- London, UK
- Photography by Alexander Stott
“Life is what is happening to you now, so try to live it as best you can, and keep trying to grow and learn.”
Ultra_Eko is an independent hip hop artist from South London, UK. He writes songs based on the message he wants to put into the world, from a place of passion and love for music. His debut album Off the Grid works on several levels in terms of its meaning and can also be interpreted as a call to arms in terms of how we are all living our lives. His lyricism takes his audience on a journey, with the potential for humanity shining through his songs. Thematically, the album embodies themes of communication, technology, environmentalism, capitalism and spirituality. It is an appeal to become more conscious of how our actions affect the world around us. Our higher self is the key to drawing to our consciousness all the love and inspiration that flows from the divine, so that we can understand ourselves and others in the modern world.
“I only hope to be a storyteller, holding up a mirror to humanity.”
Tell us about how on a personal level the album is an apt description of the way you have lived your life.
Off the Grid is an apt description of how I have lived because I have not followed where others walked, or where others have tried to lead me. It hasn’t always worked out for the best, but at least I own the narrative of my life. I have put my trust in the power of my intent, in the direction taken by my higher self, and I have let myself be carried by the great wind, holding tightly, buoyed along by faith and hoping for the best.
There is a strong spiritual element that runs throughout all your work, like a sense of the divine or a creative source.
I have always had a deeply held innate faith and belief in a higher power, or powers. Although I have no interest in organised religion, I believe we all have a personal relationship with the divine. We, and all of creation, have arisen from a universal source. The power of intent is about finding a strong, highly focused connection to this source. Your higher self is the key to drawing to your consciousness all the love and inspiration that flows from the divine. We live in a materialistic world that does all it can to remove us from our connection to the divine. The narrator in the track “Boy Done Good” for example, has to work in a job which has no intrinsic value or worth to him. He types numbers into a computer, the meaning of which he has no idea. He is constantly harassed into giving away his hard earned wages in exchange for material goods which also have no real meaning.
Tell us about the power of intent.
Some of the most spiritually enlightening works I have ever read are Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan series. Whether they are fictional or not, I found deep truths within them. Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian Sorcerer within the books, speaks of the power of intent. In many ways it is similar to the idea of the force in Star Wars. I believe in the idea of an infinite and universal consciousness from which all creation is brought into being. Perhaps every possibility is played out in infinite parallel dimensions, and the power of our intent is what guides us and our consciousness into one outcome over another.
Do you think of our brains being only receivers, like radios, tuning in to this divine creative source?
Yes, this is a common idea, but I think this is because it contains great truth. I was reminded of Nikola Teslas quote from his book On the Wisdom and the Purpose of Life: “My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
Have you experienced this in your own creative endeavors?
Yes. There has never been a plan, in terms of career. Instead, I have always let myself be carried by my strong conviction that it has all already been written. The older I have gotten, the more experience I have gathered, and the more I have the sense that we have little conscious control over what happens to us. Having said that, I don’t think we have no free will. The song “My Life” certainly explores this spiritual element most directly, whereby my alter ego talks about the lyrics writing themselves, of seeing himself as a messenger or a translator, who just is perhaps a little more in tune with those subtle forces than others. “Never sure about myself. Only knew I had to leave a beaten path. Get away from the herd. Without a destination. Wander off on many tangents. Twist, turn. Lose the mainstream.”
Intention gains its true power through the focus of your attention on what you may do to bring your intention into physical manifestation. How do you suggest we manifest the life we want?
It is about visualising and being very clear about what you want and where you want to go and holding this idea within your mind. It’s about having the utmost faith and belief in it. Silently willing it into being, and manifesting it. It’s not an original idea, and it may be self-delusionary, but it is a core principle by which I live. I believe you must try to stay pure in heart and intent to manifest the best results. By this, I mean don’t deceive others and don’t allow yourself to be overcome by poisonous emotions such as jealousy, envy or greed. Don’t concern yourself with how others are doing in comparison; that is a path to unhappiness. Remain focused on your own path, hold firm to the idea and vision of what you want and where you want to be. Be open in heart and generous with your emotions. Allow yourself to radiate a positive energy to those around you, and good things will come. Don’t ask what others can do for you, but what you can do for others. Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but the journey is what it is about. Life is what is happening to you now, so try to live it as best you can, and keep trying to grow and learn.
How does this perspective influence your personal life?
I try my best to always remain humble; every person you come across has something to teach, some knowledge to impart from the life they have lived. I am not here to preach or to teach; that is not in my character. Instead, I try to learn and absorb as much as I can. And then, to reflect on what I have learnt through my writing and the music. I only hope to be a storyteller, holding up a mirror to humanity.
Communication and the breakdown of communication is something humanity seems to be struggling with right now and it is a recurring theme throughout the album. The album focuses on the fact that people aren’t connecting properly, be it with themselves or others. Can you tell us more about that?
