‘Strength in numbers’ isn’t just an idiomatic phrase that sounds good, it’s a lifestyle and ethos that’s embedded into the very core of London rap collective House of Pharaohs.
Our eyes and ears have been firmly fixed on South London group, for the best part of three years, and during that time they have gone from strength to strength. Composed of six artists, Sam Wise, Bandana, Danny Stern, Kevin Taylor, Blaze YL, and AJ as well as in-house graphic designers and a manager. “The growth has been positive, any growth is good growth” Danny Stern reflects, “we’ve kept doing our thing. We haven’t really stopped and we don’t plan on stopping any time soon”.
A key theme within House of Pharaohs is friendship, unlike a group inorganically formulated, House of Pharaohs are actually friends irl. And, in the words of Sam Wise, who told me with a grin, ‘ultimately, House of Pharaohs is just a house of amazing-ness’.
Bursting with excitement for their latest release ‘The Fix’, I meet with five of the six key members, Sam Wise, Bandana, Danny Stern, AJ and Kevin Taylor. Our location for the day is the area surrounding The Tate and The Southbank Centre, one of the U.K’s most prestigious hubs for culture and creativity. The group regularly link up at The Southbank Centre for weekly meetings, but this Friday afternoon, things are a little different as Sam explains. “Normally, yes, this is our hub for meetings… but the motive of today is a little different. Not gonna lie, we’re gonna go shopping after this, then party tonight – we’re gonna have a little vibe”. To keep in touch on a regular basis though, the collective have a WhatsApp group chat, which is where all of their updates are put in, “we all use our phones differently though” Sam adds, “but having those face to face meetings are good, because when we do get everyone together, we’re able to figure out how we can approach everything and assess all the groundwork we need to do. It allows us to recalibrate and get moving and get things done. We do it here because it’s nice, it’s peaceful and ironically we get things done”.
“Be yourself, don’t watch these guys… and just don’t be scared, and watch the beauty unfold” – Sam Wise
Rap collectives are often marred with whispers of internal beef and politics, so I’ve always been curious to know how does a collective really function; are there recruitment systems in place, how are roles defined and how the hell do you co-ordinate over six different schedules and lives to all run in sync? Danny Stern giggles as I ask if there was a recruitment process, “Nah, it’s not that sort of system and it was never a recruitment thing… Before we was under the umbrella House Of Pharaohs we was the same group – just a group of friends”.
Friendship seems to be one the biggest forces driving House of Pharaohs and it could arguably be one of the keys to their steady growth as a group. Sam Wise expands on this a little further, “We saw this as something different – we’re like minded and we like to think out of the box. We were chilling, we was just friends at the time and thought lets do something with it”. The anarchic nature of the group’s structure and formation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to deciding rules and roles, this fluidity allows for others to step up when needed, “I think there’s a lot of roles that change – they’re fluid”, Sam explains. “Some roles I take on, then another time Kevin takes them on. But yes, there are certain strengths. Like when it comes to technology Kevin might be the guy for that. If we need someone who’s just going to be quickly on it, then it might be Bandana. We find strengths in individuals, but then there’s loads of fluid roles. And everyone can take lead where necessary”.
It would be reductive to put House of Pharaohs in the same category as rap groups before them. There’s no band mentality, they’re not trying to mimic one another, they’re all individuals in their own right. Bandana is chatty and in high-spirits, Danny Stern lives up to his name – he means business, Kevin Taylor’s a little more low-key and Sam Wise is packed with charisma: “We’re House of Pharaohs now! We don’t watch what others are doing… We just look towards ourselves. We’re not seeing others and thinking that’s how to do it, we’re just setting our own levels”.
There’s a serious, and organised side to the collective though. They have all fully dedicated themselves to music, none are currently working a 9-5. “Currently, it just works. the business works” Kevin Taylor explains, “We’ve got everything put in place so money is generated. Just how a normal business works, is how we work. We’re a business as well as a group of friends and family who create”.
“Just don’t be afraid to express yourself… and choose your friends wisely” – Bandana
Together they’re joined by this common interest; to create. “House of Pharaohs it really is just a friends and family ting” Bandana adds as we discuss their inception. They’re an alliance, and it is this sturdy unit that has allowed the group to grow over the past few years. The phrase strength in numbers springs to mind when you observe House of Pharaohs, I pose this question to the group, “there’s a lot of strength in numbers, we’re an example of that” Sam Wise comments, “when you think how things are now – things are so divided, and where that leaves room for people to be exploited and oppressed… Strength in numbers is bigger than just the music, it can be applied in other worldly situations too”.
Across the global creative sphere we’re witnessing brands tap into artists social networks in order to market to new audiences. A collective like House of Pharaohs are likely to be a brand’s marketing dream. So how do they make sure they’re not being exploited? “It’s important as a group or individual to know who you’re working with”, replies Sam, “If you know us, you’ll know we’ve turned down stuff, we’re very selective with who we work with. Sometimes you do need to be careful who you work with, but another part of it is understanding these brands will always be about pushing their agenda and trying to market their product. If you’re smart you can work with synergy with the brand to show what you’re doing. So it’s better they’re partnering with good people and also understand your brand, and knowing how much access you’re going to allow them. That’s the best way — you can say they’re using us — but then we’re using them”.
“Be brave and break out into new things.. and don’t be discouraged when things take a longer than expected… good things take time, and it’ll be better in the long term to know you’ve worked on things properly than rushed” – Danny Stern
Their latest release, ‘The Fix’ is a five-track body of work and follow up to their 2017 project, ‘Real Faces’ is packed with cheeky tongue-in-cheek lyrics, catchy anthems and slick production. There’s no sense of any of the members individually dominating the tracks, there’s just a clear vibe that every member’s delivering their best verses. Everything the group does seems to happen very organically, even down to the nitty gritty of creating songs, “Sometimes we all create in different spaces, so I could go and find my own studio – which means it’s my stuff. But then I could make something and think this would sound better with my guys on it. It literally just works on a case by case basis” Danny Stern explains. This natural balance between the guys, arguably, allows for their music to be created without restriction, “Everything is free when we make it. There’s a free energy around us when we’re creating. Anything around that – any eventuality, we let happen” replies Sam Wise.
And while we’re busy immersing ourselves in House of Pharaohs latest Fix, the clan are all keeping busy, whether that be for their next solo projects or collective ambitions. But one thing is clear, House of Pharaohs are in it for the long run.