At 2.34pm I got the text from Dejon.
“Roll for like 6.30 and you’ll be good.”
In true industry fashion, we arrive late, and in truer show night fashion, they’re not ready for us yet. A couple of crew members, staff and management are loitering outside the stage-door entrance. By the time our names are checked off the list, and we’re marched down the three flights of stairs underneath the O2 Academy Islington, the sun has set. Summer months have now officially fleeted, it’s cold out, yet it has dawned, this is the first ever headline show in London for Blade Brown, the epitome of a UK rap veteran. As early as the internet allows us to date back, his ‘Nothing Long Volume 1’ tape released in 2004 started off a career obverse to the project title. Deep footprints last longer. Thus, despite his intermittent MIA status throughout recent years, his troops have been ready. They’ve been eagerly awaiting his return to, although seemingly congenial, what is really the UK rap battlefield. Now, with a brand new tape and a three-city headline tour, he’s back, bigger and better than ever.
It’s 7.38pm, and Blade emerges from his dressing room, sporting the new Man Utd away top and training jacket. He’s doing a pre-show backstage photo-shoot for Soccer Bible. He greets us at arms length, standing firmly, Givenchy sliders in place, before throwing a few poses to the shooter. His demeanour may seem apathetic as he’s observed and Instagrammed by a few of us, but he constantly checks in with the cameraman to ensure he’s getting the shots required. One of his boys peeps his head out of DJ JoceWavy’s dressing room and shouts “Wish I could be you when I’m older.” He lets off a wry smirk, before being handed the home shirt. You can hear the boys inside the dressing room, there’s an air of ebullience. He slips back in to change. A few more snaps and it’s done. We’re guided into the adjacent room to set up. The mirror lights are bright and the black leather sofas slightly rugged. He joins us a couple of moments later, in a filled out LV black T-shirt, before taking the double sofa.
“They don’t ever usually let me do this…” he begins so nonchalantly as I take a seat opposite. All phones are on silent, whilst a couple of cameras click away. “My first ever headline show in London, it feels good man. Obviously, in the last year or so, I’ve made that conscious decision to take music more seriously, so now I’m starting to see the benefits and rewards. There’s obviously a lot more to do, but it feels good right now.” Now being 5 years after ‘Bags X Boxes 3’, released in 2014, it’s fair to say ‘good’ is an understatement. Etta James wouldn’t get a look in. It’s been a long-time coming for Blade to advance to this level, a territory where true artistic individualism and integrity allow you to shine in the deepest, darkest and oldest of trenches.
Most impressive about of this fourth quarter however? Perhaps the ability for ‘Bags X Boxes 4’ to perpetuate the long-serving rawness so captivating for some, and so revealing for others, whilst drafting in new recruits, from K-Trap to LD to Asco and more. Blade is reaching further-afield, and he’s doing so without jeopardising his value. “To be honest with you, because of the length of the break that I took out of music, I felt like I kind of owed it to the people that were waiting for the tape. For the fans…” he speaks candidly. “I could easily gone the chart route, tried to make some music to make some money, it’s not me, but its what everybody’s doing. So I just made sure this tape was raw, and you now, I’ve made them wait so long, so I just had to go super raw, there’s not even one commercial song on there. Music like that lasts longer and stands the test of time. My core fan base is more important for me than commercial success.”
“I think every few years, naturally, my perspective on life changes, ‘cus you experience new and different things. I feel like it always reflects in my music, as you grow as a person. I hope that’s the kind of message that gets across.”
We move onto the project itself. ‘Bags X Boxes 4’, the fourth and final instalment of an epochal series. It’s sharp, it’s clinical, it’s omniscient in perspectives and sounds. His confidence is firmly rooted, he stands tall atop a vexed, dense catalogue and you can hear it. It’s in the opening lines…”Memoirs of a trafficker, Who’s trappier? Money hidden in Africa.” It could be perceived as hyperbolizing, but once Blade lifted his resting arm to his chin, the watch-face exhibits otherwise. He’s aware of his ancestral being, his track record and his presence. “I started it and scrapped it maybe once even twice. I had a few songs and was like nah I don’t like these let me scrap them. Then I probably had a base of around 7 to 8 songs, in 2017 maybe. A friend of mine came to studio, listened and was like, nah this ain’t it bro. (Laughing) So I scrapped it again, you know what I mean.” His laugh gets louder with each word.
