
GNS: I feel like as a producer myself, I’ve worked with different artists: R&B, alt, rap, just a lot of different people – even myself as well – and I realised how sometimes I don’t see their vision. Artists will come to me, and I don’t see their vision. But I will stay on it until they lay it out for me. They record their vocals, they tell me how they want it to sound and then they finish it and say, “Themba, that’s it. That’s done.” I’ll hear it and I’ll be like, “Now I see it.” And it’s like it takes a long time, though, but I really think it helps. I think knowing different sounds in music is very good.
V-Sensei: That reminds me of what one of my friends said to me this morning – this was a couple of days ago, actually – I was in the studio, and he was like, “Do you know the time signature to your song?” And I was like, “What the hell is that?!” [Laughs]
GNS: You don’t know what it is?
V-Sensei: No. I still have no idea. I was asking my producer Jessica, and she was like, “It’s 4/4.” But to me, I still had no recollection of what that means. [GNS explains how to count in different time signatures. This part didn’t transcribe well, so it has been omitted]. I know what you mean because that’s how they described it as well and I was like, “Wow.”
GNS: Yeah. But most times it’s…there’s one Baby Keem song, it goes crazy, I think it’s called “ORANGE SODA”?
V-Sensei: Yeah, I know the one you’re on about.
GNS: And it’s 3/4. I tried making a beat around it the first time and I was like, “I can’t make it.” I don’t know why, but it wasn’t making sense, and then I was thinking, “Oh, it’s 3/4, it’s not 4/4” and I changed time signature and it just made sense. And I think from then on, I might try using odd time signatures to make different beats, different sounds, because it unlocks a new rhythm and vibe.
V-Sensei: Yeah, and I feel like everybody needs to be aware of genres. Because I remember, like I said, Juice WRLD locked me into a lot of emo rap. Like, it was a void. It was a lot of like…They’re all kind of the same that I would listen to, and then when I worked with other artists, I’d be like, “This isn’t working. I’m not seeing your vision. Like, what are you trying to do?,” you know? And then we’d always fall back into emo rap, which is what I’m trying to step away from now, you know? [Laughs]
V-Sensei: You know? And my Spotify Wrapped really played into that: emo rap, punk rap, like all awful…ugh. I feel like when I started doing songs for different artists, I started listening to other artists recently. Like, Joe Butler is the one I was working with since…Which is also how I wanted to put him on the card because I was like, “You just do a different style of music than me; it’s more indie, it’s more pop rock” and that’s kind of the genre that I want to expand into, and alternative R&B, because “MODEL!” came out there and “MODEL!” is deemed as that alternate R&B.
Do you think as producers, because [to GNS] you obviously have sort of a foundation in music theory, formally trained. [To V-Sensei] You seem to be just doing your thing. But do you think there’s utility to that, to having people who are knowledgeable about music theory and then other people who might be adding a different perspective, like who aren’t formally trained, but they can go, “Well, I know this is unorthodox, but this is interesting and we should do that”? Do you think there’s utility to both of those kind of voices in production?
V-Sensei: I say it’s so important to have friends that are kind of well-versed in music, you know? Because a lot of my friends would be…The reason I’m so happy with the friends that I have is because they’re all very well-versed in music. Because I remember a period of time where I was making music and the criticism that I was getting was not very constructive, if you get what I mean. Like, it wasn’t like “Change this;” it was kind of just, “This is bad, that’s the end of,” you know? And, especially in the studio nowadays, most of the people around you will be able to give you that creative output and be like, “Oh, go this direction with it. I listen to so much of this music and this is how it goes, it goes, dun-dun-nun-nun-nun-nuh,” you know? And even Joe being so versed in guitar, there’ll be times where I’m trying to sing a certain note and he’ll be like, “That note is not in scale, so don’t try and sing, try go down and rap that way instead of going high because it’s not going to work,” you know? But it’s very important, like.
GNS: I’m not…I wouldn’t say I’m formally trained; I’m YouTube self-taught. I’m not trained! I was very unorthodox as well; I did not know the basics for a long time. I also took breaks. I studied drums, I studied piano, I studied guitar, but I still have an unorthodox, I guess, natural essence to myself, if you get me. So, I feel like it helps me make a lot more stuff.
V-Sensei: I like it.
How do you think making production for other people has expanded your outlook, I guess? I mean, in the sense that, obviously when you’re doing your own shit, you have the idea, “This is what I want.” But when you’re doing other people’s stuff, you kind of…I don’t know. What I’m trying to ask, I guess, is what’s the push and pull of, “Here’s what I’m adding” versus “Here’s what you want” kind of thing?
