REALZ IN LONDON, MAY 2016. PHOTOS: MATT HOLYOAK/KAYTE ELLIS AGENCY. STYLING: NIC JOTTKANDT. GROOMING: BEN JONES USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE AND MAC COSMETICS. PHOTO ASSISTANT: LUKE WELLER. RETOUCHING: THE SHOEMAKER’S ELVES.
For 25-year-old British MC Realz, grime isn’t just a musical genre. “It’s more than the actual beat and how fast or slow we say our lyrics,” he says over the phone from London. “It’s what we’re in, it’s where we are, it’s how we dress, what we look at, what music we listen to. It’s the whole culture that I’m coming from,” he continues. “Whether I’m doing a rap tune, a singing tune or whatever, I’m a grime kid first.”
Raised in Bow, the East London district often credited as the birthplace of grime, Realz has been making music since he was a teenager. He found local success early on and by the age of 18 was being managed by So Solid Crew’s Ashley “Asher D” Walters. But several things have changed Realz’s perspective over the last six years, and he is at once more ambitious and more relaxed. “As you get older, you realize there’s a bigger world, and I still think grime needs to touch a lot of the world,” he explains. “It’s slowly but surely going to happen.”
Currently, Realz is reshaping his sound with two new projects: an EP of all-new songs, which he hopes to release before the end of the year, and more mysterious endeavor planned for next year. In the meantime, he’s been releasing one-off songs including the classic diss track “I don’t wanna hear dat.”
HOMETOWN: Bow, East London.
BEST INTRO TRACK: Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on my “Behind Barz [freestyle]” on Link Up TV. I think that reintroduces me as more mature. If you’re looking to hear what I’m about and what kind of artist I am and why they call me Realz, I think the that’s the best thing to listen to first. It’s just me expressing myself, expressing the tough times in my life.
THE BEGINNING: I’ve always been interested in making music and writing songs. I used to listen to Tupac and English artists—the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal—and I used to try to sing along to their tunes. I’d press the tape, and then I would write their lyrics, and then play the tape again and I wouldn’t stop until I had all the lyrics. I started writing my own lyrics from when I was about the age of 14. When I hit the age of 16, I started showing people my rhymes and what I could do. At first, it was just for a hobby, but from the reaction, I thought, “Oh, this is pretty cool. I can carry on making more lyrics and more raps and putting more stuff together.”
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: When I was young, I didn’t know about the outside of London, I just knew about coming outside my door and seeing all these MCs. It wasn’t just the ones that are known right now; everybody was writing grime in my area. We don’t see it as, “It started here,” we only look back now. At the time we didn’t know what was going on, we were just writing grime. That’s just what it was; we were in our own little box. The reception was massive to us. We felt, “Wow, this is amazing, we’re getting shows, everyone knows us on the radio.” Pirate radio was a big thing. We used to go out and everyone recognized you. So in our own little world, we though that was big. But as you get older you start realizing, “Wait, we’re just known here.” At the time we didn’t think we weren’t as big as this, that, and the other—we actually thought we was big. When you made it on Channel U, you were famous in the area.
TUMULTUOUS TEENAGE YEARS: I had a lot of anger when I was younger. I was around a lot of people where we felt like we couldn’t do nothing—we couldn’t go to parties cause we’d get in trouble, everywhere we used to walk we’d get stopped and searched because of how we were dressed or because of what our area was about—so we had a lot of anger towards society and then it would slip on into each other. It was either you’re in the streets, or you’re in the streets and you’re rapping. At the time, I didn’t think, “I’m an angry youth,” I just felt like, “F- them, man. Let’s do what we’re doing, innit.” I wouldn’t say things have gotten better—for me personally, yes, things have gotten better, for the young boys growing up now, things haven’t gotten better. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. However, there’s always a way to approach things different and avoid certain situations and just be more wise in the decisions you make.
THE NEXT STEP: I used to be managed by Asher D about six years ago. I’d done a freestyle on YouTube, and my boy Maniac who organized the freestyle received a message from people that were working with Asher D. [They said] that Asher D wanted to meet me and talk to me and see where my mind was at and see if I wanted to do music seriously. At the time, I still wasn’t doing music seriously; I was just doing whatever. I was just out here on these streets being silly and stuff. So we set up a meeting and that was it.
[Asher D] showed me a lot of stuff, not just music, [but] as a big brother role. He showed me about the acting thing, what he has to do in his day-to-day. He flew me out to Africa while he was shooting his TV series. He took me to 50 Cent movie premieres and Kayne West premieres. He’s shown me a lot of what it actually is about the business, so I’ll always appreciate him for all of that.
SONGWRITING: There’s no real method to [when I write], because I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s just life experience. Sometimes I feel like, “This situation’s hit me so hard, I’m going to write a song about it.” Or I’ll just be in the moment styling and mucking about and I’ll be like, “That sounds cool. Let me get a beat.” Or producers will send beats over and I’ll pick the best ones and just write. I don’t write with pen and paper because I can’t. I don’t know why it is, I just cannot write with pen and paper. The easiest way that I write is in my mind. It sounds so strange, but I’ve been doing it for so long. I repeat the lyrics in my mind over and over again because I can actually visually see it in my mind. If I feel like I’m stuck or anything, I won’t force it. I’ll just leave it, go vibe, do what I have to do, go eat, probably come back to it a different day. Or I’ve written songs backwards, so I start from the end and go up. I’ve done that a few times. I will have an idea in my head and I will write the last two bars, and then come back to it later. Whatever I’m writing has to connect to the last two bars.
A FEW SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS: It started off when God’s Gift, who was the leader of the crew at the time called Mucky Wolfpack, very known in the grime scene, took me to Tim Westwood’s show on BBC 1Xtra when I was 17 years old. I was just going up there to spit lyrics; I didn’t think nothing of it. Went up there, spat a few lyrics, left, and my phone was popping off. Everyone was like, “You killed it man.” I thought, “Eh, it’s nothing.” But then everybody kept talking about it again and again. [Then] Asher D took me to Westwood and it was crazy. To this day, everyone talks about that and that was, like, six years ago. I was 18. Those were the moments that I thought, “Okay, cool, I’ve got something.”
FAMILY SUPPORT: My cousins knew the levels—they understood. At first, my mum didn’t really feel it; she saw the kind of crowd that I used to hang about with or that was out there doing grime and she automatically thought it was negative. But when she started seeing that I actually loved it and the reaction that I was getting and how serious it actually was, she started to appreciate my talent and said, “Yeah, just go for what you like—stay out of trouble and do what you have to do.” They’ve been supportive, to be honest.
THE NEXT GENERATION: I’ve got three kids. It’s crazy. The middle born is very musical—he loves grime. In fact, he loves Stormzy. I don’t know how he knows, but he just loves Stormzy. If he’s not eating his food and I put Channel AKA on, that’s it, he’s listening, he’s jumping. He knows his voice as well. Big up Stormzy, he’s got a mad effect on everyone including my child. [laughs]
THE FUTURE: I used to say, “I want to be here, I want to be there.” But God willing, I just want to be alive and I want to be able to provide for my family and I want to be doing positive things.
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