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Music has power. It makes us scream, laugh, and cry. In our new series, we invite artists to share the tracks that feel so gut-wrenching they reach for the skip button.

James Massiah knows the impact a song can have. Having first made his name as a poet before his scene-bursting 2019 musical debut Natural Born Killers (Ride For Me), the South London writer, rapper and producer has built a considerable underground following for his low-slung, hazy, deeply personal style of storytelling.

His latest six-track EP True Romance, released via Jon Rust’s label LEVELS, is a vulnerable window into his experiences of relationships, both loved and lost. On the opening salvos of the record, he raps: “Miss you a lot / If you was around I would I’d kiss you a lot / But you’re not”.

It’s music that tugs the strings, and if caught at the right (or wrong) moment, can be too much to take. To celebrate the release, we invited Massiah to talk about the songs that are so powerful to him he can’t listen right now.

The Knife – Heartbeats

Pure emotion on this one. I saw the video at a church friend’s house by accident one Sabbath day. Everyone else thought it was weird and said we should change the channel but I saw an argument for the song working as a gospel song. About the tragedy of the separation between Christ and his bride, the remnant church. The synth sounds, the chuggy beat, the piercing vocal, the crescendo. Magic. Takes me back to those days of innocence.

d’Eon – Transparency

What do you do when a loved one dies? Or when a loved one leaves and it feels like you can’t reach them anymore. When they become a ghost. This song asks the question and does so well in doing it. Too well one might argue. I think about my lost loves every time it streams.

Fingers Inc. – Mystery of Love

“There’s a moment in our lives…” tell me about it. This song reminds me of the kind of house music my mum used to listen to. Sort of gospel, sort of soulful. Deep pathos. The mystery of love. I think there’s a bible verse that talks about mystery? The synth that comes in after the drums get going always breaks my heart. Worth noting there are few different mixes. Each has its own merits but my favourite is the vocal version that starts with the baseline and the swelling synth note intro. Honourable mention here for I’ll Never Let you Go by William S. Massive tune that I play at the afterparties I’ve stayed too long at.

Tony Curtis – If You Were Here

Alexander O’Neal was onto something but Tony Curtis was onto something else. This track laid the foundation for work by Rihanna, another track that balances heartbreak and relationship turmoil so beautifully with feelings of joy and bliss. In this song I don’t think the lover has left, but they’re away. There is the sense of longing there. I feel it when I play it. It’s a favourite to play out, but the Alexander O’Neal version coming on in the Uber when Magic FM or Smooth is on the dial can send you into a bout of tears if you’re fragile on the way back from a long one.

Zola Jesus – Six Feet (From My Baby)

I’d love to talk about The Presence by Crisy Ambulances but I’ll talk about this instead. Both songs are sort of about the same thing. Distance. Presence. they go to a similar part of me. I’ve known Zola for longer though, and the production is different to mine but maybe more a reference creatively. It sounds like the rapture when you’re seeing your loved ones being saved and transliterated to the sky whilst you’re still on the ground, realising you were one of the ones who didn’t seek enough penance for your lusts and lasciviousness. “Oh baby no don’t go”. It hurts so beautifully.

Coldplay – A Spell A Rebel Yell

I’ve promised myself that I will one day remix this one. I’ve cleared dancefloors and emptied rooms at house parties with this one but sometimes it’s better to be on your own. At other times you just want that special person there with you so you can be alone together. This song feels like that feeling. A frightening, fraying loneliness that needs the remedy and the fix of a sweetheart.