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Lex Amor: ‘The Burden of Aspiration’

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

‘actually, there is a story…’

image courtesy of @robin_niedojadlo

Listening to Lex Amor’s music for the first time, you might think that she came out the womb with the imperious ability to hold a room in the velvet of her mouth. You might think that her ease of breath, her understated power, her hushed lilt and elastic sense of rhythm all come as effortlessly as a gleaming inheritance. From her initial singles until her debut mixtape, Government Tropicana, Lex Amor has always showcased a devastation precision in her artistry; this being the product of years dedicating herself to the craft of writing, rapping and engineering music. Talking to her on a pallid morning in February, frost creeping at the window, Lex’s speaking voice marries with the voice we’ve all come to recognise on wax, as she reminisces on the first time she every performed her work,

‘I’d never written a poem to be performed or anything like that, I didn’t know what he was talking about but he just came up to me in the library one day and said you gottta sort yourself out by then.’

Lex Amor’s introduction to music started in 2012 at university, surrounded by a creative community of poets and graphic designers, where the former Young Peoples’ Poet Laureate, Caleb Femi, signed her up for a collaborative event with the Gospel Choir. Until that point, Lex had run a blog where she wrote bits of poetry and anecdotes, none of which had been intended to be performed live, until her unpaid commission for UNITE, where she read a joint poem with her friend Ebony. In the midst of creatives of all disciplines and genres, Lex developed her passion for music as a listener, always receiving encouragement from those around her to take the leap into making music herself.

‘There was something about that moment early doors that I thought was special and just felt natural to me and natural to my spirit and after that I was just going to little poetry gigs and stuff like that, doing a couple poems here and there.’

In the summer of 2014, Lex and some creatives started the SXWKS Collective. The purpose of the project was to meet up every day, to talk, inspire, write, create and dream and by the end of it, put on a showcase of the work that was made. This was Lex’s first venture into music, blending her growing poetic voice with a new musical impetus,

‘The thing about music and rap is that it is so complex and when you want to enter a particular role you have to have enough respect for it to learn it, to study it and the transition from poetry to rap wasn’t seamless. Rap is its own distinct creative means of output, it’s not something you can just jump into… If I think back to my earlier bars, they were so cryptic and wordy and lofty and I feel like around 2016/17 was when I started coming into myself and started finding ways to express things with a natural cadence, very basic wording, and still be able to get a message across. [I started] to find the balance between being understood and being felt.’

The legacy of Lex’s poetry can be heard all over her writing; everything from the density in her lines, the repeated emphases on ‘100 Angels’ to the specific phrasings on ‘341 Freestyle’ is all indicative of an ear for poetics. There will always be a musicality in poetry but ‘rap’ as a form and a discipline in of itself presented a different challenge for Lex. It wasn’t enough to put words to music, there had to be a change in the writing process to make sure that the words had respect for the musical accompaniment or beat. It was in these early years, 2014-16, when Lex was an avid consumer of music listening to Ghostpoet and Hawk House, that she was inspired by the bourgeoning London sound, incorporating elements of jazz, traditional Hip Hop, grime and electronic music. In these years, Lex patiently worked on her craft, stopping occasionally when she came upon something good enough to release,

‘I started ‘rapping’ in 2014 but I didn’t release my first song until October 2016. After that song, I released maybe three or four more and I dropped the project and now we’re here. So, the road hasn’t been full of loads of drops and loads of musical output, the reality is along the road I’ve really been learning how to make music, learning how to make a song and then maybe catching one in between that process.’

This process of learning demanded patience, something which Lex admits she struggled with when she started out and something which still to this day is developing. Learning to make music wasn’t simply about understanding how to write a verse, how to write a hook, how to take care of your voice, how to mix, how to source your equipment. It was about what she had to prove and how to get closer and closer to her creative vision whilst understanding that the struggle to get better is simply part of the growing pains. Lex is too modest to say that she is an engineer but the years she spent producing for other artists, learning how to mix and developing her own unique musical voice have made her the complete artist. It is something she has always imparted to younger generations of artists: ‘learn how to mix!’ Even now, with a solid foundation of skill and success, Lex still feels she has so much more to achieve in getting proximity to her creative vision,

‘It’s like stumbling forwards, every single time you drop to the floor, when you get up you are further than you were when you dropped.’

And those years of strength and conditioning have paid off with Lex releasing her debut mixtape, Government Tropicana, to wide critical acclaim even in the middle of a pandemic. In her own words, ‘this project is a celebration of collective cultural norms and an exploration of my life to this point.’ There’s a tendency to look back on Government Tropicana with the vivid warmth of nostalgia and something which mirrors in Lex’s life. Speaking about some of the lessons she’s learnt over the past couple of years, Lex explains the importance of gratitude and self-love in a society that pressures us to justify our existence with output,

‘Unfortunately, we forget that to wake up, to exist, to breathe, to take in the world, to go outside, to take in the air, to contribute to the ecosystem of the world is enough, is valuable…’

Although the pandemic has caused worldwide mortality, financial strain and exacerbated issues around mental health, 2020 proved to be a highly successful year for Lex Amor with the North-London born artist releasing a project, performing on the Colors platform, gaining an international audience and expanding her creative community to include some of her musical idols. Today, Lex is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ego Ella May, Kojey Radical, Ghostpoet, artists from similar communities she grew up in, who she has long admired. It is no secret that Lex’s two biggest musical loves have been Ego and Ghostpoet and having them as collaborators and friends has impacted her both musically and in a business sense. Now, when Lex needs advice she has a community of experienced artists who are graceful with their time to help her make the best moves. The power of the collective, the confidence that it brings has been invaluable. In some ways, Lex felt that the unyielding flurry of great opportunities and milestones stole the appreciation she had for the hard work it took to get to this point,

‘… it was a crazy year but what it did do is that it stole my gratitude because things were just happening and I was just floating through everything that was happening.’

