photo: Thomas Comery
When did this all start for you?
I went to the youth club with my cousin and sister; everyone was a lot older than me and everyone was always spitting, but I never dared show anyone. When I was a bit older, people started clashing in school so I joined in, but that was only messing about.
It properly started in 2010 when I was about eighteen. One of my friends said a guy, who was linked up with BBK [grime collective], needed some emcees. At the time I was plastering full-time and thought, “Might as well.” I started writing some tunes, then went to the studio with the guy. That led to The Afterdark Movement and clashes. I just took those guys’ heads off – that’s when the ratings came in and I got a bit of respect.
What do you reckon to rap battling these days?
It’s what started me getting promotion, really. I was doing battles, then when I heard of Don’t Flop [UK battle rap league], I did that. It was exciting when me and Youth[oracle, Nottingham emcee] would roll to events – it was just sick, you know? Personally, I’ve gone off it massively. It’s hard to keep something like that relevant. Especially when it comes to Don’t Flop – a lot of the same stuff is repeated, and not on a higher level. It fell hand-in-hand with everything I was doing at the time, so I have a lot of love for it. I still have that hunger to do it again. It would have to be the right place, right time, though. It’s always been about the music for me.
How does the writing process differ writing on beat and writing a capella?
I don’t struggle writing a grime clash at all – you get your beats given to you beforehand, you know what kind of flow you’re going to go with, then you have one punchline that strings it together. When I started to write an a capella battle, I kid you not, I struggled big time. You’ve got nothing to start with and there’s so many more technicalities: a lot more brainstorming and choosing where certain words and phrases will go, and where your beginning, middle and conclusion will go in your round.
Have you got any rules for writing bars?
I try and stay away from things that aren’t true, things that I don’t relate to, and things that people have already said.
What’s your favourite Bru-C tune?
Probably I Am Bru. It’s a laugh. We came up with that while blazing a spliff in my mate’s car. He was finishing a bottle of Irn-Bru and he was like “I am Bru, haha.” You know one of them stupid jokes that just became a thing. Either that, or Five-Pound Bet.
It’s doing well. Where did that one come from?
I’m always first in the pub, innit. I’m used to seeing grime videos being taken so seriously, always in the street, in a studio or in a rave. Why not just do it at a pub? We went to Up N Down Under, asked the guy if we could film, and he ended up giving us loads of free pints, even putting Wray and Nephews in the pint. We were steaming when we did the video.
When you had your son, the sound took a bit of a different turn. Maybe a bit more serious…
Definitely more serious. Another rule I have about my music is putting a stamp on where I’m at in current time, especially with Storytellers [JDZmedia series]. After my son was born, I wrote that whole [Black ‘N Red] EP in three nights – sitting up with him, chilling. It was just where I was at. It felt right to get something conscious out there. It was all about setting an example, not only to the young people I was working with, but to people around me and fans of my music. There are gassy bars and hype tunes out there, but music is about expression and not following what everyone else is doing, which I felt I needed to make clear at the time.
image: Thomas Comery
You were also doing youth work...
I’m still teaching at a school in Leicester. We did rap battles in schools – that was sick. We took subjects like nuclear war and eco greens, made ‘for and against’ bars out of them, and made them go against each other. I also did some mentoring work for YMCA, helping artists to get inspired.
You’ve got your fingers in a lot of pies…
I don’t regret what I’ve done, but I’ve stretched myself thin. I’ve done The Afterdark Movement, Origin One, Bru-C, Don’t Flop and Phlexx. So now I’m doing something for myself. I recently left Afterdark – I did enjoy being in a band but it was just too much, and I’ve got a kid now. I’m trying to go for a career in teaching, and for this to work out as well.
What benefits are there to working solo?
In a band you get to share experiences, it’s socially brilliant. There’s nothing better than getting on stage with a band behind you. However, trying to manage six people, especially when we’re unsigned, can be difficult. The pros of being on your own… I mean, look how many releases I’ve got solo, compared to being in a band. But you have to do everything yourself, you haven’t got other people to push you. Luckily, if I want to do something, I’ll do it.
It must be cool to see the progression of your Phlexx nights…
It takes a while to build these things up, a lot of trial and error. I don’t think people realise that a lot of money is put into the music, more than the events really. It’s expensive if you want it to work. Even now, I’ll get money from a show and it will go straight into studio, or getting in the next person, or booking the next flight. It’s the only way to grow.
What’s going on with this new EP then?
It’s a bassline-garage hybrid track done five ways. It’s called One Of Them because it’s just one of them, innit. There’s gonna be a single, and a remix with six other emcees: MC Vapour, K Dot, Gino, Dizzle Kid, Dubzy, and Dan Ja. There’s also an instrumental and an a capella track, so other DJs and emcees can buy the music to make their own versions.
Any other plans for the future?
When One Of Them is released, I’m gonna do a show on Rinse FM with Marcus Nasty, with all the emcees on the remix. Plus, we’re gonna do a set. Then it’s just banging out tunes, man. I feel like I’m starting on a clean slate this year – it’s about quality control, making sure everything’s tight, playing as many shows in as many cities as I can, and getting to some banging raves.
One Of Them is released on Wednesday 19 October on Phlexx Records.