- 28 Feb 23
Fresh from the success of the Full Circle mixtape with collaborator and Gliders co-founder Elzzz, Hot Press sits down with genre-blending rap artist TraviS to discuss faith, family, Nigerian-Irish culture and coming back for that No.1.
TraviS and Elzzz’ debut 8-track tape Full Circle, produced by long-time collaborator Liam Harris, was recently crowned the highest charting rap release in the Irish album charts to date, climbing impressively to the No.2 spot. Speaking to TraviS after their flashy Hot Press photoshoot, it’s clear the pair only strive for the top.
Having forged their multifaceted Gliders brand, which explores creative endeavours across fashion, art and culture, the duo dropped a limited commercial collection of their unofficial uniform, the G-suit. The hype it garnered online was spurred on by TraviS and Elzzz using the clothes in their music videos, helmed by Sam Fallover.
Their brash confidence on the mixtape, despite acting only as their first full-length project, is spine-tingling. Lyrically dexterous, the contrasting vocal tones of Elzzz’ deep cadence and TraviS’ high energy flow make for an epic pairing when fusing with Liam Harris’ addictive, hard-hitting beats. The Holy Trinity has landed.
“I was surprised at the reaction to Full Circle,” TraviS tells me, muting his phone from the constant calls. He’s in demand, clearly. “I’m very religious, so I was praying until our release date, but we were pushing for number one. In Ireland, you have to take the game seriously. Music is a lot of people's livelihood, and I’m trying to do this for people around me so we always have to top up the level. Every single time.”
His undeniable determination is part of why TraviS has reached his wider creative goals, having entered the modelling industry at 16, where he found himself in the presence of grime legend Skepta. Later, the 24-year-old joined forces with fellow rapper Elzzz, having become inseparable during the Covid lockdowns.
“I didn‘t follow any rules, but Elzzz didn‘t really either. I felt like I brought out a side to Elzzz that was more loose,” the talent recalls, smiling. “He was always his creative self but I really charged him and gave him a new perspective. I was a fan of his before, when he was in a group called Verified. I got to the shows cause MJ [Monjola] used to do Cleavage Collective. I saw him rap on stage and thought he was cold. Then I came southside during lockdown, and we just just automatically became friends. When God just pushes people together, you have to make something out of it.”
“Gliders are trying to really take this to the next level,” TraviS muses. “That‘s when you can look out for the people already around you that have been helping from the start. It’s a family thing. For me, there’s a certain spark I see in an individual. Some of the younger ones remind me of myself. The fact that I didn’t have a role model in the business makes me want to be that older figure who can guide them. The more I actually hung on, I realised that you can do anything with focus and will.”
Is being an underdog fundamental to your music?
“That‘s just me in general,” TraviS grins. “I’m an underdog to myself, not even to the industry. I don’t want to turn 50 without reaching my full potential. The next three songs we’re putting out are so much bigger. It’s about expanding. That mindset keeps me going, but sometimes I don’t appreciate the big moments because I’ve got tunnel vision about the next step. I‘ve been a confident boy from early on.”
“My older cousin introduced me to music and pop culture,” he remembers, warmly. “I see myself going down that path as a creator. Elzz is similar. That’s our roots. Growing up in Ireland and being the only Black kid in the school, that will either make you really timid or it’ll have the opposite effect. You’re the only one there, so you need a killer-instinct mentality because the mission to us is greater. We came from Nigeria, which means that we have confidence in how we move. We don’t want to settle. We believe in God, so it’s about serving something higher than ourselves.”
It’s not the first time TraviS has mentioned his relationship with his faith.
“I don’t want to sound too spiritual or anything but I’ve been using my faith in my creative process my whole life,” he declares. “When I was 16, I wanted to sign at a model agency. I prayed, and it happened. Then I was 18, having modelled for two years but it wasn’t going anywhere. I remember sitting on a swing, praying. The next day I flew to England and signed at the biggest agency in the world. That self-assurance comes from experiencing these moments. Africans are very spiritual. Rather than going to church all the time, it’s also a feeling in the culture that ties us to the spiritual realm. My ancestors have mad stories about their childhood.”
“My mom would take us to church every Sunday, without fail,” he adds. “When I turned 18, I wanted to figure it out for myself. I stopped going to church but then found God again in a new way. I left and came back to it in my own time.”