The more Lex talks, the more she begins to disassociate, creating compartmentalised versions of her past and future self. This is how she maintains her gratitude, reminding herself of how far she has come as an artist,

‘I always see future Lex and old Lex as living people… past Lex is happy with what we’re doing. Past Lex can’t believe it. Unfortunately, what happens is that we’re preoccupied by the future all the time with a hope that future is happy with present when in reality, what life is about is recognising past is happy with present.’

This internal dialogue can be heard on Government Tropicana. Throughout the mixtape there is a sense of conflict, of two voices wrestling for supremacy. Lex describes this struggle as the divisions between ‘Alexis’ and ‘Lex’, a distinction which she’s only realised after the release of the project. There is a lot of overlap between the two but Lex Amor the artist has a distinct voice and character that stands in relation to Alexis,

‘Lex is that the anchor of everything that I write, which is an unshakeable power and hope and belief that everything’s gonna be ok and you have the power over circumstance… I think the difference between Lex and Alexis is that Alexis has historically recognised the hurdle and given it a couple of days to be the biggest thing.’

You can hear Lex at her most defiant on ‘Odugwu’, the song she performed for her Colors show back in December. On the track, Lex weaves her native tongue with the language of her parents to reclaim a pride and strength in her Nigerian roots, all delivered with this unbending will and inspiring reassertion that there is a greater future. In two densely packed and linguistically fluid verses, Lex writes the song for a generation of people growing up in the diaspora, ending with a rhetorical prayer,

Before, before - before nko? How can I fear in my father’s land? In fact, in fact, before all that How can I fear what I can scatter?

image courtesy of @robin_niedojadlo

In many ways ‘Odugwu’ summarises the concept of Government Tropicana– making the best of what you have– whilst showcasing the split between Alexis and Lex. Throughout the mixtape there is always a recognition that circumstance can be overwhelming but Lex reminds us of the power we hold, as a collective and as an individual. Black people across the world are constantly over-policed, in a literal sense and in a social sense; we are told how we should wear our hair at work, we are told how to speak in certain scenarios, where we can go, what we should be doing, etc, etc. In her own words, ‘Lex is a voice that is that subtle muted part of the spirit, that is defiant against anything’ and it comes from a place of intimate understanding. ‘Odugwu’ hits as hard as it does because Lex herself has feared and not always known that she had the possibility to scatter. Government Tropicana is an archive of a culture and the history of an individual navigating this voracious city, but more than that, it is an unflinching reminder of our history beyond these shores and our power as a people. Lex Amor’s constant self-negotiation is the conflict within all of us; trying to convince ourselves that we can survive anything,

‘What a natural thread is within us in the diaspora is a need to justify a move. I’m here because my mother came from somewhere and came here. It’s a simple as that…’

Having asked Lex about the times at school when she flipped a profit to buy sweets, she elaborates on this enterprising spirit and where it comes from,

‘… we are told we have the ability for greatness and I think that fuels our decisions, it fuels how we value our decisions, how we calculate whether or not we made the right choice in life and how we value our progress. We have the burden of aspiration within the diaspora and that affects how we move through life…’

Government Tropicana is filled with references to the blessings bestowed upon Lex by her mother, by the generation before her and this motif is something which she is equally preoccupied with outside of music,

‘… even when you break down what a name means and to be calling your child “God’s grace”, “God’s favour” then you’re answering to that every single day of your life. That has an effect on what you believe your purpose is in the world.’

The destiny of name, the hopes of generations behind you; all these pressures, Lex elaborates, are compounded when you are an artist searching for your purpose. They influence the ambitions of a generation of children whose goals aren’t always their own. For Lex, that’s where this ‘hustler’s ambition’ can manifest. She recalls her school days when friends said they wanted to be lawyers, doctors and engineers because it would make their parents proud. Maybe it wouldn’t be occupational, maybe it would just be the goal of making money in order to continue this generational trend of ‘improvement’ but still, the burden of expectation drives it. Lex is heartened to see that subsequent generations are able to break out of it, noting that her younger cousins want to be radio DJs and have a clear path to fulfilling their ambition,

‘What would be revolutionary is having black milkmen. It sounds mad basic but I think there’s something in that.’

Shedding the burden of aspiration is not short work and Lex Amor stands as an inspiration to up and coming artists trying to find their voice. She is herself a writer, producer, rapper, poet, she has hosted radio shows and has a platform where she brings together interdisciplinary artists. In the years she has patiently worked on her craft and built a supportive artistic community, Lex Amor has become one of the most exciting voices to emerge in recent times with a promising career on the horizon. In the many conversations over the past hour, Lex comments on the things that inspire her art. When the subject moves into philosophy she continues to press the importance of discovery, asking questions and never being satisfied with the answers before concluding ‘you can’t get everybody in the world to believe in one universal truth, I find that so fascinating.’ This tension drives her art, propelling her to find new solutions, new ideas but always remaining honest to herself. Looking ahead to the future, Lex is excited by the prospect of making new music about how much has changed in her life since she wrote the ‘foundational’ tracks for Government Tropicana. Lex Amor is ‘the truth’. Her music is part of a lineage of voice that crosses genre, widens the realm of experience and demands your undivided attention with every syllable. Lex Amor is resistance personified, free of bravado, finding strength in vulnerability. If her debut is anything to go by then I can’t wait to see the music ‘future Lex’ is making.

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