Photo Credit: Ron Nengese
First Look Friday: UK Artist Angel Wants to Remake Pop Music
Angel is our latest First Look Friday feature. We spoke with the artist about working with Davido and French Montana, his outlook on quarantine, being grounded behind bars, and breaking out of the UK music scene.
Instead of magnificent wings and a glowing halo, Angel’s aesthetic includes a face tattoo, scripted ink on his body, a full beard, and, typically, a bandana or fitted cap. The two celestial beings — though different in manner of existence — both appear with intentions of delivering messages, one through an almighty creator according to Christian theory and the other through carefully crafted pop songs. Angel’s ethereal stage name, however, comes from a not so heavenly place.
“When I was in jail. I was different from the other inmates. The guards loved me,” Angel said. “They were like, ‘Yo, what are you actually doing here? You're an angel...’ and they would always call me Angel.”
Born Sirach Charles, religion and scripture enforce his moral compass, guiding him through life. When faced with jail time, the singer could only go one direction: out. For many artists, time behind bars activates a new passion for music. Customarily, rappers exit criminal rehabilitation facilities and immediately record first-day-out freestyle records, making fans aware of their freedom and warning both the streets and the competition of their return. For Angel, the latest leg of his career was motivated by thoughts and revelations faced in solitude for a crime he did not commit. (He spent eight months in jail for firearm and robbery charges in 2007. He would be found not guilty of all charges in 2008.)
Now, the multi-hyphenate talent is prepared to deliver songs of gratitude, romance, and navigating the peaks and valleys of life to the world. In March, Angel released “Blessings (Remix)” including a vibrant music video, premiered on OkayAfrica, featuring Davido and French Montana. The song and video is an effort to showcase global diversity.
Overall the production on Angel’s music fuses lush R&B instrumentals with hip-hop and pop-influenced bass and strings for a unique, genre-bending sound. His discography includes a handful of albums, extended plays, and mixtapes, including Quarantine, released via Soundcloud on May 1, 2020.
From participating in a band with his siblings in adolescence to now performing in adulthood as a 33-year-old musician, all of his musical branches grow from one trunk with deeply grounded roots. Growing up with a musically sound foundation, he often finds himself reminiscing on the reggae tunes his father, Tendai Charles, a talented keyboard player, had on repeat. His mother often found delight in sensual 1990s R&B acts such as Jodeci.
Quarantine restrictions have led Angel back to where it all started: his parent’s house in West London in what he refers to as “the dungeon.”
“It took me to go back to my mum's house in a little place called the dungeon downstairs. We grew up in that place. We got a little studio down there and that's how we started in that little room,” Angel shares.
As a part of Okayplayer’s First Look Friday series, we spoke with Angel about releasing a Quarantine mixtape, being a self-defining pop artist, and how the life-changing experience of jail-time impacted his career.
Let’s talk about the blessings remix. How did you meet both French Montana and Davido?
My A&R, Mark Pitts — great guy — came up with the idea. The original "Blessings" record was just myself. He was like, “You know, we should really make this a celebration, a track that people could also dance to when they go out into the clubs.”
So he sent the record to Davido, he heard it and loved it. He asked me how quickly I could get out to New York and actually booked the studio session to do this remix. That was so great, man. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was such a fun, exciting time. He came through, with like 10, 15 niggas, and the vibe was just raised. It was great because sometimes with remixes, people just send the record and they record wherever they are.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better my A&R hit me and was like, “Yo, I sent the record to French and he's gonna do a verse.” And the rest is history, baby. After I got those two verses, I was like, “it's a go, man.” I can't wait for the shoot and they started putting time and a place for the shoot. I flew out to LA and had the crazy set with the guys and that was the first time that I've ever had my own trailer. That for me was big because I've seen that all my life growing up. It was on MTV, it was on the films. it was everywhere. So, [to have] such a big budget and a big shoot...that was something that I won't forget.
One thing I did notice was that you had Black women of all shades in the video. In most hip-hop videos, the girls you'll see are light-skinned. Was it purposeful for you to have multiple dark-skinned women cast in the video?
