The UK music scene has expanded in scope in the last decade, which has resulted in the birth of sub-genres such as drill, Afro-swing and trap music. 808INK employs a soundboard that derives from elements of these sub-genres and have witnessed the evolution of our scene first hand. With hands in many pots including video direction, sound engineering and a monthly club night among other endeavours, it was only right to speak to the double act who have seen a lot behind closed doors. Over the best part of an hour, we discuss their latest project Noisy Neighbours, perception, their creative process and much more.
It’s a grey Saturday afternoon and strangely enough it doesn’t feel like a typical Saturday in South London. I’m on my way to meet 808INK — composed of rapper and producer tandem Mumblez Black Ink. and 808Charmer — to chop it up about their latest album Noisy Neighbours that dropped in early October. The 10 track effort is their most polished project yet; succinct in length but behemoth to the ears (just ask the neighbours). With features from House of Pharaohs resident BlazeYL, IDEH, Jay Prince and Le Grand GDR, ‘Noisy Neighbours’ is a close-knit affair that highlights their diversity in sound as well as their matter-of-fact delivery.
To reach our meeting spot, you have to travel up a steep side road from Deptford Park, across the imposing heights of Aragon Towers, which sit at the heart of Pepys Estate. As you will have gathered from watching Rapman’s exceptional Blue Story, this was once considered a danger zone for any guy from Southwark to be caught in at the height of the Peckham — Lewisham unrest. Take the second exit to the left and proceed onwards to a quiet drive. “You have arrived at your destination,” Siri states the obvious as I look up to greet our associate editor Sam and photographer Andre; who’ve joined me for a rendezvous with the South London misfits.
Mumblez is often pictured with a wide grin but on this occasion he looks rather chill as his all black outfit favours the Grim Reaper. Shortly after Charmer zips in with his car blasting ‘Flute’ —Sam’s favourite track from Noisy Neighbours — he greets us with a smile that acknowledges his tardiness. “Daddy duties!” Charmer bellows as he holds up a baby seat with his infant daughter inside. A good excuse if I ever saw one! Sporting an all-black ensemble with his stylish WIAYK jacket, we perch up outside a doorstep that resembles 10 Downing Street and the duo, atop of a small platform, begin their parliamentary address.
808INK have withstood the test of time and cycled through as many phases of the moon with their releases. From their trippy, sample-led inception to soundtracks engineered to perfection, to me, they’re like artists sculpting statues out of sound. I query if they were aware of any early reception to their new release. “It’s just the beginning but it’s been good so far,” Charmer responds. Statistics and data without a doubt have become a clear marker of success in the streaming era, but I’m curious to know how they define success. “Sometimes they’re [a] very good gauge, but numbers don’t always equate. Some people have 15,000 followers on Instagram, but they can’t fill a 300 capacity venue in London.” Charmer comes across as a rather outspoken character behind the screen, but he’s just as frank in person. “[It’s] the music, the impact, the culture that you’re creating and getting everyone involved in with real life.”
In addition to the music, 808INK put on Bigga Dance, a monthly party that is starkly different from your usual snobby industry event. “People are dancing, girls are getting moved to (translation: chatted up), mandem are buying drinks, like it’s a real world,” says Charmer. “Girls are getting moved to and they’re enjoying it!” Mumblez adds, bringing everyone to laughter.
Some people have 15,000 followers on Instagram, but they can’t fill a 300 capacity venue in London.
Mumblez speaks with the frankness of a politician debating up in the House of Commons, but with a charisma you could only find in a familiar face on your estate. “That’s one of the main reasons why we started Bigga Dance because there needed to be a new establishment or a place for music to live beyond people’s phones.” The 808INK sonic belongs on the dance floor with cuts such as ‘How Many’ offering a snippet into the vast influences that pervade their discography, with its old school hip-hop drum patterns and stargazing production.
Their first label release under Island Records titled When I’m About You’ll Know (WIAYK) was an abridged extension of 808INK. Its sequel found the tandem return to their independent roots in full force. ‘I Feel The Love’ is a certified head banger in which Charmer produces a stern beat to an old Three 6 Mafia tempo. In my attempt to shift our conversation, I redirect my next question back to Noisy Neighbours. The album is experimentation in its rawest form, it contains gully hip-hop beats, strains of club music and vintage grime references re-worked into high octane rap records. We talk about our listening habits and why it’s important to consume music in multiple ways. This brings us to a story in which Charmer received a threatening letter after conducting a car test that had disrupted the slumber of his neighbour’s kids. “The name was going to be Noisy Neighbours, Wake The Kids,” Mumblez explains, identifying the link between the story and the album title. “The wake the kids was also a wake-up call for those who are trying to sleep on it.”
Over the course of the project, the duo dealt with a few life changes which had influenced their output. With Charmer expecting the arrival of his unborn child, I was curious to understand how fatherhood had impacted his creativity. “Releasing a project as a dad is a different feeling because, now, you know this means more than I hope it does well. And that’s why our focus has been — and it’s even in the tape — very business and music oriented.” On the seventh track ‘I’m Fine,’ Charmer gives us a glimpse into his mind. “I’ve got that big stress on my neck, gotta save and invest, with a little mouth to feed,” he raps over one of the sparser of offerings.
