'Memories' the debut collaborative underground tape from North London duo; producer Luca Santamaria and vocalist J Rhys dropped 3 months ago yesterday, and it's still landing on the ear with just as much impact now, as it did on that very first listen. This refreshingly raw, experimental and introspective 10 track tape, blew us away with both the production and lyrical elements cooperating effortlessly.
The 17-year-olds flex countless styles and genres with skill far beyond their years. Without surrendering the album's core sound, each track delves into completely unique territory. It's rare you hear this kind of confidence to experiment so early in someone's career. Memories captures a grassroots snapshot of modern-day London over an array of intricate yet slick sounding beats, all jam-packed into one solid no-skip package.
Hailing from Highgate, Luca Santamaria has been making beats and experimenting with different sounds since he was about 14. Although he is most well renowned for his production qualities, he also hosts a range of talents that are helping him establish his name within the music industry so convincingly. Along with curating some of the coldest beats coming out of the underground scene right now with artists such as Laurel Smith, Natanya Popoola and Dfunds, Luca lends his hand to the photography, marketing, and editing aspects of his art too, describing himself more as an entrepreneur above anything else.
Drawing influence from a span of different cultures and sounds, Luca has recorded from his bedroom studio since he was in year 10, working with a handful of rappers on various loose projects and singles he dropped on Soundcloud. Yet he was always pushing on to take things further, more seriously and hone in on his craft. Currently studying sound engineering at Elam Music College, Luca is hopping from strength to strength and has serious plans in the works soon to launch his Studio2001 and Santamaria Records brands over the coming weeks. Even though primarily the producer constructs 'Hip-Hop' beats, his sound includes elements heavily inspired by his Argentinian X British heritage and artists such as the Gorrilaz, Moby, Mobb Deep and the Pharcyde. Luca has this knack to keep it relatively straight forward yet unconventional simultaneously.
''Hip-hop came naturally to me, I felt like I was living hip-hop''
Luca and Jake attended Fortismere Secondary school together. Although they spent 4 years in the same actual class, they bothered with separate groups of people and it wasn't until they were finished sitting their final exams that they began to become closer through music. By the sounds, Jake was a bit of a 'myth' to his fellow pupils and Luca says he actually never really saw him around.
Like us all, J Rhys had his troubles growing up. Yet it never held him back from soaking up the things that were happening around him with a level head to arrive at his own conclusions and perspectives. His measured approach conveys a maturity of people twice his age and this is something you really hear throughout all his lyrics. Although he was eventually kicked out of his high school, Jake is currently studying a theatre course at BRIT School; the same place that nurtured artists such as Blaze YL and Loyle Carner. He admits people had their doubts about him at the time, but now he's back grinding music seriously again they are beginning to see his progress.
Jake has been writing bars since he was just 11 years old. Starting out with poetry when he was younger, Jake soon turned his mind toward a more serious pen game. Nailing it down to when Stormzy dropped his blow-up track 'Shut Up' way back in 2015, he feels it inspired him to take his evidently brewing talent more serious and focus more of his energy into it.
''That's when I first sat down and thought, right, I can write something''
J Rhys' ability to portray such clear messages and vivid scenes is really compelling. It installs a depth into every song on the album that keeps you fixated on what he has to say. What's even more impressive is Jake's versatility on how he presents us with these statements and stories. Countless flows, chopping and changing them up within songs, floating in and out of melodies, dabbling in double entendres and punchlines. Representing his JTR (Journey to Riches) collective, Jake Summers is here for the long run.
''It got to the point people were telling me that the beat is good but the rappers are shit Luca, you need to get a good rapper''- Luca S
''and That's where I come in!'' - J Rhys
Last Summer, whilst Luca was still scheming away, the pair got back in contact with each other. Jake sent Luca a voice note, spitting a few throwaway bars, at this time he was still writing music but was unsure exactly where to take it or how seriously. As you can hear from the clip, it clicked right away for the producer, he knew this was his guy. It eventually led to the recording and release of their debut track; 'North of The River', the outright hip-hop-influenced riddim that solidified all presumptions that the pair have unchallengeable chemistry as soon as they enter the booth. Though it has a comparatively different vibe to the album, North Of The River could sit comfortably in a huge amount of established rappers discographies without looking a touch out of place.
