INTERVIEW: Reali-T | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Nick Wesson

Having arrived in the north from the mean streets of  London to study at the University of Sunderland, Newcastle’s Tomilola Ayilara – aka Reali-T – is one of the best up and coming MCs in the north-east, with his debut album Stay Tuned set for release on Monday 5th June. To quote one his own songs, he’s done quite well for a guy that came from Hackney.  “I came to study pharmacy; didn’t take it very seriously, and ended up becoming a pharmacist anyway,” he laughs.

Sitting down with Reali-T in the rarefied atmosphere of Gateshead’s Central Bar, talk almost naturally turns to how he adapted to the slower pace of life in the north: “I’m kind of like Benjamin Button,” he smiles. “I was born like an old man and I just like tranquillity. London’s too much hustle and bustle. If you get in the way of someone who’s late for work, they’ll just push you on to the tube tracks!”

Was there ever a difficulty fitting in? “When you come to uni, you gravitate towards people who are similar to you. People from London who come here. Then you stop being anti-social and hang out with other people.”   

But I’m all about, you know, catching peoples’ attention

It seems a suitable point to ask about the opening track on the record Black Guy in Your Neighbourhood. Was there a particular thought that you might be making this song as statement? “When I first wrote the track, I wanted it to be humorous because there’s a lot of caucasian areas in the north-east and I just…wasn’t. Then it was like, ‘oh, black guy in north-east rap.’ But I’m all about, you know, catching peoples’ attention. So if people see that as the first track, they’ll be ‘what the hell?’ But then even if they don’t want to listen to me, they’ll want to hear what I’ve got to say. Although they might not like what I’ve got to say because they voted for UKIP!”

When asked about his introduction to hip-hop, it turned out that his first outing came directly as a result of education: “When I was fifteen we had to do this beat on the computer in GCSE Music and there was this girl I had some beef with. I did a song about her called Butters. Butters means Ugly.” There’s an embarrassed laugh. “I was a misogynist!” He continues: “Then a guy I knew told me I should get into a studio and record so I made a group and then I got serious. I started listening to the greats. Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Eminem.”

There’s a pleasing symmetry between those early steps into rap and how Reali-T pursues it now. Education accidentally started his journey but it’s the result of that education that is allowing him to pursue his music now. “What I really wanted to do was get a degree first, before I concentrated on music. Basically, I’m a mummy’s boy and she wouldn’t have allowed it. But, getting a degree, I’m a pharmacist. Anything I want to do with music, I can pay for.”  As he says on the album, it’s kind of ironic that he really did sell drugs to get here.

Reali-T plays Arch Sixteen Café, Gateshead on Sunday 4th June. Stay Tuned is released on Monday 5th June.

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