You may recognise him as the smiley frontman for Kings of The Rollers, or maybe you’re familiar with his empowering Facebook videos spreading positive vibes to each and everyone. He goes by the name of Inja: Importance Never Justifies Anything.
MC, rapper, writer, poet, hype man, Inja has made a reputable name for himself across various genres and industries as a versatile performer capable of conjuring poetic lyrics in any situation possible – from hip-hop and main stage drum and bass events, to intimate jazz nights freestyling with live bands.
At the tail end of last year, Inja achieved his biggest musical accomplishment to date – becoming one of Hospital Records’ latest and most exciting signings. After quickly establishing himself as a firm favourite of the drum and bass family, he’s currently riding a wonderful wave of enlightenment and disbelief in which he has to pinch himself to check he’s not dreaming.
Signing as the first official lyricist to label, it’s a new direction for Hospital, but one that makes perfect sense. For anyone who has seen or heard Inja perform, his talent as a wordsmith is undeniable. Sitting in an airport, waiting in traffic, attending Rampage – you name it, he has written a verse about it.
His love of writing does not stop with music. From running creative writing workshops and co-founding a poetry organization Page To Performance to performing spoken word pieces for The HuffPost and The Guardian regarding topics such as sexual harassment and immigration – Inja’s journey as a writer is an expansive one teaming with inspiration and insight.
UKF caught up with Inja to talk to him about the journey he has been on and to delve deeper into the experiences that have helped shape him as a writer and as a person.
Last year was an incredible year for yourself. Signing to Hospital at the end of it must have been a special moment.
It’s mental… That was like the official Inja’s here! For me it’s very monumental, especially being the vocalist, MC, rapper, host and writer that I am. Particularly in this genre, it’s something that hasn’t coexisted that often. The only person as a vocalist that I can think has done full albums and actually pushed it is DRS, so for Hospital to offer me the opportunity to venture down that road is like a life changing opportunity!
Signing to Hospital has also given you the opportunity to release your first solo track!
I am just sitting here smiling because I don’t know how I got here… To be in the position that I am, I’m so fortunate. Moments like that are the stepping stones that have helped me get here. It was amazing and the video is sick. The style and sound too because they pay homage to all of the things that have come before me, like musically. It’s a big salute to all of the sounds that I’ve been a part of.
Talking of crucial stepping stones that have helped you get to where you are, Kings of The Rollers…
Ahh man like Serum is a massive part of my journey! I must have met him about eight or ten years ago in Belgium. I was doing a set with a dubstep act and Serum and Pleasure were on afterwards. I touched mic with them a little and Serum was really complimentary. He was like – yeah it would be really good to do some music at some point. Years pass and then we reconnected on a tune called Red Eyes that came out on Philly Blunt, which for me was monumental! Man has got a Philly Blunt vinyl… We then linked up on Blow Them Away and when Kings of The Rollers came around they asked me if I wanted to be the frontman. We did one show and the rest is history…
Kings of The Rollers is a beast of a combination. Can you believe how far it has come in just over a year?
Can I believe it? No because I still pinch myself with where I am in life anyway… I’m a bit bewildered, man’s a rabbit in the headlights! But with them guys there, I can believe it yeah. Because when you put those three together, for me it was the biggest no-brainer that nobody saw coming.
Your link up with Serum and Voltage on Gunfinger Fam was next level.
Haha big respect to you! That was crazy. Serum turned around to me one day and was like – I want you to do a freestyle for this track, and I told him that I couldn’t do a freestyle because for me, I come from the hip-hop background where real freestylers make it up on the spot. So I said I’d do a takeover on it for him. The brief he gave me was that he wanted me to go in on it. Go ham with the bars.
You definitely fulfilled the brief…
From a writer’s perspective looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything like that with so many words in it – not for a dnb take anyway. I didn’t know if I was going in too hard because it’s just relentless bars… But when I started seeing the reaction and we began playing it out live, I was like, okay yeah this works! When Hospital heard it and said they wanted it for Sick Music 2018 I was like, bloody hell, I’m a bit blown away.
So most people will know you for your musical work, but your creative writing stems a lot deeper than just music. You’ve been writing poetry for some years now haven’t you?
It has indirectly been a big part of my life over the years. As a young man someone told me that rap stands for rhythm and poetry. I was like – fucking hell I’ve been writing poetry for a long time without even realising. I love writing without any restraints. Music to me is restrictive when it comes to writing. Even though it’s open, you still need to stick to a tempo and a structure. So when I get to write without music, I like the way I can express myself in anyway I like.
You’ve also been helping others express themselves through educational work?
Yeah I used to run MC and DJ workshops. I ended up going to a school and they asked me to do this workshop for these kids with behavioural issues, which was basically putting me in a room with loads of younger versions of myself. Because of the way I went in and dealt with them, I got asked to work there full-time. At the same time I was still doing the MC and DJ workshops, but I got bored of them because I was only attracting one type of pupil – ones wanting to rap and be road men. I was having to tell the kids that they needed to learn to write without swearing and being derogatory. I couldn’t let them come to the class and write like that. The teachers would have looked at me like I was an idiot! The kids got that and understood, then after that we helped each other.
Then you focused on running creative writing workshops?
Yeah I came away from teaching in the schools to taking on creative writing workshops. That was actually a great home for me because I was writing – plus everyone has got a story. If you can find a way to open up a bit then you’ve got a story that’s wicked. I’ve gone into educational environments where hundreds of kids are in an assembly hall and I’m doing an afternoon thing for them. When I’ve managed to get these young people to write and they’ve shared what they’ve written, I’ve had teachers and classmates in tears because they didn’t know how to deal with these feelings. The teachers didn’t ask the pupils the basic questions.
