Interview: Otis Mensah

Posted by: Richard Abbey

As the rapper and poet releases his third single of a new series, he talks to VIBE about lockdown, living your life online and local loves.

Lockdown has been a trying experience for many of us but for a performer like Otis Mensah, who’s not been able to go about his usual business, it’s been particularly difficult.


“A lot of my sense of purpose, and source of income and a lot of my vision for life comes from performing live. It’s my pastime, it’s like occupational soulful activity for me so having no opportunity to perform live has been a bit daunting,” Otis told VIBE.

Adaptation has been the key to his existence if you like and pushed him to do things that he perhaps wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“I was a bit melancholic about it all and a bit depressed at first,” explained Sheffield’s poet laureate of lockdown. “But I’ve been trying to be more creative, doing more writing and recording at home. I’m really thankful to be healthy right now!

“I’ve been spending more time in nature, going out for regular walks and spending more time with my record collection, outside of the rush of everything, giving time to the art that inspires me.”

Otis had already started the ball rolling on his single series, called Otis Mensah Exists, before lockdown started, recording the track Breath of Life with Hemlock Ernst. This was followed three weeks later by Internet Café and a further three weeks later with current release, No Record Store Day. Otis aims to release ten singles in total at three-week intervals before unleashing his debut album in early 2021. You’ll find them all on his YouTube channel.

Many of the single releases touch on a feeling of isolation, enhanced by the rapper’s most recent experiences. Breath of Life touched on something Otis calls ‘millennial claustrophobia’ – “a feeling that, coming from a privilege position – I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got food in the fridge – however, you can still suffocate yourself in your own complacency and your own comforts.”

Internet Café took these feelings further, exploring the pathology of a younger generation who live more of their life online.

“The reason why we might indulge in excessive use of the internet is because something is broken in society and we feel there’s a strong sense of disconnection,” explained Otis. “I wanted to give time to the actual emotions people feel when they’re spending their lives online and are absorbed in a virtual world. “

No Record Store Day – check out the video above which was created by Jim Spenlove – was written during lockdown and is a bit of an ode to a society coming to a halt. It’s perfectly apt.

“It’s got a very social commentary feel,” Otis added. “I guess there’s a perpetual feeling of being stuck or time having slowed down in the face of this pandemic. And yeah, No Record Store Day is a reference to Record Store Day being postponed or cancelled and feeling like there’s a lack of places where I can now go for catharsis. That was what the song was, it was airing out some of those feelings of being stuck.”

Otis seems to be revelling in the creative independence lockdown has given him. He’s happy, healthy and active. Surely there’s something he’s missed?

“Live shows of course! But I miss going to the cinema, I miss going to the Showroom. I love that place, I probably went twice a week when it wasn’t closed. I found a lot of my inspiration from watching films there. It’s not the same watching films online. I really like the social environment of [cinema].”

Check out Otis’s YouTube channel for more releases.

25/7/17 - 25/7/19 12 month blenheim

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