track-by-track: bugzy malone puts manchester on the map with king of the north
On his new record, the Mancunian challenges ideas of what it is to be a grime MC.
Bugzy Malone's quest to grime greatness began long before i-D first featured him in 2014: the one time amateur boxer has been trying to making a name for himself since 2011. "As a boxer, you experience ups and downs, so I just applied that discipline and bouncing back mentality, to music. You've got to be cool with the fact that there are going to be losses, it's a lot of hard work and belief." He persisted and people began to take note of this energetic young rhymer from the Mancunian suburb of Crumpsall. In 2015 he delivered two knockout blows -- an incendiary Fire in the Booth (10m views and counting) and the ebullient Watch Your Mouth (4m to date).
In the intervening years, Bugzy managed to slip in a quick beef with Chip before dropping two EPs: 2015's Walk With Me went to number 8 in the UK album charts, while 2016's Facing Time bettered that by going to number 6. He's ready to set the summer alight with 2017's third EP, King Of The North. If he's feeling any pressure to out-do previous efforts, he's not showing it. "I can't stress myself with numbers, or if I sell out tours, cos that's the wrong motivation to run off. You've got to keep moving forward and making each work your best work."
The EP rounds out a trilogy of EPs from the 26-year-old. "Walk With Me is about getting through the door. Facing Time was a metaphor about fame and how it's like a jail. There are other people going into that jail and I don't know how long I'm going to survive. King of the North is like I'm established, I'm here, I'm going nowhere -- nobody is stopping me."
On the supremely self-assured King of the North he is, says Malone, excising total creative freedom. "I've documented the good, the bad and the ugly; I don't mind stripping it all back and being completely vulnerable." Here, Bugzy breaks down the 8-track EP.
King of the North
"A mutual friend brought me and Honorable C.N.O.T.E. (2 Chainz, Migos, Gucci Mane, Travis Scott, Future,) together in the studio. I tend to have a theme that runs through the project like a spinal cord. I'll have these little trademark Bugzy Malone things that I think are cool -- like if you watch a Quentin Tarantino film, he has his trademarks -- so I got to a point where I had the theme and the name of the project, but not the title track itself. So that night when I sat with C.N.O.T.E. I explained that I wanted something regal and royal that could live up to the name of King of the North; this is the first track where I get to paint a picture and take listeners into my world. C.N.O.T.E., he's just good isn't he (laughs). There was no question when you look at what's he's done, it was more a question of whether he could make grime. I should never have questioned it, he was brilliant, but that's very important to me; I've said it from the get go, I'm trying to elaborate on the sound of grime. A lot of people feel as that you have to spit on an aggressive beat and speak about an aggressive subject matter to be grime. No. What we're doing on this project is taking grime to the next level and showing how you can put any emotion into a grime track."
Aggy With It
"I don't know if I'll be taking away from the track by saying this, but I'm getting to a stage now where I go into the studio and I listen to a beat and I'll just try new stuff and see what happens. Put the mic on, press record and go. This track sort of wrote itself, it just came out. I wanted the EP to have a variety; I wanted tracks that wracked my brain about and tracks where I'm just saying what I'm thinking and it embodies an energy. So this was a case of just going in there, letting my energy go to the beat and recklessly saying whatever."
Make or Break ft Shola Ama
"I had gone into the studio with Toddla T, who is a good friend of mine, and he said he had a beat that a pianist called Chilly Gonzales had written the piano melody for. I've been looking to make my production sound more expensive for a while and here was that track. I couldn't believe the emotion that the song provoked in me. There were a few things that inspired me that I felt strongly about, and a few things that had upset me and I just went in and recorded. Recording the chorus was the first time I'd brought my mum into the studio to watch the process and it was an amazing night because it's such a deep track. Once we finished, something was missing, and Toddla suggested bringing in Shola Ama. She's a legend, so when you bring her into the mix it's just a case of levels. The emotions that that song provokes is just madness; that's one of my most profound works of art."
Through the Night ft DJ Luck and MC Neat
"I wanted to take things that had inspired me growing up, so we took Tupac's Hit 'Em Up concept and done our own version of it. MC Neat is a legend; I grew up hearing his music and it played a big part in my life. We had this mad energetic beat and hook, so we needed to see if we could can get Neat involved. We reached out and the energy was reciprocated -- he was a fan of me as much as I was a fan of him. And on this one crazy night he just came in and did his thing. The song ended up being playlisted on Radio 1 - madness!"
We Don't Play
"This was recorded a while ago; it's a little bit X-rated -- it's not a PG tune! I've got a lot of young fans who I keep in mind, but with this song I wanted to just say a few things exactly how they are."
Memory Lane ft Tom Grennon
"Growing up, Jools Holland was my mum's favourite show and we would watch it every New Year's Eve. My mum was in a domestically violent relationship, but when we watched Jools there was a harmony within the family. All of the domestic abuse that happened, as well as the later divorce, everything was working, everything was cool. So making music I'd always thought about maybe one day being on Jools and how I'd be able to take my mum. It so happened that I was featuring on a Chase & Status track, and they asked me to come and perform with them. I took my mum with me - it was like an out of body experience. It was so emotional and my whole composure went out the window. Tom Grennanwas there rehearsing this song called All Goes Wrong -- one of my favourite songs. He's rehearsing and you can just feel the emotion in it; so now I'm emotional. I had to tie my shoelaces so that people couldn't see the tears in my eyes. Long story short I had to get out of there before I burst into tears. Anyway afterwards we [me and Grennan] spoke and it turned out we were mutual fans. So we got in the studio and it was just a pleasure to be with him and Shiftk3y. That track was a lot of emotions in the making!"
"I was in one of them moods like I was with Aggy Wid It. I started writing lyrics on paper, but sometimes doing that can turn the track robotic and you lose the flow, so I started to record into my phone. I worried that it might sound like I'd not put much effort in, but I think there's something about capturing that excitement - there was zero compromise on the flow.
With the theme, you have all these comic book characters -- some are made out of sand and some can turn into fire -- but Batman, he's just a man. He's someone who built things to make himself powerful enough to deal with the challenges life threw at him; I've always related to story. I also love the films - the last three by Christopher Nolan especially were a big inspiration to me. I had to pay homage to Batman but at the same time, I'm my own Batman. I also had my own black tracksuit coming out, so everything just fit into place."
"On Sniper I say it exactly how it is; it's one of the most accurate versions of how I'm feeling right and the position I'm in. I think a lot of artists in London will resent the fact that I'm doing as well -- if not better -- than some of them and I'm gaining on them quickly. As much as they're dangerous, I'm dangerous too! We all have our kingdoms and our own weapons and artillery and Sniper is me saying I can see you through the scope, so let me do my thing because I don't want no trouble. As dangerous as you can be to me, I can be dangerous to you too so let's just get along and do what we're doing. I'm not sending shots or anything; you have to listen to properly. It's the EP's surprise track."
Text Hattie Collins