The sign of a great musician is if their catalogue shifts and evolves over time. Subjects exerted often deeply personal, whilst instrumentals sound timeless. East London rapper Barney Artist has undoubtedly infused said elements in his new EP 'Bikes Are Bikes', a phrase inspired by R.S. from 'The Hood Documentary' which ultimately means 'it is what it is'. 'Bikes Are Bikes', feauring the likes of Frankie Stew, Harvey Gunn and Sipprell, is the follow up to his debut album 'Home Is Where The Art Is' released back in 2018.

This is where Barney is at in his life, in-between albums and releasing a new EP - it's a straightforward sceneraio for him. 'Bikes Are Bikes' reflects a feeling of acceptence and moving on; in his single 'Leave It All', Barney delves into a personal siutation with a girl he met who isn't ready for the level of intimacy Barney is. He waits around for a year, only to find out she's found another guy... it is what it is.

Cortex met with Barney to explore the creative process behind the recent EP and create an editorial like no other. We set out to channel Barney's creative vision through film, illustration and set design. Check out the interview, editorial and a specially produced video for his track 'Leave It All' below.  

Let's start with the basics - tell me about your background and how you got into music.

My name is Barney, firstly, and I got into music by accident really. So, my friend Alfa Mist is one of my best friends and I met him when I was 3-years-old in nursery and we've been mates for a very long time. Basically, he started playing piano in college and from him doing that, he started making like jazzy beats and I starting rapping to them - I was really, really bad, like, embarrassingly bad, like, really, really dreadful *laughs* But then I just kind of fell in love with the idea of storytelling and that's kind of how it happened for me.

So, you made sure you matured before you released any music?

No, no I released a lot of shit music *laughs*. Yeah a lot of really bad music, like tonnes of dreadful videos, all of that kind of stuff. But yeah I think today, like, a lot of kids that get into music always want it to be the tip top, highest quality. But I'm like, you can always just press the delete button - you always get better at it. So, I released a lot of dreadful music. But yeah it kind of, hopefully, got better as time went on.

Definitely. So, you've just released your new EP 'Bikes Are Bikes'. Tell me a little bit about it.

So, 'Bikes Are Bikes' is a saying that I used from a guy called R.S. from the 'Hood Documentary'. And he says in the opening scene that talks about that like bikes are bikes and it basically means is what it is, and I end up always saying it. So, my manager Nadine was like, "You should call the EP 'Bikes Are Bikes'" because, I suppose for us it's quite straightforward, it's an EP, it's kind of in-between albums and yeah it is what it is and it's kind of straightforward. So, that's kind of why we called it that.

Yeah, I want to delve into that term 'it is what it is'. Which moment can you pinpoint in your life that most reflects this phrase? Is there a certain point in time?

Being dumped. Being late for a train. People that stand on the left side of escalators when you're trying to go up there. There's so many things where it's like 'it is what it is', like, you gotta kind of just get over it. It raining today. D'you know what I'm saying? It's kind of like every aspect of it that's why it's kind of a cool phrase and I suppose 'Bikes Are Bikes' kind of just embodies that in itself. I think I find beauty in the mundane and I find beauty in the everyday things and I think that's kind of how it summarizes the EP.

That's interesting. How do you think this philosophy 'it is what it is' will affect your life and progression going forward?

I think it helps because I'm very big on gratitude and so being kind of really grateful for the here and now. And I think that kind of really summarizes that. I'm very happy about my family and my friends and things and music and all that kind of stuff and I'm kind of taking it at face value rather than going, "I wish I had five million" or "I wish I had 10 million." Actually, no, I'm really happy, this is what it's like, I'm in the moment, I'm in the now.

So, you think it will keep you more grounded?

Yeah, Barney's not the coolest rap name, and I did it on purpose. D'you know what I'm saying, it's my name and it's kind of the idea of like, I can't run away from my true identity, ou know what I'm saying? I want my Mum to call me Barney, my little sister to call me Barney, my mates to call me Barney, people I work with, all that kind of stuff. My fans. It's all the same person.

Basically eradicating any ego.

Yeah. Yeah. I try to, I'm human, innit, but I try to kind of let it die.

So, one of the lead singles is 'Leave It All'. What are you trying to convey in the track?

