If you’re lucky (and old) enough to have experienced grime in the 00s, then you know about youthful East London collective B.O.M.B Squad. Their self-titled debut release is the stuff of Channel U legend. On that track, a fresh-faced, teenage Baba Crunch asserts “I was born to be a musician.” It was a bold statement to make, at a time when shelling over grime beats was often disregarded as an art-form by those outside the scene.
But the self-belief evident in Crunch’s earliest bars was justified. He’s gone on to enjoy success as part of duo PBGR (alongside Swarve), moving away from 140 bpm towards a smoother hip-hop sound. And now he’s striking out as a solo artist with ‘Volts’, a seven track EP which showcases further sonic development, fusing rap verses with luxurious R&B melodies and occasional afrobeat elements to great effect.
The project developed organically, with Crunch unburdened by external influences. “I was more free and able to express my ideas, whereas working in a group you have to compromise sometimes. With ‘Volts’ I was making music purely for myself. Even though I’m a rapper, I’ve always been a fan of a good song, rather than just a rap song. I used to write for a lot of singers, I wanted them to sing hooks on my tracks. The process was getting long so I just started trying to sing myself. It’s still new to me, there are times I enjoy it more than rapping.”
Crunch aimed to produce a versatile project, without losing his sense of identity. “It took quite a while to achieve that without forcing it. I relied on the production to take me there. There are a handful of artists who inspired me to do things like that, like Kanye West, Pharrell and Travis Scott.”
Of his transition away from grime towards the seamless blending of sounds on ‘Volts’, Baba Crunch points towards personal growth and maturity. “B.O.M.B Squad and the Grime era was really, really fun. I’ve always liked hip-hop to be honest, but it wasn’t the cool thing to do. It wasn’t cool to rap, it was cool to spit. Them times I just done what was cool, being a kid and that! But once you mature, you do things that you actually like. I still like grime too, and sometimes go back and listen to old school sets. But I just allowed myself to grow.”
The flashes of West African elements in Crunch’s work speak to his Nigerian heritage, and his sub-conscious absorption of the vibes he grew up around. “I listened to a lot of Fuji music because that was played in the house. My dad used to play talking drums, really, really well. I was onto afrobeats really early too, even before Burna Boy and Wizkid crossed over into Europe. Wande Coal is another artist I took in really early.”
Fatherhood has impacted greatly on Crunch, as both an artist and a person; he references this in the project’s most moving track, ‘Doctor’s Orders’. “At the time, just before she was born I landed a decent job at KPMG. I was kind of just conforming. In the back of my mind I knew this wouldn’t work for me. On that track I’m talking about the battle between me being complacent and fighting for my dream. I need to lead by example and show her that you chase what you wanna do, but you have to do it wholeheartedly. I know she’s watching so it’s made me go harder in every aspect.”
Another standout cut is ‘Lucky Life’, which sees Crunch connect with fellow Isle of Dogs native and B.O.M.B Squad alumni Hak Baker. The track is an unflinchingly honest look at growing up on the IOD and the futility of road life. “It was very organic. I’m with Hak all the time. We’re mates outside of music. It was about finding the right track for us to both sit on. It was very experimental, just seeing how Hak would come on a Hip Hop beat. I don’t feel like either of us changed for the other person, we just brought what we brought to the table and it worked.”
Much like Hak Baker, the Isle of Dogs is a major influence on Crunch’s music. “A lot of the experiences I talk about happened there during my adolescence. It’s a very unique place. I don’t feel like there’s any place in the world like it, to be honest! It’s full of characters. It’s a very small place and everyone was very close knit. We all had each other’s back. No-one else really knew about the island, you don’t go there if you ain’t got no business there. I feel like we all want the world to know about the island. So whatever I do, I’m always trying to bring it back home, shine a light on the island.”
While Crunch is keen to highlight the struggles young people on the IOD endure, he’s also passionate about exposing those young people to the possibilities which exist beyond its boundaries. “I want to show people on the island that there’s a whole world out there man, there’s so much. It’s a major thing to explore. I’m striving to break social barriers. I feel like my versatility is a gift. If I can make music where people from all walks of life can come together and enjoy, that’s a box ticked.”
Words: Robert Kazandjian
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