Rap or sing?
‘I thought you were going to ask that question, I get it often. I started rapping when I was 13 and I still do it with a lot of love, so I choose that. It comes naturally to me, while singing is a skill I’ve had to teach myself. I really wanted to be able to do that, because through singing I can express my emotions better. But when I’m broaching a complicated or emotionally charged subject in my music, I prefer to rap. I can then convey my message better, because I can say more words in a bar (a stanza, red.†
‘Still, I don’t want to be a rapper for the rest of my life. In one of my old songs, on that rap, I also say: ‘I can’t always stay on that rap.’ I make clips, I mentor other artists with my own record label 162 Records, and I write a book. In it I mainly share my poems and reflections; it’s really a separate project from ‘Ares the rapper’. In the future, I want to spend more time in those kinds of activities. Creating a museum exhibition in which music and visual art come together seems like a good idea, or a film.
And at some point I want to give space to the next generation of rappers, people who are better than me and more in touch with the time in which we live. I don’t want to be one of those old rappers who sticks around for too long.”
With a record label or independently?
‘Independent. In 2017, the collaboration agreement between me and record label Top Notch came to an end and we jointly decided not to enter into a new agreement. Since then, no one outside of my own small team has been involved in the production of my music. When I was still at Top Notch, this team and I already did a lot of the production and marketing ourselves. That’s why a label felt superfluous at a certain point. Plus, the Top Notch formula didn’t work for me. It’s a label that mainly focuses on mainstream rap, but I make layered, atmospheric rap that doesn’t reach the masses as easily. Top Notch couldn’t handle that.
“Now that I’m independent, I owe all my successes entirely to myself, but I also blame myself for the failures. With so much freedom and responsibility you grow enormously as a person.
‘I have always said that I would never sign with a record label again and I still stand by that. But over the past few months I’ve started to find the idea of a loose collaboration between 162 Records and a major label interesting. I do the creative side with my label – scouting unique new artists, production – better than the big boys. But they are again stronger in marketing and distribution. I think we can learn a lot from each other.’
In the media spotlight or under the radar?
‘I used to say under the radar, but now I opt for media interest. It’s hard for artists like me – who don’t make music for the general public – to draw attention to themselves. That’s why I think it’s good for me to be more in the spotlight and build bridges with young rappers. They look at the charts and think: shit, there’s no place for the music I make. I want to show that it is there.
‘Many media in the Netherlands are superficial and sensational, which is why I had no interest in it for a long time. And I still don’t join any random talk show. There are plenty of platforms where I can come and talk about how expensive my outfit is, who I’m having sex with, and what happened between me and Top Notch. But talking about my music and my message is not possible everywhere.
‘I have chosen to give this interview, also because the older people around me said: ‘Yes man, de Volkskrant, that’s cool, you should do that.’ And I trust them. They may also know more about this than I do.’
On your new number ET you rap about yourself: ‘The hottest in the whole Pays-Bas.’ Bluff or sincere?
‘When you make music, you have to be convinced that you are the best artist yourself, otherwise you will doubt yourself with every setback and with every form of criticism. So in that sense I really mean it. But with this one lyric I don’t want to say that I feel better than other rappers. I just do my own thing and think I’m good at what I do. That also explains the reference to Mars in the title of my new album: I’m on another planet.
‘I know how to make Top40 music, that’s not a challenge for me. My goal is to reach the Top40 with the music I make now, that people think: ‘What kind of fuzzy shit is in that list then.’ If one day I notice that I’m starting to feel too comfortable, I know I have to stop.’
Earth or Mars?
‘My new album is a concert on Mars in the year 3000 AD. In preparation for production, I had conversations with a very smart astronomer. I asked him if there are any planets where it is better to give a concert than on Mars and he said, ‘Yes, the Earth.’
‘So I choose the earth. I’d like to know what it’s like on Mars, but the thought of having to stay there scares me. I would miss water, plants and animals. For my previous albums I got a lot of inspiration from nature, so in that respect wavyman a radical change. On Mars there is only stone, dust and wind, you can hear that on the album. Instead of acoustic instruments, we more often chose synthesizers and computer-generated, futuristic sound effects. And I have my voice stronger autotuned to sound like a space traveler.
‘I chose to escape to Mars on this album because I wanted to break free from how I look at this world. I think a lot about political topics like freedom, power and privacy, but I don’t want to make politically charged music. That has no value to me. Everyone has an opinion and I don’t have such a big ego that I have to declare mine. In addition, my opinion sometimes changes and I no longer want to shout things from the rooftops that I might come back to in a few months. So then escape to my own fantasy world, to Mars in the future.’
Jean de la Fontaine or Michael Corleone?
‘Those are the titles of two of my old singles. Jean de la Fontaine is a 17th-century French poet, best known for his fables. In one of those fables, the raven, the apparently most striking and strongest character, is tricked by the cunning fox. The lesson ‘if you are not strong, you must be smart’ I apply a lot to myself. Of course, you’ll only find out at the end of the ride whether you were the smart one or the one who got tricked, but at least I aspire to be the sly fox.
‘In the end I choose Michael Corleone, the mafia boss from the film The Godfather† I think his life is tragic, but it also contains a good lesson. At the beginning of the film he is a good guy, but in the end you see him turn into some kind of psychopath. I think the scene where he decides to kill his brother is the craziest. He does not seem to have any feeling about this and completely loses himself in his position of power. Corleone’s story shows how a bad environment can pull you down and how you keep making the same mistakes if you don’t get out of your bubble. I see it as a big stick to keep trying new things.’
Your life in your own hands or in God’s?
‘In my own hands, or is that too definitive an answer? In Montmartre, a song from 2014, I rap: ‘Believe don’t believe’, but I did come back from that. I think I now understand the concept of religion and that it is necessary for most people to have meaning in life.
‘I find it interesting to think about faith and I regularly include religious references in my lyrics. When I rap about God, I mean God as the philosopher Spinoza described him: as the universe. In that universe, Earth is the most beautiful planet, and I can’t imagine being here for nothing. Just like, yo, you happen to be here for a while and then you die. I think I make my own choices, but also that I got my time on earth from someone. And that you don’t just get it.
1995 December 2 born as Rens Ottema in Oosterhout
2012 first EP, Closer
2012 Reaches the finals of talent show The Next MC of music program 101Barz
2013 Contract with the Dutch record label Top Notch
2014 debut album Road Trip
2017 Announces second album, Princehis last at Top Notch
2018 First independent album, Alice
2019 Alice nominated for the 3voor12 Award
2021 Establishment of own label, 162 Records