Yeah, I'm trying to put across Black excellence. It would have been easy to get a light-skinned girl or Italian girl, one of these girls that you will see every day. It would just be too easy so I wanted to kind of bring it over and let me use some Black, beautiful women and show that proudly. We've got a lot of beautiful women out there and they never really get the exposure so I'm like, “this is one of those records that will live forever and one of those videos that you will see.” I didn't just want it to be basic, like, “Oh my God look you've got another light-skinned girl or another white girl.” That's too easy. That was definitely done on purpose.
I read that one of your goals with this remix was to kind of push for Global Diversity. Can you speak a little bit about some other sounds or cultures, you would like to unite musically?
In terms of my style, I like to say it's pop. I feel like people use the term pop all wrong. They think pop, that's like, I don't know, Katy Perry or something. I want to make great records. I don't just want to be like, “Oh, he can't perform on this page because he's too R&B.” I want it to be like, “No, he makes music. He makes popular music and relates to the world.” That's the kind of genre that I want to stay in and be in.
If I had to [name] my sound, it would have to be like Tracy Chapman. I love country, I love rock, but I still love that silky R&B vocal delivery. That's what I live for, that's what I love, that's what I grew up on. I grew up on Jodeci, I grew up on SWV, I grew up on all these things — Red Hot Chili Peppers. I grew up listening to Kurt Cobain. That's just music and that was great to my ear is what I embraced and I feel like that's what gave me my blend of what I do today.
Are there any genres that you would like to bring in on future songs to give you more diversity in your pop sound?
I feel like I'm influenced by all the different genres already.
We sit down and we say how can I make this more diverse? How can I make it more seen? And I think that sometimes we get stuck doing that, and I feel like we just need to let it flow. You never know how it's going to come out, what kind of beat is going to be, or how much of that genre that you put into your record that's gonna take you to where it needs to be globally. You just got to sit back and let God do his work.
I've spent a few years making one of the sickest albums, an album called Woman. I had so much fun making it, and I was in the biggest studio, doing great. I thought, “This has got to be it.” This was back in 2017, 18, I think. It didn’t touch the surface. I was with Island [Records] and Motown [Records]. I thought I was putting all my effort into something that was gonna be great. I got two of the biggest labels behind me, I've got a big studio and it was like, "Man, that's not the one."
So I've gone back to the basics — one laptop and a mic. And my notes on my iPhone and I wrote "Blessings" without any big hardware or anything and it was just me in the room. That record is what brought me to where I am now. I didn't need everything I thought I needed to get me to a great place, which is where I am right now. I don't think I've been in a better place. Sometimes we think too much and we think that we need this and we need that. But all you really need is the blessing of the Most High.
Photo Credit: Ron Nengese
Speaking of Woman and evolving from that album, what else has changed besides the record label? How have you changed as a person or musically? What has grown for you since then?
I spend a lot more time now in LA, which I've always wanted to do. I love London. London's my juice. That's where I get all my juice. When I'm in LA, I bring all that London juice to LA, and I'm able to have fun in a great way that I never thought I would.
[There's] a ceiling over here [in London], and I feel like I reached my ceiling. I felt like it was just time to do that transition to the states and it's going great. I went out and met Sony and RCA in New York, just before the quarantine, so that was great to meet people that are going to be running a mile for you and actually get what you do. So, yeah, a lot, has changed. I really don't have no business in London. All that I have in London is my family and I have to do some radio stuff over here, and that's just on the back of me going all the way to the states to find the team that believed in me.
What do you think is going to be the thing that takes you to the next level here?
I feel like I should do a few pop-up shows. I feel like I need to do a little radio tour. I need to do some interviews, so people can hear me live. And, most importantly, I need to put out some more great records. I don't feel like "Blessings" has reached its peak yet. I just feel like not even a third of the world has heard that record. And it's such a relatable record and meaningful record especially in times like now. I feel like that’s a champion record for all of us, even without being funny and cocky or being arrogant or ignorant in a selfish way. I really feel like that's like our Quarantine anthem. It just makes so much sense. It's very catchy and it's just, like with what we're really going through, it's like perfect timing.
Speaking of the quarantine, how did your Quarantine mixtape come about? Were you already planning to create some of those songs before the quarantine or has being forced to be inside kind of locked you down and made you record?