V-Sensei: Isn’t that revisions as well? I know it’s happened to me before where I would send a producer a certain track and I would want it to sound a certain way, and I’d even send a reference track to him, and when you’re paying for these mixes, you’re like, “How many revisions are you going to do?” Because there’ll be certain times where you want a mix a certain way, you get it back and you’re like, “This is not what I want it to sound like,” and you’ll be like, “Can you revise this, and I’ll send you a different reference track?” until you get it sounding the way you want it to sound.
GNS: I think it’s also knowing who you’re working with, if that makes sense. Like, yesterday I went to another artist, Tara – Tara Devi – she’s very R&B, very solo as well. So, I had to make sure to come with guitar samples, basically, come with a fresh mind, come with…I guess knowing what kind of rhythm she wants, if you get me. Like, if I’m working with V-Sensei, I know the drums hit hard. [V-Sensei laughs] Where with her, it’s like they must swing, you get me? So, I think it’s knowing who you’re working with as well and knowing what you can do in that space as well, as a producer mainly. It’s a lot of balance to it. Communication, as well.
I guess the final thing I’ll ask is just what do you have planned for the future, immediate or distant?
V-Sensei: Ah, long distance? We have Jaq’s World II on the 21st of March. We have “LOVE A LIE” coming out on the 14th of March. I may have another gig lined-up after Jaq’s World, can’t say too much about it.
V-Sensei: But you know. And then we just have new singles on the way, and I can’t say the names because it’s not set in stone. And maybe an EP later in the year. You know, EPs are kind of like half-albums, I don’t want to be dropping a giant album this year.
GNS: I hear that.
V-Sensei: Yeah. I don’t want to give away too much but that’s kind of the big one.
[To GNS] And for yourself?
GNS: For me, “LOVE A LIE” is the first song I’ve released in the past two years. So, I’ve been making music since then, a lot of music…[Inaudible] So, there’s some I made like two years ago, and I want to release them badly, but I’ve made more music in the last few months. So, I want to release singles, singles, singles. Hopefully a little demo tape of this new sound I’ve kind of been cultivating. It’s very much experimental.
V-Sensei: Because that’s what you want. That’s kind of what you want. You kind of want to…especially, the way you said you’ve taken a break for two years.
V-Sensei: For me, that’s me looking at my Spotify. I’m like, “Spotify is not doing me any justice!”
V-Sensei: It’s up to me to change that because most of the music I have out on Spotify I would’ve made when I was 17, and now I’m 19. So, “MODEL!” would’ve been the nicest release because that’s the sound I’m going for, that alternative R&B, and I don’t think anyone’s heard that from me, so they’re kind of like, “Oh, this is the beginning!” [All laugh] Yeah, I’ve been working on that for a while, so it’s in the vault! It’s coming! Don’t worry!
When you guys are ever-expanding like that, do you find it difficult to go back to old stuff or are you like, “No, I’m happy with this. I’m good to release it”?
V-Sensei: Ohhh! There’s songs that I want to delete on Spotify! [Laughs]
GNS: Same, same.
V-Sensei: To this date you’re like, “Is this still me?”
So, do you get precious about what you’re going to bring out to the world or are you very selective?
GNS: Yeah. I think I have one thing as well, like if I make a song years ago and I know it’s not great [Laughs] but I love it still and I could change it, I could change it, but I have a thing where it’s like I would love to actually keep it for what it was in that time.
V-Sensei: Yeah. Yeah.
GNS: And I don’t want to go back and change it, add to it. It’s like that’s what it was back then. I would rather give that to the world, what makes sense to you, instead of going back, fix that, change that, tweak that.
Yeah, there’s something organic about it.
GNS: Yeah, you know? And I wouldn’t actually be able to make it better as well, it’d be different. It wouldn’t be better, it would just be different.
V-Sensei: Well, for me, it’s the exact opposite. Like, I have a certain song that I promoted on TikTok for, say, six months and I never dropped.
GNS: Which one are you talking about?
V-Sensei: It’s called “NITRO,” and my friends keep coming to me…all my good friends will probably come to me and be like, “When is that coming out?” But I made it so long ago that I’m like, “It doesn’t make the cut anymore,” if you know what I mean. So, I kind of have it deep in my mind that I will go back and not change it but kind of take the beat and change the beat, and then do the same lyrics in the same cadence but add another verse to make it more whole. Because to me it’s still that song and that time. It’s like doing a remix of yourself, you know? [Laughs] It’s like what the drill samplers are doing, man! They’re taking the same song, sampling it, changing the melody, and grafting it as a new song. It’s maddening, you know?
