Lancey Foux, real name Lance Omal, started his music journey rapping over YouTube beats in his bedroom as a young teen, before a close friend took him to the studio for his first session. Since then, life has been a pretty wild ride for the 25-year-old talent.

PINK, Foux’s 2015-released debut mixtape, took him into a new space, blending his grime influences with trappy elements and Auto-Tuned melodies to create something that hadn’t yet been heard on UK shores. Since PINK, he’s released five more well-received projects: PINK II, FIRST DAY AT NURSERY, FRIEND OR FAUX, FIRST DEGREE and his new EP, LIVE.EVIL, all while securing a Skepta co-sign, an appearance at Rolling Loud Festival, and an impressive stretch of fashion ventures, taking him as far as Naomi Campbell’s catwalk for her annual fundraiser, the Fashion For Relief Gala. But even still, music always comes first.

Foux’s sound is rooted in a lust for escapism; trippy instrumentals, quick-fire lyricism and the occasional nod to iconic grime MCs, the time has come for the world to really listen. But please don’t box him in. “The stuff that I’m getting put in a box with, just leave me out of it,” he says. “I want to be on my own! I fuck with everyone but I want to be on my own and I just want to make my music. I’m not trying to get in anywhere, so my plan is to just influence. I’m not sitting and thinking that I have to get a Top 5 or that I have to get 10 million streams in a week.” 

We recently caught up with Lancey Foux in rainy Manchester before his performance at the MCQ x NQ event. Standing coolly, head to toe in MCQ’s latest season—leather, leather and more leather—the dressing room is filled with high-grade smoke, Hennessy, and good vibes. Surrounded by his crew, aka “the family”, Foux speaks about growing up in East London, his relationship with grime and veterans like Skepta, his new LIVE.EVIL EP, and much more. 

“People just miss the point because they look at me, look at the swag, and decide that this isn’t grime.”

COMPLEX: Lancey, first of all: how are you? Life is back to normal now so I can imagine you’re feeling good.
Lancey Foux:
Yeah, man, things are good. We’re just working every day, trying to make sure that everything I do—that we do—is super fine-cut, you know what I’m saying? It’s going somewhere; it’s not like we’re trying to make or do something that’s just a blimp. It takes time. I feel good about everything, though. I’m back active and it feels great.

So you’re here today performing at the MCQ x NQ event. Tell us about your relationship with MCQ and what you think about all the cool things they’ve got going on right now.
They’re a great team and they’ve shown me love from the start. I have massive respect for Rory, Lily, and everyone there. Through our time working together, they’ve taught me a lot about designing, fashion, and everything that goes on behind the scenes. I’ll never forget some of the lessons they taught me and I’ll forever be grateful.

Between your 2015 mixtape, PINK, and your new EP, LIVE.EVIL, you’ve shown a lot of growth as an artist. Walk us briefly through that journey.
You see everyone in this room? Everyone knows me. They can testify to how deep it is. People go off the music that comes out, so you might have your own view on my growth, but it’s just a little step. Behind all that, there’s been a lot of growth and we’ve done a lot of things in the last five years, but, really, just in the last year alone, we’ve been saying things and making some real steps. The most frustrating thing, though, is when some music comes out and you know that it’s not even the level you’re on right now. I hear stuff and I know that I’m way past that now, you know?

You started out by rapping over YouTube beats in your bedroom, right? Who were you taking inspiration from back then?
So many, man. My dad was a DJ and he used to play Ugandan music, Congolese music, so I would hear all of that by force. I would jump in his car and he would have all of that playing. But, aside from that, 50 Cent was the first rapper I ever bought a CD from—I was really invested in that. Someone asked me the same question and I mentioned Tinchy Stryder, that Star In The Hood thing… Wow. And he went to my school! Obviously, Skep is there, but Tinch was really out there. Creps: true to size! Long shirt, shades on. Him, Blade Brown, my cousin used to rap and freestyle as well, so I used to look at him too. Future’s another big one. I used to look at these guys and see myself in them. Gucci Mane, Prince, Michael Jackson, David Bowie. I was listening to Skunk Anansie, Pharell—there’s a lot, bro. Tyler, The Creator, too! I literally fuck with everyone.

You and Skepta seem to have a tight friendship. With him being one of the pioneers of grime, and the genre being birthed on the streets of East London, what’s your relationship been like with the genre?
Did you just hear that soundcheck? There’s two songs there and they’re really grime songs. People just miss the point because they look at me, look at the swag, and decide that this isn’t grime. But, it’s like, “Go on then! Go on then! Show ‘em online, send that ting to Dubai...” Bro, that is grime! But a lot of people miss it. I was talking to the gang about it the other day: unless it looks like grime, people are unsure. There’s grime in my music, 100%! Ghetts, Skep, Kano—so many guys—before I started listening to Future or any of them guys, I was listening to grime. Wiley! Bars, flows... When I’m listening to a song—beat aside—it’s about, how hard can my flow be? How hard can my bars be? Can I go quick? Can I slow it down? It’s about the essence. If there’s people saying they don’t use grime then they’re lying. Bro, there’s American guys rapping on that grime flow now and they’re not even realising. There’s some Lil Uzi songs that could be on grime beats, but people just base it on face value. I can’t even explain it—it’s everywhere! African music’s everywhere; it’s in everything. Afrobeats is in every song now, and the same goes for grime.

How did you go about finding your creative outlets in East London early on?
I was just living my own shit, really. I think, by the time I was 14, I had seen a lot. I’d seen all types of everything, and it took me to say, “Look, I’m doing my own thing now. I’m over this side.” I know what pain is, I know what joy is, I know what disappointment is—from the age of 14—so I think my position is to just show everyone that we don’t all have to think the same way: we don’t have to all move a kind of way, or talk a kind of way, or dress a kind of way. My brother even told me the other day... You know on GTA, when it’s like three characters? It’s like that. I’ve got a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in my life. I went through so much when I was younger, I became a whole new person, then I went through things in the middle of my life and became a whole new person, and then the good things happened in music and I became a whole different person. I’ve just added layers to who I am. That’s the effect that I think life growing up in East has had on me. 

When listening to your music, it’s clear you’re in your own lane here in the UK. A lot of people say you take a lot of American influence and put it into your work, but how do you manage to keep the balance of still keeping it unapologetically British?
In America, they treat me like a prince out there. But I’m just me. I noticed a long time ago that when I try to be too intentional, it doesn’t work, so I’m just me and it comes out the way it does. I wouldn’t say I’m doing anything American, because these guys that rap on Afrobeats, they don’t say, “Oh, I’m an Afrobeats rapper.” I’m just me and I figured it out.