In the current climate of UK rap and hip hop, it can be difficult to stand out – not least with a dilution of sounds across the nation, but a familiar troupe of styles being brought to the table. In the past few years, the exciting resurgence of grime and the birth of drill seemed to have died down, leaving a gap in the market. In 2019, a eclectic mix of sounds and characters have graced our playlists, none more so than UK rapper Bone Slim.
His fresh take on UK rap and hip hop blends the established sound of noughties boombap with a modern transatlantic twist, helping to create a fascinating body of work. A unique take on music and even visuals have gained him support from critics and help to build a sizeable fanbase. Backed up by the Nine8 collective, a group of creatives who look to push the boundaries of sound and art, his iconic mask stands out from what we have come to expect from the UK scene and seems that he is actively looking for a paradigm shift. But who is the man behind the mask and does he have the answers you seek?
Brought up on a envious soundtrack of everything from garage and soul from his dad, Trevor Nelson collections from his mum and Roll Deep and Lethal B from his older brother, Bone floated into the world of hip hop, naming Jehst, Braintax, Klashnekoff, The Streets and Bashy as early inspirations. He was awed in the face of complex lyric patterns, thumping instrumentals and the energy and vibes that the music provided. Even though he was penning rhymes on the low, it was his childhood friend Charlie who pushed him to rap at parties over Gang Starr instrumentals and locally with other friends. But when Charlie passed away, it gave Bone time to reflect on both his music and craft.
I realised my words could take people on journeys through memories.
His inspiration within music is by no means straight-forward, inspired by “old geezers in the pub”, his Irish grandad, commuters on the train and his friends. This melting pot of inspiration bleeds through to his music, with Bone Slim looking to experiment with sound and styles, taking aim with every release, looking to hit the target. This is a journey, one that Bone is certainly very comfortable on – speaking honestly about his trajectory and learning to take music seriously (something that he doesn’t think he’s yet mastered). His affiliation with Nine8 seems like a guiding light throughout, keeping him in check and pushing him to succeed. Nine8 – a London based collective of musicians, artists and creatives with the likes of Lava La Rue and Biig Pigg among its ranks, have a clear passion to create and promote UK talent with a DIY attitude, a mission Bone wholeheartedly subscribes to; “Nine8 are always pushing for new ideas and sometimes it can take a minute to get our heads around things but usually meetings resolve any disagreements. Besides that its when we get together when we just make tune after tune. The workrate is crazy when any of us get together“.
One the first things you’re drawn to, deliberately or not, is his signature ivory domino mask. Reminiscent of the feather adorned masks worn by the Four Owls and the iconic steely headpiece of MF Doom, Bone Slim’s mask draws you in and forces you to look into his eyes and focus. While initially unsure to address the mask, Bone’s answer to why he wears it is poignant; “I hope my music will last longer than my body, I want it to be something I can pass on or inspire others to create behind. I feel that it conceals a part of my music which is unrelatable and I want people to feel like a mask doesn’t have to be oppressing of identity but liberating and to allow complete freedom of opinion and choice“. The closest relation to make is that of a luchador, the mask becoming omnipotent and a source of inspiration for those who follow it. With a desire to create a legacy, he speaks with a passion and shows that the mask is not a gimmick or a prop, but part of who makes him.
While an obvious direction may not always the the clearest, his musical output has offered up a sign of things to come. Back in March of this year, he dropped his first official project, collaborating with producer DroppedMilk on ‘BoneChilledMilk‘, a 5 track offering which had a transatlantic feel, blending the sounds of UK and the US. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Bone listened to the likes of the Action Bronson, GXFR, Prodigy, Durrty Goofz, Carl Blaxx in the projects inception and took inspiration from the aforementioned “world around” him.
The lead single was the transcendent ‘Cassius Non-Fiction’, with a mellow and soulful backdrop channelling his unorthodox storytelling skills. The video itself spoke volumes – directed by Daniela K Monteiro and Archie Wheeler, the visuals see Bone in idyllic isolation, lending itself perfectly to the track and overall vision. “The visual side is very important because I feel like some lyrics are helped with visual indications, also for someone to understand what is going on in a video is key for me as I create.”
“The reception [to BoneChilledMilk] was really good, people send me messages like “you’re dope” and “I love Cassius” to which I reply “thanks” and “same”. The lessons I learnt technically speaking was the importance of time management and annoying stuff like promo. Whilst making it though I changed a lot in a few years, started cutting off loose ends and started to surround myself with people who wanted to progress, thrive and see something different.”
His attention to detail is something refreshingly new, taking time in every project he does and not over-saturating or diluting his sound – “my art is different because its respectfully created, my inspiration is referenced not copied“. He openly admits that while he is known to “splurge” with music sometimes, this is a reflection of his enthusiasm within music and is always looking to craft something new (or “serious music” as he calls it). Connecting with his fans is also important to Bone, as he looks to be a figurehead for a new wave of music and sounds and he is afraid to be vulnerable; “I feel like my music is like an onion for my listeners, pretty self explanatory on the first layer, but the more layers you peel off, the more likely you are to feel emotion and teary eyes. Tears of joy though“.
Moving forward in 2019, Bone Slim already has an exciting few months ahead of him, with Nine8 set to perform at the Red Bull and Boiler Room festivals in September/October respectively as well as the release of ‘ifiwas2015’, a concept project which sees Bone transport himself back to 2015, when he had a variety of coming of age experiences and memories. “It’s set in the wild west of the Soundcloud era where I would try to make any song not just hip hop. I wanted to make it like a polished product but if I set myself mentally back to that 2014-2015 period when I’d write. In terms of moving forward this is like a narrative step backwards to give context to who I am“. On the face of it, the project again looks to push boundaries and create new soundscapes and is yet another reminder of Bone’s aim till you hit mentality. If his latest release, ‘Lazer Brain’ is anything to go by, then he may just be on the money.
Standing out is never easy but Bone Slim makes it seem effortless. From a unique sound to eye-catching visuals, his passion and drive are as clear as the mask on his face. He doesn’t aim to fit in, and that’s what makes him unique – he isn’t catching trends or even looking to start them, he’s focused on his mission; “I feel the industry really eats stuff up quick and as long as I can keep building my world, when the rest of the world is ready we can collide. I’m in no rush – I have this feeling and the only people who can relate are the ones who have “made it” or still making it. We know who we are and we won’t stop”.