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Otis Mensah: Sheffield's Poet Laureate

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Otis Mensah is one of the most exciting and talented artists to emerge from Sheffield in recent years. Describing his sound as alternative hip-hop, Otis combines clever lyricism and spoken word with his love of hip-hop culture. It's a refreshing sound that has seen him support the likes of Wu Tang Clan and The Sugarhill Gang, as well as bagging a slot at Glastonbury. His most recent achievement saw him given the title of Sheffield's first ever Poet Laureate, appointed by Lord Mayor Magid Magid.

How does it feel to become the city's first Poet Laureate?

It's an honour. It's exciting to see what shape the role can take for the first time and I'm happy to be a part of it. I've been writing poetry and working on music for a good few years now and the nature of this role is all about embracing and encouraging expression through art.

What inspires you to write?

The everyday happenings of life, but also the colourful nature of the contradictions of people, in a philosophical sense.

It's important to share that vulnerability

Do you ever get writer's block?

For me, creativity is really elusive, but writing is so much a means of therapy to me that I often have moments where I'm not being creative in the format of sitting down and writing a piece of work. It's a way to release my emotions and any build-up of tension.

It can be tricky and sometimes it does make me feel vulnerable, but I think it's important to share that vulnerability. That is what I feel creates a community between the artist who is writing and the person listening. It makes them feel less alone in regards to whatever they might be going through.

How did you decide that alternative hip-hop was the route to go down?

It was very natural to me, because my dad is a DJ and I am a fan of hip-hop music and hip-hop culture. When I was at school, people were definitely finding expressive, creative outlets through writing rap, whether that was through the culture of grime or through the culture of rap music.

Although I really appreciate grime and what it means to UK culture, at the time I felt that it came with a certain level of pretence and I didn't feel that I was truly able to express myself through that. I started getting into artists like [Childish] Gambino and Kid Cudi, who were open about their anxiety and depression and their identity. They encouraged me to try and be that person for someone else.

What are your thoughts on Sheffield's music scene?

There are so many people doing so many different things. I feel that as a 'scene' we lack a sense of togetherness, but Sheffield is not lacking in talent. We just need to make more noise about what's going on because often, if you're not in those circles you might not know of the different music that exists here. It's amazing to see what RiteTrax, Plot 22 and Blancmange Lounge are doing. Those people are definitely pushing it and I think that's incredible.

What's next for you?

I want to continue to share and push myself to share vulnerably and express myself freely. I'll keep creating new pieces of art and I hope to share that with the people of Sheffield and all over the world. For me it's about trying to build this community of people where we can share ideas about music and poetry. That's what I really want to do. I want to perform in different places and open up that conversation.

Jess Peace


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