After they had finished creating their first track, Luca knew he had to tie Jake down and get an album recorded. Jake and Luca's potential only needed that slight nudge of motivation from their counterpart and the flame was lit. They both share a drive that was locked into from at a very early phase. Speaking with UK Underground Rap, J Rhys explained he was thrilled to have that person that pushed him to make the most of his budding talents and abilities.
He went on to add:
‘’I’ve always had the links to people who want to do music, I've just never had the confidence to go after it properly and say I’m gonna make a career out of this. So now we’ve found technique, flow and we got a craft going now. I feel like I can really see the future for me and Luca.’’ - J Rhys
Every day, Luca is up early in the am, cooking away at his next beat or putting in that groundwork for his upcoming ventures. He told us he learnt so much more during his time recording Memories because he had someone finally trying to push him past his boundaries. The plan was just to spend a month or two putting a few songs together with J Rhys, creating enough content for a small project or E.P. However, it came apparent very quickly inside the first handful of studio sessions that this was destined to be something far more significant than that.
The pair became very close, very quickly. Whilst still studying and balancing all the commitments and complications of real-life, the guys still managed to get into the studio together at least twice a week. During these periods tucked away in Luca's bedroom, both he and Jake found they were learning so much more than they had originally envisioned. Before setting out to record Memories they were both already relatively experienced in writing and recording but had never found that body of work to inspire them the way Memories did. That kind of motivation only amplifies the number of things you can learn about making music, whilst you're actually making music. Bouncing off of each other with ideas and sounds, their two very close but opposite worlds came colliding together. From here, both Jake and Luca buckled up and began to focus in on the project, channelling all their time and energy straight into its neck. Days flipped into weeks, weeks into months and suddenly the music they were sitting on was sounding far too exciting to be flash-dropped up online. The writing and recording process ended up at over year in its entirety.
As the plan for a more valuable, full-length mixtape solidified, Luca found himself meticulously editing the tracks until things just felt right. 'Memories', the soul-infused slow jam featuring underground vocalist Laurel Smith (who's also definitely worth checking out), wraps the album up and was actually the first song they extracted from these sessions. Jake wasn't originally feeling this track stating it took him a while to realise its place on the album. It wasn't until after it's release he began to vibe with it after hearing peoples reactions. Luca pushed for it to feature on the tracklist and compares it to Notorious B.I.G and how he hated 'Juicy' at first.
Chopping and changing samples, adding the finer details and presenting J Rhys with clean yet technical beats to write his thoughts over, Luca told us once he saw the potential he wasn't letting it slip. His sound is raw and so fresh in its essence, yet polished and controlled in its finished state. It's almost as though he has no 'go-to' limitations, nothing is recycled. Latching on to a certain concept or sound, Luca keeps that same synergy running throughout all aspects of the production like the drums, samples, breaks etc and then contrasts it within the melodies. As both artists became more technical in the skillsets, they became equally more aware of the things that needed to be better or improved within their own work. That's something I love about this tape and something that keeps me keen to hear anything Luca has produced. On each track assigned to Memories, J Rhys fires his own unique depiction of a certain topic or vibe so clinically and Luca has been able to offer the perfect platform for him to do just that by not just pinning himself to one particular lane or genre. Their willingness to experiment and break the mould is something to admire.
''I found when you know someone is making a beat for you you feel a lot more free to say what you wanna do'' - J Rhys
''Yeah, If you catch that moment when both of you are really like, RIGHT there, you just find that special chemistry'' - Luca Santamaria
After months of graft and tinkering, it popped off properly for J Rhys and Luca Santamaria on April 24th. About 1 month into the lockdown they released their leading and only single - 'Zipties'; a piercing showcase of Jake's Grime and Hip-Hop influences oozing with technical rhymes and wordplay as he delivers a precise 2-minute verse. You could argue there is a hook in Zipties but I think the structure or lack thereof is what made this tune so unique and appealing.
I also think J Rhys' tone across such a laid back yet captivating beat is what gained this track it's wider interest. Also, not just what he's talking about but how. He floats between intricate combative bars and holding hazy melodies, not only that but stepping the flows' pace up and down as he pleases, laying down his intentions and questioning the people that doubt him.