Do you guys demo stuff live and see how the crowd reacts?
GNS: It happens all the time. I did that at an open mic night that was all unreleased stuff. I was so nervous.
V-Sensei: I was looking at you, like, “He’s playing all the unreleased…”
V-Sensei: “…as if anybody knows it.”
GNS: Nobody knew it, but they sang along a few times and it was fun. I feel like it kind of helped me understand, I guess, what songs I could do live and what songs I could release in the future.
I always find that a little dicey, when artists do that, when they demo stuff [live] because it’s kind of just at the whim of that crowd that night and they might…
V-Sensei: It is so like that. It’s so annoying. Sometimes you will have certain crowds who are with you for the whole thing and, like, if you say “Clap,” everybody’s clapping, you know, right? But there’s certain crowds that you have and they don’t really know who you are and they kind of think you’re “that guy,” you know, and they’re like, “I’m not clapping!,” you know? And it really is up to the crowd that night because there’s certain songs that are crowd control oriented. Like, I have certain songs that I know to perform because I can just be like [Starts clapping] “Everybody…[Claps],” you know? And even if nobody claps, like, the song is still going to go well because of how much is in it, you know?
GNS: Yeah. It’s scary.
V-Sensei: Yeah. There’s certain songs I have that I have sample crowds in the song.
V-Sensei: Yeah! [All laugh] There’s times where I would have like five of my friends in the studio to record…you know the way you can say a word and then you can have five people saying the word?
GNS: Yeah. That’s smart. That’s smart.
V-Sensei: Yeah, it’s genius. [V-Sensei goes on to describe this technique with a repeating word in an unreleased song that he’s written. We have omitted this part from the interview because we could not fully hear all of the lyrics in the transcription process and did not wish to misrepresent his lyrics]. But that part is five of my friends in a booth, singing “mulatto.” So I can be like mula- and it still sounds through the speaker.
GNS: Yeah, that makes sense.
V-Sensei: It makes sense.
GNS: Still, obviously, part of the atmosphere.
V-Sensei: But it’s really up to the crowd. It’s really up to the crowd.
But yeah, I always thought sometimes you might have artists that might ditch a song that’s good but it’s just because of the crowd…
GNS and V-Sensei: Yeah!
Or, I don’t know, they might get unlucky with a series of gigs. They might test it out on let’s say three or four gigs and it’s like it’s a pity that didn’t make it, you know what I mean?
V-Sensei: Yeah, it happens, like.
GNS: It’s a risk. It’s a big risk. But I like it. It’s fun.
Anything else you’d like to add just before we wrap up?
GNS: This is a conversation. [To V-Sensei] I want to ask you a question.
V-Sensei: Go ahead.
GNS: Are you a rapper?
V-Sensei: Not a rapper! [All laugh] Not claiming that rapper title just yet! Because if I claim the rapper title, I have to come for the crown. I have to go and fight everybody for that title. For now, I can say I’m a singer-songwriter who dabbles a bit in rap for most of his music. But “rapper” is not the title that I would…You know what I mean? I’m not so adamant on saying that I’m a rapper; I would be like, I write songs. I write music or whatever. But “rapper” is a strong title. Even to this day, I’d be like I rap, but does that make me a rapper, you know?
GNS: Yeah. What about “artist,” then?
V-Sensei: “Artist,” yeah. “Artist,” “musician,” “performer,” “songwriter,” “singer,” all of that. “Rapper,” I have to come for the crown with that one. Like, I have to go and own everybody!
Well, I remember people who claimed to be a rapper when they haven’t rapped yet, so…[Laughs]
V-Sensei: Yeah! I remember people who were…yeah, claiming to be rappers. Haven’t made a single song! I’m like, “Ehhh…”
GNS: That’s different.
V-Sensei: That’s actually different. You can rap. Yeah, you can rap without a beat. You can do that.
GNS: That’s true, yeah.
Yeah, so you guys make that important distinction?
GNS: Yeah. I think it’s important. Because it depends what people see you as, as well, you know? Because I don’t call myself a rapper, but I’ve had people say, “Oh, you’re a rapper, aren’t you?” a fair amount!
Including me! [Laughs]
V-Sensei: It feels like a stigma nowadays because you rap and they have a certain switch in their mind of prejudice.
