Woolwich rapper TS Lagga first gained recognition for dark, strings-heavy drill tracks, but his recent releases have swerved toward a funkier, afro-swing-influenced sound built for the club as well as the streets. Bouncing off each beat with neat and tidy flows that convey a real knack for rhythmic, syncopated spitting, his new single ‘Tally That’ is packed with the kind of smooth, deep-toned barring showcased by the likes of Abra Cadabra or Pa Salieu.
To mark the release as part of our series on emerging artists, we spoke to TS Lagga about the importance of education, how to define success, and why he decided to open his GCSE results on the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds Festival.
You opened your GCSE results onstage at Reading & Leeds, saying you wanted to counteract stereotypes “around young black male rappers, that they don’t have intellect” — could you elaborate on that?
“There’s a lot of stigma around people my age that are rapping. They think that because you’re rapping, you’re disregarding your education, or you’re rapping as an alternative to education. I worked hard and I knew I was gonna get good results, so I wanted to use my results to basically show that it’s not an alternative, you can do both.”
You’re studying music at college now — do you view the rap game as something to study and educate yourself on as much as possible?
“I wanna do music not just to rap, but to know all the ins and outs, I wanna know the cells of the music. Industry work, theory work, production work… I normally work with producers but now I’m in college, I’m working on making beats and producing, too.”
Where does the name TS Lagga come from?
“TS is my initials, and ‘Lagga’ is just a nickname I had that connotes to wealth and money, so the name’s about me getting my money up. Since I’ve started using that name, I’ve experimented more with my music. Before, I was just a drill artist, but now I’ve brought my Nigerian culture and afrobeat culture into it. My family can be very critical; I’ll show music to my sister and she’ll rip it apart, then I’ll reevaluate it and take it back, then she’ll shit on it again, until there’s nothing to shit on! So it’s been evolving.”
Some artists will be quite bullish about not listening to other people’s opinions on their music, but it sounds like you really value that criticism.
“People who say they don’t care what other people think, I get what they’re trying to say in terms of being able to experiment, but that defeats the whole point of being an artist. You have to care what everyone else thinks, because you don’t make music just for yourself, you make it for the enjoyment of other people, so I always make sure that I get active feedback on my music. I like when people say that I can’t do something, because I’m very egotistical, so it tickles my ego when they’re like ‘Na, you can’t do it’ — I’m like: 'I wasn’t even gonna do it, but because you told me I can’t do it, now I’m gonna!’”
View this post on Instagram
That shift into the afrobeat space can be heard on new singles ‘Tally That’ and ‘Jugalatto x GRS’, which have a real bounce to them — is it important that you make music people can move to?
“I wanted to make more music that could have more widespread enjoyment. I was making music like drill that only a certain faction of people can relate to and enjoy, but I wanted to make music that was more universal.”
What are the main lyrical themes you tend to tackle in your verses?
“Bossing out, success, and grinding, that’s the main undertone in my music. I have to have some sort of element of: ‘This guy’s doing his ting, he’s seriously working.’ I like to add a lot of wordplay into my lyrics, which ties into the thing I did with opening my GCSE results. I like to learn new vocabulary and tie it into my music.”
How would you define success?
“Everyone has their own success, it doesn’t have to connote to wealth or money… but that’s not me, I want mills! And as long as you’re grounded and hitting milestones consistently, that’s success. Playing Reading & Leeds, that was a milestone for me, because that’s my first festival, it’s an event in my career. Even hitting the studio consistently is success, making sure you go studio and progress in some sort of way from when you’ve walked in.”
One of the things that’s most striking in your tracks is the complex rhythm and syncopation of your flows — is that a skill you’ve worked hard on developing?
“No, that’s something that comes naturally. Since I was one or two, I’d pick up instruments and make music, so I think it’s just a musical inclination that I have. In my college, there’s other rappers, and I like to analyse their rapping and see if there’s anything to imitate or take inspiration from… I don’t really look at or study syncopation or rhythm, it’s just something that comes to me naturally, and I just put the lyrics together and it bounces off well.”
Which three rappers have influenced you the most?
“Dave, because of his lyricism, the way he can build up a story. A song like ‘Lesley’, that song is 11 minutes long and I don’t get bored listening to it. When you listen to it, it’s like he takes you on a journey — lyrically, I don’t think there’s anyone touching him right now. Headie One, for me he’s at the top of drill, he has definitely influenced me a lot. And the third person would be J Hus — in terms of sound, I sound like them the most, and culturally, they’re from my country, so it just makes sense.”
What have you got planned in terms of releases over the next few months?
“I have a feature coming out this month, and then I have a single coming out in November, and a single coming out in December. Then in terms of a project, that will probably be towards the last quarter of next year. I wanna make sure if I drop a project, it’s the best of the best. It’s gonna be completely different to ‘Lagga Szn’, every type of sound is gonna be in there, so you can’t tell me there’s nothing you don’t like in there!”
If you could pick one artist in the world to collaborate with, who would it be?
“J. Cole, because I like to listen to lyricism and dissect it. J Cole’s pen is untouched, even further than Dave’s or Kendrick’s. When I make music with other people, I adapt to the person I’m making the song with. So even if you might make this style of music and I might make this style, I’m gonna adapt to the style that you’re making and even try and be better than you, because that’s my natural personality. If I was making a song with J Cole, it would push me lyrically to my limits.”
Listen to TS Lagga’s new single ‘Tally That’ here.
Want to write about music? Pitch us your ideas.
Are you passionate about music and have a story or hot take to share? whynow wants to hear from you. Send your music-focused pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make some noise together.