Updated: Aug 19, 2020
In our first Keylime interview, London-based singer and producer Iman Lake chatted to our team about his influences, direction, and his eclectic collective, 'Common Roots'.
"You know, if you’re at therapy, unless the therapist says ‘we’re talking about this today’, it’s just like ‘are you okay, what do you wanna talk about’, and you just talk about what’s going on, and that’s what happens when I write. And if it’s about this it’s about this, and if it’s about that it’s about that."
Talking to Iman, it's clear that underpinning his concise yet eclectic portfolio of released material is a strong focus on fluid progression, and an organic writing process. As he is keen to stress, whilst he may have a lot of influences, ideas, and topics on his chest that he wishes to address, Iman's complex blend of R&B and hip-hop implies organization, yet flows naturally.
His debut release "11:5" (and its accompanying video) is a good place to start. The song's initial sketches were inspired by an impromptu photoshoot at an art gallery with his manager and director Azeez Bello, that Iman only returned to months later to rework them into what it is now. Galvanized by the exhibition at that gallery based on memories and remembrance, hence the 5th November imagery that gives the song its title, Iman, Azeez and D.O.P. Shaka Agina then shot some more footage in a park to go with this theme, and it is that scene that begins the video. Just as this was beginning to piece together and make some coherent sense, Iman then revealed that the song was initially inspired by a pool party he went to a couple years back.
Iman may describe the process as 'disjointed', but the finished product is impressively concise. The themes that arose from these various sources are then tightly packaged into a cohesive video that embraces this sense of confusion, and immerses the viewer in images of chaos, oppression, and memories of diaspora. As a film student, Iman places a huge importance on the visual side of his artistry, and it is his professional relationship with Azeez that seems to bring the best out of both of them. When asked about his musical influences, after first mentioning several household names that fit his genre - Frank Ocean, Sade and FKA Twigs - and several who don't - 2013 Kanye and Kings of Leon - Iman poignantly reveals that he had a phase when he didn't really listen to mainstream music. He just watched films, and would find and listen to the music he liked from particular scenes. The temporal quality that films have, and that structured music lacks, is one of the reasons why his music is so fluid. For him, "it's all about getting from A to Z, from getting from that start point to the last point".
For him, "it's all about getting from A to Z, from getting from that start point to the last point".
That sense of trajectory is something Iman channels in his live sets. Discussing the range of music that he performs live, Iman replies that every song is a "different mood", and a "different time of his life". They might be meant for separate projects and seem somewhat "scattered", but for him, it's all about creating that "journey". The main issue with performance, though, is translating that organic fluidity of his electronically-produced tracks to the stage, where it's usually just him, a mic, a backing track, and more recently, a guitarist. In the right setting a backing track can fill the room, but in the wrong acoustic it can feel static, which has led Iman to collaborate more frequently with his guitarist Oscar, both to have that live, physical element that the instrument carries, and - here he invokes Prince - to bounce off his energy onstage. His second single "Stranger Days", produced by Hotel October and Kakigori Club, is the perfect manifestation of this blend of acoustic and synthetic instrumentation. Seemingly cut from the same cloth as "11:5", "Stranger Days" similarly begins with sinister samples that usher in Iman's cutting vocals, but there is more of a deliberate structure to this song. It might play with a wide variety of themes, from "everything from climate change to politics to class to equality", but as he reveals, he consciously tried to "put in form" posthumously, which might explain the song's notable pause and restart around the midway mark. It is here that the guitar enters, with straight, regular chords, and a catchy hook as Iman repeats the titular lyrics in this new mood. This feels like the end point, the "Z" that he speaks about, and that the song has been building to throughout. True to his word, the song is quantifiably cinematic, and when the track's opening is reprised at the end it has a new, haunting character, revealing the progression the initial melody has been through.
The organic quality of Iman's music and writing process appears to be shared by his aptly-named Bristol-born collective, Common Roots. Founded by rapper/producers Franc and James Brunell, and comprising artists West.ie, Baby Pink, Jam.ie B, Mezzy, Sean Cull, 97 and Tanaka, the group spotted Iman at a show, before quickly approaching him to join their team. There's a slickness to their image, something they have in common with Iman's solo brand, but like him they seem to care less about structure and planning. In his words, they're just a "bunch of like-minded people coming together to make music", and whilst dates and specifics may not have been disclosed, 2020 should be an exciting year for them as artists, and for us as fans.
Iman speaks with a confidence that his music backs up, and with an ambition that shows his humility. He admits he's still working on his stage presence, and on translating his recorded concision into an engaging performance, but with his debut EP set to be released this quarter this is certainly the right time to listen to Iman Lake if you haven't already. And don't be surprised if you see his name flash up on film credits some day.
Check out the video for "11:5": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtEeFacbzqQ
Check out our review of "Stranger Days": https://www.keylimeblog.com/post/stranger-days