Mumblez wasn’t without his own troubles as you’ll hear on ‘4 Ways’, a song about expanding your money stream. It contains an abundance of money references: mula, dollar, and pound. “Guacamole, I need that money, f*ck is funny?” With a steely delivery emphasising his need for financial prosperity, Mumblez lets us know that there are no jokes when it comes to getting money. The making of Noisy Neighbours wasn’t only doom and gloom as Mumblez explains. “It was a real therapeutic thing because it was fun. For once, I was going to the studio to really just lift my feet and offload. What we usually do is go to the studio to intentionally lock in, but this time it was more like ‘let’s go Bagel King.’”
It’s a no brainer with music, you can’t expect to reach great heights by using the same formula, evolution is key. Albert Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. With six bodies of work in their discography you’ll be hard pressed to find a project that sounds exactly like their last. Billy’s Home boasts dark tones befitting for a young 20-something navigating their way through a concrete jungle. But Noisy Neighbours is an oxymoron, it borrows the sombre aesthetics of Billy’s Home and shrouds it in a pool of dopamine. In Mumblez own words, “This one touches on them tones and it’s like I’m talking to you, but you still want to dance, you feel me?”
I press forward and ask the duo about the creative process behind the album, eager to discover their source of inspiration. Charmer’s mood board consists of reggae music, ABBA, American Gangster, and he unabashedly mentions Magic FM. “I hear urban music,” he says, drawing a quotation mark in the air with both hands, “but I have taken influences from reggae, ABBA, a lot of ABBA this year.” Mumblez source of inspiration can be found in similar genres, however, watching animated TV shows such as Mr. Bean and Dennis the Menace have contributed very much to his creative process. He credits Top Boy as the inspiration behind the album cover, particularly the inner London texture it holds, “the whole feel and tone of it is very London.”
I draw distinctions from their answers which sum up their character; Mumblez is observant and picks up visual cues while Charmer is more methodical in his approach. He draws an astute distinction between real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas, which ‘American Gangster’ is based on, and his approach with his music engineering business, Sanus Hao. “The whole idea of Frank Lucas trying to undercut the competition by having a lower price, but a better quality drug is something I implemented in my own approach,” he says as he strikes a pose with the poise of a scholar. “I have faith in my product, let me lower the price a bit and it’s shown, it’s working. It’s almost like Ikea in theory.” He even goes to the extent of naming a track after the Harlemite, an idea which he was initially apprehensive about for obvious reasons.
Mandem need to start talking in the beginning of the year and saying ‘yo, what’s the plan?
As I look back on my meeting with 808INK, I return with insight and answers to questions I once had about the music industry. A series of tweets which went along the lines of: The UK failed (inset artist’s name), which in my opinion, places the wasted potential of music artists on the consumer. We use a lack of support or underexposure as the reasoning behind the failure of many artists whereas the blame is sometimes on the artists. “Mandem’ need to start talking at the beginning of the year and say ‘yo, what’s the plan?’” While recounting an old conversation he had with Sam Wise, Mumblez shares his rap manifesto. “I was saying to Sam, ‘Bro, really and truly, us man should be promoting your thing, and then when our thing comes out you’re promoting it as well.’”
Therefore, the problem isn’t directly one of support, it’s about organisation. Kano’s ‘Class of Deja’ pays homage to DejaVu FM, the radio station that is credited with pushing grime music. It features D Double E and Ghetts, who were members of the East London grime scene alongside Kano. Take Wiley (Roll Deep) and Skepta & JME (Boy Better Know), although their loyalty remained with their original set, there was a mutual effort which saw them work closely together somewhat as one mega-group. Just as steel sharpens steel, cross-collaboration propelled the career of some of the biggest names in the industry.
In the years to come, I reckon 808INK will be remembered for pushing the lengths you can take music to sonically as well as the nature of the independent, in-house hustle. “When we go to Europe it’s a different pattern than when we’re in the UK and that’s fine because you’re never a hero in your own home,” says Charmer. We all know nobody loves Kanye West more than Kanye West; Charmer holds himself in a similar regard in terms of his artistry. “Production wise, I’m an unsung hero, I’m a king pin like that’s who I am. I’ve accepted my role. I know that I am everybody’s mood board so I’m like that’s cool.” From the outside looking in you’d think Charmer’s statement was a bit much, but in life and music nobody is going to champion you better than yourself.
So what is the agenda for 808INK moving forward? Music, for sure. “The thing is with 808INK we’re not trying to be Jay-Z, I’m not trying to rap at 50.” The goal is simple: “I’m going to be the one controlling all the rappers. That’s my aim!” Charmer says with brutal honesty. This conversation could last a whole day, but not before Mumblez gets the last few words in. “It’s legacy!” he exclaims. “Shaping and helping cos us lot realised how much it will help the quality of life in general.” Whether that is as a unit, solo or with their creative ventures, the best way to predict the future is to create it, and in this world they’re the authors of their reality.