When you have a lot of talents you have to rock a lot of various hats, and when it comes to Egyptian-Irish rapper, Malik Polo – he fashions them all well atop his head. We talked about all the roles he’s had to play in his own career, the BLM Movement overseas, and his latest video for his single, “Changes” in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: You wear a lot of hats: rapper, producer, label owner. Which of these hats came first and what made you then branch out to other avenues?
Malik Polo: I first started rapping and eventually got bored of no one messing with me and sending me good beats so I decided to start making some which gained me some respect from other producers and then that evolved into wanting to help my fellow friends out by starting my own label Youtdem Records.
Kendra: Being Egyptian and Irish, you have a lot of amazing cultures packed into you. Do you find yourself pulling from each of them for creative purposes? Like taking traditional sounds from them and whatnot and incorporating them into what you do?
Malik Polo: Yea I’m very blessed with my heritage. I grew up listening to a lot of Arabic music and I’m very tight with my Irish family. Definitely, without my culture I am nothing and so is my music. I try to speak about the struggles of a Third Culture kid and often use a lot of North African soul and Reggae to help inspire me.
Kendra: As a Black woman in America, I can see where you were coming from when you lament about being an Arab man in London in recent years in “Change.” Americans sometimes forget that it’s hard as hell to be Black and/or Brown in so many places on the map. Do you guys have movements like Black Lives Matter in London?
Malik Polo: Yes we have struggles of our own here in London. We protested side by side with my black brothers and sisters during the BLM march in 2020. As an Arab living in London, we do have similar problems Black and Asian people face here in the UK.
Kendra: The video for “Changes” is really cool. I like the look and feel of you and your friends hanging out around the city. Was the concept pretty much all Isabel Scott, the director?
Malik Polo: The video was directed by my good friend Flora Scott. She came to me with the idea of basing it around the french cult classic ” La Haine”. If you haven’t watched it I suggest you do, it will make my song and video a lot more understandable. Flora came to me with the idea after I had shown her the song and with DOP Oscar Downing we were sure to get a great feel for the song.
Kendra: This single is from ‘Echo Chambers,’ a record you worked on with Ibn Itaka. How was working with them? Did they bring out anything in you that you’d yet to discover up until that point?
Malik Polo: It’s been interesting working with someone in a different country. We were only physically together once to make this project for a month when he visited London in November 2019. However, Ibn Itaka traveling worked in a favour for us as he ended up in Puerto Rico (where he’s originally from) and got some wicked musicians to play instruments on “Echo Chambers” which really took the project to a higher level. This won’t be the last time you hear Polo x Ibn.
Kendra: Lastly, it’s getting a little easier with the vaccine rollouts, but it’s still kind of hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned
in the coming months for yourself?
Malik Polo: The next few months we’re gonna play by ear and see how things open up. As the UK government is notorious during this pandemic of lying to us about when things are actually opening. We’ll see, just expect nothing and things will fall in place sometimes. Sometimes over planning is stressful and it doesn’t need to be that. Expect new music from some exciting artists I’m working with at YoutDem Records, the likes of Dojo, Stephanie Yiltay, and Chucho Ajene.