Whilst it’s evident Birmingham is rising, it’s important to ask – in comparison to what exactly? We’ve already established that London, although once was, is now no longer the benchmark to which we should be measuring against. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the place and power is irrelevant to Birmingham’s story, far from it.
Following our in-depth conversations throughout this journey, it’s clear to see the way in which an artist’s perspective develops over time, and ultimately differs, depending on the space they are operating in at any given moment of their career. Those at the top seem to think the time for a competitive mind state, required for progress, is over, and now, it’s more of a collaborative one – between both the statesmen and also the states themselves.
If the first two parts of #0121TheRiseofBirmingham gave us an insight into the history (heart) and the driving force (spine) behind what is the ever-growing Birmingham scene personified, part 3 brings us the mind, the head of the pack, the front line, and it highlights the direction that the scene is heading in.
In the final part of #0121TheRiseofBirmingham we converse with two of the most prominent acts in the scene to date, JayKae and Lotto Boyzz.
Following his appearance on Lotto Boyzz ‘Birmingham’ and within days of the release of his Skepta produced single, ‘Every Country’ featuring Murkage Dave, we sat down with Birmingham’s own JayKae. “I feel like I’m just dipping my toe into the water, I don’t feel like I’m doing what I could be doing…” JayKae begins. Yet he’s one of the first names that comes to mind when you talk about Birmingham Grime. “I’ve got a lot more releases to come, and I’m you know, just starting to pick it up again, getting people aware and interested.”
Considering his current position in the scene, JayKae’s success is far from an overnight story. Looking back to his days with Invasion, he pays homage to it as a learning experience, considering it all part of character building. When I ask JayKae how it all started, he reflects, “I was clashing people, in the park, it was like that for months. One day I went down to this set, and when I got there it was like, Lady Leshurr, Dapz, Tazzle, Hitman, Vader, different DJs. All these Invasion people that you might not even been aware of. I went down there, and I just killed it. After that, I was in, and it just went from there.”
Whilst the collective itself may have suffered significant losses with the departure of JayKae amongst others, it’s evident that the same collective spirit that made these artists gravitate towards each other, is still very much present in the scene today. “I’m following everyone bruv. People that are just starting, on p110, like RK, and others, to people that have been in it a while, like K2 and Tana. Young ones coming up. And then there’s Lotto, MIST, Tempa, Dapz, Safone. There’s chances and opportunities from music that we dreamed of, where we can live off music, that weren’t an option a couple of years ago.”
“We enjoy doing music, that’s what’s kept us going for so long, but now its like a whole different ball game.”
It’s at this point we switch up the focus from what’s going on in Birmingham, to where the city finds itself situated in the bigger picture. The recurring theme throughout this series has been the comparison to London, yet contrary to popular belief, a handful of these 0121 artists don’t perceive London as a direct opponent, but more so, as a general competitor. “When I first got into it, it was more like, we were trying to get noticed by the Londoners, the DJs and the channels that were up there. Causing as much noise as we can until they clock us… but then it got to the point where it died down, down there, and we are the guys now, everyone was watching Birmingham.”
At this point JayKae paints a clearer picture of how the scene should be examined, “I think the whole game has evolved now, ‘cus people like Stormzy and Skepta have brought a new audience to the scene, which helps everyone. It is back in London now, but it wasn’t before. But we’ve proven ourselves. Now its up to us to see how far we can take it.”
Further emphasising the fact that it’s not necessarily about bypassing London on the way to international success, JayKae expands on it, ”Look at the Hip Hop Scene back in the day for example. NY used to have it, then it was down South that had it. Now Toronto is on fire. I just want Birmingham to be respected and have people like ‘yo, theres some heads down there and they know what they’re doing.’ I want us to chart. I want us to do what London has already done, going Number 1, doing worldwide tours, etc. right now, we don’t really have that here, that person to look up to. We are the people to do it, and then the younger ones coming up, they will surpass us at some point.”
As we wrap up our conversation and Jamie starts taking shots of JayKae, Despa Robinson (his manager), hints that there’s a big secret to be revealed next week. As I scroll through Twitter the following week, I see nothing but JayKae’s name on my timeline featured alongside one of the highest rated US television drama’s, Power. His well-known anthem, ‘Toothache’, is featured in one the final scenes in an episode, resulting in a new level of hype and progress for Jaykae. This is the time where he’s mobilising and capitalising on everything. As the tune is playlisted on radio and Spotify, he makes the announcement of his first headline UK Tour, the Where Have You Been Tour. After all of this, his final words in our interview really strike home…
“Just take note and just listen to what we’re doing down here, ‘Cus its not a joke. It might have been a joke a few years ago, but it’s not that now. There are businessmen now; people are starting to learn what labels can offer you, ways to push yourself independently. We’re getting clued up down here, so it’s time to start taking us very seriously.”
