Essex-born rapper Potter Payper has had a busy few months following his release from prison in June. Born Jamel Bousbaa, the 27-year-old artist was sentenced to a six-year stretch back in 2018 on drug charges, but since his early release due to good behaviour, he’s been all about the music, getting back to his career that first began in 2010.
Dropping his 2020 Vision EP the same month he got home, it geared us up nicely for the much-anticipated Training Day 3, the third in a series of iconic road rap mixtapes that gives us not only vivid accounts of street politics, but some truly heart-wrenching and traumatic experiences, too. Celebrated for its clever use of sampling on production (Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” on “A6586AM”, Johnny Gill’s “Lady Dujoury” on “Sorry”), the success of Training Day 3 proved that there’s still a love for lyrically-inclined road rap and that there’s space for it to thrive right next to drill. Today, the world is looking like a different place for Potter Payper. With tour dates set for March 2021, along with a bunch of new music, life couldn’t be more exciting for him right now.
We caught up with the wordsmith over the phone to discuss life post-jail, Training Day 3 going Top 5 in the UK albums chart, a possible Meekz Manny collab, and much more.
“It took for me to get put in the media and to be convicted as a drug dealer and sent to prison for people to feel comfortable listening to my music, which is sad.”
COMPLEX: Since your release from prison in June, you’ve been on a roll—how is everything?
Potter Payper: It’s been non-stop work, bro. It’s been a madness! But at the same time, it’s been a planned madness... There’s a method to man’s madness.
You were sentenced to five years in prison in 2018 on a drugs charge, but obviously over here, people get out on good behaviour and do half the time. Even still: two and a half years is a long time. What was life like for you inside? Were you still writing bars?
Well, I got five years, four months originally, but while I was inside I got extra days, an extra 190 days! So I ended up doing three years and two months, which is the equivalent of getting a six-year sentence, basically, even close to a seven-year sentence really because when you get seven, you usually do three and a half years. So I did four months shy of a seven-year sentence. But of course, in the last year and a half of my sentence, when I heard Stormzy shout my name out at Glastonbury, that’s when I started writing hard.
That was a big moment for a lot of artists when he read out that list. There’s a lot of pain in your music, and you don’t necessarily have to have lived a similar life to feel what you’re saying either. Where does all this pain come from?
I would say it comes from my life, bro. My journey, my day-to-day life, the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve been around.
You’re from Barking, which is a borough in Essex. When people think of Essex, the TV show The Only Way Is Essex would probably come to mind for most, but it’s clear those ends aren’t as glamourous as they portray on the box. What was it like growing up there for you?
Growing up in Barking, it was a very fun and colourful childhood. Obviously, when you’re a kid, you don’t know that you’re poor and that you’re in poverty. You don’t know what your mum’s P’s are saying; you don’t know anything that’s going on. So yeah, playing out in the park all night until you get called in, it was fun. But when you get to 10, 11 years old, that’s when you start growing up very fast. It’s either sink or swim. For man, that’s when I got kicked out of school. So from then, that’s when I was on the roads and in the jails, and from there I’m just a rapper now.
Did you ever feel like you had to prove anything because you’re from Essex?
Of course, bro. Of course. Not even because of where I’m from: because of how I look. I’m white, I’ve got glasses, I used to have a combover, now I’ve got a skinhead. I had a lot of stigma coming from me because of where I’m from and how I looked. It took for me to get put in the media and to be convicted as a drug dealer and sent to prison for people to feel comfortable listening to my music, which is sad.
That takes me to my next question: what are your thoughts on people saying you’re one of the best white rappers out?
I’ve tweeted about this before. It’s just like please don’t compare me to anyone just based on the colour of my skin, because if the roles were reversed, that’s not on. Don’t compare me to anyone. I’m the best rapper in the world, bro! It doesn’t matter if you’re Black, white, Chinese, American or Venezuelan; it does not matter to man. I’m the best rapper in the world, and that’s me being honest.
Upon your release in June, you got right back to work and dropped the 2020 Vision EP in the same month. How did that project come to fruition?
I can’t lie, bro: the first day I got out of jail, I went straight from there to the studio. I recorded six tunes, and of course, there’s only four on that EP. I recorded those tunes in like two hours. That was just the first thing I had to get off my chest and they were the most marketable tunes out of that, that I could put forward. “PMW” is one of my favourite tunes I think I’ve ever made. “Filthy Free”, the message is sick. “Never Left”, there’s a bar: “I never slept on a VO, if I recollect / ‘Cah they clap for me like I work for the NHS.” Everything on that tape, even the “2020 Vision Freestyle”, which was the first thing I dropped, it all just came together and led up to Training Day 3 nicely. It kept people going.
So were those songs written in jail or in that first studio session back?
