London is the home of Grime, it is also the capital of the country. People could be forgiven for living in a bubble here because there is so much music within the city, it can seem that there is no need to search further afield. However, in 2015, as a result of yet another clash in the Grime scene, London was introduced to a Mancunian artist who would go on to make a name for himself.
The first time I heard of Bugzy Malone, Charlie Sloth was shouting down the radio after his Fire In The Booth on Radio 1. What transpired afterwards was a barrage of sends with North London MC, Chip. As much as this was entertaining, the result gave Bugzy an audience in London that started paying serious attention to an artist they hadn’t really heard of till then. This audience were feeling the music and wanted to hear more. Bugzy, paying attention to the game, released ‘Walk With Me’. A top 10 EP which exposed another side of himself, but back up north, people already knew what Bugzy was about.
“There will be people that don’t know this. I had 6 projects out before I even did the Fire In The Booth. Making bodies of work is something that I’ve naturally been doing. Once a year, sometimes twice a year before everything took off massively. That’s the kind of recording artist I am. Instead of releasing singles, I’ll put a whole project together to capture and embody where I’m up to in life, in that year. I don’t think a single can do that. It’s not enough to give a fan, in my opinion.”
‘Walk With Me’ was the first thing I heard from Bugzy. It made a line in the sand and signified that he was here to be accepted in the Grime scene. While it was a commercial success, throwing Bugzy into the mainstream, he still felt that there was more to give.
“‘Walk With Me’ did very well and I’m really happy with it. What you need to understand is, it was the start of a trilogy. ‘King Of The North’ is the third and final part. I started the journey talking to both my new and old supporters and asking them to walk with me as I take my career to where I wanted it to be for a long time. I spent a lot of time creating it.”
From the first track, you can hear the appreciation and excitement of the potential success that can be achieved in the music game. But Bugzy never gets swept up in it all, he uses his lyrics to describe how his previous life encounters have kept him grounded and aware of his surroundings. Songs like ‘M.E.N’ and ‘Pain’ speak on situations that are similar to a movie script. Grime music has always been a medium for frustrated young black boys to express themselves. Lay out their pain on a track. Touch on things that wouldn’t otherwise be talked about.
With music, I’m trying to document my life, my story, exactly when it is happening. As an artist, I want to speak about specific periods of my life.
Another way Bugzy chooses to express himself and his story is through cinematic music videos. Personally, I really appreciate this as it enhances the song and brings forth another method of engagement. Bugzy has had his own YouTube channel for a number of years now. But it was the visual representation of ‘Pain’ which first caught my attention. Directed by Vertex, this video added another layer on to the character that is Bugzy Malone. It brought a sense of realism. It didn’t feel like there was much acting involved. The people that he moved with in the video didn’t look like extras. The decision to make videos for his most personal songs is something that has captivated his supporters and has allowed them to feel more involved.
“As an artist, it’s only now that I’m starting to let go of the creative side of videos. My best friend Kuba now directs the videos but it’s still something I’m massively involved in. We still sit down and go back and forth until we have the right idea. Before them times, I was putting everything together myself. Overlooking the design of the website. If you look at the site, at my discography, all the descriptions of the projects, I sat and wrote that myself. As well as the videos, I also sit through the mixing process of my music so that it sounds exactly how I want it to sound. That’s how it’s been from the start. It’s only now that I have access to some people who great in their field where I feel that I can let go and allow them to take control of certain things. But it would never be the creative side of things. I’ll always be massively involved in that.”
By the time it came to the release of his second EP, Bugzy had achieved a level of success few artist in the Grime scene had achieved. With an EP in the top ten and sold out shows nationwide, his environment changed dramatically, from being in the ends to being recognised abroad. After living a life where being clocked on the street was a liability, being under the spotlight was something he had to adjust to. He rapped about this on the title track ‘Facing Time’ where he touches on coming to terms with the new direction that his life is taking. I wanted to know whether he still felt like this. Whether he has got used to people asking for his picture and being in the music game.
“I love to come up with a concept and metaphorically speak about a scenario in my life on a track. So to speak about it with someone who gets it………sometimes, it feels like I’m speaking a language that only a few can understand so it’s great to speak to someone who understands what I did on that track. Where I am now, with the fans calling me the King Of The North, I’m now owning it. Embracing it. I’m comfortable in this world now. So this final part of the trilogy speaks more on me being that guy.”
As we sat in an office, the room above us was filling up with supporters arriving to hear the latest offering from Bugzy. At this point, his fanbase is solidified and he’s jumped on many festival stages and sold out headline shows. He’s got comfortable in many scenarios that have come his way as a result. This time he’s come to finish what he has started by providing the last chapter to his trilogy and releasing his 3rd EP aptly named ‘King Of The North’. After asking him why he didn’t book me for a shoot and allow me to take his portrait on top of a mountain peak dressed like Jon Snow, he explained to me what drove his creativity for this body of work.
“I’m one of the first artists from the north of England, in our scene, to achieve what I have achieved. So when it comes to releasing a project, I have to do it right. Especially when you’re coming from outside of where the industry is based, I need to make sure I’m industry quality, if not better. There are always certain things I’ll bring to an EP. One of them is a title track. With ‘King Of The North’, a track like that already has a video thought of before the track is made. When you listen to that song, you’ll know exactly what it is and what I’m representing. I’ve made a lot of projects bro and with me, it has to be right. I need to improve with every release. So this, this is my best work to date. I’ve made songs that not only can be compared to the songs I’ve done before, but are better. I’m fluid with the creation of my EPs. I don’t think like,“Well, that worked last time so lets do it again”. On one of the tracks, there’s a piano played by Chilly Gonzales. The melody that he’s playing on this track bro, the emotion that it provoked in me led the to the story I captured in the track. These are levels that I’ve never taken it to before. The goal with this EP was to create something better than I’ve ever created before.’
If someone’s a Bugzy Malone fan. What they expect is me speaking about real life. My life.
Considering the crowd’s responses I’ve personally witnessed every time Bugzy performs at shows and seeing his recent videos reaching a million views in several days, it’s fair to say that the release of ‘King Of The North’ will be received well. Bugzy has a rapport with his fans and it’s afforded him the confidence to pour his life on instrumentation. Listening to the first 2 songs from the EP, I can hear a bouncier sound which reminds me of the ol’ skool Garage sounds. In fact, on his first single ‘Through The Night’, he has UK Garage legends DJ Luck & MC Neat as company. Bugzy Malone can be seen as a solitary artist having not featured many others on his previous EP’s, but with ‘King Of The North’, it looks like things have changed.
As we wrap up our short chat, he goes upstairs to greet his supporters. Bugzy understands that London is an important market and has always come through to do shows, signings and meet with people in the Grime scene. London may be the home of Grime, but Bugzy Malone is making sure that his city of the North is recognised in the capital city.