the Music Week Awards back this week, and our host for the biggest edition of the event is viral comedy star Munya Chawawa, known for a variety of characters, including hoity-toity rapper Unknown P. In a special interview ahead -first, the comedian reveals what the industry can expect from this year’s show and talk business, personalized tea bags and his candidacy to meet Pharrell Williams…
WORDS: JAMES HANLEY
PHOTOS: CHARLIE CUMMINGS
STYLE: JESSICA SWANSON
It was, in Munya Chawawa’s own words, “the best thing ever”. He was there on the London Underground, minding his own business (as you do), when the stranger sitting opposite looked up from his phone and did a double take.
“He would look at me, go back to his phone, then do a double take,” Chawawa says. music week, reminiscing thoughtlessly about the encounter. “And then he turned his phone to show me that at that time he was listening to Unknown P. There must have been a bug in the Matrix that day. It made me feel the way Adele feels after winning 63 Grammys in one night. Forget the Grammys, I don’t need them – someone was listening to my music on the way to Walthamstow Central.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Unknown P is the posh rapper alter-ego of British-Zimbabwean comedian Chawawa, who released his debut single, Piers Morgan, in November 2020 via Atlantic.
“It’s pretty amazing to go to Spotify and see that you have x number of people listening to you per month, and there’s just one random guy in Singapore who’s constantly playing your song “said the 29-year-old, who has made a name for himself. (or names) for himself on social media during the pandemic with his comedic sketches and roster of quirky personalities.
The so-called ‘Kendrick Lamar of Norfolk’ has won an army of fans on TikTok and Instagram (topping 1 million followers on each platform) thanks to his satirical humor and quick reactive comments. Chawawa showed his serious side through his BAFTA-nominated YouTube series Race Around Britain, which explored the issue of race, while he also hosted The BRITs Red Carpet and the MOBO Awards.
And Chawawa’s rise is set to continue when he hosts the 2022 Music Week Awards at Battersea Evolution this Thursday, May 26. He is already savoring the prospect.
“I’m in the deep end of a lot of things,” says Chawawa. “My first stand-up gig was in front of 5,000 people at the O2 Academy Brixton, opening for Thundercat. So I got to the stage where I had enough experience to drive that nothing left me. really scary now and I know with the right preparation I can be ready for anything I feel like I’m going to walk away buzzing especially if there’s white wine on the table.
Talk to music week on Zoom, he relives his experiences at the company and reveals exactly how he gets in the mood for the biggest night on the industry calendar…
As the hours tick by towards the big day, how are you feeling about hosting the Music Week Awards?
“I feel really excited. While I hope my sketches and satire have helped people through the tough times of the pandemic, the music has been a big help to me. I’ve returned to a lot of albums and I came across a lot of new albums, projects, artists and playlists, which made the days go by If I look through my life, and even my career – whether in my sketches or my own contract recording – the music has always been there.
What should attendees expect from you in the evening?
“People can expect a suit that doesn’t follow the dress code in any way. I like a pink suit. They can expect topical one-liners and probably some sort of JLS reference to several times during the evening.
How do you feel about going on stage in front of the whole music industry?
“It’s fine, to be honest. People who work in music are good vibes in my experience. I don’t mind people doing the candy dance halfway through one of my jokes , or have them mosh pit during my opening monologue. That’s just what they do. Anytime I’ve done anything music-related, it’s always been a good crowd. It’s very hard to feel bad when there’s good music playing, so as people who work and do it on a daily basis, I feel like they’re going to have a great time.
What did you think of the company more generally?
“When I was releasing a few singles as Unknown P, I went to meetings and it felt like a studio audience because of how many people from different segments of the label were on the call. There are so many cogs in the machine. Ultimately the musicians released the song and all the glory goes to them because they are the most visible aspect of this but actually I can tell you first hand there are many cooks behind the successful broth of music. I know the phrase is “too many cooks spoil the broth”, but I think music is actually the exception.
If you could have a job in the industry, what would it be?