In what way?
You just need to get the kids to open up. When these teachers were with the kids everyday and weren’t even asking them how they are, then someone comes in on one random afternoon and gets them to spill the beans about their lives – It’s ridiculous. Instead of just assuming the kids were disruptive because they didn’t want to listen, they should’ve spoken to them about their lives. So for all of that stuff, that’s why I love the educational work because you get to see how writing can become therapy. A page is never going to answer you back or judge you for the words that you write. Then if at the end of it you can feel a little relief, that is empowerment.
That’s inspiring! I’ve found the spoken word pieces you’ve written have been very empowering. Particularly the HuffPost one regarding sexual harassment.
The thing with that is, it’s a poem, but it was originally a song I wrote years ago. No one I showed was interested in it because the subject matter scared them. They were keeping me at arms length because to them it involved putting out a very big statement. So I ended up in HuffPost as I was doing some writing for Amnesty International at the time. I went in to record stuff for Amnesty and noticed the people running the department were all women, so I was like – excuse me, can I just get all of you in this room just for one minute? Because I’ve got something that I’d like to talk to you about.
How did they respond?
They all looked at me like – what does this guy want from us… I read the ‘She Just Wants to dance’ piece to them and they told me I could record it straight away as they would love to have it as content. For me it was massive – like crossing the finish line. Finally someone gets it!
I’m interested to learn more about your musical journey as a writer. Being from Cambridge, Did Delegates of Culture massively impact the way you write?
Delegates of Culture are my brothers! Task Force too. These people armed me with the tools that I have now. Without being around all of them, I would not be the writer that I am today. Delegates and Task Force have had a huge input on how I write. Being a young man hanging around with Task Force, watching them write and work with words and music was mad. It was the same with Delegates. Because there were so many of us we were constantly galvanising each other to do a little better. They are the ones that made me me.
The likes of GQ, Bass Man and Stevie Hyper D were important lyricist inspirations for you too?
The Gods! They’re still the Gods. They are an integral part of who I am. You can add Spyda and Trigga onto that. Between those guys, the crowd interaction, the humour, the fun and dark side – they have every single thing in there. For me, Spyda, Bassman and Trigga are some of the most inspirational and best entertainers that we have. They have fun and don’t give a damn. If no one has ever seen them live, then you should! I swear down, you will skank hard, you will pull screw faces and you will laugh and smile because of what they say and how they interact.
That’s what I love about your combination with Kings of The Rollers. I have a fond memory of last year’s Hospitality in The Park when Blow Them Away played and you told the crowd to go back to laser quest with their gun fingers – everyone was in their element laughing and aiming their trigger fingers at each other.
Haha you always remember the times that made you smile! Interesting you mention that… When that song first came out I had people dissing me about all this gun talk. But from my perspective, that song was written in a room with all my pals playing shoot ‘em up video games – and they wouldn’t let me play because I am rubbish at them… So I was just watching them play these computer games and I ended up writing about it. When I am live it’s like – yeah lets go back to laser quest and take off as many heads as we can and lets have fun with it, because it should be fun. People forget that a night out is about having a good time!
Amen. Along with hip-hop and drum and bass, jazz has also been an important part of your journey. I saw the video of you performing a wicked freestyle at Ronnie Scott’s last year – that’s like the Brixton Academy of the UK’s jazz world…
Literally! You take me out of any environment and put me with a jazz band or with a live band, then that is one of my favourite elements you will ever come across. That’s just because there is no structure, everything is malleable. You can see in the video, I’m just conducting the band and having a laugh about it.
It’s amazing to think you had no idea what you were saying, your brain must have been in overdrive!
I literally have no clue what I’m saying until words are coming out of my mouth. I don’t even know what I’m saying at the time…That’s the real element of freestyle. You can see my brain thinking, you can see me interacting and just working with it – tempo changes, frequency changes, crowd interaction. With the whole jazz thing, I went over to Senegal last year and ended up working with the African version of Nile Rodgers and this kora family who are like the biggest representatives of kora players in the world…
No way, that’s awesome! How did it come about?
It was at this jazz festival. I was doing this thing and I met these musicians. None of us spoke the same language, but we all spoke vibes. I did a freestyle with them and they saw what I was doing with these musicians and got their translators and managers to come over and be like – yeah you have to come and work with us every night at our party. So I ended up chilling with these crazy famous jazz musicians from all over the world. It was pure creative vibes and that’s what I like. That’s why we got on so well when I was on that trip because they would play and go in one musical direction and I’d follow with words and would literally have no clue what I was saying… But it worked!
Sounds like one hell of a crazy experience…
A beautiful experience. It was very eye opening because I have done lots of work on the abolition of the slave trade. Going over there, what I actually found out was that apart from the fact that people get moved, so do the flavours of food and sound. These are things that I should have known, but when you actually go there and witness it in the flesh it is amazing.
Looking ahead, I can imagine performing your Fully Fuelled Flex at Hospitality in The Dock later this month will be another one of those special moments.
Definitely! These are all experiences that bring nothing but joy to my heart. The Fully Fuelled Flex is basically me getting to express myself how I would like to for a dance crowd. So I get to play a lot of the tunes that I’ve done, and I get to do a little poetry and take people outside of drum and bass with Pete Cannon on the ones and twos. I just get to have fun! I used to do a solo show called Page To a Rave, which would basically be me going from poetry to every genre – ending up with everyone have a massive rave. The Fully Fuelled Flex isn’t too far away from that. I’m gassed!