At 3:15 PM I got the buzz from Mafdotyou.
“What you saying bro?”
By that time, I had already cotched up in The General Store – a coffee and cocktail bar right next door to The Garage on Highbury corner – the venue where later that night the Lotto Boyzz would kick off the first date of their UK headline tour. A couple of their team, including DJ Jay Mac, came through the coffee shop too, whilst Lucas and Ash were wrapping up their final interview before soundcheck. I pulled out my newly purchased mic; I knew there were gonna be some serious sound-bites tonight.
After they wrapped, it was time. Led into their dressing room, I walked in and the boys were just chilling out on rustic brown leather sofas, in a narrow room with a huge spotlit mirror wall at the back. I was greeted like the Brummie I am, a warm welcome, followed by that “are you gonna stick a camera in my face all night?” look that you get sometimes…
Despite being only 3 months since we were last together, it’s been an active time for Lotto Boyzz. From the release of their debut EP ‘Afrobbean’, to multiple videos and performances across the country (including at Charlie Sloth’s ‘The Plug’ Tour), and not to mention, the MOBO nomination – their presence still remains humble as ever.
I pose the question to Ash during soundcheck about whether tonight feels any different from the others. “It feels a lot more organised. It’s our first show, first headline tour, and we’re perfectionists ennit… so we’re really tryna… get everything perfect.” He explains to me that the energy is a bit more intense than previous performances and seeing them sporting the new Lotto Boyzz merchandise, I can tell these guys have got a fully recognisable brand now. Whilst their triumphant moments are upon us, the pressure is on for them to perform.
Under the direction of manager Mafdotyou, they’ve made it this far.
The man himself, Maf, quickly appears for a few minutes whilst we’re observing the boys on stage discussing sound levels with the techies. He comes up, we shake hands and he asks if everything is good. He disappears back into the dressing room and shuts the door. Feels like there’s some business to attend to.
An hour or so passes by, and as the sound check is wrapped, the backstage slowly cramps up with more bodies. I pull Lucas and Ash out of the dressing room for some quick snaps. An apparent disdain towards their MOBO nomination is detectable when I ask them about hearing the good news. However, as we move through the night edging closer towards show time, it becomes clearer that it’s more an overwhelming humility, almost disbelief that this is actually happening. The nomination, the tour, everything. The nomination is arguably their biggest achievement to date.
5:41 PM and Ramz and his crew arrive. Looking innocent and calm as ever, I approach and congratulate him on the success of his ‘Barking’ video (now at over 5 Million views) and we briefly talk about his relationship with Ash and attempt to define his sound, before he’s pulled aside to talk logistics.
Back to the dressing room.
The guys are slouched, Lucas with his feet resting on a chair, hooded up in a dark blue duffle coat, scrolling and Ash telling stories of his ‘Unfinished Business’.
The recent release of their debut EP, ‘Afrobbean’, was what we all expected. The catchy rhythms of ‘FaceTime Me’ et al, has captivated the dancing souls in us. Yet, I couldn’t help but think, will it sustain? The sounds are hot right now. Everyone from J Hus, to Not3s and more. They’re dominating, and probably will be well into the next year or two when they move to the next stage and drop an album. After that though?
An hour later I go peep the queue outside, and after seeing it, am thankful to not have been in it. There’s less than 20 minutes before doors open and P Montana is scheduled to do the first set. Between 7-8pm things are heating up, the whole team are bumping their heads to the muffled sounds of old school R&B anthems blasting out to an already filled up room. Ash comments on what it’s gonna be like when they drop their final few tracks of the setlist. Lucas’s eyes light up. The room is vibrating. I ask Jay Mac, sitting in the corner of the dresser, the biggest number of times ‘No Don’ has been wheeled-up, maximum 7, is his response. That’s ‘N***** in Paris’ levels.
