As he releases his first single and video, York rap artist Kritikal talks to Kev Curran about music with a message, and how his father’s death and son’s birth have changed him
He may be only 22 but Kritikal has put years of passion and work into his music. “It’s been a mad one really. It started when I was 15, everyone was doing hip hop and grime, I was in Wolverhampton where I had moved with my family from York. My mates were doing it, I thought it was cool so I started to get involved.
“I recorded a couple of tracks and everybody was liking it, I was getting respect. But just before I turned 16 my dad died from alcoholism and music became something completely new to me. I started using it as a tool to get over the things that had happened in my life, to explain how I felt.”
Kritikal – real name Liam Powers – is worlds apart from the stereotypical ill-mannered young people we so often read about in the papers. Instead he is a role model for young people through his dedication and devotion to music, the way he addresses real issues in his lyrics, and his determination to be a good father.
Liam’s story is one of turning negatives into positives. “When I started out, I was into grime,” he said. “The thing I liked about it was that it was fast and aggressive, and I was angry at the world, it was how I was feeling and I wanted everyone to know it.
“There were no really relevant or positive messages in it but it was a vehicle for me to express myself. As I grew up I got more into hip-hop because it was a more powerful medium to tell stories. It was a natural evolution.”
Liam has been writing tracks since he was 16. That’s six years of dedication to music. “I was putting music out on MySpace and YouTube. At the start I didn’t think I was that good, but people started to like it and I was growing in confidence.
“I did a promo CD and started banging it out around my area. It was an untitled promo with 12 tracks on it, I burnt CDs and I even printed out covers myself to make it look as professional as possible. I was happy when people took the CD off me because they were giving me their time to listen to my music. I was just getting myself out there.”
Between the start of his musical journey and the release of Rebellion Kritikal has put out so many tracks he has lost count. His first mixtape was called Words Of Wisdom: “I was starting to talk about real things. It was the first album I was really proud of.”
This was soon followed by KRITIKAL – the EP, Round 4 then Urban Poetry, all available as free downloads. Urban Poetry got him noticed by BBC Introducing and he was selected to visit Abbey Road studios in 2011. Inspired, he set about the next stage of his writing career and his emergence as an artist is well and truly underway, culminating in Rebellion, his first ever official release, available on iTunes and Spotify.
“Rebellion is about so many things. It’s the things I think about all the time, thoughts on the government, my struggle to pay the bills, keep warm and buy food,” he explains.
“There’s such a high percentage now of people who are finding it hard to get by and pay for the things they need. People can relate to these experiences. It’s not about rioting and kicking off, it’s about looking at what’s really going on in society.”
Liam calls Rebellion his best work yet. “I wanted to write something that had substance. I’m sick of hearing the same thing on the TV and radio over and over again. There is too much superficial music, talking about popping bottles and doing things in the club they probably don’t even do.
“I could do that easily, but it’s not about anything. For me it’s about what’s going on in our world now, talking about not being able to afford a full week’s shop. It’s meant to address these kinds of issues. But I am not just saying it this is the reality for a lot of people, it’s what is actually happening in our lives. It’s important and relevant and that’s why people can relate.”
Towards the end of 2011 Kritikal became a father for the first time. Son Jake and long-term partner Amy are the centre of his world but he admits it is hard to manage a full-time job, support his family and do his music. He believes if you want something enough, you just do it.
“One of the most important things to me is being a good dad and it inspires me to make more of my life,” he said.
Kritikal says his sound is unique because it’s not the same plastic formula, it’s not surface and style, it’s not about nice cars, half naked women, money, power or fame. “They don’t speak the truth. People have forgotten how to relate to words,” he said.
“That’s not real life, but it’s what you see every time you turn on the TV. People don’t live like that in every day life. I wanted to represent real people, real struggle, real life.”
It’s a great achievement for any artist to have their work published. “It’s massive for me, getting my work out to a wider audience. I felt it was ‘about time to speak my mind’ I felt ready. I wanted to release a single, I went to Inspired Youth with a plan, they encouraged me to go for it. Two weeks later I came back with Rebellion. It’s a big achievement for me, taking my music to this level.”
His first ever music video was produced by Inspired Youth Productions and launched on YouTube in parallel with the iTunes release.
“Having collaborated on a number of Inspired Youth projects it seemed the natural progression to support Kritikal’s ongoing development as an artist,” said Chris James, co-founder of the not-for-profit social enterprise.
“It’s all about growing talent – supporting people with opportunities. Making a music video was an exciting new direction for us. Kritikal saw the opportunity and took it with both hands.
“Liam is serious about his music, it will be fascinating to see how far he can take this. He is proof that hard work combined with talent can take you really far. He is an inspiration to others.”
At the time of writing the video has a five-star rating and has already hit 800 views.
“It’s already appealing to a wide audience,” said Liam. “It’s not just young people who are liking Rebellion. People in their 50s have said to me that it’s a breath of fresh air to hear someone speaking about something real.”
After achieving his first iTunes release, Kritikal’s next ambition for 2013 is to get the track played on BBC 1xtra.
“My aspirations for this year are just to keep on getting my voice out there. I am just going to keep putting out high quality music and keep smashing away at this. I believe if you make enough noise, eventually someone’s got to listen.”
The track was given its first ever radio play on BBC York Introducing on Saturday evening, his talent well and truly on the up and coming radar.