The songs about me, kind of, meeting this girl and the girl was like, "I'm not ready for that" and I'm like "I'll wait around", so, I wait around for a year and found out she's got a boyfriend. I suppose in my music in general I'm always pretty honest and it's quite cathartic for me. I think this song in itself is a mixture of like sweet and sour as it were, so the beat is really high energy - Linden Jay produced it, it's a lot of energy but then there's this narrative where this love thing dies. I give a little nod to my past album 'Home Is Where The Art Is' as well with the chorus, so, it's kind of like an upbeat, kinda sad song.

How do you think your sound has actually progressed since that first album?

Yeah, it's weird, I don't think I do it consciously. But, I think people always forget like I made that album in 2017, it came out in 2018, so that's a while ago... it's like a long time ago. So, in that period of time I've done shows, I've travelled the world, I've picked up a lot and so this EP, for example, I've worked with different producers and went along a different process. I made it in a very short period of time - I done it from January to March. That was it the EP was done. So, that's way shorter than a year and a half that I took to make the album. It's a lot more upbeat, it's a lot more straight to the point. Yeah it's, kind of, really condensed and I think sonically it's a little bit more, yeah, new sounds, like, quite London sounding I'd say.

Describe to me that creative process of making a project.

Yeah, I suppose with the EP, there's less pressure on it being cohesive. With the album there was a lot more, like, I dropped this in this song which will connect to the song later on in the album. This was, like, a bunch of songs that summarize where I'm at at this point in time. So yeah it was actually all the songs that I made I wrote in a session, except for 'Fall Away' I wrote at home. But all the others I wrote in a session. So, 'Leave It All' when and 'Pure Silence' I wrote with Liv and Jay, and then 'Calm Down' and 'Splash' I wrote with George Kwali and Harvey Gunn. I think it's just way more say to the point, way more I'm in the moment, way more straight to it.

So, you mentioned Harvey Gunn, Frankie Stew, you've also worked with Tom Misch and Loyle Carner. What was it like working with those guys?

It's all different. So, with Harvey and Frankie, Frankie sent his verse over but obviously I know him through working with Harvey. So, I worked with Harvey and George Kwali, and they're like really nice boysand we really got on a lot. That's where I was able to make 'Calm Down' with them - they're just really great boys from Brighton which I enjoy hanging out with. Tom and Loyle are just my mates, the same with Alpha, the same with Jordan, you know, they're just mates that I make music with.

How important is it for you to be surrounded by like-minded people in your life?

Yeah, I think it's good to make your tribe. That's why I try to do, by accident. Like, obviously I knew all these guys, like my immediate core, from, like, before anybody was anything, you know, and so with that there's a trust element there, you can bounce ideas off of them and see how far they've gone and they can ask you what you think about this. It's nice to have a support system. And I would always encourage people to have their tribe and have their little crew a don't network always up, network across from and being like, "who's over there? You're really cool. I like you." Whether they have one follower or one million followers, it's not about that, it's about networking across. I think we can connect.

Network across and elevating together.


What are your goals for the future?

Just to be happy man. I think be happy. Be content, you know, be nice. I think that's important to me, being a nice person trying to be. Be there for my family, my friends. I think music's a bonus, I don't mind. I'm not here like, "I need to win a Grammy, if I don't I'm gonna die" like I'm not them kind of people. I think for me money and all that kind of stuff is great. But the most important thing is people just being like, "I met that Barney guy, he's a pretty cool guy." That's worth more than five million streams, d'you know what I'm saying?

Yeah, you've got your morals straight. So, what can we expect from you, other than the new EP, in the near future?

I'm working on a new tour - that's gonna be happening soon just finalising dates. I then yeah we go to Asia in November, which will be cool. New music, more music. I imagine watching Fresh Prince on repeat. Kenan and Kel.

Sounds ideal. One more question, it's kind of a deep one, but we ask it to everyone. What is your definition of creativity?

Wow, I would say the basic one, I suppose, it's expression. It's funny cause I think it's very easy in this day and age to feel like creativity means being good at something. People won't want to do something creative unless they're good at it. And I think I'm realising more and more that human beings need to be creative. I think conversation is creativity. I think your bus journey's creativity. I think it's not speaking in just art terms, it comes from everywhere. So, I think everyone is creative. And I think life is creative so that's what I kind of feel that creativity is.

Director / Videographer - CASPER MASI
Photographer - DYLAN MYERS
Creative director / Illustrator - IMI READ
Interviewer / Producer - BENJI REEVES
Set designer - SACHA MOLYNEUX