Not long back, East London’s Forest Gate native Steel Banglez was sat in his now home studio in Mayfair’s Tape. The room was glowing, hemmed with blue luminous lights and artists alike. All were lit. AJ Tracey was slouched on one of the two perpendicular sofas, barricading the ceiling tall window looking out into the downstairs club. Eight tracks had been laid with Tracey and MoStack, yet the one that emerged came to be known as ‘Fashion Week’, and went on to become the producer turned frontline-label artist’s first UK Top 10 single.
“This is my home man, this is my place. Tape. This is family, my studio” he declares, leaning back in his studio chair, legs folded, looking comfy in a NICEE Teria tracksuit. His air of authority is striking, yet channelled through the seemingly charming, nonchalant persona sat directly opposite me. There’s a fire within. “I’ve got one of the best studios in London. This is a great business opportunity for me. Every celebrity under the sun comes here. Imagine having a studio where everyone has a good time, you meet people on good terms. On a business level, this is perfect for someone at this stage in my career. I’ve had Rhianna sit there” gesturing toward the sofa behind me. “I’ve had Justin Bieber in here, Migos, I’ve had French Montana smoking the hell outta this place. Virgil, Future the other day. It just doesn’t stop. It’s the perfect place and my home.”
Residing in such a ceaseless environment however is without question demanding, and if anyone in UK Rap is unquestioned in his relentless pursuit, it’s Steel Banglez. His work ethic is deep-rooted in his culture, his DNA. Whilst it’s only within the past few years his name and sounds have reached mainstream ears, his catalogue is over a decade deep and indisputable to any true UK Rap fanatic. “It’s just hustling, it’s a hustlers mentality and then it turns into a professional business” as we begin conversing on his endless motivation. “That just comes from working hard. Hard graft innit. That’s where we come from, our families, I’m first generation. They had to work hard. You’ve seen that with your parents…. our family came here, we set up businesses, my mom worked my dad worked, and I worked, but I worked my talent that was given to me by them.”
I’m just keeping the spirit alive.
Yet, with such a strong sense of heritage, Banglez refuses to be burrowed by his own cultural bloodline. His recognition and embracing of worldly culture, in both his personal life and musically, is most probably the reason he’s been able to unlock his path to mainstream relevance. “For me, to where the worlds heading, I don’t like to say, it’s white, black, brown. I’m not on all of that” he speaks with a hint of irritation towards the idea of criterion. “I’m from an area where, my best friend was Turkish, my next-door neighbours’ best friends were Jamaican, my other best friend’s Ghanaian. I grew up in a multi-cultural thing and I don’t see cultures like that. This is London bro, like there aint no separate culture. You understand? We don’t see it like that. I’m just being me and what was embedded in me, whether that’s being Punjabi, in the moment on Instagram, or being from the roads, where I was from, how I speak, how I learnt, which was influenced by whatever culture. I’m just being East London bro.”
Following his early pursuits in the scene from DJing on pirate radio at aged 11, to the production of the old school Big H ‘Practice Hours’ freestyle aged 14, his exterior progress was halted. Steel Banglez, real name, Pahuldip Singh Sandhu, aged 17, was sentenced to 6 years for firearms charges.
Having served half of the sentence and re-emerging at aged 21, Banglez openly reflects with omniscience on the ordeal after I ask how it affected him. “I was a kid bro, at the time I was just a gassed yout’. Rolling around with guns, everyone knows in the ends. I was a mad yout’. I was just doing stupid shit. I was just fucked in the head but, it was just the people I was around. I think God removed me ‘cus I think it would of got way worse. I was getting too comfortable with getting away with stuff. It was empowering me in a negative way. I was thinking certain shit, and then erm…whilst I was in prison, I just had this awakening as they would say. I started meditating , I started reading about everyone in the history of music, philosophy…I started reading a lot of Alan Watts.”
Aside from his personal growth, Banglez was also able to maintain his musical process whilst in prison. He rolled off a bunch of UK rappers whom he had met in prison, before emphasising the weight South London holds in the rise of UK Rap, including Fix Dot’M & Youngsta, Colours Miyagi, Ill Mill, PDC, Giggs and SN1. “All of that happened whilst I was incarcerated, so I just felt like it was meant to happen. I view it as a journey for my life, as an experience, I don’t look at it like ‘ I hate the system’… I just look at it like that was meant to be and that’s where I was meant to travel through to get to where I am now. If it didn’t happen I might not be who I am today. And it saved me from doing some foul shit.”
