‘The state means to kill us’: meet Gaika, Britain’s most vital rapper

The Brixton artist makes tracks that focus on gentrification, violence and the immigrant experience – ‘black music with all the sex left in it and all the bullshit maths taken out’, as he says

Gaika has spent the day in Brixton’s Brockwell Park to try to find some space to breathe and ease a pollen-induced tightness in his chest. It hasn’t worked, and when we meet in a nearby pub it becomes clear that this sensation may have been triggered by something other than pollen.

Born to Jamaican and Grenadian parents, Gaika Tavares grew up in the area. He is in a sombre mood today, the second anniversary of his father’s death. “I did the particular walk to the park that I used to do with my dad,” he says. For the past two years, he has been absorbed in making an album in homage to his father. Even its title, Basic Volume, is a reference to the place he worked as a material scientist. Gaika is wearing a brilliant-white lab coat (“I thought it was apt”) over an orange T-shirt and jeans; his hands are adorned with gold rings and tattoos.

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