Interview: BarelyAnyHook on His Influences, Hennessy VS Class, & Future Projects

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BarelyAnyHook, born Ejiroghene Kelechi Ekperigin, who grew up in Lagos started like many great artists: singing in the choir. Although for Ejiro, music wasn’t his initial creative outlet, it would become his primary mode of expression. His venture into music came during his experimentation with acting. BarelyAnyHook was part of the recently concluded Hennessy VS Class in which he rose through the competition to the finals emerging runner-up.

Entering the competition without a game plan, BarelyAnyHook displayed an exquisite pen game in a show he saw as “a series of performances.” As an all-round creative, BarelyAnyHook has gone from acting to singing, to poetry and now rapping which he has found allows him the utmost freedom of self-expression. Self-expression and discovery are super important to Ejiro. Although he is influenced by what he listens to, Ejiro believes his sound is all about putting his creative spin on things. “The second influence would have to be myself and ways of trying to make that little nugget that I’ve seen or used before and make it into something that is brand new,” he says. In this conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we talk about his music journey, sound, and style, the Hennessy VS Class, and what’s next for the 30-year-old rapper.

Can you take us back to when you first picked up an interest in music? What do you remember about that time?

I was in the choir as a kid in Benin. I have a general gospel background family-wise. In primary school, I watched a shit ton of Disney movies. There was always music in Disney movies and that was my shit. All that stuff was where I honed in on things. As a creator, I started with acting and then moved to poetry. I had a rapper friend who eventually put me on. In my mind, I was like “I’ve seen them do this shit in videos. That shit is tough. These niggas are hard. I’m none of this.” I didn’t understand where I could approach that kind of thing. But I did it in my own way because it was long-ass poetry about love and shit, and I was still translating some of that into bars. It was a rough process at first but after a while, you hone in on yourself; say what it is you feel and find out how to word it.

In a video from 2019, you said you make music to understand yourself. Is that still the case or has why you make music changed?

I feel like that’s what everybody who makes music similar to what I do is doing it for. But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s ever going to change because we are constantly changing and experiencing new shit. It’s moment-by-moment processing for me. It’s like a nice little gas valve. You sort of just let out a lot of emotions in one space and whatever those are no matter how honest and true, you just put it down.

We love that a lot and feel like that’s what everyone is doing. We’re all on different journeys of self-discovery. Can you tell us about choosing the name BarelyAnyHook and any deeper meanings it might have?

It started from a project that was a formative period in my writing where I was doing a lot of rapping. Some of it was good, but it was just an entryway into what else I could do with the muscle. It had a lot of repetition, clipping things, and just mental games to try and work out the muscle to find out what it could do. The course of all that stuff involved leaning into different things I thought were interesting or cool, like different styles. It helped to build character and build flow and a lot of that process condensed into a body of work I’d wanted to put out. The thing was we didn’t really know how that process went so we just never put it out. At this point, I listen to it and can tell that there was a lot of growth that needed to be done, but I see where parts of what I do now originated. The name of the project was “The Barely Any Hooks EP” because I didn’t do much singing and it was mostly just rap. I liked the way the words from the title sat close to each other so I just knocked the ‘s’ off and smushed everything together and I was like “yeah, that makes sense.” I also liked how it was kind of tongue in cheek because my origins started from singing and I still do a lot of singing in my work. It’s kind of like a joke to myself.

Who influences your style and sound?

It’s an intersection amongst three things; what I listened to in the past, what it is I can feel out for as something that’s new based on what it is that I am enjoying from the past, and what is currently being done in different pockets and genres. I listen to the kind of pockets that singers choose and experiment within myself as to whether or not I can derive an interesting rap cadence pocket from that kind of thing. Some of the people I listen to include Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Drake, Childish Gambino, Tyler The Creator, Isaiah Rashad, SZA’s vocal work, Brandy, Whitney, Doja Cat, and a bunch of other cool people. The style is one thing, having a little nut is one thing, but if you can grow it into a tree and have a lot of people partake of the fruit, then that’s a whole different thing. It’s that growing process that becomes the fun part.

Amazing. So we’ve talked about how your sound has been influenced, and you mention the growth and processes. How do you personally describe your sound?

I enjoy melody, interesting time signature rhythms, or at least the feel within regular time signature and I enjoy an honest feeling expression. That encompasses a bunch of different genres that are still present in a lot of my music. There’s a lot of hip hop, rap, singing, and cadences that mix those things. There is also a lot of reggaeton and Jamaican dancehall type of energies, styles, and ways of expression. I like a lot of Indian music (their vocal tones and styles) and some old classical shit that I’m into that influence a particular mood I might be trying to get into. If it’s like a calm somber vibe I’m leaning toward, I know what kind of music to source out. It doesn’t necessarily mean that my library is ginormous. The second influence would have to be myself and ways of trying to make that little nugget that I’ve seen or used before and make it into something that is brand new.

That’s beautiful. It’s not just about the influences but how you rebrand and make it yours. So, you were the first runner-up on the 8th season of the Hennessy VS Class. Can you tell us about the journey getting to that point?

