WordsNatacha Lecsei
PhotographyIlyes Griyeb

NAAR: Why did you go to the US? Are you going to work on a project there?

Laylow: I left because I wanted some fresh air, that’s the main reason. Then, I came with my friends from TBMA who are going to work on video projects in Los Angeles. The third reason is that I want to make music videos for some tracks on my next album. I finished recording, I’m mainly here for the videos. But I will be staying for a long time so I think I will start writing new songs, maybe for a new project. You should always try to secure new songs for what comes next, you should not stay in standby mode and vibe on your own stuff. Even when you liked your tracks, you have to make new ones.

NAAR: You lived in Tunisia and in Côte d’Ivoire during your childhood. What impact did it have on the way you approach your music?

L: I’ve moved around a bit, so I don’t really get attached to a particular place or neighborhood. At some point I lived in Paris, I didn’t stay in Toulouse even when I was in France. It’s been a blending of different atmospheres. And I have been making music since I was rather young, so I was open to different styles. So now my music is movable. That’s why I’m in Los Angeles right now, I can work pretty much everywhere. I know I want to move, I want to see lots of stuff, as long as the music and the money allow me to do so. Being free is dope. Being able to take your friends with you, make a new album somewhere else. You must be free, above all.

NAAR: You seem to know where you want to go, you even say in one of your songs “J’ai pas changé de vision depuis 2002” [My vision hasn’t changed since 2002]. Do you ever doubt sometimes?

L: Yes, I do, a bit. In fact, when I say that my vision hasn’t changed since 2002, I have the impression that I pretty much still have the same kid’s dreams. I still have the same goals, that are super material sometimes. Since I was little, I wanted to have beautiful cars, a villa on the coast, to give something to my parents, and so on. That’s what I meant, I still have the same drive. As if it was encoded in my DNA.

NAAR: But do you have doubts sometimes or do you just go?

L: I do, you’re bound to have moments of doubt. I think for any person who makes art, who builds something, doubt is the worst enemy, you know. My advice is to question some things, the quality of your music, your image, your words, your lyrics, always try to do better. But never question your determination or the goal you’ve had in mind since the beginning, because too many people will question that. That’s why I often talk about childhood, when you’re young and you only have one dream but you don’t know why yet. I think you shouldn’t lose that innocence, even if you put many things around it to flesh out your style.

Never question your determination or the goal you’ve had in mind since the beginning, because too many people will question that.

NAAR: You work a lot by instinct. Do you think the instinct has its limits? Do you have examples where your instinct failed you?

L: Well, I think it’s a mix between instinct and something more elaborate. I try to give credit to my instinct. Between two tracks, I will pick the one that is made by instinct, because it’s pure, it comes from real life. I usually favor the more lively stuff, the energy. But in the end, you have to rework your tracks. Even when you said it was good at the beginning, it has to be even better. The finishing touch isn’t instinct, you have to have a broader vision.

NAAR: I have the impression you are talking about your music. What about business, the way you manage your career, do you manage it by instinct also or not?

L: There’s a lot of instinct, you’re right, as to what do we do now, what do we do next. If I feel it, I’ll do it. Mostly I don’t really like having people telling me “it’s better to wait” or “ we think it would be better for you if you did this”. It’s a long process, you know, making art, developing your thing, releasing your work. The artist has lived his life, has piled up experiences, I don’t know if it’s what we call instinct, but a lot of decisions are made because of prior experiences. The people who work with me rely on their instinct too. I’ve known few moments where the opinion of the people who were supposed to determine strategies has been followed. The few successes I’ve had occured when I followed my instinct or the instinct of the team.

You must be free, above all.

If I feel it, I’ll do it. Mostly I don’t really like having people telling me “it’s better to wait” or “ we think it would be better for you if you did this”.

NAAR: Do you have examples where you followed your instinct over what people were telling you, and it worked? And examples where it didn’t?

L: When I was young, I did rap contenders. I really wanted to do that, there were rap contender videos all over the Internet and stuff. I told myself I wanted to be that, it was my instinct. So I did. And I quickly realized it was not my thing, I didn’t really like clashes. Even if I liked people who were good clashers, I wasn’t into it. I’m there with my words, I like this one because I think it’s sharper, it’s nice. But when you’re in front of a crowd, you have to be good at telling the guy to go fuck himself: “go fuck yourself like this”, “no, go fuck yourself like that!” (laughs). It just wasn’t my thing. Even in my own tracks, I don’t put many insults. But, well, you have to try stuff. And for an example where my instinct was right… Well, everything I have done since I’m not in a major anymore. I make odd tracks and prods, where something inside me tells me it’s good but I can feel it won’t appeal to everybody. At the time, you feel you might have made a mistake, but when you reflect on what you’ve built over 1, 2, 3 years, by following your instinct… It’s a victory, a personality that becomes stronger, it’s good!

NAAR: I wanted to ask you about your song 10’. It might be your most melancholic song, but it’s also the one that has the most views on Youtube. It might be the one that is the most discordant with the other tracks. How would explain that it’s your public’s favorite?

L: (hesitates) Um… Well, because it’s well written, I think that’s the reason. I don’t know, it came out and people liked it, more than I expected. It’s honest and I think it’s rather smooth… the story, the different sentences… it’s rather poetic. When I wrote it, I felt there was something. If I take a step back, I will say that’s why. Well, I can’t praise my own stuff, you know (laughs). But I think the story is coherent, you’re in it, it reaches you, there’s the little guitar… I like this track, what I say is pretty honest, I feel people have been touched by that honesty.

NAAR: It’s pretty melancholic, you could sit on your couch with the lights out and cry over past flames. It’s a bit different from your other tracks, that are more aggressive.

