I sit down with THAT’S JUVEY?, aka Kyle, on some makeshift decking outside of an office on Liverpool’s North Dock. Before I manage to scoot my plastic chair in, he reels off an old folk tale about a cunning tortoise who fell from the sky after becoming selfish and greedy. The process of putting the pieces back together meant its shell became unsymmetrical and cracked – it was never smooth again. Kyle catches me off guard – he’s as eloquent and insightful as they come, and I’m suitably intrigued.
“I’m really interested in folklore and how it transcends the original story and message,” says Kyle. “I like binary opposites of light and dark, day and night, human and beast, and the grey liminal areas between. They are the complex things that happen every day to all of us.” And it’s the everyday which the 23-year-old from Ellesmere Port draws inspiration from and carries through in his lyrics; remarking on social structures, his hometown and the people around him. “It’s been a diary,” he says of his musical output.
Kyle was just 10 years old when he started to rap, and his knack for rhyme and rhythm may be down to a subconscious musical upbringing. “My dad was always playing Scouse house music,” he laughs, “and I was the baby in the back seat bopping to the pulse of the music banging through the car. I think it resonated with me, that pulse – it’s very fast tempo music.”
His instinctive approach to music is also threaded in his lyrics. “I was bred for this, I couldn’t avoid it”, pops his scouse spoken word in The City Feels. Partner that visceral nature with social alertness, Mersey-grit, sarcasm and humour, and you’ve got That’s Juvey? “I feel like I’ve always recognised the way of the world and I just tried to make as many observations as I could. I realised this when I was very young – that life was kind of pointless and full of endless bureaucracies.” Despite his awareness, he likes to keep his productions light-hearted. “I think when it’s right wing, left wing, it’s a bit messy, but I think if it’s everyday things, like a Freddo costs more now, then that’s alright.”
Although he cites Ghetts, Fliptrix, Big L, Big Pun, Rhyme Asylum and Jam Baxter as stylistic inspiration, it’s through comedians, authors and poets that Kyle truly found his original flair. “I started to create my own sound, it didn’t happen overnight, I took elements from so many things within my life, but at one point I remember thinking, ‘Crap, I can write lyrics forever’.” And with his heart set on music, Kyle’s path was determined. “I got good results in school,” he says, “but when I moved on to sixth form I wasn’t interested in it anymore, because I thought I was going to create music instead.”
After years of recording music, mostly in his mate’s studio in his garage in New Brighton, a once in a lifetime opportunity came along, which in Kyle’s own words, “legitimised what I was doing”: the Levi’s Music Project.
UK Brit-hop pioneer and spiritual Scouser Loyle Carner partnered with a diverse team of creatives to mentor 13 carefully selected musicians based in Liverpool, preparing them for their debut festival performance at Sound City in May. “It was corporate acknowledgement,” says Kyle, “it gave me monetary worth for the hard work I have put in.”
The Levi’s Music Project sessions took place at Liverpool Lighthouse, a treasured local community hub, specialising in inspiring and upskilling people in the surrounding community through music and art initiatives. Levi’s and Loyle Carner’s partnership helped establish the community music space in the heart of Anfield. This is a long-term space that will provide access to music for young people, and will hopefully inspire the next generation.
“Working with Loyle Carner was good, because I felt like he was from a similar echelon of hip hop – he would understand the sound, which is reminiscent of more lyrical, old-school hip hop rather than gangster rapping. He was really cool, really laid back… any more and he’d be horizontal.”
The artwork for That’s Juvey?’s imminent EP, Sunbathing in the Apocalypse, was designed by Oliver Smith, known to many as Mumptown. His colourful and playful work is easily recognisable around Liverpool, having designed for the likes of Buyers Club and Liverpool Disco Festival. Supporting local creatives like Oliver is something Kyle believes wholly in. “It’s a trade of skills, I just know from hip hop, it gives you a little grid for civilisation. You could walk down the street and you can give someone value, like, ‘I heard your bars’ or ‘I saw your work’. Someone’s dancing on their head, spinning on a cardboard box or whatever, and then a producer will swap beats with them – it’s an exchange, and it’s really important.”
The climax of playing at Sound City, the UK’s leading independent music festival, in front of a Liverpool audience is something that Kyle can only sum up as “monumentous”. I don’t feel obliged to poke much further, his grin says it all.
Reaching an audience much wider than your hometown is where the online community has stepped in. That’s Juvey? is part of the UK hip hop collective Chedeye Knights, and uses platforms such as UKUS and his own channel Little Raskal TV (based in Little Sutton and Ellesmere Port) which he co-runs with DJ and producer Blu Beatz. They’re all part of a new wave of young rappers and artists who use YouTube and SoundCloud channels to promote their work. “If the internet wasn’t there I’d still make music,” says Kyle, “but I think it’s good to immortalise yourself in rhyme on the internet, that’s pretty cool. You can instantaneously upload a creation with the same delivery and essence that you had on that day, I think it’s a really good time for creativity generally because all the information is at your disposal to be inspired.”
I’m curious as to whether there’s a downside to Kyle’s intense creative productivity. “When you over-analyse, you restrict the value of your music, because you’re trying to understand it and trying to over intellectualise it. It’s easy to do as a musician,” he explains. “Sometimes it can feel like your demons are on the page, you just write and write and then all of a sudden these things are chasing you, but they are also the things which are your ammunition, and I always knew that.”
Writing material for people to relate to is always at the forefront of That’s Juvey? productions. “I think that poets, authors, writers are the modern day shamans, if someone was feeling down, a shaman would be brought in to heal and help the sick. I feel like people have the power to relate to lyrics in the same way, it makes them understand that what they’re feeling is normal,” he says – yet again, I can’t help but comment on his uniquely insightful approach to music.
“I’ve got a historical love for Liverpool,” says Kyle when I ask him about the city. “I’ve regularly come here since I was 13 and I was rapping with the other Scouse rappers.” Merseyside has such a strong musical heritage, it can sometimes appear to be overshadowing the wealth of emerging talent, but Kyle argues otherwise in regards to his territory. “Now is a really good time for Scouse rap, it’s definitely because of the regional accent. I find it really endearing, and there’s also the potential for comedy in the northern accent, there’s acoustic properties of the Scouse accent specifically, it’s like a percussion sound.”
“I think the regional cities are starting to get a look in because people have had enough of London,” adds Kyle, when I push for him to expand on why. “The regional accents are starting to pick up all over the UK, it’s only so long that people can listen to the same sound.”
When we move onto what’s next for That’s Juvey?, his determination and confidence doesn’t waver. “I’m going to create as many songs as I can, and try and keep the momentum going and try and keep it consistent, I’d like to incorporate visuals, try and get a few storyboards thought up.” He pauses as he pushes his chair back. “Same as it ever was.”
Clinically Messy is available now on all streaming platforms, and That’s Juvey?’s next EP, Sunbathing In The Apocalypse, is released on 22nd July.
All garments worn by That’s Juvey? are available via sevenstore.com or in-store at SEVENSTORE’s new Baltic Triangle space on Norfolk Street. CONTAINER, the pop-up event and retail space, lands in Manchester on the 27th July for a special edition street party with streetwear brand GRAMM. Read our report from the Liverpool CONTAINER events here.