So I was laying on my back and thought, “Why not?” I don’t battle rap, but I know where I can poke a button when it comes to my pen. I was like why not experience something in a space where I would have to challenge myself directly with somebody else who has probably been doing the thing for long or as long as I have, and feel what that atmosphere would look like. I went there to have a little fun and see what was up. I didn’t exactly go with a game plan. At the end of the day, the format of the show is not necessarily as spontaneous as real freestyle. You come in with your stuff ready to some extent. Depending on how it is you create, you know how you can rework or reimagine things for different circumstances and hope that you pick and place the right words in the right place and the person that you come against is not as prepared as you are that day. The fact that you escape the hot oil is a testament not only to your skill but also to your understanding of how to place that skill based on your circumstances. I thought I could play that game a little bit.

You mention having no game plan, but did you do any sort of preparations?

You know what? I blame this on Griselda. I listened to a lot of shit in general and Griselda was always on rotation around that time. And when the Hennessy thing popped I was like, “Fuck all these niggas. I’m going to go see what is going on.” Griselda made me do it. It was a lot of listening to rap and people that I enjoy and the way they approach situations where they had to engage with conflict in their bars. They’re not battle rappers but in different ways, they sort of engaged with similar enough themes. 

So a lot of people noticed your witty bars, sense of humor, and incredible pen game. Can you walk us through your writing process and how you come up with ideas?

I attribute a lot of things to Disney, both good and bad. There’s a Disney kid in me that yearns for its level of earnestness and true self-expression. It’s not about emulating the characters but emulating the writing process of their creators, which makes them honest and true to themselves throughout the entire story. A lot of the way that my shit comes up is often sporadic; a verse could be done in 15 minutes to an hour or it could take three weeks. Sometimes, I hear bits of the song before I’ve been able to get to them but I know what’s supposed to happen in different places and I sketch that out in my way and work on getting to those places. It happens in other ways too. A line can tell me what it wants for the next line and I just flow through with it. I’m like a conduit for the thing. It’s a part of myself that speaks to the ‘me’ that’s writing. And I just follow through with it and find where my piece is. For battle rap, I think about doing some damage. I think about if I didn’t really like you. Parts of me enjoy the process of pulling from my reality, what I felt in some moments, and finding ways to tap where those feelings came from and figure out how I want to express myself at the moment.

What would you say was the most challenging part of the Hennessy VS Class?

I didn’t come there with a ‘challenge’ mindset, and that influenced the way I experienced it. I came in there really to just have some fun. My challenge right now is people feeling like I was cocky and intentionally not finishing my bars. My challenge is in the backlash I’m getting for apparently being cocky. Well, it’s nice to be the VS villain. I’m claiming it. It’s fine.

That takes us to the final episode where MI talked about how he thinks you’re one of the few rappers who could have chosen not to be a part of the show. What made you choose to be a part of the Hennessy VS Class?

I missed performing. It’d been a while since I’d done it. I saw the show as a series of performances, and I enjoyed the process. I went in there with the mentality to put my best foot forward. I liked his reaction to Safe though. I’m proud of that one. I put a good amount of thought into what I felt would be significant for an event like that.

What did you think about the judges and how they approached things?

Hennessy VS Class is a show and the judges are in a position where they have to look critically at the way they decide. At least there’s a consensus in the fact that they’ve decided that they’re going to judge based on each round. I’d say to the best of their abilities, they did what they thought was fair. At the end of the day, everybody got a great experience out of it, myself included, just by being able to showcase at that level. PDSTRN is such a gifted, talented, and skilled pen every time he chooses to go in that direction. He has an incredible story in this whole thing. All of this is cool, but we’re done with the VS Class now and we’re all just trying to build outside of that space.

As you said, we’re done with the VS Class. So what can we expect from BarelyAnyHook post VS Class?

For like two years I’ve been in the midst of a bunch of little collaboration projects; at least 7 or 8. I’ve explored very interesting pockets with different people. This year I’m working on two bodies of work. The first, rage, is centered on the October 20th events and Barely Big Enough 2 with Bigfootinyourface. Bigfootinyourface and I, once we locked in it’s like clockwork. He’s something else. He’s a very accommodating and welcoming guy when it comes to people he believes are ready to work at their music and lean into their talents. I have a collab project with a producer friend in New York that we’re mixing right now. There’s this guy called The Arthurity that I just came across this year but he just sent me some craziness. I feel like that one might have to find some space this year cause I don’t feel like waiting till next year for those things to drop. I have songs that I’ve held back for my full-length shit, but right now I’m focused on making interesting, collaborative music that cuts across all the genres that I’m curious about. I have no reason to not be free at this point. I’m not signed. 

That’s awesome. So we’re expecting rage, Barely Big Enough 2, and a lot of collaborative projects. Can we get any dates?

For rage, I want it out on October 20th. I didn’t want to make the project. We were in the middle of the pandemonium(pandemic) and I had shit I was working on already. Next thing we(Nigerians) know, you can’t sleep at night because you could hear gunfire, from the window, on the mainland based on some kind of curfew that is being enforced with force by the force. And this did a lot of things to us within that period including the killings that just told us that we are not shit to them (the government). Within that same week, I came up with the entire body of work. I wrote a bulk of it during that week, bits of it over the next month, and other bits over the year. 

We’re rooting for you, man. Is there anything you want to say to everyone reading this interview right now?

For those who’ve been listening to my work, I promise you that it’s been worth the wait and for those just listening, welcome to a wild-ass ride. It took you long enough.