This track is the epitome of Luca's production, simplistic yet it's bursting with all the technical subtleties and backing synths that keep it engaging from start to finish. The kick drums hit with an unearthly impact each time; I love the drum pattern and find it especially sick how he integrated the adlibs on this one too.
They were genuinely surprised by its response and how much hype it built up in such a short period of time. In fact, their only regret with this album was not releasing a few more tunes in the months prior to garner even more interest, but it's an easy thing I know they will have live and learnt by. By the time Zipties dropped Luca and J Rhys had already set a release date for the album so didn't want to rush extra singles out and over saturate too quickly.''It got the most streams but I feel like there are other songs that are equally as good.'', they agreed.
The album opens with a kind of 2-song introductory package in the form of 'Bounce' and 'Untitled'. Bounce, the shortest track on the album at just 1 minute 42 seconds, is a playful but devious taster for what is to come. Each track hosts its own personality, Bounce is cheeky and tentative in both it's vocals and production. Toward the end, you're not sure if the album is going to retreat into something more passive or explode into intensity when it gets cut short with a splash of 90s hip-hop style transitioning as J Rhys states: ''We need to get the bangers in!''
In this age of sub-2-minute tracks, I love we're treated with longer songs throughout that have a chance to evolve and switch up. Whereas Bounce is more a tongue in cheek overview of Jake's general attitudes and feelings, Untitled is a more hungry, malicious, retrospective look back at his story and growth as a person.
The production on this one is fuelled by soul-style high pitch vocal samples. A pure head bopper that leaves no bad taste for the purest of hip-hop fans or new school enthusiasts. it opens and closes with a casual and snappy hook courtesy of Jake, in between sits a compilation of personal and optimistic thoughts that really get you thinking like Jake and seeing things from his standpoint.
''Let me start this, let me tell you pricks about my life,
took a long time in the darkness, just so I can see the light''
It's at this moment in the listening experience that the aggression takes you for a surprise and you know Jake has only been teasing, warming up for what's to come.
Jake's a sponge to every influence in his life, one half of his family raised him on the laid back RnB, Reggae side of the culture whilst the other were ravers in the 90s through the DnB and garage eras.
Something I especially love about how that transpires into his lyrics is the listening versatility and replay value of his songs. I feel each record on Memories resonates in so many different situations; if that be you are driving around on a rainy night or sat on the beach drinking underneath the sun. You won't hear anything half-hearted from this duo I can assure you that.
As you arrive at the 3rd track, '-25', the tempo really ramps up in the production. J Rhys stays relatively laid back on this one. The intro eerily creeps up on you, Jake hums his hook away whilst Luca plucks chirpy piano notes with a touch of high hats and snares. This raw stripped-back riddim really kicks in at 1:05.
Similarly, one of my personal favourite anthems 'August 17th' begins with an equally as chilling synth that grows in potency. The chorus crescendos in as this time J Rhys chants the hook with greater intent.
I feel the first verse shows Jake is one of his most attacking forms across the entire project. He launches into his opening verse with ''It's been a long day today and that's fine'' and then goes drops poignant statement after statement in amongst his wordplay. The contrast from the beat between the bass and the little chime that is sprinkled across it is so sick; this is the track Luca is most fond of too. Such an experimental effort that has that true underground spin to it. After the second hook, Dfunds contributes his first guest verse of the album. A short but sweet 12-second snippet that compliments J Rhys' tempo nicely.
What's great is how the guys have been putting on for other artists so early in their career. The whole JTR / Stu2001 operation is a real community at its core. Luca alone has around 10 different artists he works with regularly to produce content.
DFunds has been close with Jake since they were young. They grew up together, doing what kids do, all the way through school and now into the music industry. Funnily enough, he ended up in that same class as Luca and Jake in school. He mentioned to us about the advice he tries to give to anyone emerging or starting out,
''the attitude you have to have with music is always be open to criticism, you're never gonna make a song that everyone likes.'' - J Rhys
Both Luca and Jake very aware of their own personal attitudes and most importantly HOW to take any criticism. They feel it's all about taking it in, in the best possible way so then they're able to grow as artists. However, front to back, 'Memories' homes a worthy 10 tracks at 26 mins 31 secs in its full duration, and it definitely doesn't leave much room for any criticism
'Get It Straight' and 'Shell It' are more organized, trappy records. Jake opens Get It Straight laying his rhymes down spaced out, hitting each beat crisply. He slowly turns up the temperature throughout until he approaches the final verse. By now, J Rhys is out like he's seeking revenge, tongue-twisting bars come thick and fast with rhymes and his trademark subtle wordplay. His scope to cram all these different styles into every song keeps you so eager to hear the next moment, at any point the track could flip and feel completely different.
