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Rap, therapy and ‘Toxic’ success: Songer is becoming a bold and brilliant voice in UK rap

Songer opens up about the cathartic process of songwriting, connecting with his fans about mental health, and his excitement about future collaborations

By Nick Reilly


If you have spent any significant amount of time scrolling through TikTok over the past year, there’s a fair chance you’ll have come across the music of Songer — even if, with good reason, you may not have realised it was him.  

That can happen when an artist scores a viral hit with a song like ‘Toxic (Freestyle)’, which saw the Reading rapper deliver his own cocksure bars over the sound of Britney Spears’ mega tune, netting him his first UK Top 40 hit in the process. “Man’s pulling up in a blacked-out Audi / Acting rowdy, bad man round me,” he spits over the unlikely rhythms of the Cathy Dennis-penned hit. 

It’s a brilliantly confident freestyle from the rising star, but over coffee in an east London hotel, he’s keen to put the record straight, explaining that you should put him in a box at your peril. “I’ve been pretty conscious that people’s first introduction to me will be that track, and if people are waiting for another freestyle like that, I don’t think they’re gonna get one,” he clarifies. “It crossed my mind because I’m very self-critical, and it was important to follow up with something good soon after that.” 

That follow-up emerged in March with The Price of Therapy — a defiant nine-track mixtape that refuses to beat around the bush in telling you exactly who Songer is. “This project [is] to remind you who I am / I’m not a viral fucking TikTok, I’m a son,” he states on the bold opener ‘Thought Park’. But as the title suggests, it’s a chance for the rapper to exorcise his demons, too.  

“I use music as a therapeutic thing, but I spend all my time stressing about it,” he explains. “So, the thing that was providing therapy, I end up needing therapy for. Every year, I might just have a little check at the price of a therapist, but once I see it, I’ll never think about it again! It’s always a thing in January. But I’m trying to chase a kind of serenity, and I just know that music is the way I’m going to do that. I want to fight against everything that comes in between.” 

It’s the natural extension, he explains, of being someone who has always jotted down his thoughts and has found great comfort in journalling. “Writing, on a public and private level, has always been hugely important to me,” he says. “I’ve always had a journal to write down my thoughts. It tangibly leaves my head, and I can feel it do that, so it means that I write a lot. The more I do that, the more peace I will find.” 

He continues, “But trying to balance it with a career is something I need to get better at, whether I’m doing it for me or doing it for my career.” 

When Songer was growing up in rural Berkshire, that love of writing extended itself to academic success, which was spurred on after scoring an A* in English Literature. “If something happened in my life, I’d always lean on writing,” he says. “And I remember one of the first more personal songs I put out was received really well — it inspired me to keep writing and getting better.” 

That aforementioned personal song is ‘From Us to You’ — which sees Songer open up about the devastating impact of losing his close friend Luke Freeman, who died at the age of 19 after falling from a balcony on holiday. “I got a couple things I gotta do to get my head straight / Got to wear my friend’s name and rep it ’til my death date / Should be telling stories at your wedding or your birthday,” he offers on the track, which was written at the request of the youngster’s family for his funeral.  

“It was a beautiful funeral, and hundreds of people were there. Obviously, I was in bits when the song played, and it was just a proper emotional moment. We ended up putting the song out and raising a load of money for a charity set up in his memory,” he says. “But what that situation taught me is that even when something is so sad, you can find the beauty in those situations, and that inspired me to do that. If something happens in life, just write it down and try and create something from it because I think it’s the best way that you can remember.”  

Since the early days of that track — which was released in 2019 — Songer has forged one of UK rap’s most passionate fan bases. They’ve had his back throughout the release of his previous four albums, as well as selling out his brilliant boisterous gigs across the UK. “I’m definitely biased, but I think my shows and my fans are as good as they get,” he reflects. “The emotion in the room is so honest and where the lyrics are so personal, I can see different songs meaning different things for different people. It’s just such an incredible energy that was quite underground for a while, so it’s vindication for these people who had my back for so long.” 

Songer (Picture: Dave East)

It’s been a powerful thing, too, he explains, to see young men reacting to the aforementioned exploration of grief and mental health within his music. “There’s something truly powerful about people hearing those words or some of my deepest songs in rooms like that, and young lads knowing the lyrics. In music, it’s been something of a taboo, and I do find it scary, and it is daunting, but that’s why it’s so gratifying when you’re on tour and in a room where people are singing those words back at you. 

“It’s just a crazy feeling knowing that a song I wrote when I was lying in bed having a bad day ends up being what could help someone when they’re walking home from work on their own bad day,” says Songer. “It means we’ve got something in common, and there’s a bond there. If we understand each other, then we’ve got something in common. I’ve always got their back, and I try to be as open as possible because I might worry a lot, but I don’t worry about being myself because that’s just part of the way I’m wired.” 

It’s no surprise, too, that his unique voice has already attracted collaborations from some of the genre’s leading lights. A collab with grime legend D Double E on ‘04.59’ last year represented the respect he’s already garnered in the rap game. “He’s one of my favourite human beings in the world,” enthuses Songer. “We originally made ‘04.59’ without him and imagined how cool it would be if we got him on the remix, so we sent it to his team, and the next day he just sent back the track with his verse on it. We thought, ‘Scrap the remix, we’re going with this!’ I met him at the video shoot, and we got on; he’s come out at my show, and we’ve got a couple of unreleased songs. He’s just someone that MCs and rappers should look up to because he’s remained so authentic, as legendary in UK rap as it gets, and just the nicest bloke ever.” 

That friendship, he explains, sometimes manifests itself in the most unlikely of places, though. “I remember walking my dog once and then a number called me, and I never pick up an unknown number, but that day I did. It was a few days before the video shoot, and he just started doing an ad-lib down the phone to me! I just thought, ‘Nah, life is crazy.’ You don’t forget moments like that.”  

Elsewhere, he looks at the likes of J.Cole and Alicia Keys as his personal heroes but admits he hasn’t given himself “the luxury to think about working with them, because it’s just a different stratosphere right now”. Instead, he’s intent on continuing his ascent in UK rap and proving himself to be a truly unique talent. He teamed up with the V&A in late April to create a new spoken-word piece that re-interprets the Bard’s work with contemporary lyrics, before a busy festival season begins.  

“But once this album is out, I’m gonna take a week just to recalibrate because there’s so much going on at the moment and I’m not having the chance to process it. We did Radio One yesterday, and my mum was jumping up and down with joy because having an interview on there is a universal language of cool that she’ll understand.” His dad — a keen Public Enemy fan — also played an integral part in his musical education. “I told him I was doing this interview, and it’s moments like that, the vindication, where I can just see the look on his face, is the best feeling ever. He’s super proud because Songer, too, is my surname.”  

That’s a handy bit of nominative determinism in action. “Yeah, I got dealt a good name for someone who wanted to make music, for sure, and I think about that a lot. It all sounds a bit 3AM at the after-party, but I started thinking about fate and what I’ve achieved so far. It does really feel like this is what I’m meant to be doing.”