Finding His Range: Backroad Gee Interviewed

Finding His Range: Backroad Gee Interviewed

"You gotta fly that flag, fly it high..."

A lot can change in a year. Today, London-based Backroad Gee sits at the forefront of UK Rap, having ambushed the game with his uniquely dexterous, unpredictable flow and a combustible energy not seen since the golden age of grime. For an artist who spent the latter part of 2019 sitting on the wing, the contrast couldn’t be starker.

“My brother, 2020 has been lovely jubbly! I can’t complain. I’m working. The work don’t stop. I can’t lie, everything’s been a highlight for me, the whole journey. I didn’t believe this was what I’d be doing. Things were very different last year… very different my brother.”

- - -

- - -

Britain’s prison system is a trap, with a woeful record of rehabilitating people. It takes individual perseverance to avoid falling into the cycle of re-offending. “I’m never going back there, one hundred percent. It shapes you, and you have to think about your next steps. Music wasn’t part of the plan, but it ended up being. And look where we are.”

The encouragement of those in his circle persuaded BRG to turn his flair for emceeing into a career. “Music is a natural thing for man. But did I really think that I could blow up and it would work out? No, that wasn't really on my mind. People around me, my close friends hearing me rap and telling me I could do this is why I tried a ting.”

Backroad Gee’s flair on the mic, that distinctive bounce to his flow, is rooted in his Congolese heritage. It’s something he’s fiercely proud of and it shapes his artistic process. “It influences everything. How I sound, and how I come across, and even how I structure my music. That’s where my understanding of music comes from.”  

- - -

- - -

In November 2019, he signalled the new direction his life was taking with the aptly named ‘I’m Free’. BRG’s opening bars couldn’t be more lucid: “Alhamdulillah I’m free, my vision is clear, I can see.” The buzz created by the icy, Hargo-produced cut led bloggers and writers to hurriedly label BRG as a drill rapper.

It’s a label that didn’t do justice to Backroad Gee’s artistic range. His first EP ‘Mukta Wit Reason’ draws heavily on melodic afrobeat and afroswing. Excellent follow-up ‘Mukta Vs Mukta’ fuses elements of drill with the industrial reverberations of grime and xylophonic keys of UK garage. It’s a complex, nuanced sound, which speaks to the richness of Black music from Britain and beyond.

“I’m an artist man, I do everything. But the Dunya is a very funny place, people have their own assumptions and their own opinions. I gotta leave the people dem to do what they do, and I’ll keep doing what I do.”

- - -

- - -

Released in January 2020, the anthemic ‘Party Popper’ blasted BRG’s career up towards the stars.  He attacks Finn Wigan’s ominous, percussive production with the emphatic delivery he’s built his name on. It’s dark, mosh-pit ready music at its best, closer to grime than anything else.

“The turning point was when ‘Party Popper’ came out. That’s when things really started to woot woot woot [onomatopoeic gunshots]. People hadn’t heard the kind of stuff that I do, innit. People weren’t really ready for that situation there, it took people by surprise. They wanted to know what was going on!”

A subsequent remix followed. It’s a real Pan-African affair, seeing BRG link-up with Pa Salieu and Ambush. Artists celebrating their African identity have produced some of 2020s most important, innovative UK Rap. It’s something that might not have felt possible a few years back. This year, against the backdrop of very public anti-Blackness and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, it feels especially important.

“Back then it wasn’t cool to fly your flag innit. Now it’s time for representation, you know what I mean? You gotta fly that flag, fly it high. We’re all family. It’s about unity. The unity is bringing us together, it’s beautiful right about now.”

- - -

- - -

BRG’s affinity with Pa Salieu is symbolic of that unity; young Black men raised in different cities, of Congolese and Gambian heritage respectively, but shaped by similar struggles articulated through music. Their chemistry on the brooding, forceful ‘My Family’ takes head-tops clean off. It’s one of the year’s standout tracks, and there’s more heat to come from the pair.

“Pa was at the studio and called me. Man went there to chill, smoke up, link up, chill up. Fanatix played the beat. They was making it there. Pa turned around and said bro, come, back-to-back! That was it, organic. The killys linked up and made it happen. Inshallah, when the time is right …we’ve got bare bangers in the vault.”

BRG’s raucous, reloadable energy on the mic has attracted the attention of grime’s elder statesmen. He recently jumped on the all-star remix of D-Double E’s ‘Can’t Tell Me A Ting’ before recruiting the legendary JME and Lethal Bizzle for the motivational, super-charged ‘Enough is Enough’. “That’s big business man, trust me, working with the legends. For them to recognise my ting and see that I’m really working. It’s a blessing.”

- - -

- - -

His journey so far is best summed up by the track’s memorable hook: “Life is rough, I woke up, said enough is enough.” On the surface, it appears to have been a rapid rise for one of the UK’s most unique artists. That idea fails to recognise the resolve BRG needed to make it out of a system shaped to trap him.

“Patience has been a big thing on my journey, because it’s something man has had to learn. Patience and perseverance man, trust me. You have to take time in life, and map out everything. Then when you sip that champagne it tastes a little bit better.”

- - -

- - -

Words: Robert Kazandjian
Photography: Will Spooner

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

 

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine