Interview: Amber London
Posted in Interviews
Child of the Phonk
Whatever pre-conceived notion you might have of what a "female MC" should be - Amber London is here to subvert it. Despite being the only female rapper in SpaceGhostPurrp's Raider Klan, Amber doesn't define herself along the lines of gender. Her raw, no-frills approach to rapping is neither skewed by sexualized gimmicks, nor stuck in an aseptic cage of tomboyishness. Simply put, Amber London is just doing herself, and feeling good about it.
A child of the phonk, Amber grew up in Houston in the 1990s - a biographical fact that resonates strongly in her music. The en vogue Screw aesthetic is embedded in her bloodline, as is an appreciation of similarly-inclined 90s underground rap from other parts of the South and the West Coast. The beats she raps over, her unassuming, laid-back mode of delivery, and the way she presents herself in all-black-no-flash throwback gear is just as much ode to times passed, as it is an authentic expression of her personality.
The track that provided Amber with some well-deserved attention outside the insiders' circle last year was "Low-Key," featured not only on her own 1994 EP, but also on Purrp's God of Black compilation. It is as apt of a mission statement as any, with Amber kicking her 90s lyricism over a chopped beat that goes from G-Funk to Screw, and a hook that concisely boils down her unflamboyant persona.
Making her words ring true, Amber has been keeping it low-key ever since. Save for a few guest appearances on fellow Raider tapes, little material has surfaced from Ms. London in the wake of her EP release. We caught up with Amber to find out what she's been working on, and to discuss the different building blocks that have shaped her music - and with it, her personality.
What have you been up to lately? We’re all waiting for some new stuff to drop…
Yeah, that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m working on my whole tape. I’ve always kind of been like that, so it takes me a while, you know? I just wanna take my time and make sure it’s alright before I put it out. But it’s definitely on the way. I’m shooting for the end of February. It should be all done by then.
I guess it’s always good to have some quality control… How long were you working on that 1994 EP?
I started working on 1994 in 2011. So a lot of the songs on there I made in the year before I joined Raider Klan – all of them except for “Low-Key” and “Trilla Nation” actually. It’s definitely a project that I’m proud of and I’m glad I took my time with it. I just like to have everything right.
Do you feel like it’s getting more difficult for you now that people have started taking notice?
Maybe a little bit, but not really. Cause it’s just me, you know? If people like 94 and the other stuff that I put out, I’m pretty sure they’ll like a lot of the stuff I do. I feel like I’m doing something different for a girl, and I think that kind of keeps me separated and able to work on projects the way I want to.
And is your new stuff gonna be on that same vibe, more or less? A lot of Houston-influenced stuff and a lot of G-Funk?
Yeah, I mean when I did the 94 EP it was basically just me dipping my hands in the 90s stuff a little bit, not really showing all I could do, versatility-wise. But this one is definitely more Houston-inspired and there’s a lot of different sounds on there also, touching bases on all types of phonk.
Your hometown Houston is obviously a big influence on you. How did you experience the Houston music culture, growing up?
I have so many different inspirations. I’ve always been an open-minded child. But I mean being in Houston, I would always hear them play Houston-based songs on the radio and on Sundays there would be nothing but Screw all day on the radio. So growing up hearing that, you naturally learn to appreciate it. My uncle was a teenager at the time when I grew up. I kinda looked to him and he had all the great tapes and was making me memorize DJ Screw freestyles and stuff like that. He would make me rap in front of his friends like “look, she memorized the whole thing” and they were like 10 minutes long. So I had a lot of inspiration just from growing up here and this is the only place that I been, you know what I mean? So Houston is me, basically.
From an outsider’s perspective, Houston rap can sort of be divided into two waves: the first wave being when Rap-A-Lot and Swishahouse first came onto the scene, UGK, DJ Screw… And then there was the revival around 05-06 with Paul Wall, Mike Jones and those guys. Would you say that is about accurate, or is it a misconception?
Yeah, that’s correct. In the 90s you had Lil’ Flip and all of them. SUC, they were tight. And then we did come back with Paul Wall and Mike Jones and them. I feel like since then we still gotta come together as Houston artists and make it hot again.
Since you’re saying you got a lot of stuff from your uncle, were you always more on that first wave than the 05-06 wave, even though that would be more logical considering your age?
Yeah, I would say so. I mean I did like Paul Wall and stuff, but if I could choose I would say that first wave was just kind of raw to me. You had so many different artists from Texas – ones you probably don’t even know about – like Gangsta Blacc, they might not have made the popularity list but they held it down back in the 90s and their sound was really raw and dope.
Did they open that Screw museum at the University of Houston yet?
I’m not sure actually, I’ll have to ask a friend.
Cause I was thinking, it’s interesting that things like that are happening now, too. You have artists like Raider Klan and also Pro Era, who are really pushing that kind of 90s-preservation sound.
Yeah, it is funny. Cause the thing about it is we’re not even really trying to do it, you know what I mean? Like “I’m gonna do this 90s sound.” I think that’s what makes it cool, is that it’s actually something we’re comfortable with, naturally. That’s the best way we can express ourselves, because that’s what we grew up on. You can hear people try to do the sound and fail because you can’t really force it. It has to be in you. You have to have the phonk. That’s what we mean by that. People are so into image now, and glamour, and HD. Our goal is to rebuild an appreciation of just the music. Just the fact that kids listen to Joey Bada$$ really gave me hope for the generation, that they’re able to appreciate his sound, cause with the way music sounds now I really didn’t think they would.
What I also think is interesting about the Raider Klan, is that everyone’s from different places and is pushing a different sound, even though it’s all on a similar vibe. Cause on the one hand it shows that music is going away from being a regional thing, but at the same time each region still has its own heritage.
Yeah, I mean for me, joining Raider Klan wasn’t even so much about the music. I was impressed with what it stood for, what Purrp was doing with it. I could already see it. And when Ethelwulf first reached out to me I was like “what the hell, this dude is so talented” and it kind of made it even cooler that he was from Memphis, you know? So I think being from different places does bring a special dynamic, but then again, it’s a click of a button how we’re able to share and work with each other and it makes it a lot easier to have a group like this.
I think it’s also important to have that kind of regional sensibility, too. Cause that’s basically been there forever and it would be sad if it got lost in the fact that people are now able to reach everything, when maybe sometimes it’s right in front of their door.
Sure, I agree. The whole movement in itself is just interesting, even to me, when I’m in it. I’m always checking for everybody, trying to see what’s next.
So who do you think is next in Raider Klan?
Oh, man. We’re all next. It’s seriously amazing. Nell’s 90s Mentality is something every human should hear. Simmie’s Basement Musik is great, catchy music. He has a good ear. Chris Travis is real artsy. His music is really creative to me, and so is Denzel’s.