STARKEY THE MESSENGER has his fingers in every pie. He’s written, produced, mixed, and mastered his three singles to date (Wildfire, Seventh Step, Cocoa Butter), which are a unique blend of alternative hip-hop, melodic rap and jazz. The musician’s output aims to reflect current social and political issues, including police racism and brutality as well as support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Starkey manages to address these subject matters through euphonious and soulful notes paired with smooth production.
“When I get into writing, I’d say emotions and current affairs inspire me a lot,” says Starkey. “I would say my writing is focused on a balance between the two, in the sense that I express how I personally feel affected by what’s going on, and then try and contextualise that in the wider narratives surrounding the issue.”
Starkey has always been obsessed with music, especially since his family are musicians, meaning music was a part of his life from an early age. He grew up playing the piano and reflects that “it was something I really enjoyed and was a lot better at than other things”. As an early teenager he got his first guitar and so grew his interest in creating music.
At first, Starkey set up a covers band with his friends, but when he was 13 he started writing songs. “I became obsessed, really, I loved that every time I wrote a new song it was better than the last, it was almost addictive.” As Starkey grew, so did his passion for the process of creating music. At 16 he started producing, which led to his music taste expanding from indie and rock towards hip hop, RnB and jazz. It was from that point that Starkey started writing raps.
“At that time, I was very set on production and never saw myself making my own tracks,” he admits, “so I kept putting beats out and producing for my mates, but I never stopped writing songs.” Through producing music, Starkey was able to discover a wider range of music as well as becoming more confident in himself. In 2020 he recorded his first single Wildfire and shared it out on his social media platforms. The track narrates the death and violence caused by racism and police brutality from the perspective of someone who is grappling with the idea that they could be the next to be targeted. Starkey’s newfound confidence shines through as he eloquently addresses the prevalent discussions of discrimination of racism across the world.
Spoken word and poetry are key influences that stand out in Starkey’s songs. He has only recently got into spoken word but says it “was massive for me creatively” after discovering Black British poets like George the Poet, Suli Breaks and Kai Isaiah Jamal. “There’s something so raw and vulnerable about poetry – without a unique or catchy flow or cadence to take the focus, without a song or a beat to hide behind, the emphasis is entirely on the words.” Starkey has found this way of writing and performing a powerful tool since there are more freedoms in communicating exactly what he wants to say. “I think poetry on its own can easily come across as dry, and that’s why rap exists in the first place – to communicate the same ideas more engagingly. But there’s huge power in having people focus just on your words, and it can very easily be the spark that develops a good idea into reaching its full potential.”
Music by other artists also inspire Starkey. “I am quite competitive, so I always want to make better music than everyone!” He says that other art helps to show him different approaches and new ideas that he would not have thought of. “I’d say other art inspires me most to pick up the pen, because if someone writes something that’s really amazing, I’ll be annoyed that I didn’t write it first or haven’t written something better yet.”
But Starkey’s main influence comes from Kojey Radical a grime-y hip hop, alternative rap and spoken word artist. “His album Cashmere Tears influenced me massively because it’s the first time I’d heard an album that unique, versatile and ambitious come out of the UK rap scene. It’s an immaculate project, which packs so much content into such a small amount of time; stylistically, lyrically and musically.” Kojey Radical’s innovative style and refusing to be labelled is shared by Starkey and he is an artist he wishes to support if the future if he could.
Lockdown has played a huge role in Starkey’s development. All three of his singles have been released since the first lockdown period in March 2020. “I wrote a lot more poetry than music in lockdown, I think just as therapy. So, it definitely helped me grow my confidence in that area.” It has also provided him with the chance to practice playing instruments and finding new music. “Generally, I think I’ve found that out of lockdown I have more experiences to draw from and being able to grow more because of them has helped me process a lot.” However, that didn’t stop him from counting down the days until he could return to the studio. “I missed the studio so much,” says Starkey.
Despite still being in the early stages of his musical career, Starkey has received recognition from DJ Ace and his first single was played on BBC Radio 1Xtra. “I think sometimes it takes that kind of recognition to reaffirm your belief in your craft and shut up the imposter syndrome that I think everyone gets when they’re doing something new.”
Starkey is an exciting, fresh and versatile artist who has a deep connection with music. “It’s the only thing that makes sense, in a senseless and confusing society, and it makes people feel good.”
Cocoa Butter is out now.