Unknown T on the odyssey of putting light into his darkness…

Maybe you haven’t noticed; sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in the noise of the city. But growing between cracks in the concrete, across all the weather-beaten tower blocks of London, are flowers. Each morning, they bloom in silence – bright arrays of petals, some broken off by wear, some pristine and untouched, leaning out further than the rest, thirsting for the bright sun. Beautiful in their nature, they are the most exquisite Eden anyone could ever imagine. It’s very easy to miss, though, and if your eye isn’t clear, you might just see weeds.

That’s why we have people who tell stories. Through their art, dance, poetry, and music, they wipe a bit of the mist away and make things a little clearer. It can turn your vision of a man hellbent on destruction into an image of self-deception and powerlessness. The streets have a symphony, and each generation chooses its conductors. Feet pacing swiftly, they travel to hearts and places unseen, to speak stories of our crumbling walls, our fights, our loves, and our losses.

Yes, the streets have a symphony, and they have selected a conductor: Unknown T. The Hackney-raised rapper, now 24 years old, strolled onto the UK rap scene back in early 2018 with an unforgettable Mad About Bars video that served as an introduction to his distinctive style, a baritone blaze of UK slang. Shortly after, he followed up with ‘Homerton B,’ which became the first UK drill track to be certified Silver, helping to pave the way for widespread mainstream acceptance of the genre in the UK. If you look over the past five years, it’s clear to see why he’s an essential component of how the UK music scene exists as it does now.

When describing the cadence of Unknown T, it’s strange to say, but you come face to face with a man who possesses a unique duality. At any given moment, he seems both larger than life and about two seconds away from slipping off into the shadows. This is exactly how his presence sits as he’s kitted out in well-pressed slacks and an impeccably tailored coat, glints of silver jewellery peeking out from his hands and wrists. The high-vaulted studio we’re in is strewn about with violins and various classical instruments; each accompanied by a musician that looks like they’ve stepped directly out of one of Gordon Parks’ 1963 images of Black Muslims. It’s August, and the weather has been… unfavourable—an unfortunate mix of muggy and rainy. But apparently, Unknown T has either not been informed that in this situation it’s considered proper to sweat, or he’s come to a firm agreement with his body that now is neither the time nor the place for such business. Both are equally believable.

When I ask him the best piece of advice he carries with him, he breezily replies with a diamond he received from J. Cole: “Stay true to yourself, and the universe will come back to you.” Authenticity is definitely not lacking when it comes to Unknown T. His sound is so distinct and personal that, regardless of what genre he applies himself to, the result is unmistakably him. If you listen to his 2021 track ‘Wollan‘ with Skillibeng, then transition to ‘WELCOME 2 MY STRIP‘ with ODUMODUBLVCK (one of the songs from his latest EP) you’ll notice his gruff, bassy tones effortlessly shift from distinctly Jamaican to distinctly Nigerian expressions. All while preserving his signature London sound, complete with iconic ad-libs. “Every time I’m in the studio, and especially if I’m with somebody else, everyone has different energies and vibes. I like to intertwine it but still give them a hint of me, innit? That hint of me makes people just feel that nostalgia. It’s more than the way I’m rapping. It’s the shit I’ve been through, the shit we’ve been through. People can relate to it just from the dialect, from hearing the fantasy, from the voice. It speaks for itself.”

“I don’t like to be confined to one sound; I’m an artist… I’m always excited to work in a new environment, always excited to work with a new vibe—something that takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s the only way you’ll grow as a rapper.” Growth is a big part of Unknown T’s success as an artist, whether it’s his collaborations, like his short film for Beats by Dre with Daily Paper, or his acting cameos, like his appearance on Jungle last year, there are endless examples of Unknown T breaking out of his box to build on where he started.

“When I’m making music, I do feel moments of my past in the moment while I’m making it, but sometimes you gotta put yourself in the environment that you want to be in to actually make a new world for yourself,” He tells me he found his feet as soon as ‘Homerton B’ hit the charts; from there, he felt spurred to show himself in different dynamics. I ask if he’s able to pinpoint a specific moment of change. “My first moment was when I made my song ‘Throwback’. That was the second song I released, after ‘Homerton B’. That one touched people because I gave them a trip down memory lane, just to show them a different part of me.”

“Looking at it over time now, it does feel good. Feels good still, especially with the journey that I’ve come from.” His first album, ‘Rise Above Hate,’ was released in July 2020 and peaked at 14 in the UK charts. His second ‘Adolescence’ made it to number 8. With each iteration of his musical persona, his virtuoso has only become more present and his lyrical ability remains sharp. “We all have our own personal targets, and sometimes that hits you when you don’t get it straight away, or a second time, or a third time, whatever it may be. But when I accomplish something that was a personal struggle, that’s when I feel most powerful.”

His connection to his source and culture is something that can never be put on. Culture is moulded over time, unlike a well-tailored pea coat, it fits more like the hand-me-down puffer that your cousin gave you – too big in all the wrong places but fundamentally and undeniably yours. “My flows and my cadence, you can feel the struggle. I’m bringing in the pain; it’s the natural essence in it. So that comes into it from the way I’ve grown up.” The vibrancy and struggles of his experience are woven into every note and lyric, but being honest to who you are and where you come from is in no way a simple task. “Sometimes in my head, I’m thinking like, ‘Nah, maybe they won’t understand this.’ At the same time, I’ve started to find out through the process to just try and let people actually see me from a real point of view… There are elements of my identity that naturally weave themselves into everything I do because I like to keep everything I do as organic as possible.”

He mentions how fundamental being able to recognise the lineage of classical instruments has been to his recent growth as an artist. “There’s something about an orchestra that’s so touching to me because I know the roots of music from young, studying in school, seeing it be at the foundation of music not only historically but as a wider understanding.” His ‘Before The Smoke‘ EP was released on August 18th, teasing his impending album, which remains shrouded in secrecy. It’s clear he’s made this choice consciously as the most you can pull out of him about what’s to come is his adoration for classical instruments and his intentions going forward: “I want to show more love than darkness. Everyone always saw me in a darker light, so I’ve decided to give them something different, unexpected… I’m putting light in my darkness.”


Creative Direction + Photography + Video Direction: @shenellkennedy | Additional Retouch: @toricascoe | Photo Assistant: @taishansart | Styling: @shida__ | Fashion assistant @kcs.s9 | Runner/2nd fashion assistant @jayzik_ | Producer: @sayo.olu | DOP + Video Edit: @shaneduncan1 | Gaffer: @lightingbyjoe | PR: @alwaysprotectedpublicity | Set Design: @chenssx | Set Design Assistant: | Makeup + Grooming: @afrolion_mua | Social Media + BTS: @6wildd


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