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Meet Col3trane, London's Globe-Trotting R&B Upstart

The 19-year-old makes music in the vein of How to Dress Well and Frank Ocean, and premieres the video for "Tyler" from his project 'BOOT.'

A little less than two years ago, Cole Basta was in his room, trying to not study for his college entrance exams. This was in London, where his parents—one American and one Egyptian—raised him for all of his childhood. In between useless crams of even more useless information, Basta checked his email, and found a letter from a management company. He thought nothing of it, and shifted his attention back to the books. At the advice of a friend, Basta eventually opened the email later that evening and discovered the group in question was a company courting his talent as they had previously done for clients such as Madonna, Lil Wayne, and Paul McCartney. A relatively unknown but intriguing talent in London’s post-R&B landscape, Basta’s Col3trane project was buzzing from its inception (he's now managed by TAP, who manage artists Lana Del Rey and Dua Lipa). Despite the attention, though, Basta still took his test. That was the last day he ever had to think about school again.


“After that [initial[ email I didn’t do shit in school. But it was a big thing for my mom, to finish in some way. I didn’t drop out or anything, I still finished for her,” he explains with a laugh from Australia, where he haphazardly tries to navigate an area he’s never visited before. “Fuck, hold on,” he exclaims at one point, interrupting his own answer. “I need to figure out where the fuck I am real quick.” In the world of Col3trane, this happens a lot; I can barely find my own backyard. Imagine being a 19-year-old thrust into lands both foreign and exotic, not to mention a rising star in the UK’s eclectic avant-pop scene.

When Col3trane eventually makes his way back to his hotel before a festival gig in Melbourne, he reflects on his 180° shift from a London boy obsessed with rugby and football to a globe-trotting bastard child of Frank Ocean and How to Dress Well filtered through a cheeky British accent.

“I’m looking at my suitcase right now and that suitcase has been with me to a lot of places. I’ve been living out of it for quite some time and it’s my best friend,” Basta says, only half-kidding.
“I’m going to places I never expected to go to, like, I’m in fucking Australia right now. That’s fucking crazy. I was just in Kazakhstan. Who the fuck goes to Kazakhstan? That’s so cool! It’s amazing and a beautiful place.”

This wildly quick journey from “kid who likes to make songs in his bedroom” to festival mainstay was a rapid one, and Col3trane’s path is a unique case in which an artist pops off via the internet, despite presenting a style of music that’s meticulous, precise, and sure of its sound. His breakout tape, Tsarina, came out earlier this year and features a legitimate hit in “Penelope,” but the record still grasps for something unique and transcendent without ever fully getting there. On the just released BOOT, Basta has come into his own as Col3trane, moving through the record’s seven tracks more assured in his own unique style than ever before.

“Tyler,” which Noisey is premiering today, is the album’s finale and its emotional center. It’s a smoothed-out, laid back R&B-funk track, equal parts Frank Ocean and D’Angelo. “'Tyler' caps off the essence of what I wanted to put forward with BOOT. I think the song really encapsulates the whole project,” Basta explains. “With the video, I wanted to take some inspiration from Fight Club but not make it too in your face or tacky. I wanted to show the duality of myself as a person and how sometimes I can be onstage and be this super confident, outgoing person and then sometimes I’m the opposite of that, where I don’t wanna talk to anyone and be left alone. I wanted to show that in the video.” Despite being a product of the web generation, the worst tendencies of our modern hellhole still keep Basta from fully embracing it.

“Everyone has that experience where they know someone on the internet then they meet them in real life and they’re a whole different person. I get, ‘You’re not who I expected you to be,’ which is a bit fucked, and something I get a lot. I’ve had that experience where I’m not who they expected me to be…The fucking internet, man. Saying it out loud is crazy,” Basta says, and you can almost hear the shiver emitting from his body as he reflects.

But BOOT is an antidote, it’s proof that good things can and do exist because of the internet. How else do you get a 19-year-old Londoner raised on American rap music pushing out perfected post-R&B to Middle Eastern audiences? The formula shouldn’t make sense but that’s why music is the best thing forever and always. As a teenager, Col3trane’s career is only beginning, but with his success proportionate to how long he’s been working, the workload can grow tiring. “Sometimes it’s difficult to keep that fire because life happens, but it’s definitely still there, just a little harder to find,” he says with a measured hush, before adding, “But when the sorcery shit happens, it’s amazing, and there’s no better feeling in the world.”

Will Schube is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.