Yorkshire-based alternative rapper Wilko Wilkes is steadily building a catalogue of fascinating and ambitious tracks which tell stories in his hard-hitting, fast-paced style. Often throwing in twists, humour, obscure references and crazed laughter into his tracks, ABCDEpression is no different.
On the back of his new release Britishhiphop.co.uk caught up with the man for some insights.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you are from?
I live in Bingley with my wife and our cat Desmond, who occasionally makes appearances on my social media. I work full time in digital inclusion and I am a facilitator at Andy’s Man Club Leeds, as well as doing voluntary work for Leeds and District Football Association and Age Friendly Leeds.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Can you tell us what your latest track is about?
Wilko Wilkes: ABCDEpression is my attempt to put into words the constant battle that is depression. Everybody’s experience is different but I’m sure anyone who’s living or has lived with the condition will identify with some of what I’m saying. I don’t want people to worry about me – I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, but the effects aren’t just fly-by-night, it’s something I have to manage and stay on top of and probably will do as long as I live.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Can you tell us what depression has meant to you?
Wilko Wilkes: I spent many years running from my own mind, the crippling and debilitating way it made me feel, the incessant internal chatter spinning me this way and that way and I was a slave to its every jibe. I’m by no means moaning about life – I’m extremely grateful to be here and for all the opportunities I’ve had, it’s a gift and I try to enjoy every day. But it’s a tough world out there sometimes and if you’ve got a natural chemical imbalance or a depressive nature it can be a frightening and overwhelming slog.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: When did you start to address the depression?
Wilko Wilkes: Since about 2015 I’ve been on a journey to improve and correct a lot of my thought patterns, to stop listening to the harmful thoughts and fight back. The thoughts are still there but I can deal with them better. I’ve been through cognitive behavioral therapy, adult ADHD assessment, counselling, medication, peer support and a whole lot more to strive for a better life, to find some peace and contentment in my restless soul, to find my authentic self and try to be comfortable with it.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Sounds like a difficult process. What are the key things you take away from this?
Wilko Wilkes: It’s been difficult and I’ve had to unlearn a lot of bad internal habits and re-frame them, forgive myself for wrongs of the past, be kind and encouraging to myself and nurture my mental health, but it’s been the greatest journey and it led to the rapping odyssey I’m on now!
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Why do you think that rapping became your outlet?
I’m from a musical background, I played piano as a child and studied music theory to Grade 3. I was obsessed with lyrics and could regularly be found studying album sleeves and learning or transcribing the words.
Despite my usually cheerful nature, I’ve always had struggles and internal battles with various aspects of my mental health. One dream I always had was writing and performing my own music but I was held back for many years by the shackles of my own mind, too scared to put myself out there. I couldn’t even finish a song for most of my life, I’d often start writing but I would quickly lose faith and tear it up after a few lines.
During a course of counselling in mid-2019 I realised that this was something I had to do, and I started working hard towards my dream of playing live and spreading some joy through my love of music.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: So was the effort worth it?
Wilko Wilkes: I am at a point in my life where I’m happy to talk openly about my mental health and do so regularly (shout out Andy’s Man Club) but I wasn’t always like this and I feel happy to be able to put material like this out there, even if I am a little nervous about it all! But I can’t hide away anymore.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: How does making music fit into the healing process?
Rapping and writing are ways for me to express my feelings and grow my mental toolkit and I’m a big believer in having a creative pursuit, but it was a long journey to get here and it’s a journey that never ends. I think everyone should take some time to look inward and practice self-care and my advice is don’t wait until you’re at breaking point, start today for a better tomorrow.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: Was creating the depression track a cathartic process?
Wilko Wilkes: Writing ABCDEpression was the ultimate outlet for me. Working within the A-Z format was a chance to really vent in some depth, and as a piece of writing it was a challenging structure that made me think about every word. I hope you enjoy the track and I hope it helps for some people to see me putting my vulnerabilities out there like this in a way that I never would have considered plausible a few years ago.
Writing ABCDEpression was a challenge but I like to do something a little different with each release. Putting together sentences of alliteration on a specific subject whilst still making sense and rhyming was like doing a jigsaw puzzle and I found it exciting and cathartic to write.
Britishhiphop.co.uk: What do you want on the back of this release?
Wilko Wilkes: I’d love to hear your feedback on this track, I’m always trying to improve and hone what I’m doing and honest feedback helps tremendously with that so give me a shout! And please help by hitting like, share, comment etc. sending to friends, bothering the neighbours etc. so that hopefully this can get into some ears that appreciate it! The track was recorded with help from Leeds City College Arts Fund at their recording studio in Leeds city centre.
Having recently played successful sets at the inaugural Bradford Buskival and Santiago Bar in Leeds, Wilkes has plenty in the pipeline and is already planning for 2022 as he hopes to bring his thoughtful brand of socially conscious rap to the masses.