He continues, “I had to really step away, outside of the bubble I was in, and just think, like, what do I need to be doing here, what do the people need to be hearing from me in this day and age. I feel like I got the first few tracks done, found my way, got a good solid base and then to finish up…We went to a studio out in the countryside, out in Oxford, and stayed there whilst we were recording. That’s where I got most of the tape finished. Locked in, no distractions.” I ask how frequently he depends on friends to lend ears to his work, ensuring nothing leaves the Blade camp that doesn’t reflect him accurately. His response, fluently articulates his life laws as though they’re second nature to his existence. “I only keep those kind of people around me. I learnt that through life. There’s nothing worse than having yes men around you, it will lead you astray, and it’s more damaging that it is helpful.” The vibe in the room dejects slightly. He looks up. “It might feed your ego, but when it comes to actually getting real life shit done, you gotta’ have real people around you.”
It’s almost time for the Hennessy bottle to be popped before stage time, so I quickly ask how it was collaborating with Giggs once again on the fiery ‘Block’s Hot’ back in July. “Collaborating with Giggs again was good man, it was something people have been waiting on for a very, very long time. We’re always quite competitive when we get in the booth and stuff, a little friendly competition and stuff but we are tryna go for each other’s neck. It’s always good getting in the booth with Hollowman.” 1-0 Blade?
We follow him into his dressing room. It’s dimly lit but the air of excitement kicks in once again. Laughter erupts and voices natter over one another. There’s two of his boys on the sofa, two on the dresser. The topic of conversation switches from a recent show in Amsterdam to AJ Tracey’s huge upcoming nights at Ally Pally. Cottons takeaway is laid out on the table, quarter jerk, chicken burger and 2 x mac n cheese. A clothes rack with football shirts lines the wall into the shower room. Blade is the quietest. He grabs a plastic cup and the bottle, pouring himself a drink. He leans back against the dresser and joins in. Guv walks in and daps everyone up before disappearing again. By this time the show is approaching. The bass from the stage upstairs is kicking through the floors. We head up out the back entrance and hang outside. Security are on crud and the loud was loud, so we make our way to the front and jump in to watch the room fill to the brim.
Full it is. The stopwatch projected on the screen above the stage hits zero and the lights drop out. DJ Klipa lets us know. The trap revolution is about to be televised. Red spotlights float the stage and Blade emerges, arm swinging, Intro blasting. “They’ve been locking us off for time but we’re here now!” he exclaims. His stage presence is dominating, marching up and down reciting the memoirs of ‘Bags & Boxes 4’. We’re taken from the melodic rainfall keys of ‘Break Bread 2’ to the room-shaking bass of ‘Littest N*ggas’, recited lyric for lyric by a brim-full floor and balcony as directed by Blade’s rising microphone. Youngs Teflon and Mental K join Blade on stage soon after his own entrance to perform ‘Triple Threat’, an impervious back and forth off the project between the trio.
He looks comfortable and in control. Despite the trials and tribulations his career and progress may have faced, it seems as though now’s his time. Ground has been taken on the battlefield, and as he commands his way through the project his words from earlier in the night ring truer than ever. “What has kept me going through all the setbacks and adversities you face in music, in life, sometimes when you put years and effort and a lot of time into something, its hard to just let it go to waste.”
“Certain things happened on the previous attempt at a tour and we lost a lot of the momentum that we had, with ticket sales and stuff like that, so even when we was coming out to the shows and stuff, some of them were half empty cus of these push-backs. That kind of stuff made me wanna’ not even do music anymore. It put me off. But then its like, you take a step back and look and its like, you know what, you cant really let things, other people or outside influences stop you, so…”
Indeed… The trap revolution will be televised.