FelixThe1st: ‘I’ve been blessed to make music my career so wanted to take a risk’

When a rising rapper wins a MOBO award largely on account of their lyrical flow and freestyling, you’d assume they’d stick to the genre. Yet 22-year-old Londoner FelixThe1st isn’t about the tried and tasted – a fact reflected in the title of his debut project, I Hope You Never Fit In, out now.


The dancer-turned-artist’s 13-track offering is a sprawling first full statement of fuzzed-up guitars and pained lyricism, and a very clear divergence from his trap-inspired beginnings.

To get a clear sense of why he’s seeking to use broader sonic brushstrokes, evolving from his MOBO-winning ‘Own Brand (Baddie)’ track, as well as what dancing with Years & Years taught him, and the making of his debut project’s striking artwork, we caught up with him in a cafe in his hometown of Acton. 

I really enjoyed the multi-faceted nature of the project. That’s said a lot about some artist’s work, but it really comes through here. Was that a very conscious decision and why did you want to go about it in that way?

It kind of happened by accident. I was in L.A. and made a song called ‘Stay’ on the tape, with the producer Y2K. We were all just vibing, there were a lot of guitars involved, then I just tapped into a different sound. I’d always loved alternative music, but I didn’t really see myself as much of a singer. So it was experimenting more with my voice and doing stuff that made me feel uncomfortable; I’ve been blessed enough to be able to make music my full-time career, I might as well take a risk.

It’s looking back at artists like XXXTentacion, and seeing that he had so much success with ‘Look At Me!’, where he’s screaming and shouting. But then his most important body of work for me was 17 – when I saw that, it’s just like an alternative, sad expression of his force. That rawness is something I’ve always wanted to do as well, because it just resonated with me.

Photo: Marvyn

Was there a particular moment when it went from something you were experimenting with to actually being the approach to the project?

It was just the beat. I’ve been doing some songs like that before at home, just with YouTube beats and stuff, but that was the first in-person session with producers that were tapped into the sound and understood creatively what I was trying to do. They were adding some crazy things into the production, so it just elevated the experience and added the momentum I needed to get that energy. By the end of the sessions I’m shouting and screaming and I don’t think I would have gone to that place in my bedroom. 

I Hope You Never Fit In… why that title? What’s that aimed at?

I think it’s just that realisation that, not necessarily idols, but people you look up to are just people with ideas that have gone further. That made me ask, ‘Why do I have to follow a specific route to get to success?’ When I was a dancer, I never fit in, and I did kind of well so it’s like I never want to fit in. That’s the goal. I always want to stand out. I’m not doing that for attention, it’s genuine. It just feels weird doing anything different.

It’s the irony of life that we can all follow society’s rules to be successful but actually those who don’t are the ones we most respect. To get the basics of your story as an artist, how did you enter into music?

It’s quite crazy. I started dancing when I was younger, but I’ve always loved music, so that’s kind of why I danced – because it was a physical embodiment of the music. I’m not going to discredit dance, because I always loved it, but the reason I really stuck at it was because I was good at it. It became my hobby, then at 16 it became my career. I dropped out of college to go on tour with Years & Years. From then, I thought because I’d left college I’d ruined it, but I was able to work consistently and dance for a couple of years.

Photo: Marvyn

And all that time you were thinking you’d eventually get into music?

Not necessarily. At that time, I was just freestyling with my friends. I was really set on being undeniable in dance and establishing my role in the scene. That was my goal. I did a lot of work in the UK, then went to America and did some auditions. There was a tour for Justin Bieber I auditioned for. I got right to the end, then it was COVID so everything went into lockdown. That was the switch. I felt like I was letting so many people dictate when I can succeed and when I can’t. 

With music, I could be my own boss. With dance, I always worked with someone else, always hoping to build someone else’s world or picture or make something else look pretty. I always understood my role, but because I wasn’t a choreographer it’s a lot harder for me to take creative control. I took my last cheque and when I got back to the UK, every artist I liked in the UK, I’d find out which producer they worked with. I hit up a couple producers. Bare of them just aired me or said, ‘What are you talking about?’ 

And your pitch was, ‘I’ve been dancing, now I want to become an artist’?

I was like, ‘Yo, I’ve not made music before but I’ve heard you did this beat, do you do sessions in person?’ I didn’t really know how to ask it. Then one person said yes, RassTokyo. We got a session in and I was able to freestyle and figured out for myself from there. Basically, the message is I went all in, it was a risk. The main reason why I was like, ‘Fuck, I want to do this’, is because with dance I was good at it, I liked it, I felt good at it; but with music, I felt like I was the worst in the room. And I loved that feeling. It felt like I found a new goal, a new task. 

And what was it like when you began to realise you could succeed in that world?

It’s only now that I’m deeping it, I’m realising it’s been two-and-a-half years since I’ve been doing music full-time. It’s a bit scary but I’ve realised I’ve done it for a couple years now and realise this is the life I’m living and I’m making it possible by just putting my effort into music. Everything I make goes back into the music, goes back into the art. I’ve learned that from just watching people. It sounds a bit random but even Mr. Beast, every single penny he makes goes back into his ideas. And that sounds perfect.

So what was the process of putting this project together like? 

It was kind of piece by piece. Every song was just ideas in the bedroom that I’d take to my engineer Ted to harness it and make it perfect. It happened to all work out, but I kind of just let myself do whatever came out.

It’s hard to avoid talking about ‘Own Brand’ and the success of that track. How did that come about? And were you expecting it to take off in the way it did?

I was just in the studio with [Rass]Tokyo, and I just freestyling. No one could have expected how big it got.

