Master Peace isn’t the type of person you can imagine doing well sitting around the house all day. “It’s driving me nuts,” he admits when he picks up the phone from his South London home. “This is very dodgy for me.”
Forever fueled by a seemingly boundless energy, the 20-year-old native of Morden, England born Peace Okezie has been developing an audacious blend of punk, pop, and rap primed for crossover success. Despite his rapidly growing profile, his recorded music remains rare — with just one solo single, “Night Time,” currently available on streaming services. Peace has been cautious around committing his music to the internet while investing his time into artistic development. He’s crafted his sound in real time, from sweaty Shoreditch basement shows to national tours with fellow boundary pushers Wiki and Bakar. One video on YouTube captures the essence of his live show as he showcases mostly unreleased songs during a 20-minute Keep Hush set, while another, a session recorded by grime documentarians Tim & Barry, highlights his cultural panache as he spits aggressive drill flows over a-ha’s ’80s new wave classic “Take On Me,” polarizing the channel’s viewers in the process.
He’s been spending his time in quarantine binge-watching Come Dine With Me, the Channel 4 reality TV series in which contestants host dinner parties for each other in an attempt to bag a cash prize. “It looks lit,” he declares, expressing an interest in getting involved in the future. “I fully would. I was watching yesterday and I was like, ‘£1000 prize?’ I’d literally win that hands down. I’d whip up something proper. A quick live performance and stuff.”
Like many young Londoners, Peace’s route into music participation came through grime. This wasn’t so much a stylistic choice as the only option that he considered: the culture of grime offered an accessible way of self-expression, it felt available to him and his friends. “That’s the roots. I loved it. I loved the whole energy of it. It felt like a sport, because you’re trying to be the best out of your peers,” he explains. “My thought process of making music was going to spray grime and having fun with my mates. We didn’t really think of it like ‘Ah yeah we want to be big global superstars.’ We were just like, yeah we want to spray and that’s it really. And then that turned into me taking it a bit more seriously in a sense.”
Raised on a blend of rap classics in his uncle’s car and his mum’s broad taste in pop music, Peace always listened with an open-mind: he’s as well versed in 2Pac, Biggie, and Nas as he is The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, and Phil Collins. When he took a seat on the London overground and pressed play on Stormzy’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer three years ago, he wasn’t ready for the impact that it was about to have on his personal practice. “I didn’t go into the album thinking that I’m going to hear anything different than grime,” he remembers. “I was so moved and so inspired by that album that I was like, ‘I want more than this.’” The record blew open any limitations placed subconsciously on his music. “I’ve never seen a rapper that I looked up to in that light; the way he’s talking about God, and singing and stuff like that. I just never thought I’d hear that from Stormzy. Especially coming from South London. To see someone come out of the ends and do something so amazing like that was inspiring.”
Peace began to broaden his own sound; sometimes applying his grime flows to indie-pop inspired production, other times lacing heavy beats with pop-punk melodies. He remembers his first show, a charity event at Hoxton Hall: “It was full of parents! All of the other artists, they brought their parents and their younger sisters. It was kind of like a showcase, like a talent show. I was on stage doing a mad ting. The other kids were playing guitar, singing, and playing piano, and then you’ve got me come on stage in a du-rag talking the maddest greaze. Oh my god. You should have seen the parents’ faces. That was an interesting time.”
Peace soon became a regular in the London live and club circuits. It wouldn’t matter whether a crowd contained five people or 500, he’d show up and give his all, beta-testing his work in progress. “All I was doing was trying to get my face known, and I didn’t want to drop music in case people didn’t really like it. So I was like, ‘Let me go and test out the music first.’” He’d show up and surprise promoters who booked him expecting a grime set, with a punk-inspired mosh pit starter. By the end of a show, the calculated simplicity of his lyrics and melodies had the formerly unfamiliar crowd singing along. “If I can’t play it for my little sister, for her to understand, then I knew it wasn’t the right thing,” he explains. “I could play it for my nan, I could play it for anyone and I would receive the same love as if I played it for a group of kids my age that smoke and drink and get lit.”
Like any creative breaking new ground, it hasn’t always been easy for Peace to share his work, and at times that’s taken him to a dark place. “I don’t know how to explain it but I just didn’t feel good in myself. There were points in this process where I just felt like people didn’t rate what I was doing,” he admits, explaining that when he threw himself into music as a teenager he cared too much about what others would think. “I cared so much about everyone’s opinion that I forgot who I was.” He allowed stress to override the enjoyment that he got from making music. “Just being afraid to fail is what made me depressed. Honestly, scared me so much that I’d be shook to put out music. How about if someone commented saying it was shit? That was going through my head 24/7. I feel like at the end of 2019, I thought, ‘You know what? I’m not going to please everyone and I need to remember that I’m doing it for me and the people I care about. I need to believe in this. I need to believe in myself.’ That was a big battle with my head.” Ultimately, it was his passion for making music that helped him to win the war. “At the end of the day, all that matters is the music and making people happy. Nobody can ever fault me for trying my best,” he offers. “That’s what got me out of that worry stage.”
The sound that he’s created comes from an understanding of interplay between the underground and the mainstream, one he’s developed while working with his management team Felix and Paddy (No Fake Ones). “Listening to Dua Lipa and The 1975, I knew at some point in my career I would want to make music like this and come out as this artist,” he explains. “But the way I had to do this, I couldn’t just come out and be a pop star — I had to build myself up through the ranks, do grime, do the underground stuff, build up my name. I need to have underground fans, and my team have been saying that to me from day one — make sure you stick with the underground and still do the other stuff as well, so that everyone is having a good time. As soon as I knew what I wanted to do, I started writing and making those type of tunes and finding producers to facilitate that.” “Night Time” is the perfect example of that, produced by fellow South London artist kadiata — who he enthuses is an unbelievable talent and the only person he’s ever met who shares the same musical ear — and remixed by Boy Better Know’s Jme, who reimagined the beat and added a verse.
“A lot of people probably just think I’m not trying to put out music, when I am,” Peace assures, “I just need to be back up and running again so I can continue with what I was doing. I’m trying to make my EP, man; I spent literally like three years finding my sound innit, doing shows and finding out what I want to do in this music stuff. Now I finally found the sound and then this happens!” Aside from his reality TV habit, he’s been spending some time in quarantine practicing guitar and voice noting ideas for new songs. Although he’s hesitant to develop anything further than that until he’s with Manuka and Shor, who handle the majority of his production and engineering. “When this is over, I’ll get back into the studio with a whole heap of ideas that I can bring to the table and we’ll just crack it out all at once.”
While he waits to press go once again, Peace is finding consolation in the fact that he’s managed to establish his name: “The fact that people say, ‘Do you listen to Master Peace?’ Master Peace is a thing. Just knowing that makes me so happy.” Now, he just wants to make his mother proud. “The reason why I go to 10,000 gigs at one o’clock in the morning, doing five shows a day and all these crazy things — it’s because I want so badly for her to be proud of me,” he says. “(I want) people around me that said, this is going to be a thing to just look back and say, ‘You know what, he didn’t give up. And now look where he is.’ I will never give up. That’s one thing I can’t do. Failing is not an option, so we’re going all the way to the top with it.”
Raphael Del Bono