“It’s home, even when I’m not here” — Sheffield rapper MOAN talks about his cultural awakening and music as a movement
Set against the backdrop of protests in the second of the Kill the Bill protests in the city, I asked MOAN/Oxymoron to explain his thinking behind the names or rather the split personality approach.
First name MOAN, second-name Oxymoron, real name Joe White took a look around at the scene unfolding before beginning, as the chants of a city’s frustrated and emotional people signalled a change in the air, and it seemed apt.
“MOAN is an acronym for Message of a Nation, usually a positive message emanates from this alter-ego the voice of a nation if you will. Oxymoron on the other hand is the antithesis of the aforementioned positivity”. MOAN is the introspective element and Oxymoron is a vehicle of its own, Joe often finds himself flitting between the two.
The gruff delivery, a brooding menace is much more expressive, embodying anger and frustration, taking an all-around darker guise that is omnipresent throughout his music. It seems that Joseph (nee MOAN) has a lot to say and he’s just beginning to figure out the best means of explaining himself. The Oxymoron element to his music creation was born out of his time spent in Spain, back in January 2018, where he unearthed new approaches to his musical creativity and this anti-self became a vehicle for venting the things he wouldn’t say as MOAN.
In the song, ‘Why’s It All a Game Though?’ he muses “Why am I playing the game, why am I just not being me?” Yet when he speaks it’s clear that music is his vector for delivering a message, one in which he hopes people can relate, regardless of age/background. His songs are often born out of diary notes, a complex smorgasbord of emotions, feelings, metaphorical wordplay and hot takes about what is going on around him and the wider world. The lyrics in his songs are often extrapolations of both his and his friends' experiences, told from multiple perspectives in a rapping style that is eerily reminiscent of 90s era Hip Hop (domestic and international), painfully introspective yet conflicted all at the same time.
I asked what the city meant to him and he was remarkably frank, “well, Sheffield… it’s home, even when I’m not here. I started out making music at Hybrid Studios, delivered music workshops there to homeless people. It was a place where I could get into the mindset, it’s my base… my home of stylistic development.” Even though he’s spent much of his recent years living outside of Sheffield Joe often returns home to shoot music videos, see family and up until the Covid-19 pandemic even perform in the city, “Plot 22 put me on when they started out as a venue and I’ll always appreciate them for that. Performing there has helped me not only play with but fine-tune my approach to music performance and my vocal delivery.”
Joe has certainly been on a journey, creatively, spiritually and physically, raised across many different areas throughout the city his experiences and relationships with certain periods of his life is intrinsically tied to the music that he creates. None more so than his recent single, ‘Africans Made Me’, which was inspired by last years #BLM protests and charted his own steps to embrace his cultural background. Joseph is of Kenyan, Indian and British descent, in his own words he says that he never really ‘embraced being black, but after this uprising, I started to realise that I do actually politically identify as black’ — something which he spoke about in further detail last year at the ‘Hyde Park Leeds Socially Distanced Protest’.
We spoke about his upbringing and its bearing on his music, he has a distinct fondness for the city he grew up in even if he describes certain elements as being quite “traumatising, from being jumped as a kid, right through to run-ins that were potentially violent”. In 2016, he left the city in order to find himself and his purpose in music. His travels took him to Barcelona, where initially he felt imposter syndrome but it was key in helping define his direction, built up his confidence and shaped him into the person and artist he is now. He is also building on his experiences as an artist by studying for an Electronic Music Production degree at Leeds College of Music.
Like so many other artists Covid has significantly impacted both his musical output and planned performances for over 12 months now, forcing the realisation that he wouldn’t be able to achieve his goal of 100 live performances by the end of 2021. Joe rather candidly reveals that he’s been pretty much sat on his first album as a result of the current state of play, with no intention of rushing its release. It’s a 12 track production called ‘Truth & Decay’ — “It’s without a doubt my truth as accurately as I’ve ever managed to do yet”. The album will feature a few notable collaborators, Scumfam’s Milks, Joe Publik (from the Isle of Wight) who has previously worked with some of MOANs favourite rappers. Converse and Bxbarian are two London-based rappers who feature, with more work in the pipeline, and finally Aggie Yates a Sheffield singer who has yet to release a project of her own.
For now, he’s mostly focusing on producing video content as a result of the lockdown, managing to release a video every 4-6 weeks on average, as well as running his own record label, Message of a Nation Records. He plans to use the label as a platform to help propel other artists into being successful on their own merit, while also encouraging collaborative efforts with other artists.
After this project is released, Joe says he plans to take some time to explore, see where he’d like to go next and discover more of Joe/Moan/Oxymoron… looking for a booking agent, to help him grow.
*MOAN’s album Truth & Decay is currently slated for release by the Sheffield-based independent record label Message of a Nation sometime in 2021. In the meantime you can find more music and videos by MOAN / Oxymoron on Youtube, Bandcamp. Soundcloud and Spotify.*