I wrote all those tunes from jail. That’s like the appetiser for Training Day 3, because they’re all very Training Day 3-esque. They’re my jail lyrics, but at the same time I couldn’t put that name to it because it wasn’t the right timing.
“Everyone makes street music now. Everyone likes it; it’s popular. But when I say it, I seriously mean it and I’ve been through it. You can hear it in my voice.”
Training Day 3 recently hit No. 3 in the UK albums chart—independently, too, so big congrats. How does it feel?
It’s amazing, man. You know what it is? I’ve even been telling my friends and that, like, obviously I’m excited, obviously I’m gassed, obviously I feel like I’ve achieved something, but mainstream artists have big machines behind them and they need help from those machines to achieve the biggest wins in their career without even trying. But that’s my point: I’ve done that independently. I can’t get too gassed, though, because this ain’t where I get off the bus. I don’t know where my destination is gonna be, but there’ll be a point where I feel like I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career. But this, right here, it’s just the beginning. I’ve been out of jail for five months and I’ve gone Top 3 in the albums chart. The sky’s the limit now, and I hope everyone sees that and believes that. Seeing is believing, bro.
You’ve got one of the longest tracklists I’ve seen in a while, with 24 tracks in total. How much bigger is your catalogue of music that didn’t make the cut?
Extensive! Hella extensive. I’ve got a catalogue of music now where I am set! I don’t have to make anymore music if I didn’t want to. I record music because it’s how I vent; it’s how I release. As far as doing business and deals for content, man’s got content coming out of my arse, mate [laughs]. And I always will have. I don’t need a nice car or a chain or some grills to be able to talk and tell you about my life and my story. Everything else is just a bonus.
Over the last few days, I’ve listened to each Training Day and each project seems to grow in sound and content as you go along. How much does life experience mean to you when it comes to making the music?
It’s my be-all and end-all. My experience and my journey is what I write about. So if I didn’t go to the places I went, make the mistakes I made, lose the people I’ve lost, cry the tears I’ve cried, if I didn’t do all of that, then I wouldn’t be able to say it. Everyone makes street music now. Everyone likes it; it’s popular. But when I say it, I seriously mean it and I’ve been through it. You can hear it in my voice. In my videos, you can see it in my face; when you see me in person, you can see it in my aura; and when you shake my hand, you can tell I’m a genuine person.
There’s no drill on the project, and that’s a sound a lot of people seem to be jumping on right now. I’d love to know your thoughts on the genre.
I’ve got a drill tune with Kenny Allstar coming out; it might even be out by the time this interview drops. It’s going to be such a surprise for them. At the end of the day, the beat is the beat. I can rap on any beat, whatever it is. Then it’s about the content of the lyrics and I don’t have to come out of my comfort zone too much. But fam, man doesn’t make drill music but I live a drill lifestyle. Even when I do my normal raps, my road raps, my sound is a sub-genre of drill. I’m just a more mature and palatable genre of that, so it was easy and minor for me to do the tune. I could do drill with my eyes closed, sitting down.
The current coronavirus situation means that live music is still quite a while away, but how excited are you to get on the road and perform the new project? Have you been planning anything in advance?
When it comes to March, when we start the tour, that week’s gonna be the best week of my life! I’m telling you now. I’m ecstatic and over the moon, and I can’t wait to hit the road. I’ll be able to bring my people out, see my fans. It’ll be massive for the industry.
We saw you touch down in a couple of cities recently on the pop-up tour. How was it meeting up with the fans in real life?
I can’t lie: you see up North? Well, once you get out of London, the love is always so much more intense and so much more genuine. So going to Manchester, and Liverpool and Leeds, and to even go to Norwich and all these little places, the people just come out and show love. But Manny, the people brought so much love. It makes me question: why don’t people love me as much in my own city? But you see what it is? The people up there wear their heart on their sleeves more. A lot of these fans have grown up listening to man, so seeing me now come out of jail and smash it like I have, people are like: “Bro! This is what we’ve been waiting for.” They’re just so happy.
Love that, man! I also saw you link up with Meekz Manny when you were in Manchester. Being from the city myself, I was so excited to see you guys together. Is there anything in the pipeline with him?
I’m literally on my to meet him! He’s in Essex right now. I’ve got a couple tunes with him, and I’ve got a good working relationship with him. I’ve got a good working relationship with a lot of rappers, though. But before—I wasn’t standoffish, but I was a lot more reserved with my approach into the music scene. But now, these man are my colleagues. Even you! Anyone who works in this thing is now my colleague. We work in the same building but just all on different floors. So we need to come and work together.
What’s next for Potter Payper?
Obviously, we’ve got the tour coming, I’ve got a couple of singles coming, I’ve got a feature-heavy project coming, I’ve got a collaboration project coming with one of my artists, and that’s leading us in and out of another album tour. I’m just trying to kill England, bro. And from there, the world is man’s oyster.