“I flip work! / I lipsed her! / I dicked her! / I fucked that!”
If you were paying attention in the shubz and streets of London during 2017’s hot summer, you’ll almost definitely have heard the vulgar lyrics above blasting from club speakers or a car stereo. The absolute heater of a track – “Run With Me,” by rambunctious London rap group House of Pharaohs – was given an incredible boost after being playlisted on Frank Ocean’s Beats 1 show, Blonded. The song may be blunt and crude at times, but it’s also an undeniable vibe, and more than anything it signalled a moment: House of Pharaohs had arrived.
Though House of Pharaohs aren’t sure how Ocean came across their track, the fact he picked up “Run With Me” is interesting. Ocean started out in the Los Angeles collective Odd Future – a group who, at least structurally, share similarities with House of Pharoahs. Comprised of six rappers – Sam Wise, Danny, Kev, Bandanna, Blaze and AJ – and an in-house team that includes management, dancers and fashion designers, HOP retain full creative ownership over their music and do so in a way that sets them apart from anyone else in the British music scene.
“We’re not trying to fit in. We’re doing what we do,” explains Kev, peering up from a spliff he’s billing on a table in London’s Southbank Centre. “It doesn’t run in our heads. If people respect it, they respect it. We’re not trying to force anyone to come.”
The “it” Kev refers to is the House of Pharaohs sound and aesthetic: a shared lifestyle of sorts that on one hand, presents bouncing, streetlamp-lit trap and on the other promotes a fierce sense of creative individuality across the group. They all come together to create something distinct, that’s more than the sum of its parts. Each member has their own creative project outside of HOP, dresses in their own way – mixing wavey thrift store finds with comfortable streetwear and sneakers – and comes forward with a palpable, singular steez. For example, Blaze recently released a turn-up track in “she gimme Ouu”; last year Kevin put a smoked-out tune called “Flex It Out” that’s as chilled as taking a morning zoot to the face. “And it’s all because we feel free to,” says Sam, grinning, who today is sporting a Pulp Fiction T-shirt as a reference to his track "Do or Die".
If it wasn’t already clear, let’s state a fact: House of Pharaohs are doing things differently. For example: 20 minutes before we’re set to meet, Danny calls ahead. He and Sam are waiting, he says, on the third floor of the Southbank Centre. On paper, this is a relatively banal experience to recount. However compared to the number of rap artists and groups who infamously turn up hours late to interview – often with an entourage in tow, and preceded by an apologetic PR – the direct, personable approach from House of Pharaohs is refreshing. Their manager isn’t here today, it’s just them – minus Blaze and AJ.
The Southbank Centre – a complex of arts venues along the River Thames – is the group’s hub and they often have meetings here, plotting their next moves from tables overlooking the water. Some of their members, such as Sam, grew up around the corner from here. Back when he and Danny were kids, they used to eat McDonalds and play hide and seek in the building, running from security and roller-skating on the embankment that runs from the London Eye down to Waterloo Bridge. Coming back here as young adults (House of Pharaohs members range from 18 to 22), the Centre has a distinct feel, an aesthetic they can’t quite put their finger on – one of grand iconic architecture, taking in several sweeping performance spaces (today, retirees are ballroom dancing on the bottom floor) – but that resonates as the place where they need to be.
Looking in from the outside, I’d wager the collective’s connection with the building has something to do with their mindset – of building something that isn’t simply music but extends into culture, in all its forms, like the events hosted within the Southbank’s walls. Nearly every member studied art in school; Blaze has a background in the West End (he performed in Oliver) and is working as an extra; and the group were recently featured in Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ ad (blink and you’ll miss them at the 01:39 mark). “With House of Pharaohs we feel we’ve only just touched on that area,” says Sam, explaining the group’s aspirations of moving beyond music and wanting to finance their own films. “But we also know we’re only young men and we understand the journey, so we’re embracing it.”
So far that journey has taken House of Pharaohs from Norwood school (where they met), onto Frank Ocean’s radio show to putting out one EP – last year’s Real Faces – and a follow-up five-track release, The Fix, dropping later this month (watch early track "Take Flight" above). The latest batch of music is versatile. They lay memorable, earworm flows over colourful yet dystopian, future-leaning production that sits somewhere between the tone of Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory and London’s rain-soaked evening streets. It all gives credence to the idea House of Pharaohs are leaning into creating something that sits apart from the rest of the MCs currently riding through the city. Inspiration-wise, the members say they don’t look to anyone except themselves. As Bandanna puts it – who has, to tell not a single lie, rolled up slightly late and slightly stoned with tales of throwing up the previous night – “no one does the same thing on a different song. That’s how House of Pharaohs grows.”
And when it comes to the topics House of Pharaohs discuss in their music, they’re not inauthentically flexing. They might talk about women they’ve slept with, or the work they’re putting in, but they’re not reaching toward anything that doesn’t feel true to their lives. Sam tells it like this: “We’re not talking about gang violence or heavy drug dealing because we’re not involved in that – so we might touch on a bit of dealing as far as we know it, but we’re not involved in it or pushing that agenda. That’s a big difference in our music from what’s popular now.”
In some ways, House of Pharaohs share similarities with other overseas collectives – A$AP Mob, Brockhampton, Odd Future – in that they’re looking inward and working with each other across all bases to produce a consistent and distinct body of work. However the comparison also isn’t something they agree with, and nor should they; every collective listed above is different, even those such as 808INK and Neverland Clan who are putting in similar work in the UK. “Humans like to compare. They don’t like to accept it for what it is,” says Danny, when I put the question to him. “For them to sleep at night they need to be like ‘You’re like this’. People find it hard to rest without understanding something, so to make someone think they understand it they need to put it next to someone else.”
Ultimately, House of Pharaohs – who one day want to create a label, HOPE (House of Pharaohs Entertainment) – are showing people there’s a new way to create music, to retain ownership, to be nothing less than their exact selves. For example, in their spare time, various members listen to people like Toro Y Moi, Casisdead, Homeshake. Danny’s favourite artist is King Krule, some of Sam’s early inspirations are Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne, Bandanna even shares a funny story about how they used to smoke weed and listen to Alt-J’s “Tessellate”. When it comes to being a collective, it’s about having strength in numbers, vibing off each other, growing together and becoming stronger as a result – assimilating all their various influences into the House of Pharaohs mould.
Sam – who has perhaps the most prominent solo career thus far, having worked with Octavian and released Noisey favourite “Lizzie” – says it best: “This is the path we’re on, it’s how it’s supposed to be. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for these guys.” For now, they’re carefully releasing new music (The Fix, which Kev describes as “old sauce but for new people” was recorded a year ago), doing things in the right way, letting everything build. “House of Pharaohs is timeless,” explains Sam toward the end of our conversation. “We’ve got the calibre of artists who can put out music and wait a year until their next project, but we just need to build up to that point.”
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