It is said in Greek mythology that ambrosia is the food of the gods. Revered for its revitalising qualities and being consumed only by divine beings, it grants users immortality and thus a new lease of life. In October last year, producer and multi-instrumentalist Emil Larbi Aponsah released his debut EP Ambrosia to positive acclaim, and praised for showcasing his chemistry with talented artists such as Knucks, A2 and Ayeisha Raquel. Delving into genres such as gospel, R&B and trip-hop, the EP’s title is no coincidence, with his progressive, genre-bending sound akin to the revitalising qualities of its’ namesake . At the dawn of 2020, I spoke with the 26-year-old producer in his stomping ground Kennington about his origin, getting into producing, his impressive debut project and more as I delve into the fable that is Emil.
There was a time where producers were considered secondary to the creative process of making music, rendering their craft as unimportant compared to that of the artist. Nowadays, producers are getting more recognition for their efforts and are rightfully praised for what they bring to the table. From the likes of Carns Hill (Youngs Teflon, 67), Jerome Williams (Tiana Major9, Benjamin AD) and Cee Beats (Digga D) to acts such as TSB (J Hus, Unknown T), Remedee (D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey), our shores are stocked with talented producers across several genres. You would think that Emil has popped up out of nowhere but for those that grew up with the son of Ghanaian migrants, he was bound to throw himself into the conversation. “Drums, drums, drums,” says Emil, as we walk towards Kennington Park. “It started in church, being around the drums. When I would get home, I would make my own drum kit with bottles, cylinders and use umbrellas as cymbals. I learned every drum pattern I would hear on the TV or radio.”
Hearing ‘Dream’ off of the project strikes a chord as Emil’s obsession with percussion, particularly drum and it’s varying patterns, is felt immediately. The way the hi-hats sumptuously garnish the progressive yet grandiose drum patterns paints the image of royal chefs preparing a feast for Zeus and co. – but we will get to that later. Growing up in South East London he would have been exposed to all kinds of different music, it typifies the multicultural experience here. But with listed influences such as Soulection and Kaytranada you can tell what genre is his staple; even if his musical mind often wanders. “What I love is… chilled out hip hop. I feel that’s the sound I’ve always been drawn to, even if I do dip into other genres. I can’t stay in one place which is why my music sounds how it does.” Emil is humble, yet I understand his matter-of-fact tone when he discusses his music. The assuredness that comes with trying to clock 10,000 hours.
If his upbringing birthed his love of music, then his travels certainly helped shape what form that love would take. A graduate job and a now ex-girlfriend brought him to Vancouver, British Columbia brought new opportunities and a chance to figure out what he wanted. “It made sense to go out there, I would say it was the best two years of my life. I learned a lot about myself, I learned how to be independent in another country.” Out of sight, out of mind could apply to how he avoided a London centred perspective in his new environment. “It kind of made me not be so stuck on what London was doing. I was looking at places like Toronto, LA, seeing what they were doing and trying to apply it to my thing. I was trying to soak up as much game while I was out there.”
Patience is one of the hardest virtues to grasp in life yet for Emil, it seems like he was ready to embrace the process that leads to the end result. Patience is something we are all confronted with, whether we lack it or have it in abundance. He tells me that the EP took two years to create and initially started off as a beat tape, but the foundations for Ambrosia took shape when he returned to Canada. “I had a friend who was studying a music degree at the University of Westminster. He just allowed me the opportunity of getting familiar with studio equipment, using it and just having my own space to create music. We were chilling one day, playing each other music we had been working on. He heard some beats and was like ‘yeah, this has that ambrosia sound to it’. So I did some research, found out what it means [food for the gods] and was like this is kind of the path I was heading down so the name stuck.” Considering what he said previously on not wanting to think too hard on what London was doing, he continues to let us in on where his mind was at. “When you hear it, you think substance, the grandiose sounds are very spiritual so that’s what I was going for.”
In just 20 minutes and 54 seconds, Emil invites us into his world on Ambrosia, letting influence meet execution as he delivers on bridging a gap between substance and not compromising on the music he wanted to make. The end result is a gorgeous assortment of songs, including ‘Own Pace’, featuring a particularly inspired A2. But it could’ve ended up different; as he explains some of the challenges that added to the delay of releasing Ambrosia. “As soon as I came back from Canada, I didn’t know what kind of project I wanted to make. It would have been a beat tape but I thought let me add lyrics and make it more listenable. I would probably say the most difficult thing was getting artists to see the vision and jump on the project. I was an unknown producer so it was hard getting artists to commit to this.”