V-Sensei: “You make this kind of music.”
So, you guys get pigeonholed you feel if you get called a rapper? There’s an expectation?
GNS: From the general public, yeah. From the general public. If I met somebody new and I say I’m a rapper, they’d just be like, “Oh…you make this.”
V-Sensei: Yeah. And they always go, “Oh! You’re a rapper?”
V-Sensei: They say it like that and I’m like, “I should have just said I’m a musician. I make music.”
GNS: Exactly, yeah. I say “artist” because I produce as well, so it’s like I play guitar, I play keys, I can sing. It’s almost like I’m musically acclimatised, and “artist” is a nice way of saying that. It’s a whole rounded saying.
Sure, and it encompasses everything you do.
GNS: Exactly, yeah.
Yeah and you don’t want to be pigeonholed in anything you do, and I guess that’s what we’re sort of talking about with like the sort of dissolving of all these labels, like “indie” or “alternative…”
V-Sensei: If it’s going to dissolve, what’s the point in having a title, you know?
At the minute, music is more accessible. It’s like, “Well, I’m not going to tell you what I do. Just discover it for yourself. If you’re into, you’re into,” you know what I mean?
V-Sensei: It’s like watching a movie, it’s down to interpretation. You can listen to my music and be like, “Oh, he’s a singer” and somebody else can listen to my music and be like, “Oh, he’s a rapper.” Because my little brother also found one of my songs this morning and that’s how I know that I don’t promote my music enough. He was like, “I only found this out today” and he was like, “So, you’re a singer?” And I was like, “Yes.” That’s the thing. But like, yes, you know? And other people would find that same song and be like, “Oh, you rap melodically?”
That’s a good point because if someone just said, “I’m a singer,” that could mean like…
V-Sensei: Like a choir. Opera.
Exactly! It could be anything. It could be death metal. It could be folk. It could be anything, you know what I mean? But when you say rap, people do have that…I never even really thought about that.
GNS: That’s the biggest stigma in this industry, if that makes sense. I don’t know, though.
Do you think that will ever be broken? Now that hip-hop is evolving and I think not only that but everybody listens to hip-hop to some degree and it seems like everybody’s being introduced to different expressions of hip-hop, which they would with, let’s say, rock music at one point. Do you think that’s going to change at some point or do you think that stigma’s always going to remain?
GNS: I think it’s changing but there’s still the history and the background and the foundation of it. So, I don’t know, I think like Tyler is a rapper on his last album and he’s a rapper there, but he’s made sing songs. So, it is changing but it’s just not…it’s still going to have that same foundation…
V-Sensei: It’s not going to skew too far away from what it is.
GNS: Exactly, yeah.
V-Sensei: It’s like Lil Yachty, before he dropped that new album there, everybody would still say he’s a rapper and then you drop into psychedelic rap and he’s like, “Are you experimenting with psychedelics?”
GNS: It’s an awkward conversation. I like it though because it helps you to get to know who you are as a person. Because you must be sure in yourself before you start putting art in the world…
V-Sensei: Oh, that is sick! That is so important!
GNS: If you’re not sure of yourself, you can’t go out there and sing and things like that, because they’ll tell you who you are and it’s like, “Oh, so I’m this and I’m this?” and you don’t want that. You want to be sure of who you are yourself before you go out and tell the world. It’s dangerous. It’s hella dangerous. It’s not safe.
Well, I guess it’s also part of that self-producing, self-releasing thing, where it’s like, “I want my independence,” and that includes the independence of your image.
Like, you don’t want your image being dictated by someone who doesn’t even know you, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
You know, you don’t want them going, “Oh, you make this kind of music.” It’s like, no. Challenge it. Give yourself a challenge. Check it out.
GNS: Exactly. I don’t know. It’s interesting. I like it.
Perfect. Thanks very much for your time, guys. Appreciate it.
GNS: Thank you.
V-Sensei: Yeah, thank you.
GNS and V-Sensei’s new single “LOVE IS A LIE” is out now and available to stream here. You can follow GNS on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and V-Sensei on Instagram.
Aaron Kavanagh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Post-Burnout. His writing can also be found in the Irish Daily Star, Buzz.ie, New Noise Magazine, XS Noize, DSCVRD and more.
One response to “Artists and Producers GNS and V-Sensei Discuss Their Collab on New Single “LOVE A LIE,” the Breaking Down of Genres and Classification, How Working with Others Has Influenced Their Music, and the Power of Collectives”
This is a great read, very raw, and you can feel the character.