Being raised in a society where the Catholic Church had dominance, even in our hospitals and schools, what did TraviS’ friends make of his religion?
“I invited friends to my church and they would be blown away every time. It was so different to them,” he smiles, widely. “This isn’t just me going into mass, singing some hymns and being quiet. It was much more about joy, singing and laughing. Kids wouldn't really understand it but they wouldn't disrespect it because they see how much it means to you. Then you have some kids who thought I was crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I was still doing bullshit but I always knew God would forgive me!”
His mother is also forgiving, by the sound of things.
“She’s always given me support no matter what. She also runs her own business, so she understands the hustle. Mama Shee was the first to ever bring Nigerian dishes into Irish supermarkets. Hot Press featured her and she did The Late Late Show. My dad is completely on my side, but I've been tagging my secondary school principal on social media because he told me I should quit. Look at me now!”
TraviS’ father is a general in the Nigerian army, which means they’ve been separated.
“It’s interesting. When I was younger we didn't really have much of a relationship but now that I'm older it's different,” he tells me, relaxed. “We understand each other a lot more. Him and my mom are still happily married. I had that childhood resentment in terms of wondering why he wasn’t around, but now I understand it. Life is tough. My parents had to make sacrifices to even bring me here. Everything I do just has to be brought back into the family. I'm not doing it for just myself.”
The braggadocio at the heart of Full Circle embodies the raw passion of Elzzz and TraviS’ art form, using dexterous wordplay and a slew of references to various online personalities, local slang and sports stars. There’s also plenty of in-your-face cockiness. Is there a rigid idea of staunch masculinity still within rap genres?
“For sure, but it comes down to the individual,” TraviS muses, after a pause. “I rap crazy and sometimes the way I perform is very masculine, but I was raised by three women - my two aunts and my mom. I have a sister. To boys that come into this genre but have no female presence in their life, I understand how they would go down the overkill route. It sounds heavy hitting, but Elzzz and I have a soft side.”
“I love TraviS but that’s a character; even though everything I'm rapping about is real,” he continues, laughing. “Anyone judging me for who I am based on that character is stupid, but I stand by my verses. The actual TraviS is a parody of me, but it's the part of me that I'm creating to go get what I want to bring back to my family.”
“The people I work with are who I admire. I didn't look up to anyone here. There wasn't a blueprint Elzzz and I could follow, like I said. We’re just making our own and seeing how everything goes. My brother Malik actually got me into rapping.”
‘Dongo Interlude’ opens with an introduction clip from RTÉ News before slamming the need to “sound Irish” in the rap genre.
“I know who the hell I am,” TraviS insists. “I'm actually hanging out with Nigerians for the majority of my life. I do sound Irish to people who don't know me but people in Ireland don't think I sound Irish. That's kind of why we made the interlude because, at the end of the day, we’re Nigerian first. We're gonna rap the way we want to. I'm not going to get put in a box because people want me to sound Irish. That doesn't make sense to me. There are probably some people who fall into the pocket and then now all the music they make is very niche, and doesn’t leave Ireland.”
“I have one mission, which is to get our names as big as possible,” he tacks on. “I want global domination. Whether Ireland or anywhere claims us or not doesn’t make a difference. It’s not going to make me lose sleep.”
While some would reference the diverse, rich rap scene coming out of Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and Cork, TraviS doesn’t have any time for comparisons.
“When journalists try to compare us to Irish artists it's like, ‘C'mon - listen to the music, bro’. We're not the same. I don't want to sound ignorant, but my vision is past Ireland. The very first time we dropped a song we got reached out to by the two presidents of Universal Music in LA. We were at the last stage first and then we decided to just go independent and do everything we've done in the last year. I’m grateful for the route we’ve gone because it gave us a lot of insight into the game.”
“I'm grateful that we have such a nice support system, even though it took a lot of people to actually get off their high horse and take us seriously,” he laughs. “Release week, it was freezing cold but I was outside selling my mixtape. If you want to do this, you have to do it with your full heart.”
This year’s agenda? “We’ll be back for that number one.”
Full Circle is out now.
The new issue of Hot Press is out now, starring Inhaler and The Academic.