The great thing is I produce all my own records in house. It has been just me with my laptop mic. So even though [we’ve] been [under] quarantine there have been enough projects to keep me active. Even with the new EP that I'm working on. I'm finishing off those beats, recording some vocals and stuff on that project, and changing some stuff that I didn't like because I have the time. I don't ever have the time but I've got more than enough time now.
I've got all the time in the world and I love doing this shit.
Has this pandemic taught you anything about yourself or impacted your outlook on society or the music industry?
I was talking to my friend the other day and I said to him, “Listen, people have so many exotic lives. They can't stay in one place. They've got to go ahead, they go there, they go to all these places. And right now, you can't go nowhere, so it kind of humbles everyone.”
What if the world stops? Everything stops, no matter what you do, who you are, how big you think you are. We are all the same because we can't do anything.
You are back at your parent’s house, getting down in that dungeon. In fact, that's where you recorded “Blessings.” How was it growing up in that musical household?
Seeing my [dad] an epic, iconic reggae artist in your house when you wake up in the morning and stuff like that. It's like “where am I?” it's really interesting to see. Being so young and inquisitive, I asked a lot of questions. We had a lot of instruments. I'm talking Atari days. We had Cubase, and on Cubase you couldn't record vocals, it was just deep. You'd have to record your vocals on the eight-track or the four-track. This kind of gave me a head start. Everyone started doing a lot of these things later on in life, which is cool, but I was born in that.
Photo Credit: Ron Nengese
How did growing up in West London influence you?
It was great for me. I wouldn't change it for the world. As much as I was around reggae and all the other stuff, my friends and I would go out raving and stuff. It was just grinding. That was the culture, which I still love to this day. I had to go through that. I feel like, street culture there is a little bit grimy. It comes with a different energy to what I do now.
Being around these things I ended up getting in trouble, and even spending some time in jail growing up. It was a blessing, actually, to come out and to start to do what I love. Within a year of being out of jail, I got a publishing deal, and I was sent records all in the space of like six months. That was a great transition for me and it was just great to see how I got saved because I could’ve easily gone down the wrong road. I've got loads of friends, everyone ain't so musical. There are some people that ain't got nothing to lose, there are some people that didn't grow up with their mom and dad, there are some people that you know they go through different things. We fall into that trap, unfortunately. I got pulled right out of it and saw the light and started jamming, focusing on what I really really wanted to do thinking about how I'm going to change my life.
Do you think that you would have been able to become Angel and become this musician and make these pop songs without that time behind bars?
No way. That played a massive part. I was around a load of different friends, grimy ass friends as well, and some that had nothing to lose and that were misled and misguided but they were still my friends. You know when you've got some friends that are just coming from a whole different background than you, and someone else says, “I can't stand him?” I was like, “Well, I can, he's my friend. I don't see him like that. We have fun together, he's never said a bad word to me, but then he's grimy to some other people.” God had to take me from there and get me nicked to let me know the importance of everyone is not in your lane.
My dad used to always say, “Listen, stop following your friends, stop going on with them, because they haven't got what you've got. if they had what you had, and if they were in your position, I bet they won't come around and check you.” It's true.
Is it safe to say religion is very influential in your life?
I mean religion influences my faith, my art, and my whole life. Nothing happens without religion. I love that my dad was into that, waking up, giving thanks, and praising your life, reading the Bible. Even like my dad gave me a Psalm to read while I was in it. I was real into my Bible before any trouble happened. But after that, when I did have time to reflect, you tend to build a relationship with the Most High. Even the prayers that my dad gave me to read every day help me so much.
Photo Credit: Ron Nengese
What can new and old fans alike expect from you for the rest of the year?
I want them to expect a lot of music from me. Expect reflective records from me. My goal is to be able to put out music in the world and connect it to me once and for all like, “Wow, that's Angel, that's what he does.”
Now it's great. It's like, “Have you heard this guy Angel? [He’s] got a great record [called] "Blessings" and [he’s] got a remix with French.” That’s a great story but I want them to embrace me. I really want them to get a chance to see what I do. A lot of people could do what I do, but I just want to give them insight to where I'm coming from.
DeMicia Inman has written for PAPER, MTV News, Hello Giggles, and more. You can follow her work at MiciaGirl.com.