A few drinks begin to flow as Mafdot returns and questions ‘why we are on a sold out tour’. “We’re not allowed to do that yet.” he exclaims in jubilation. The place lights up with red cups and white Ciroc bottles. Now it’s feeling like a party…and most definitely a cause for celebration. Every time I’ve been in Maf’s presence, I’ve felt it. His authority is ineffable, siphoned through a witty sense of humour. As Lotto Boyzz Records CEO, anything he says goes, and with good reason and there are some clear tell-tale signs of this throughout the night.
The heat backstage is starting to get unbearable, so I step out back and chop it up with the backdoor security guard for a minute, just to make sure I don’t have to flash my wristband every time I want to escape. A nod will do. I manage to capture Ramz walking up the few steps on stage to what seems like an ocean of mobile flash lights. He performs ‘Barking’ and a few other tracks before I bump into Amos, Lotto Boyzz signed producer, most noted, of course, for ‘No Don’. I only knew him from his low-key Instagram account, but talking to him in person, he is defined by humility. I begin to ask him a few questions, but it’s too busy in the back, so he says “follow me”. We walk outside and he hops into a brand new 17 plate Mercedes, casual as ever. I check it’s his.
“My producing only became serious when I started working with Ash, with ‘Bad Gyal.’ He showed the team, they liked it, they liked my consistency and what not, and they signed me. I thank god for that.” Having produced one of the biggest hits in the last couple of years, I’m direct in asking if he’s felt the effects. He assures me he has, but insists it was humbling, given the abundance of producers out there grinding. Then I challenge him on the resilience of this ‘afrobeats slash rap slash r&b slash everything’ sound, whether it will last. He nods his head profusely and turns on the ignition to warm up the whip.
“When you hear the album, you’ll hear we haven’t just stuck to one sound. Even though it’s our sound, the genre definition, Afrobbean sound, we’ve catered to many. Everyone will be surprised.” Such is the answer, no different from the one that Ash and Lucas gave me earlier in the day. Their focus is on longevity. Now given the number of projects we’ve seen come and go this year, longevity is seemingly a tough thing to come by. Not to detract anything from anyone that has dropped as of late that is. Time will tell.
Soon enough, it’s 15 minutes to show time, so we head back inside to a full swing party mode. The arrival of Jaykae immediately stamps the night as 0121. Good… I was starting to forget. He’s burning up what is probably the first of many zoots that evening and his arrival in the dressing room is created with a scream…
“LET’S GO TO THE P*SSYHOLE’S YARD!”
He cracks a smile.
I keep hearing Lucas shout Belly Squad are outside, most people are slightly waved by now. I never saw them, and before I have a chance to look, the excitement peaks. Two ultra-casual dudes wearing woolly hats walk in and present Maf, Lucas and Ash with three Live Nation plaques to commemorate their sold-out tour. The speeches, shots and photo shoots quickly turn spiritual. Team members only. Doors closed. Huddle and prayers. I feel both honoured to be there but also as though I am intruding. So I just do what I came here to do. Document.
The time has come.
In many ways, for artists from ‘up North’, London is essentially the checkpoint you need to pass. Not the only one. But a pretty important one. For a couple of young 20-somethings arguing over sharing a cup of hot water with honey and lemon about 5 hours earlier, Lotto Boyzz grace the stage with the utmost energy and exertion that one could have imagined them to do. An overflowing main room, screaming the roof down is the first thing I hear as they break into ‘Bad Gyal’ to start their set.
It’s hard to believe that Lotto Boyzz’s actual set-list is only 12 – banging might I add – tracks long. Their current catalogue, despite size, has a lot to offer. What’s more, if they continue at this rate with the Midas touch they seem to have right now, that can quickly change in no time. The performance is stretched out however, with detours from 23, who shows he truly ‘Ain’t Bothered’ by the lung bursting reception he receives. You really can’t tell him.