“My biggest complaint about going to gigs is standing. I actually like to listen to music sitting down, so I guess if you’re the person on a label who gets invited to gigs you can sit in a box, or a booth, or something like that I would be the main music scout/stool keeper so if there are any labels with a vacancy in that role contact me .
What has excited you the most in the past 12 months in music?
“I love a good come-up story. I love seeing a hero grow, and I think ArrDee has had a few stellar years. It’s a great example of a team coming together and shining the spotlight on a great talent. What else did I enjoy? I’m a big fan of immersive experiences when it comes to mixtapes, EPs and albums. And I’m very proud to own a Headie One x M Huncho PS5 controller. I don’t think many people have a custom-built Headie One x M Huncho controller, so I’m happy to accept these kinds of kickbacks so I can mention these people in future interviews. There is nothing to tell you at the moment that I am not Mr. Huncho, just so that you know.
How has your life changed since your character Unknown P signed a label deal with Atlantic in 2020?
“I have roses coming to my door every day. Having to walk through a mountain of roses just to get on the sidewalk was a real struggle, but that’s what comes with being a multi-platinum artist. . But what I loved the most about this experience was discovering how cool it is to make a music video. It seems to me that the sky is the limit when you want to create a musical vision and c was really cool to be in. We had brand new Unknown P tea bags and I believe the tagline was ‘Discover what it’s like to be tea bagged by Unknown P’ which is what most people have, I’m sure, on their to-do list.
And what can budding rappers learn from Unknown P?
“That when you post things you like to do, someone will like it. Someone, somewhere is saying, ‘Hey, I really like middle class rap by a guy who talks 10 octaves higher than his normal voice.’ If you have a crazy idea, go for it and someone will like it. And you might end up with a record deal and a line of Rich P cookies.”
As someone who has built a large and engaged following on social media, how do you think TikTok helps musicians?
“Well, it lets us see the personality behind some of our favorite musicians, because it’s an app that thrives on fun. I think you’ve seen a more playful side: whether it’s Headie One mastering his breaststroke, ArrDee setting up a fake romance to plug in a single, or Snoop Dogg Milly Rocking to a Louis Theroux rap, it just adds a whole new dimension to the artists Once upon a time, you bought their CD and if you had any Luck you were going to see them at a gig but that’s all you knew about them. It brings people together that we listen to every day so I think that’s great.
What was the secret to your success on the platform?
“Unknown P, as an entity, is a true amalgamation of contrasts. He’s classy, but he’s a drill rapper. He kind of understands the jargon, but he’s blissfully unaware of it all, and I think that mix of something quite original and quite different appealed to people. TikTok allows people to break the mold in terms of what we think we need to do to make people appreciate our work. Being quirky and letting your imagination run wild is rewarded on this app.
Your content is also often accompanied by a serious message. Is it important for you to do work that has a significant impact?
“My work, I hope, reflects what people are feeling. I want to capture that and bottle that essence for them so they feel like someone is getting it. The most important thing to me is not is not trying to persuade anyone of anything, it’s actually taking the sting out of something that we unanimously think is pretty shitty If my comedy is able to do that then I think that is extremely important.
Where do you see yourself going in the next few years? What are your main ambitions?
“I love doing my 60 second sketches and I’m sure it’s something I’ll never stop. But I’m ready to push my limits now as a creator. Last year my first series for YouTube, Race Around Britain, got a BAFTA nomination, which was great and it was like, ‘Cool, well, what else can I do? ” I want to do theatre; Maybe I want to do some investigative stuff; I want to do a series; anything a person can do, I want to do. And music-wise, I really want to meet Pharrell and have him want to meet me. Everyone wants to meet Pharrell, but I want to give Pharrell a reason to want to meet me. And when I meet him, we’ll have a long talk and bubble tea.
Finally, what is your message to the music industry as it prepares to gather at the Music Week Awards?
“I would like to thank you for being the soundtrack to my 10 push-ups every morning during the pandemic, for making my abysmal kitchen a little more tolerable, and for keeping my roommates from hurting each other in some kind of frustrated struggle match due to being in each other’s pockets for two consecutive years.