It was literally as it says, a freestyle…?

Yeah exactly, a freestyle. I never expected where it was going to go or what was going to happen.

You won a MOBO for it. What was that moment like when you found out?

I was literally on the table, drinking, when they said the nominees. Every single person who was nominated deserved it. So I never expected it. Still, in my head, the song is bigger than me. I always understood that, but I never understood how big the song actually was. I will always be grateful for that MOBO because it showed me the potential of what I can do and what’s possible. At the same time, that’s the one that proves to me I can get one for me. That really motivated me to think I can do this for myself. It was literally my second song, and it was a freestyle.

The track’s success was largely thanks to TikTok. What kind of impact do you think the platform has had on you as an artist?

It’s a double-edged sword because I don’t necessarily think it had a massive effect on my career but it had a massive effect on the song, and in turn a massive effect on my life. It made it possible for me to make music full-time, I’ll always be grateful for that. But as I said, that song is bigger than me. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to live this life I live now and I’m using it as a rocket to motivate myself to do the best I can and not waste this opportunity I’ve been given.

You’ve toured with quite a lot of big names already as a dancer – Years & Years, Stormzy, Spice Girls. What did that teach you about performing, if anything?

I think the Years & Years tour was my biggest life lesson. I was 16 on the tour, learning how to stay professional on the job and not get distracted by being able to just go party and have fun. It was crazy but it was weird to grow up in that job and earn my own money that I didn’t know what to do. I was spending money without understanding the severity of what I was doing.

I was kind of grateful I got money and lost money quickly at that point because the next time I got money, I didn’t let it happen again. That really changed my whole focus, I was learning quickly. I was on the road up there, it really helped me figure out what I wanted to do in life and that I wanted that lifestyle.

You cite punk culture as something that’s particularly appealing to you. What draws you to that?

I’ve always found it interesting. When I was younger, I always went to Camden to see what was going on and understand that scene; meet different people, see how they’d dress, and also just how people could invest themselves in their characters in certain places.

There were a lot of rock groups I would look at, like KISS. It was just the look straight away. At first I wasn’t interested in their music but when I saw them it was different. I was also always interested in the UK’s kind of alternative sound, like King Krule, but as I was growing up it was more about that shoegaze sound, like Slowdive and then a different side of rock like Paramore.

Photo: Marvyn

Is FelixThe1st a character?

It’s not a character, it’s a name my friends gave me. But it’s weird: with the facepaint there’s loads of references I used, like wrestlers like Jeff Hardy. Even in the grime scene, I remember seeing a BBK freestyle with Skepta and he had facepaint on. I don’t know why, but I remember thinking of that image all the time and thinking that was hard.

When I first started making music I wasn’t even making rock shit; I looked like a rock star, but I had a grime-inspired flow and that’s because I never saw myself making the music I make now. In terms of FelixThe1st, all my friends used to call me Felix because of the cat food. And if there was a sound, I’d get distracted really easily. My ADHD means I’m always looking around or listening to sounds – I’ve got instincts like a cat. 

That’s interesting that you mention your ADHD. What kind of impact does that have on you as a creative, if anything?

My whole life, I’ve always just dealt with it. I don’t know if it’s necessarily hard; it might be hard to focus on a specific task sometimes because I’m one of those people where if you play a beat, I’ll want to follow every single one, then I’ll hear something on my phone and think, ‘Actually, let’s do this one.’ I’ll find distractions for myself, or it’s easy for me to find a way to not focus on something or lose track when I’m talking.

That’s one of the reasons I bought a home set up, because I always felt like at two in the morning is when I want to put something down and record it. It’s not a game, but I want to earn my stripes, I want to do everything. I want to level up. That’s all I see it as.

Do you feel this project is levelling up?

Definitely. It’s a new level. At the same time, the music I’m making now whilst this is done I’m thinking, ‘I wish I put this on the tape as well.’

So you’re still working on stuff at the moment?

Every day. I was with my engineer Ted, going through all the demos I’ve got with him, and there was like 100. Then I went on my laptop, and there’s like over 400 on there. So I’ve always got loads of music to work on, but for some reason I’m always making new sessions or finding new producers or new beats. It’s just a constant flow of new music.

And let’s talk about the project artwork because it’s really quite striking. Talk us through how it was created…

Me and my brother went to France before and met this visual artist called Neptunes that does these crazy visuals, has this insane vibe. He didn’t even speak English, we just connected, playing Playstation, dancing and shit. He must have given me one of his designs, one of his hats, and we were locked in. Since then every time I went to France, I’d hit him up. He’d posted some crazy work, and does a lot of mad edits; he’d be hanging from near the Eiffel Tower or standing on water.

I asked him to be the creative director for the project artwork; because I was taking inspiration from him, I’d rather he help me do it. So we flew to Paris, went to the train station and then there was like a metal beam to climb on the side of this building. He literally just hung me off the side of the road and everyone’s just stopping looking at us. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that in France, but it’s done now. I didn’t want people to think it was fake, that’s why I posted the one where you can literally see we went to France and we did it. 

And what’s next for you?

More music, more visuals. I’m gonna try to get about more. I’m hoping to get to the States. I’m gonna go back out there and do some stuff out there. I’m just trying to make some noise. My goal right now is to be an undeniable artist and every time my name is spoken for only good things to be said; for people to say that he genuinely cares about his work.

The goal is to be one of those from the UK – and then eventually the world. I just don’t want to be one of those deluded artists because there’s also an understanding that so many people have a dream and a goal. But I’m just gonna be one of those people that’s not ever willing to second-guess or willing to stray from their original goal, their original path.

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