Venna is the young saxophonist and producer who is seamlessly blending rap with melodic jazz beats, pioneering his own genre by making UK hip-hop and drill smoother one instrumental solo at a time. The South London native thrives off his tight-knit creative network and is on a mission to make music that breaks boundaries and brings people joy. In 2021 he released his debut EP Venology including appearances from Emil, Jvck James and Jada. This January, he released his latest offering, Casa Lopez, featuring the Chicago-based rapper Mick Jenkins and the Jamaican-American singer Masego.
Venna became a Grammy-Award winning artist aged just 21 for his work on Burna Boy’s album Twice As Tall which he graces with his sax sounds on the song “Alarm Clock”. His relationship with the Afrobeats star also led him to be featured on Beyoncé’s Lion King album called The Gift.
Aside from his long list of impressive features, Venna is shifting his career to be recognised as his own artist. He has communicated through music naturally from a young age, learning to read music at just six years old and starting his long-term love affair with the saxophone aged twelve. Here, we picked the brain of this exciting new talent to find out more about what makes him tick.
1. How did you learn to play the saxophone?
“I gravitated to Saxophone at 12 years old after seeing someone in my school play it. It didn’t take me too long to grasp it. From about 14 years old I started playing with artists in their bands then I started making my own material when I was 17 years old.”
2. Hailing from South London, how did your upbringing and surroundings influence your sound?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that South London gave me my sound or shaped my sound. It was more so the teachers, and the music that I’ve always been drawn to, that’s what shaped me and how I now make my music.”
3. How did the collaboration on ‘Casa Lopez’ come about?
“The first time that I went to LA I had a bunch of beats strapped and ready to go. I linked Mick Jenkins and the first tune we recorded on was Casa Lopez. We sat with the record for a while then we realised that we needed a new hook. I met Masego on my second LA trip. A week later, we were at his home studio and the rest is history.”
4. What was it like to win a Grammy?
“Winning a Grammy was a surreal moment in my life. Something that used to seem so far away, found its way to me.”
5. Your sound blends elements of sax-heavy jazz, laid-back UK hip-hop and drill. What artists inspired you as a child and who inspires you now?
“Terrace Martin has always been a big influence for me as he produces and plays the sax too. Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album really transformed my approach to music. The musicians that I work with heavily inspire me, and that’s why I’m very selective with who I work with.”
6. You’ve said before that you’re very picky with your music. What does your creative process look like?
“My process changes every time. I’m a vessel of the music so I allow the music to find its way to me without trying to do too much. My music is a feeling and if my spirit can’t resonate with it, then that record isn’t it.”
7. You’ve worked with incredible artists including Wizkid, Burna Boy, 6lack, Snoh Aalegra, J Hus, and AJ Tracey, but who would be your dream person to work with that you haven’t yet?
“I would love to work with Erykah Badu and Q-Tip, and anyone from that Soulquarians Era.”
8. You’re clearly a big fan of nostalgia: I can see it in your music, your videos, and your clothes. Why is this and if you could go back in time and experience one period of music history, what would it be?
“I’m an admirer of good times so that’s what I try to represent through my videos. I’ve been trying to document as much of these as possible so that when I’m old and grey I can go back and reminisce about them. I wish that I could’ve seen the Miles Davis, John Coltrane ‘Kind of Blue’ era and the Biggie Smalls & P Diddy New York rap era.”
9. A lot of your music has a feeling of escapism to it. Are you inspired by the idea of getting away from it all?
“I don’t strive to escape from anything, I go in with my head on and aim to be present, so I’d see my music as intentional and thought provoking. I’m glad people can feel a sense of escapism and solitude in my music though, I want everyone to have their own thoughts and feelings to the music. That’s what music is there for.”
10. What’s next for you, Venna?
“Pioneer the next movement of music that will last forever.”
Photography by D’Andre Elizah. Stream “Casa Lopez” on all major platforms now.