This leads us onto 'Warrin', the darkest, coldest episode from the tape. It has a slightly sinister atmosphere, Luca really outdoes himself in integrating all the components of this track to create something so provoking. Amidst the chilling melodies, Luca peppers in some drill-like samples that just keeps the sound coinciding with the equally somber content of the lyrics. You hear Dfunds go back and forth in a slick display of bars with Jake for his second appearance on the tape. The pair duck and dive their way through the record, smoothly intertwining the hook with the help of some modernised wheel-ups in the beat.
The number of rhymes here in Jake's opening verse, accompanied by his coaxing flow, is just too cold.
J Rhys, Verse 1 - 'Warrin':
The remaining track 'Thinking', is powerful yet relaxing. One for the blazers, I love how he phrases things here, it's properly straight to the point. Another soulful, London hip-hop twist that is definitely one of our favourites. We actually featured this as our Track of The Week #6 a few weeks back.
''If you're running a race with a bunch of people slower than you, you're gonna win, if you run with people that are better than you, yeah you're gonna come last but you're going to run way faster than you did with the slow people''
- J Rhys
It's evident this album was made to showcase their diversity. 'Memories', puts North London back on the map when it comes to all aspects of the music involved. By far one of the hardest tapes to emerge from the Underground this year, Memories is a feast you shouldn't let pass you by. Both Luca and Jake are super tuned into the scene and what kind of sound 'Underground rap' represents. Luca refers to it simply as 'melodic trap' and, like Memories, feels it's for the people who have just 'had enough' of some typical Drill and Rap tunes.
A very mutual agreement seems to be held between them both. Too often a producer is outshone by the vocalist they work with socially and publicity-wise. Although J Rhys may feel like the face of the brand, he puts his full effort into ensuring Luca is given the props he deserved and not just known as the person behind the buttons.
There are no solid plans in the works for any videos as of yet but when they know it'll match the quality of the music it may just happen. This project doesn't even scream out for any visuals, the imagery is so vivid and clear it sits very easily as it's own audio-pure delight. They made the most of the lockdown period to finalise and release the album on May 8th and have also been knuckling down working on some new material.
The boys are just trying to work with as many artists as possible to build up their portfolio, trying to get the most tunes down as they can. J Rhys and Luca Santamaria told us exclusively we will get to hear a new single or even possibly a new 3-song E.P at the end of the year depending on how things go, but for now, Memories is plenty to get us through.
I truly feel this is only the beginning for both Jake and Luca and have all my faith in their capabilities to work together. As for what's next, Jake is focussing on building his Journey To Riches (JTR) brand alongside his fellow members: Dfunds, D.Avz and Dryames. Freestyles, visual content and new music are all imminent and you won't want to miss it. Jake's personal goal is to have 10,000 monthly listeners before next summer.
Luca has a brand new tune just over the horizon titled 'Scammers Elite' featuring Dfunds. This one has been teased to us for a while now but I'm sure the track will live up to it's hype. There is a very naughty sounding snippet up on Instagram that has got us buzzing for its release. JTR/Stu2001 have been grafting the most in this so be sure to check out the pre-save link here and support the true artists.
Be sure to STREAM 'Memories' here and follow both Jake and Luca on Instagram. We'll be keeping you updated with anything new coming from both of these artists and we're hoping to work together again soon. Huge things to come from the Underground scene and you'll be seeing the names Luca Santamaria and J Rhys mentioned in that conversation huge amounts more very very soon, the best is definitely yet to come.
Check out these songs and so many more underground gems over on our official Spotify playlist. Both artists told us they have picked up some new music from the playlist too, so for any submissions hit us up on the email - firstname.lastname@example.org!
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