“It’s like a sonnet, believe it or not.” Jay Z wrote in his 2010 memoir, Decoded. “Sonnets have a set structure, but also a limited subject matter: They are mostly about love. Taking on such a familiar subject and writing about it in a set structure forced sonnet writers to find every nook and cranny in the subject and challenged them to invent new language for saying old things. It’s the same with braggadacio in rap. When we take the most familiar subject in the history of rap—why I’m dope— and frame it within the sixteen-bar structure of a rap verse, synced to the specific rhythm and feel of the track, more than anything it’s a test of creativity and wit. It’s like a metaphor for itself; if you can say how dope you are in a completely original, clever, powerful way, the rhyme itself becomes proof of the boast’s truth.”
Thus, it’s fair to say, combining the intensity of such efforts in what is now an over-concentrated, braggadocio-ridden 2019 UK scene, with humility, sincerity and increasingly vulnerable subject matter, you become somewhat of a counterpoint between genres, artists and emotion. You become One Acen.
“That’s why I did wanna make a sick song, a banger, a tune that hits hard…” Speaking on his most recent single, ‘Xpensive Habits’ lounging across the sofa at Keakie studios in Shoreditch. “…but for me to say, ‘a man can’t tell me about being depressed in love with a girl that’s fucking somebody else…’ that’s the first line of the song… people are like ‘what’s he talking about’?”
“Every artist has to be vulnerable. It’s all good having a party song, a wavy song its nice but, where the difference is between some of those bigger artists and smaller artists are that, we’ve seen the last 5 years of Stormzy’s life play out. We know about Dave and some situations in his life, same with J Hus. I feel like that’s one of the main things…people need context to your life. People need to know why you’re saying something. Then they could be like ok I believe this guy, I like this guy. Even if they don’t like you at least they understand you. Right now, people don’t know me, don’t understand me, so it’s not much to hold on to.”
In the scene, I feel like I’m a guy who everyone’s kind of familiar with, but no-ones fully bought into me yet. But they’re not sure yet, its just about making them sure now.
Yes, whilst it may seem we’re yet to learn more about the young rising star and his story, his string of memorable anthems are beginning to create their own narrative in the culture. From 2017’s ‘Rolling’ to last years’ ‘Verified’, ‘Vice Versa’ (ft WSTRN) and of course ‘Best Life’ with Hardy Caprio, yes, all are built upon the underlying bravado of the scene, yet, One Acen’s demeanour is affable, carrying himself graciously through airy, sweet, charming and instantly likeable instrumentals. The most commendable trait of his character however? How much fun he’s having with his newly found success. The videos are becoming increasingly flash…“Big up Atlantic” he laughs… yet the uninvolved smile on his face remains.
Of course, it hasn’t always been fun and games for Acen leading up to this tipping point. Having created and released a project every year since 2006, exploring sounds and vocals from R&B, Grime and Hip Hop, he seemed to land on his feet, almost 13 years later. “It was a grind ennit, I was just on a mission…” smiling gleefully, proud. “The end of 2016 into 2017 I just felt like I had been doing it for a long time and there’s no money coming into it. Like I said, before 2017, I had been doing music for like 10 years and I probably made like £300 maybe, if that. It got to a point where it needed to balance out. I spent a lot of time, but its not making sense. It’s something I love doing but at the same time you need to make it make sense for your life. So that period 2016 into 2017, that was make or break time.”
Enter Hardy Caprio. The pair have now created somewhat of a tag-team since Acen’s ‘Rolling’ in April 2017, going onto to create ‘EIO’, ‘Unsigned’ and ‘Best Life’ together. “He liked some of that earlier stuff I did,” he begins speaking on his early relationship with Hardy. “He had SBTV freestyles and I used to see them on my timeline and I just appreciated his style. We started talking on twitter, for easily three or four months before we made a tune… just about the scene, how he’s tryna do what he’s doing but its not working the way he wants it to work. I’m in the same place. Then we make a tune called ‘Rolling’ first. That was my first 100k views. It got played on 1xtra too, so it kinda’ opened doors straight away. Then ‘Unsigned’ next…and that was just, tipping point, like you said.”
“When we did the first tune ‘Rolling’, he used to bring me out to his shows. Then he would give me part of his booking fee. To cover my travel or whatever, and vice versa when I started getting shows. Helping each other get to the next level. We both feel like, if you’re not honest about where you are actually placed in the scene, it’s hard to navigate to where you wanna be. If you over estimate where you are, you’re not making an accurate map to where you wanna’ go. We don’t act like big stars, even if we were, we probably wouldn’t act like that. That’s not our thing. We were honest with where each other were. Taking notes form each other.”
Acen then followed up the success of ‘Rolling ‘with his next work, ‘Verified’. The track, despite its popularity, seemed to lack his artistic mandate in hindsight. “I was imitating a certain song structure and type that was kinda working at the time.” He begins to explain uncomfortably. “When you go against yourself to get bigger and it doesn’t work, you don’t get the result that you want, so was it really worth it? I still like the song but sometimes it’s just like, ah man, I know what I was doing.” However, such a feeling proved to be the catalyst for what was to come next, his biggest track to date, ‘Vice Versa’ featuring WSTRN. “I produced ‘Vice Versa’ with CallMeTheKidd. What I didn’t like about ‘Verified’ is that it felt like I was not being me when I listen back now. So when I got to ‘Vice Versa’ I wanted to make a song that only I can make.”
“I feel like that song is me. That vision can work and people can respect it. If I just made a whole persona that wasn’t me and I blew, it would be sick to blow, but deep down, I don’t know if I could live with it. It would be a conflicting feeling.”
As we transition into a new decade, it’s exciting to see One Acen full to the brim with ideas, melodies and motivation, ready to fully capitalise on the forthcoming fruitful year. Although slightly covert, he’s sure to disclose an upcoming project, which is not necessarily a themed follow-up to the diverse, jubilant, perhaps wide-eyed ‘Sexy Odd Rose’ project last year. “It was a good project [Sexy Odd Rose], I think it was underrated to a certain degree, but I do feel like it’s the same thing with verified. I feel like, not that it wasn’t me, but I was going for like, wavy sort of vibe music, whereas with this project, I’m putting more of myself into it. I feel like you can listen to this project and know more things about me. It’s very important for your fan base to learn new things about you. I’m trying to be more honest, with my art. Everything I feel now, I want it to be in a song at some point.”
The plan is in place, the talent is there, and the vision…”To make me one of the biggest artists in the UK, ever. We can definitely do that.”