'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.