L: Yeah, that’s it, it wasn’t too aggressive. The few tracks I had released before 10’ were pretty aggressive. People were beginning to like my stuff and then I released that. I don’t know if people would like it if I only released tracks like that. It’s more that people didn’t know I could do this. In the next project, I did a few other ballades, a few cooler sounds, but they were never as popular as 10’. It means that people found something special in 10’. And I like guitars. As soon as there’s a guitar next to me, I feel good to tell stories, you know. In my new project, I have a few guitars, I try to develop an idea that’s a bit different. I think it’s not bad, I’ll see what the public thinks about it.

What I say [in the song 10'] is pretty honest, I feel people have been touched by that honesty.

NAAR: What does digitalova mean to you?

L: First and most importantly, it means that I like the digital world. I like computer and stuff, I’ve always been clear with myself about this. Even if it sounds geeky I don’t give a shit. I like computers, machines, I like to alter my voice. From the moment when Laylow became Digitalova, some things changed. Same thing when I didn’t have anymore money to go in a studio, I started recording myself and I soon wondered how this voice could come out clear or that bass could come out strong. I started looking at the machines and a real love of it emerged. There’s something else too, the album Digitalova is not like Mercy, there’s a direction, an order, a meaning. It’s a bit like a relationship, a way of loving that is digital, that suits our generation. I don’t wanna talk about love for too long but I think the album also talks about that. On “Bionic” for example, the first track, I say that I take the girl as she is, with all her new features, hence the fact that she’s bionic, she’s a bit of a girl of the future. And I watch her dance, I’m intimidated. And the last track “Malentendu” [Misunderstanding] means that I had not really understood what was happening, it’s over and the relationship was a misunderstanding from the beginning. There are different moments in the relationship, sometimes I’m superior, sometimes I’m inferior to the girl, like in “Gogo” or “Ignore”, and I feel like she’s shining in front of me. Anyway, it’s a universe I took time to create and that’s what Digitalova is!

A lot of people are coming from everywhere, girls among them. I love that, even more when it’s a bit aggressive.

NAAR: Is there a female counterpart in the Digitalova universe?

L: It’s a good question, I’ve never really thought about it, but yes, there should be one… It would be nice to find her, this digital girl. I’m always super impressed by girl producers, who have this computer thing. For example, there is this beatmaker called WondaGurl, when you listen to her basses, seriously, it’s incredible, she’s so talented. She produces very aggressive tracks, underground basses… I think it’s awesome. FKA also, even if I learnt recently that she doesn’t beatmake as much as we thought. But she is among these girls who are not afraid to create a total universe: the imagery, the tracks… FKA also dances, so it’s even more impressive. Girls do it anyways, if boys do, I don’t see why girls wouldn’t do it, but there are not as many girls as there are boys. I really like those complete artists, the ones who become one with the machine. That’s what I call digital girls, they have distinctive features of the digital.

NAAR: Isn’t it also a girl who is a bit aggressive, in the meaning of an unapologetic girl who does her thing and doesn’t care about what people think?

L: Yes, I do like that, a lot. You shouldn’t apologize for being here, girls apologize too often. But a lot of people are coming from everywhere, girls among them. I love that, even more when it’s a bit aggressive as you said. Girls are coming.

It’s as if you had French and Arabic and that the autotune was above all that. It’s an even simpler code than letters and languages.

NAAR: OK, thanks for the interview!

L: So.. we didn’t even talk about the project in Morocco!

NAAR: That’s true, I wasn’t sure if I should talk about it or not..

L: It was cool, if I can say anything. We got along well with Shayfeen. It was great making a track with people with different artistic views. I discovered a lot of things on the artists. I always talk about the digital world, but I learnt that the digital world for a French artist and for a Moroccan artist doesn’t have the same perspectives.. Youtube revenues, streaming, all this depends on the country you’re in, it made me realize the double standards. Well that’s for the sad part of it. But otherwise it was great, you know, we managed to make music without understanding.. well they understood my language but I didn’t understand everything they talked about.. but we managed to record the track in one night. When we were recording, we were like kids! The beat was on, we were finding our flows bit by bit. We decided on the chorus together, we made it together, you know what I mean. And when we shot the music video, 2 or 3 months after making the track, I was super happy that it turned out well. We shot it in Meknes, I had to take one of the few flights that go to Meknes, the guys came by car. Meknes is a bit of a drag, you know, it was perfect. It’s easy to make something that shines and all, when people tell you to come and there’s everything you need. I like it when it’s difficult, that you have to move yourself, that everyone tries things until the last minute, you know. It was cool working with Ilyes [Griyeb, who directed the Money Call video], I think he added a kind of subtlety to the emotions. I’m happy about my verse too, because it is a bit unusual and Ilyes understood it and gave depth to it. I was happy that the whole crew got what we meant and made the most of it.

We recorded Money Call in one night.

NAAR: You said that you didn’t always understand Shayfeen’s verses but I have the impression that in today’s rap, understanding the lyrics has almost become secondary to grasping the emotion.

L: Yes, true, the emotion is very important, sometimes you don’t have to understand what is said to get what it’s about. But to be honest I wished I could understand what they said sometimes. I hope people will understand the track, that Moroccan people won’t boycott my verse and that French people won’t boycott Shayfeen and Madd’s verses, that they will listen to the melody. And there is the autotune too, it’s as if you had French and Arabic and that the autotune was above all that. It’s an even simpler code than letters and languages. But you know, I listened to the track so many times with them that I almost felt they were speaking French. Even the shooting of the music video was cool. The young people who had brought their vehicles were telling me to try their quad or try their motorcycle with a big smile. I could see the pride in their eyes when their engines were in the shot. It touched me to see they were happy about it, it always touches me when people open their everyday life and agree to lend it or show it to an artist.