In the final interview for #0121TheRiseofBirmingham we head to Aston, Birmingham to speak to arguably the hottest in the game right now, Lotto Boyzz. In fact it’s in this very building that Ash and Lucas first met and began to experiment with music almost 7 years ago. The past couple of years for the Lotto Boyzz have been exceptional, releasing a string of hits from ‘Hitlist’, to ‘Bad Gyal’ to their biggest hit to date ‘No Don’. We sit down to talk, just as they wrap up the new remix in a studio session minutes before.
“When it was time, we set up a mind-set where we said to ourselves, ‘listen, if we’re gonna’ do it, we do it properly. By all means’”, Ash begins, as he reflects back on the moment they first started to take their journey into music to the next level. At that time, Ash and Lucas came to the attention of then promoter and now manager, MafDotYou. It was the catalyst that gave them the charge to step their game up, “Maf heard some stuff from us, and he decided to put us on some of his shows. That’s when it got a bit more serious, we started getting more gigs and the gigs got us out there a lot more.” Lucas continues, “We had this car that was moving, we were pushing it but we didn’t know which direction to go in. Maf came in and said ‘listen, let me take control of this car’…, all of us worked as a unit to get the car moving. We had no direction, we were on autopilot, but he brought guidance to the movement.”
After Maf joined the pair, the release of ‘Hitlist’ and ‘Bad Gyal’, catapulted them to widespread popularity. Objectively speaking, Ash explains how, “It takes someone else to recognise what you have, for you to understand. When you’re in it, you just don’t see what’s going on on the outside. Maf helped us see that.” After ‘No Don’, Lotto Boyzz started receiving offers from various labels. It was a deal with Pitched Up/Columbia that ultimately felt like the right one. “The deal itself came in after ‘No Don’” Ash continues, “from ‘Hitlist’ there was offers on the table, but we took our time, and made sure, all three of us, understood what was best for us. The people at Sony are good people, and I never feel uncomfortable around them”.
When it comes Birmingham, Lotto Boyzz are singing loud and proud about their city metaphorically, but also, literally, with the release of their single ‘Birmingham (Anthem)’ featuring fellow 0121 MC JayKae. Ash talks about how the whole thing came about, “It was definitely planned. We were kinda’ saying thank you. In Birmingham, we don’t understand the power we actually have. We are so underrated in a sense. We see how good London’s doing and think negatively about ourselves. But music is music, if it’s good, they will support you. There’s never a point where you should feel underrated” speaking on the release. It helped us to set in stone, like, this is where our sound is coming from.”
“Lotto Boyzz is from Birmingham. We did it in our way. It’s that Afrobashment sound, mixed with Grime, with our flavour, our spice…”
From a similar perspective to JayKae, Lotto Boyzz seemingly agree that whilst there is a huge amount of focus on the Birmingham scene right now, it’s less about competition between the cities, but more so about collaboration. “I love London, the UK, so I’m looking at the UK. It’s not a thing like, London is doing so well, lets focus on Brum for a minute now, its more of a collective thing like, ‘hey look, London, I’m from Birmingham, but we’re trying to get UK music as a whole popping’”.
The pair were also willing to offer their criticism to the scene however. “In a way, we should take a leaf out of London’s book” Lucas explains. “When something comes out, they are so quick to embrace and support it to help each other grow, they work together. Here, it seems like everyone is trying to do their own thing instead of building together. If we built together, a lot more would be rising a lot faster. In Brum, it seems that people are more likely to just work in their circle and they are scared to go out of it. Sometimes you have to go outside of your circle and link up, its networking. Grow someone else’s sound, which in turn, will grow you. You’re not just gonna’ work with anyone, but if you see something rising, don’t be scared to give it a push. Be open minded.”
Ash purposefully expands, “We want to be in a position where we can help people grow. Be the direction. But we need to get ourselves in that. Yeah, we’ve got Lotto Boyzz records. We’ve been working on it, but me going to someone now and signing them doesn’t make sense yet. I haven’t made it yet. When I get to a place where the name Lotto Boyzz is an influential thing, a brand itself, that’s when I can start helping people how I want to.”
After what seemed like an extremely in-depth talk, they finish up with the mention of a project that will soon be pleasing our ear drums with their trademark sound which they describe as “Afrobbean, the African bongos, the Carribbean steel pans, mixed with that UK *aggressive grunt*”.
Ash and Lucas soon head off to a 1Xtra show broadcasting live from Birmingham. Hosted by DJ Target, they premiere their ‘No Don Remix’ featuring Chip & Not3s, whilst joining them on air are JayKae and Lady Leshurr.
The Rise of Birmingham is happening now, and mark these words, the 0121 is not playing.