The Tab Meets: Niyi

Singer, music producer and Cantab Niyi discusses Russian audiences, fashion and the Cambridge music scene with CLAUDIA LEONG.

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Niyi Adelakun might be a fresher, but suffice to say, his pre-Cambridge days didn’t involve the kind of antics that your regular A-level student gets up to.

As a DJ and MC, he has played for audiences in thirteen countries and ran a popular club night in Soho which attracted performances from the likes of Lady Gaga, Calvin Harris and Little Boots. I met with the immensely warm, soft-spoken and down-to-earth rapper to find out what he’s been up to lately, and learn what he has in store for the future.

How did you get into the notoriously competitive world of music and showbusiness?

“It was a bit of an accident, really. I did a remix for a friend and then their label called back asking to contact me. It was completely unexpected and down to good timing. I never had plans to get into music; I was dirt poor at the time.”

What is the creative process like when you’re composing a song? Where does inspiration come from?

“I look out of the window and it just comes to me. Oh, that’s an awful thing to say! But it’s true. You know, when you get home sometimes and it’s really early in the morning, when you’re half awake—that’s the best time to write music or essays or whatever. You write something drunk or when you’re not quite sure what’s going on and then when you’re awake and sober you go back and look over it and you think ‘That’s really not bad at all!’”

Tell me about the best experience that you’ve had so far since you became involved in music.

“I loved playing in Russia. The act that was performing before me was crazy, they had lots of prostitutes and cocaine around, and that isn’t my thing, but the promoters were just trying really hard to look after us and keep us happy, and it was quite funny. Generally, the further away I get from England, the more people like my music. Germany, Russia… I walk down the street in Russia and people are thinking ‘Who’s that black guy in the funny clothes’ and then you get on stage and they love what you’re doing. Russia’s the best!”

What do you think of the Cambridge and the music scene here?

“The workload is mental, obviously, but it’s really fun here and the people you meet are amazing. I love this place. It’s really inspiring but it’s difficult sometimes. It’s quite quiet around here. I bought shisha back after my trip to Morocco and I’ve just spent this whole week smoking that. Music scene? Well I tried going to Fez once…”

You’re always well dressed, your outfits are amazing. How do you decide what to wear?

Do you think so? I’ve always considered myself the worst dressed person in college. I’m not sure about fashion. It’s kind of Spinal Tap turn it up to eleven. If you dress too loudly nobody can hear anything. You can’t do that. But then I think about my clothes and the end result is awful. (I ask him if it’s a student thing, and he laughs.) Yeah! Nowadays I just pick up whatever’s clean and put it on. Once I’m out of Cambridge I’ll be in tip top style.

You’ve been on TV for Come Dine With Me and Big Brother. How does being in the public eye when you’re on TV differ to when you’re known for your music?

It’s very different. You can’t control what goes on, with TV. I don’t like it, I much prefer performing or recording, where you have some control. TV is where the truth comes out.

Where do you see your work developing from here?

I’m going back to Germany to see my engineer in July and produce my second album, but I don’t know how confident I am about it. I think I’m moving away from music a little now. I think I’m getting a bit old. I’m moving past it all. I want to work with young people, help out, try something new. I might go into teaching. We’ll see!

It’s clear is that whichever direction Niyi does go in after his degree, we certainly haven’t heard the last of him.