Listening to beats such as ‘BTD’ and ‘Ask You’, I do wonder which artists would’ve turned down such high quality production. But his outlook on the challenges faced is inspiring no matter which way you flip it. “The way I saw it was if I can’t get to people, I’m gonna make a project that will bring the people to me.” With people in mind, Emil and I are in agreement when we say that Ayeisha Raquel is the MVP of Ambrosia. She not only laced ‘Ask You’ but provided the backing vocals throughout the project. “At the time I was looking for singers and had other people moving a bit long with it. With Ayeshia, she was just ready from the jump and down to make music. The chemistry was there and her voice is great. Very talented, shout out Ayeisha.”
On the topic of his favourite records on Ambrosia, Emil laughs as he expresses that every song on the project is his baby. But when pressed for what called to him the most, his answer is a logical choice, based on the weight of the mentioned song. “It’s difficult, I love all of them. But I’m drawn to Own Pace the most, just because of how it happened and the end result.” Fans of A2 know of his reluctance to overexpose himself for love of the art, so it was more surprising than anything to see Emil and Deuce link up. “There was a video I posted on the gram a while back of a beat that I made. And I saw that A commented on it and said something like this is wild, special. So I took the opportunity to let him know we should work. And we took it from there. The first song that we made was Own Pace. We had a few songs but you could tell he was drawn to Own Pace by his approach. Just watching his process was inspiring. That was the last song I made for the EP as well, so I’m grateful because it added a lot to it.”
Chemistry is very important to Emil; it is apparent in previous collaborations with artists such as King Kay (‘Salida’, ‘Perfect Peace’, ‘Barry’) and rapper-producer sensation Knucks (‘Your Worth’), who provides two smooth sounding features in ‘BTD’ and ‘Bakerloo’. “I had been following Knucks for some time, probably since the Killmatic days. We would talk but never really got into working. Shout out to my managers because they got the ball rolling with that. Our first session, we ended up recording ‘Your Worth’ for his project. Off the back of that, we had another session and done ‘BTD’ and ‘Bakerloo’ in the same day.” I said that the former sounded like Knucks put some of his chakras on the instrumental, which Emil was happy to confirm. “On ‘BTD’ he heard the point and suggested a little tweak. The end result is what you hear on the EP.”
We were supposed to meet in a café, but in the excitement of meeting we all forgot the times we were in. London on Lockdown was the theme as you could not commune indoors with people, something we are still very much experiencing as we wait for Boris Johnson and his peers to deliver us a crumb of normality. “I just saw lockdown as a rite of passage, an opportunity to double down and finish Ambrosia. It was wrapped up in the first lockdown. The second lockdown? I was like damn. But in spite of the good days and bad days, it allowed me to plan. So I can’t complain.”
Curation is a skill that has not yet been imbued in some artists, whether it’s through sequencing, features or even the runtime. It can look different depending on who the executor is and for Emil, he emphasises timing a lot. “I think a lot of knowing where to place artists is knowing my ear and what I like to hear. And patience! I keep coming back to patience but it was needed when people would ask me over two years where the project was. And having to tell people it’s not ready yet and I need so and so on this song, it just took so much patience.”
In this music industry, we can all learn from the traps that affected artists of yesteryear. Complacency creeping in, the project they bank on to change their fortunes gets pushed back, creative tension and stagnation getting in the way. But for Emil, patience was a very important facet to his come up, as without it, his introduction could’ve been made very differently. As we wrap up our chilly afternoon and retire from the awful wind chill, we stroll towards the Kennington Park entrance and get down to what’s next for Emil following the feedback for Ambrosia. “It’s vindicating for me. I came in this not really concerned about what was going on in the city, musically. The feedback has let me know that Ii can continue to make the music that I want to make and apply pressure. I’m going for world domination so I’ve gotta do what I can, more artists, more videos. The whole shebang.” I guess for Emil, the journey has always been more important than the destination.
Ambrosia is out now on all good digital vendors.