I’m the best producer in this country. I will be. And there’s no one gonna’ stop me. That’s it.
Whilst incarceration could then be perceived as somewhat of a blessing in disguise for Banglez, it was upon his release when depression struck. In 2014, he spiralled into a stint of deep depression, following the deportation of his peer, friend and at the time, Universal-signed artist Cashtastic, an individual he had invested a lot into. “I kinda’ felt like I got blackballed…” he began to reflect in a much more sombre tone, “…because he got taken away, and then people didn’t really fuck with me, because they thought, ‘well Cash is Banglez’s main guy…’”
The mood in the room deepened. “That’s when I realised that in this game no-one gives a fuck about you, that’s why I don’t give a fuck no more. You get me? I was about 25 I think. But that’s when I realised, no-one really cares in this music ting, so I was like cool, I’m just gonna’ come and get everyone. I’m gonna’ come for you… I’m the best producer in this country. I will be. And there’s no one gonna’ stop me. That’s it. And I prepared, found MoStack, linked up with Mist, done, there you go.”
This shift in mentality seems to have served his purpose well. Following this period, Banglez began honing in on his creative production skills, utilising his musical knowledge and finding his niche to break into clubs. “With Grime, the boat had already gone…but I knew Hip Hop man ‘cus I study Hip Hop. And it’s kinda like whatever happens in America, we’re like 10 years, 15 years behind. So I knew if I stuck through this period of development in rap, not only would I be nurtured in the real culture and evolution of UK rap but I’ll become the best. Because none of these other guys have the knowledge that I have. And that’s what comes with it. If you look at some of the greatest producers, they nurture through into their late 20s into their 30s. If you look at Dre, look at Timbaland, even in dance, like David Guetta didn’t peak until he was like 37. Producing’s a totally different job to rapping. You understand? It’s a lot of work it’s a lot of effort in the studio. It’s a lot of understanding sonics, it’s a very different thing.”
He continues, “Plus it’s a better tempo, people receive this tempo of music better than grime. There’s very limited stuff you can do in production in grime. But with Hip Hop you can take it into reggaeton or afrobeats, or there’s so much more, into Indian music, because this tempo is a universal tempo.”
The one that has elevated him to that next level however, is of course Birmingham native Mist, who he speaks earnestly on. “Me and Mist are similar, you know, he’s got a lot of underlying pain, depth, he’s awake, his third eye is open, his pineal gland is booming right now. We’re both on some real shit, we just gelled bro, we just understood each other. We took each other to the next level.” And whilst Banglez had begun to definitively define and establish his sound, he came to the realisation whilst working on Mist’s infamous ‘Karla’s Back’ of the importance of the metaphysical element to music. “I was finding hard to get into the clubs, like ‘what the fuck can I do…”
If you’re a true musician or true artist, or someone that’s into anything creative, you realise that the money will come, and you just need to keep creating.
His passion shines through as he begins, “then I realised like, obviously, these kids, their parents used to go garage raving, and if you’re a really deep person you know that embedded in their DNA would be these sounds. If I pull these sounds out its already in them ‘cus they’re the babies of these people that used to listen to this music. You know that saying sometimes where its like ‘you get it from your mom’ or ‘you get it form your dad’ or ‘your dad was just like you when he was younger’. See if you’re a deep person you’ll start to understand how this works. So I was like, you if I bring that garage bassline back with the vocals that made me feel good, obviously its gonna make this new generation feel good because its already in them.”
“You have to start understanding this. To be great, you can’t just be on your own, like my ting is my ting. You gotta’ understand the world. If you’re a real human being you’ll understand it’s not about your culture. It’s about understanding everyone’s, then you’re a don. That’s real shit.” And so it clicked.
Now fast forward to 2019, and Banglez has a string of UK Rap hits under his belt with the top calibre in the game. Steel Banglez brand is now in ascension. From a captivating tag to fully fledged music videos, giant sport-brand sponsorship deals, placement in Bollywood blockbuster films and a full-length project in the works. Steel Banglez has well and truly arrived. Whilst his music carries a presence that matches his own, he continues to re-invent himself beyond music, and quite frankly, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him.