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West London’s Lord Apex has always wanted to be a rapper. He remembers lying at school aged five when asked what he wanted to be when he was older. “A firefighter,” he’d claimed, now reflecting: “I felt really upset because I lied to myself. I knew I wanted to be a rapper”. Eighteen years and countless projects later, Apex has fulfilled his dream. But he’s nowhere near ready to stop.
Lord Apex has been on a slow rise since the release of ‘Smoke Sessions Volume 1’ in 2016. Looking back, he admits he wasn’t taking music seriously back then. So when it came to ‘Volume 2’, he stepped his pen game up. With his newfound focus, he released some of his most iconic tracks on this project, including ‘EM3‘, ‘SSv2‘ and ‘Vintage Garms’ – which he later performed on COLORS. Now with the third edition of the fan-favoured series, he’s pushed his game to another level, tapping Smoke DZA, Wiki and Louis Culture alongside other collaborators.
While creating ‘Smoke Sessions Volume 3’, he went on a journey of self-reflection, introspection and hurt. The fourth track on the project, ‘High Forever’, reads like a sonnet to his girlfriend, the artist KEYAH/BLU and someone who has brought immense positivity into the White City rapper’s life. While opening up about writing the song, he’s smiling ear to ear, swivelling on his chair like a child talking about his crush at school. “A word I’ve been using a lot is ‘adulting’ […] I moved out my crib, moved in with my girlfriend. We’ve just been living life for the last year and she’s definitely the person who inspired that song,” said the rapper. “I just wanted to capture a moment in time.”
It was 2AM and Lord Apex was lying next to his girlfriend in bed when the sudden urge to write came over him. Stumbling from his slumber over to his desk, he hit play on a chosen beat. Leaving it to loop over and over again, the moonlight peered through the blinds, seeing him sat in his boxers scribbling down what love had him feeling. Asked what his girlfriend thinks of the track, he sits back, smiles and says: “Yeah, she’s f****ing with it,” before cracking up. While laughing, his girlfriend corrects him, saying she let out an elongated “Aww baby”, only causing the rapper’s childish grin to grow even more.
As the album progresses, Apex starts to tackle the duality of good and evil. “Every time I speak on the light, I’d be doing a disservice to not speak on the dark,” he says. “The world is very dark. That’s why the sun only shines on half of it at a time.”
On the tenth track of the project, ‘Love Me or Hate Me’, Apex raps: “My love kinda ugly, I’m putting it down”. With his relationship growing increasingly serious, the rapper has pondered how good of a lover he actually is. The conclusion he arrived at was that not seeing a loving couple growing up has played a big role in his relationships today. Only witnessing TV and cinema couples like Martin‘s Martin and Gina, Apex was left in the dark as to what love should look like. “[I started] reconfiguring my s**t to be like alright this is how you’re supposed to do A, B and C. Because you’ve been doing X, Y and Z. And you’re at the end of the alphabet.”
On this journey of introspection, the rapper found he’d put up walls as a way to protect himself from childhood trauma. He didn’t know those walls existed; it was only when his girlfriend pointed them out that he realised what was going on, taking it upon himself to right those wrongs. “There was even a point where I went back to all of [my friends] and personally apologised to them for the type person I used to be. They were like: ‘Yeah bro you don’t have to do that but we appreciate it, you were just stuck in your ways’,” he says. “I don’t want no one to do that for me, man. I don’t want you to have a handicap up for me because I’m so stuck in my ways.”
He believes that this generation, from ages 18 to 24, is feeling more pain than anything he’s ever seen in his life. Even (half jokingly) suggesting that David Attenborough should come to the streets to document the generational pain the youth is going through. In an attempt to understand this, he’s taken on a mentor and therapist role for his friends, opening his doors for them to come and chill at his. Cracking open a beer, lighting up a joint and talking things through, he’s there for those who need him.
After falling into a pit of deep – and often dark – introspection, the rapper comes out the other side of the tunnel on the album. On the triumphant twelfth track, he rises up above everything. The self-assured nature of this track only grows into a more empowering song once the origin of the song is unveiled.
“[We are] going to have 200 years’ worth of photos that go from black and white to 4K. The same people marching for the same thing. When I realised that, that’s where ‘Rise Up’ came from.”
It was back in the first lockdown when the world was rocked by the passing of George Floyd. Thousands took to the streets to protest the social injustices black communities are facing across the globe; Apex was one of those protesters. After a day of marching and chanting, he headed home. He was filled with inspiration on the journey home and sat down to write as soon as he got in. It took him five minutes to write the track. Through his pen, he poured his heart onto the page resulting in the most defiant song on the project. “[We are] going to have 200 years’ worth of photos that go from black and white to 4K. The same people marching for the same thing. When I realised that, that’s where ‘Rise Up’ came from.”
Lord Apex has been through a lot during the creation of this album. He’s been deeply in love, tackled his shortcomings, helped his friends through hell and come out the other side a better man. If his 5-year-old-self saw him today, he wouldn’t just be proud that he’s a rapper. He’d be proud because he’s grown and learnt to tackle his deepest insecurities head on.
‘Smoke Sessions Vol. 3’ is out April 20th 2021.