Words by:
Photography: Michelle Helena Janssen
Styiling: Ade Udoma

Lord Apex is content.

Having just moved into a new house with his girlfriend, there’s a sense of serenity to his voice throughout our call that suggests he feels settled. It’s fitting, given the rise and rise of his musical career. The 23-year-old west Londoner hasn’t slowed down since dropping his first track Bebop on SoundCloud in 2014 – a confident introduction into his hazy, smoke-filled universe.

Despite his tender age, Apex is already a veteran thanks to his prolific back catalogue; he’s dropped a project or two every year since he came on the scene. With nine bodies of work to his name, each a unique interpretation of Apex’s world, his arduous work flow is one he can’t quite explain himself. “I don’t even know where it comes from,” he explains. “I guess all my favourite artists have big discographies – Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Larry June, Mac Miller – so I’ve always seen myself in that sort of category. I always knew I wanted to have a big discography that people could look back on. Consistency is key in anything you’re doing in life.”

Music is all Apex has ever known. Having grown up on a rich diet of reggae giants like Beres Hammond and Queen Ifrica – his parents also snuck in “a little Wu Tang here, a little Mos Def there, a little Missy Elliot here” – he strived to learn more about hip-hop’s history, gravitating towards American acts who made him feel like he belonged. “There were never any UK heads that let me know I could do it,” he tells me. “I didn’t see anyone I could relate to. Even if we were on the same vibe musically, you don’t dress like me, so I couldn’t see myself in this shit before I started doing it myself.” Usually found wearing Avirex jackets and Carhartt cargos, he developed an affinity for vintage apparel through the US rap canon he grew up on.

© Michelle Helena Janssen
Shirt – Jordan Luca
T Shirt – Napa by Martine Rose
Trousers – Liam Hodges x Dickies
Shoes – Yeezy

Musically, Apex leaned towards what felt right. Moved by the “trifecta of the underground”, J Dilla, Madlib and MF DOOM, he meticulously studied their delivery and eclectic production techniques (he even took his stage name from Madlib’s alter ego, Quasimoto aka Lord Quas). The trio, he tells me, presented a new kind of rap to him – one that encouraged him to tighten his flow, finesse his style and uncover his own musical identity. He lights up as he talks about them: “Dilla’s more of a time guy where his flows are just beautiful. With Madlib, there was something about his laidback nature, it would grab me,” he enthuses, his voice growing more excited. “Then DOOM! He’s a fucking animal, he’s broken every rule there is, from his stage presence to the way he moves as a person. These artists helped me realise there’s so many possibilities for me.”

His output certainly reflects his influences. From the sleepy bounce of Spliff in the Morning – owing to his deep love of weed – to the syrupy, sax-aided drawl of Em3, Apex is building on the sound he’s so inspired by. Like Dilla, he spits intricate, nonchalant lyrics about living life and getting by: “I’ve been working/ On the surface/ We’ve been searching/ For a purpose,” he raps on What’s the World Mean to You, exuding the introspective quality that filters through his catalogue.

Soon Apex flooded the market, becoming a major player of the SoundCloud rap movement of the early 2010s, utilising the digital landscape to become a cult figure. Embracing the term ‘underground’, a word often levelled at him – you only have to look as far as his YouTube comments for proof – he took it in his stride. “Underground is cool,” he tells me. “One positive side of it is not conforming.” His voice stiffens with conviction. “But I hate being called a ‘lo-fi rapper’ because it feels mad disrespectful, like you’ve only been listening to music for three years. Every time some new shit comes around that people can’t properly define, they put names on it so that it’s easy to market. When really, everyone has different inspirations and their music is coming from a different place. Music is just music.”

© Michelle Helena Janssen
Headband – Patta
Jacket – Napa by Martine Rose
Shirt – Napa by Martine Rose
Trousers – WU WEAR c/o 194 Local
Shoes – Yeezy

This year’s Darkskies EP with producer Bushi Vibes, written and recorded in the wake of a breakup, serves as a response to those still trying to box Apex in. It’s a switch of gears from his usual insouciant disposition. One particular highlight is Hell Out of Dodge, with its haunting piano riffs and clattering drum patterns that could conjure up nightmares. “I had to get some shit off my chest real quick,” he says, justifying the switch to his darker sound. Having garnered millions of streams over the years, his game plan has clearly paid dividends, and his critics and peers alike have been completely won over. His manager even tells me that Freddie Gibbs is a fan, while personal hero Mos Def enlisted Apex for dates on his European tour this past January.

© Michelle Helena Janssen
Jacket – Napa by Martine Rose
Trousers – Pronounce
Shoes – Yeezy
Hoodie – Patta

The rest of this year promises a new collaborative project with New York producer V Don, as well as the third instalment of his popular Smoke Sessions mixtape series. He tells me he is striving for something greater, though, further from the impressive co-signs and recognition. “When I get old and grey I wanna start making sculptures,” he says with a palpable sincerity. “Music was always the first lane for me, but I want to be able to make multiple art forms so that, hopefully, my energy is still here for another 2000 years.” All being well, by the time he’s finished, SoundCloud will still be here so he can fulfil one final wish: “I picture myself at 80 years old still trying to drop 32 bars on SoundCloud on some nostalgic shit!”

Darkskies is out now via E/M Worldwide