The tales written in the album are often dark, touching on regret, and the difficulties we have understanding ourselves and others in today’s world. All of the characters in the album seem detached, dislocated and isolated from the world and others around them. Communication is misfiring. One of my favorite lines is from the track “Eternal Sunshine”: “I feel so separate as if there were a pane of glass between us. I write upon it backwards, from right to left so that you might read it right. But it seems the meaning of my words always being lost.” That line sums up a lot of the relationships in this work; lonely and lost.
Can you talk about the metaphor of pane of glass in “Eternal Sunshine?”
I thought that the metaphor of the pane of glass as an invisible yet solid barrier. It came to me from a biography I read on Frank Kafka, some twenty years ago. He was a schizoid personality type, and friends remarked that he seemed removed from them, as if by a pane of glass. I must have found that image very powerful to have recycled it all these years later.
“You are locked in this machine, from the moment you are born until your dying day.” These are the opening words on your track “Viral” that many people will relate to in our overly technological lives.
Technology is often the antagonist to the protagonists of these album tracks: the cheating husband whose wife uses technology to expose his infidelities in “WIFI Wifey;” the employee in “Boy Done Good” who finds himself in a soulless job; the isolated dealer from “Alexandre Cazes” who lives in the shadows of the dark net. A world whose people are increasingly isolated by technology. As the protagonist in my “Yellow Redux” track states: “This illusion of us being individuals is like a wave breaking on the ocean’s surface. Just a brief moment of separation where you form a shape of your own before returning to the source to reform.”
However, there are of course many positives to technology as well. The internet is perhaps the single greatest invention that has come about in my lifetime. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to be an independent artist. It has changed all of our lives in ways we perhaps do not yet fully comprehend, but which history will bear witness to.
The “Viral” track also explores ideas of over-consumption and ecological overshoot, which refers to how we are using up the planet’s resources faster than we can replace them.
We have been so successful as a species and have developed technologically at such a lightening pace that the behavioral traits instilled by our evolution have become obsolete. We evolved in an environment where it made sense to act and think only in the short term. As Daniel Kahneman demonstrates in his brilliant book Thinking Fast and Slow, we are not very good at thinking long term, which is the cause of much of the destruction we are causing to the planet. We have become victims of our own success.
In the track “Alexandre Cazes,” you used the figure of Cazes to represent the dark side of capitalism. Please tell us a little about it.
Alexandre Cazes is the owner and administrator of dark web marketplace called Alpha Bay. The site was closed when Cazes was arrested in Thailand in July of 2017; he subsequently hung himself in his prison cell before extradition to the US. I used the figure of Cazes to frame the track, as I saw him as a sort of figurehead of the dark side of capitalism, a free market taken to its inevitable extreme, when anything is available and there is no jurisdictiThe album focuses on the fact that people aren’t connecting properly, communication is misfiring on upon it. The track itself centers around a drug dealer, who personifies Alpha Bay and Cazes on a smaller scale. He is ruthless, without compassion and empathy; he does not want emotional or moral concerns to affect his ability to exploit and destroy for personal gain. The beat was composed and produced by 27 Corazones, and it is probably my favorite track on the album. This was not the first version of the track I recorded; there is an alternate recording on a completely different instrumental, which includes a third verse. The lyric video for “Alexandre Cazes” was produced by Israeli video artist Eli Lev, whom I hold in high regard.
Off the Grid shows how our decisions as consumers can have far reaching effects on the planet. Perhaps living ‘off the grid’ is the antidote to a wired society. Do you think we can all move towards a more sustainable way of living?
I certainly hope so, and I still have faith in the potential and capacity for good in us as a species, as bad as we can sometimes be. As a species, we are hardwired at not being very good at predicting the future, and if asked to do so, most of us will picture it as not much different than things are today. The truth is that change can and does happen dramatically fast. I believe this pandemic has highlighted the fragility and impermanence of our lives and just how quickly we can lose all that is dear to us, something not really experienced by those in the west over the last seventy-five years. I believe that we can and will change and hopefully in time to avert serious damage and consequences. That’s the beauty of human beings; we have the capacity for acts of great good as much as great evil. I have faith in us that we will all do the right thing. These aren’t the end days at all; they are the beginning of a whole new era.
What do you hope people takeaway from the album?
I would love for everyone who listens to hopefully to take something positive from it. I am very passionate about this. It is the current love of my life, and every line I write and record has been carefully considered. There are no throw away lines in my work, so it really means a lot to me when people listen to the words I write. That is the greatest gift anyone could give me. Thank you.
“You see this is it. The past will always be gone, and the future will always be yet to come. So this moment is all we have and own, and it must be thanked for like a gift.”“Pissing in the Wind” from Off The Grid
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