Artists To Watch: Mr. Lu

 
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I’ve been following Mr. Lu since the end of last year, having first come across his work on KiiNYUME, an impressive hip-hop EP on which he collaborates with Nairobi rapper Chevy Kev. The top-quality production of the project immediately caught my attention and led me to scavenge through Mr.Lu’s SoundCloud, finding more and more creatively and impeccably produced tracks. Suffice it to say, I was hooked and quickly became a fan. Not one to lock himself into a box, the artist creates music that spans across the sonic spectrum: from bouncy Hip-Hop, to wavy electronica, and woozy R&B. Mr. Lu has become a frequent collaborator within the NuNairobi scene, working with the likes of Taio and Karun, as well as putting out music as part of the XPRSO collective, making him a definite one to watch.

Get to know Mr. Lu.

Who is Mr. Lu?

He is a social experiment I love to say. Originally, I began as a rapper and I used to go by the name Slinky. Then around 2015 is when I decided, I make beats too, so why shouldn’t I put them out there. And when I was sitting down to think about which name I should go with, Mr. Lu came first and I stuck with it.

So Mr. Lu is a social experiment that turned out great I guess.

What led you to start making music?

I just wanted to put my own spin to things. I listen to guys like J Dilla, Madlib… MF Doom is my cup of tea. I don’t think there’s anyone who does music like he does right now. So those are the guys [I listen to], and I also like listening to weird things, and just, you know,  being inspired by different ways of creating stuff. I was really inspired to put my own perspective onto things and making stuff that I love to listen on my own, like on a long way home you know. It’s fun.

So your a rapper/producer but most of the work I’ve heard from you has been the music you’ve produced from other people? Would you say you lean more on the producer side?

It’s a mix of both but nowadays I feel like the producing side is eating up more time but in a good way. I feel like you can get more opportunities as a producer than as a rapper. I don’t even want to call myself a rapper, I just make stuff. For example, the song I did with Karun, I performed some of the lyrics so that’s why I’m saying it’s a mix of both. It’s like an alter ego-thing.

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So you’re just an all-round creator, you don’t want to put yourself in a box.

Exactly. I shoot videos and edit as well, I design stuff. I just love to touch everything you know.

What was the first piece of music that you put out there that really started gaining traction?

It’s like a ripple effect kind of. There’s the main highlights of course. For example, the song I did with Taio, ‘254Low Bounce’, brought in a lot of people. Then there’s the song I made with XPRSO, ‘Tropkos Rhythm’. Tropkos was huge. And the funny thing about it is that we didn’t plan. You know when you’re working on a song, you know what the fuck this song is gonna do, you know who it’s for. But when we made Tropkos, the way things were set up that day, we were just in RVMP’s bedroom which we’ve turned into a studio. We were just chilling like usual. I was playing PS which I do all the time, two guys were there making a beat. And then we would switch roles so someone else comes and plays, and I go and add a few things, and someone else goes and does this, and then someone else is like oh I have an idea for vocals and then we just do it. And by the time the days over, we’ve gone home with a few slaps. So that was the process with Tropkos but we were like let’s try doing it in Swahili this time. We were also trying to lowkey troll ‘Lamba Lolo’. We were just fooling around. Then I was like, “Yo, let’s put it out”. And I think that was what going viral looks like! We were refreshing the song, and every minute we were seeing the plays going up. And then we ended up performing it at Nouveau. So Tropkos is the major one at the moment.

So is that you’re standard creative process?
In that scenario when all of us are in the same room as XPRSO, the creative process is different. In terms of my personal creative process, whatever comes, comes. Most of the time it’s unpropelled, I don’t like to force it. I’ll go to the internet and try and find inspiration. I sample a lot of old things. I sample a lot of Kikuyu guitars. Like on my songs Royco and My Heart Is In Limuru, and I found that guys like that. So I kind of start sculpting my inspiration towards what people like. That’s why I’m saying, it’s a social experiment. I have something for everyone. I just go with the feeling.

What’s your favourite thing about being a creative in Nairobi right now?

Everything! But specifically, I think it’s the fact that we’re at this point that’s it’s like a transitional phase. I was having this conversation with someone about how, in Kenya specifically there’s a weird music gap. In the 80’s, 90’s music was popping then something happened. But my intuition tells me to keep pushing because the gold mine is just here. It feels nice to be a part of this generation that’s going to probably change the [music]  scene.

What have been your most memorable collaborations thus far?

Damn, there’s so many cool people man. I think I love everyone I work with. I have to really like you to work with you.

I really loved working with Chevy. We worked on KiiNYUME for almost 10 months. It was a character building experience because there’s stuff that Chevy does that he like, and there’s stuff that I do that I like but we had to find common ground. We’ve also taken life L’s together so it’s more than just music. But there’s so many people that I’ve worked with that I’ve loved.

So what are your future aspirations?

I want to be a better performer, like the way Blinky [Bill] can perform and make beats at the same time. And I want to be a life-changing performer, like the way you go to a Beyonce performance and your like shit! I also want to be a pioneer of some sort.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Easy. Anyone who knows me I’m a big spiderman person. But I’d add a cheat code that would allow me to have super speed.