As if this man needs an introduction. The one they call Roméo Elvis knows a thing or two about dominating the headlines. He’s basically unavoidable in the media across the country and for two consecutive years, this Brussels-based rapper proudly prevailed as the biggest winner on the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. To start the year in good fashion, he announced yet another extensive tour across France; and his sophomore album ‘Morale 2’ went gold. But that’s not all; a special deluxe version of the album, ‘Morale 2Luxe’, just came out today (February 16) – and it contains no less than 10 new productions. When one of Belgium’s biggest rappers has news like this, it’s hard for us not to be curious for what he has to say. Turns out that’s actually quite a lot. From the idea behind the new music to his way of dealing with astronomical success, Roméo knows exactly what he’s doing.
Cliché question, but how does it feel to reach gold on your Morale 2 album?
"Amazing! We did a lot of hard work and we have put everything we had in this record; so the extraordinary results only feel better."
Do you think the new tracks on the deluxe version of Morale 2 have the same potential?
"It’s different. We made these tracks knowing they would join the existing album, so they’re not a separate project like the initial album was. With this new version me and Le Motel just wanted to show a different side of us: a little more UK garage, a little more turn-up, etc. We used a lot more different music instruments, because we were able, for the most part, to record these new tracks in the Red Bull Studios in Amsterdam. So there’s a lot more variety in the songs we present now, but in total the output is not as plentiful as it would be with a regular album."
Let’s dive in the personal life of Roméo Elvis. What’s the kind of music you listen to when you want to relax on a Sunday morning?
"It’s so cliché, but I love classical music – Chopin especially. Recently, I thought I had learned to appreciate classical music, but then I realized I’ve always been listening to it. My sister (rising pop star Angèle, ed.) always made stuff like this since she was 5 years old – so it’s been played in our home throughout our childhood. Me and her used to play 4 hands on the piano from time to time: Chopin, Tchaichovsky, etc."
With a brutal tour schedule like yours, do you still find the time to go out yourself?
"No, not at all. No more parties, no more concerts, no more exhibitions, etc... I wish it was different of course. It’s sometimes really hard to deal with people recognizing me. For now, it would just mostly be dealing with a load of enthusiastic people around me, wherever I would go – and it’s really hard to handle it right now for me, I need to get used to it more."
So what are your tricks to stay physically and mentally healthy while you’re touring as extensively as you do?
"Making music is my refuge, really. Writing lyrics forces me to think about myself, my actions and the things around me. It’s like therapy to me. It keeps me sane in my head. Additionally, I don’t party hard anymore, which shouldn’t come as a surprise."
Let’s do an experiment. Say, you could design the ultimate Roméo Elvis show. Any location or stage design: what would your dream performance look like?
"First of all, there needs to be a massive crocodile head that comes out slowly and turns around, and I would just come out at a certain point. It would be my personal tribute to Johnny Halliday, who sadly passed away a few months ago. He used to start one of his latest series of stadium shows with a massive ‘hand’ that appears on stage, and when it opens, Johnny would be standing there! Such an epic idea. I guess I would want to do the same one day with a crocodile. It would be crazy expensive, but I really want to do that one day. As for the rest of the show I wouldn’t really know, but that crocodile act would definitely need to be a part of it!"
Let’s keep dreaming for a bit. Out of all the artists alive today, who would you want to spend time in the studio with the most? You can pick anyone.
"André3000 from OutKast. To me, he is almost like a father figure to the whole hip hop scene. He has such a distinct rapping style – and his attitude is just right. You can hear that when you listen to Pharrell or Tyler the Creator. I think those three guys have had the biggest influence on me."
On your latest single, ‘Dessert’, you rap about the success of the whole team around you. Your producer, your sister, your girlfriend and your father (although, long before you, obviously) are all reaping the fruits of their hard work recently. Do you think that’s your ‘Midas touch’?
"Well, it’s not something I think about all the time. That said, yes, it feels good to see my sister becoming huge with just 2 singles, Le Motel getting the recognition he deserves and my girlfriend achieving success – but I wouldn’t say it’s because of me. All of these success stories are separate from each other. Yes, I’m kind of in the middle of all this, but they have all worked exceptionally hard."
For someone who is currently breaking records like you are, which goals are left to achieve? What is it you still want to accomplish?
"Every goal I reach, creates motivation to overcome the next hurdle. I don’t think I’m at the point where I can put up my shoes yet. I mean, I currently have one gold record. That’s incredible, but it’s nowhere near a rich and long career yet. I’m only 25 years old, so this is only the beginning. The peak hasn’t been reached yet, not even in the slightest. Gradually, I’m getting closer to achievements like making it other big markets like the UK. We’ve done everything we can so far, but there’s still a lot more work left for me to do."
With hundreds of gigs every year, doesn’t the idea of slowing down look like a tempting idea sometimes? Surely there are potential dangers that come with this lifestyle.
"Sometimes I think about that, yes. That usually happens when I’m doing many things at once, like sitting in the studio, doing an interview, just before I need to leave for a show. On tour, the schedule can be so demanding that I’m longing for a quiet night at home in Brussels. But when the rare opportunity to rest at home for longer than 3 days occurs, I get anxious to get back to work again. I believe the most important thing here is to surround yourself with good people that can support you. An artist’s life may look cool – and I don’t take it for granted – but it can easily become a downward spiral if you deal with it in the wrong way. This lifestyle is just a series of completely different episodes that follow up on each other really fast, so before you know you’re living in a different reality. You need to counter that with the stability that your friends, your family and your girlfriend can provide you. They make sure you stay with your head out of the clouds and with your feet on the ground. Even when you’re famous, doing simple things like playing sports, cleaning your house or calling your grandparents are really important to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Other famous artists often move to a new country to work and live undisturbed, but I can’t. I love Brussels too much – and I don’t want to be too isolated. So in my case it’s about finding the right balance, the right formula."
So there’s no temptation to take a sabbatical and just chill on a faraway beach for a few months?
"The temptation is definitely there, but we live in 2018 now. Artists come and go incredibly fast these days. I think you need to be mentally strong to be able to consciously skip more success when you know it’s within reach. However, if you do decide to disappear for a while, finding the right moment to do so is crucial. If your career is winding down, it’s probably a bad idea; people will just forget about you. But look at Stromae’s perfect timing for example. He was literally on the peak of his success when he decided to stop. In this way, his fans remain on the edge of their seats. When he will come back, he will be the messiah! I’m not at this point yet, there’s more work to do first. So I’m not sure my moment came along yet."