I take a break from the rammed stage side to find Jaykae chilling on his own in the dressing room, so I ask him about the upcoming ‘Where Have You Been?’ project (and tour) recently announced, dropping December 8th. His excitement is well-tamed, as always. But if the energy of his upcoming shows surpasses that of which is present when he storms on stage to perform ‘Birmingham (Anthem)’ with the Boyzz, it’ll be something to rival.
I step outside again as Lucas and Ash break into their rendition of ‘Wild Thoughts’ to find a couple of man lighting up, and Not3s standing close by. I heard rumours he was gonna’ be here tonight but wasn’t sure. So I make sure to grab him for a quick line. Sure to big him up for the latest video single he’s dropped, ‘My Lover’, that’s my tune right now, and he is gracious, but sure to remind me it’s his first Top 40. Then I ask him about his recent ‘Take Not3s Tour’. “Tour was mad. You know when you have so many people coming out for you, it makes such a difference its amazing. They’re singing your song. They took their time out to learn your song.”
“Yo! Mostack is out the back”
Is the next thing I hear. Before long, I find myself onstage amongst 10-15 other man watching a sea of bright lights record Mo Stack’s ‘Liar’ followed by the loudest screeching I’ve ever witnessed with Not3s’ entrance as the duo perform Steel Banglez’s new track ‘Bad’ together. The man himself is casually perched on the side of the stage too, giving a slight nod as they run through his creation. I had to talk with him so follow him outside where he is already stood by what I can only assume is his brand new Range.
He roll off the names Yungen, MoStack, Mr Eazi & Not3s like nobodies business as he thanks them for doing the track for him, before giving all his praise to Annie Mac. “4 days I put the song out, half a million views already, play-listed. Big up Annie Mac, she made it Radio 1 hottest track in the world, it’s blowing up, the response was crazy just now obviously, you saw it.” Before I have the chance to ask about the upcoming mixtape, Not3s is rolling out, and our moment is interrupted. NSG follows shortly after. I hold them up for a minute, and just hear a flurry of big ups and comments flying everywhere. I say safe, and move back into the venue.
By this time, we’re a few minutes away from venue curfew. There are only 2 tracks left for Lucas and Ash to run through, and the excitement for ‘No Don’ is the most anticipated yet unspoken of moment that excites us all before they take the stage. Lucas’s sleek flows and Ash’s harmonious vocals are brought to a close with a couple of breakers moving to an Afrobeats breakdown of their smash hit. They jump off stage, take a 5 minute breather and then go straight back out to take photos with fans who have already managed to cop a new piece of their merchandise.
They killed it man. I’m feeling proud
I see DJ Target walking about backstage and tap him on the shoulder. “Yo, Target right?” He came straight from radio to the show. “We’ve seen the guys progress over the last year or so and put together a headline tour, sell it out, they killed it man. I’m feeling proud man..” he responds to me in true interview fashion.
I’m sure to congratulate him on his recent wedding and not to mention his upcoming book, Grime Kids. He drops a couple of gems about his time growing up with Wiley and Dizzie, and how he’s lived through the creation and progression of the sound and what we now know as Grime. That was a real moment.
Despite the majority of the main room-emptying out, there seems to be an endless line of fans queuing up for pictures. It makes me realise that the limited accessibility and interaction artists have with their fans is priceless, and counts for more than any shutdown show could ever offer. Although, this one offered the most. We kick it with the Boyzz for a small while after as backstage begins to clear out slowly, but before long, talk of tomorrow’s journey up to Bristol begins to surface, the second of their 7 date tour, and it’s time to dip.
Lotto Boyzz have come a long way in a short amount of time. Before seeing this show, it was hard to imagine how any act could keep such a strong momentum going for long, before the fire begins to burn out. What got me… whilst there were epic moments, from a hand-delivered champagne bottle on behalf of Sony, to the plaques and all; it was the energy present in that room, and on that stage.
Everyone is made to feel a part of it. Ain’t no telling where that could take them. That’s priceless.