track-by-track: bonkaz talks through his new mixtape, quality control: 2.0
A dissection from the mouth of the south London MC.
Recorded over six weeks at XL's New Gen studio in North London, Quality Control: 2.0 is the follow-up to Bonkaz's debut mixtape, Quality Control: 1.0. "It's a sequel really," decides the 25-year-old Croydon MC. "It's almost like a diary, a journal. I want to keep the sequels going throughout my career, but I'll have a couple of years between each one. They will sit outside of my albums, but I want them, years down the line, to be a record of where I was at, at the time." The QC series aren't about building a fanbase, more to record a state of mind, he says. "There's no commercial ambition with this series; I don't pay attention to chart positions or anything - this project isn't about that. It isn't about today and tomorrow, it's a long-term thing."
Produced in its entirety by Croydon's Young Soul, 2.0 sees a certain level of maturity from Bonkz as he talks about good times and bad times, friendship and depression, love and lust. "I was 21 when I made the first one and I've grown-up since. I've got a whole new outlook on life. The reason I recorded it so quickly is that I wanted it to reflect exactly where I am now, today."
Featuring a couple of marquee MCs - namely Ghetts, the record also shines a spotlight on unsung British singers like Mark Asari and Loick Essien. "I don't normally have a lot of features, but this time I felt differently. It's like making a movie - I had the script, I just needed a couple of different actors to bring their energy to it."
Here, Bonkaz takes us through each of the eleven tracks on Quality Control: 2.0.
"I wanted this to be a summary, a blurb almost, of the entire project. All of the subjects I touch on throughout the album, I try to involve in the Intro - even if it's just a line. I also wanted the skill level to be at a certain point, to open the mixtape up correctly. I'm not playing games with this one; I want it to be an intense listening experience all the way through, from as soon as you press play. There isn't even any opening instrumental on this - it's just straight in with bars from the very moment you press play.
The line about Chippy - I ain't got Chippy on the remix, I pree'd it/This ain't a shot at Chippy, that's tired/Nah I was sitting round his table and got inspired -there's so many people reading into bars (laughs). I remember when Chip had that Fire in the Booth and he was talking about how he can decipher bars - that you don't have to be dissing someone to diss them. I knew how people would read the first line - I ain't got Chippy on the remix - so I added to it, pointing out I'm not dissing him, I went to his house, I'm inspired by him. But of course a lot of people are still picking up on that bar (laughs)."
Pressure ft. Mark Asari
"This was an important tune for me. It's following on from the Intro and from certain situations and things that have happened in my life. It's me saying that whatever happens, I know what my destiny is, what my legacy will be, so whatever way I have to go to get there, it's still inevitable. It will happen. It's me saying I can take the pressure. As an artist, you take your personality and project that through music. I always want to show people that you don't have to do this or have that to be someone important or special. That's not what it's all about.
When I was in the studio with Mark [Asari] I was talking about old-skool R&B and how I used to almost ignore the main melody to pay attention to the harmonies and ad-libs in the background 'cause they were so sick. So rather than just someone singing a chorus, I asked Mark to try and capture that harmony and melody of the old-skool R&B. And he did. That was a sick session."
Cash Money ft. S. Loud
"Everyone has different stories; with my songs, even if it's a turn-up song I'm always telling a story. I want people to be able to visualise things when they listen to my music, I want them to picture what I'm saying even if it's not something they've been through themselves. On songs like these, everything is going to sound braggadocios 'cause it's that kind of song. You can't avoid it. Sometimes, if you want to make a banger, you make a banger (laughs) and Cash Money is a banger. Say what you want to say, put a sick chorus on it and let people listen to it and enjoy it."
Don't Forget ft. Ghetts. J Warner
"Soul sent me the beat, and I listened to it in my house. I had a slow, calm love song in my head initially, 'cause that's what it sounded like to me at first on my headphones. When I got to the studio and played it through the speakers, I realised that it was actually knocking a bit. So I put down the verse and then wondered what I could do to add to it. I left it for a bit and then sent it to Ghetts with my verse on it. That was mistake number one by the way (laughs) - you ain't supposed to send a track with a verse on it, but I was gassed. Ghetts heard it and was like 'Sick'. He sent me back his verse a few days later, I downloaded it, listened to it and, yeah, he spun me on my own track (laughs). He's crazy. There's nothing I can do - I can't go back in and change it, there's unwritten rules for that as a rapper or an MC. It's Ghetts anyway so… Because his verse is so special, I wanted to get someone special on the chorus. I think J Warner is one of the best writers and singers in the world. The 'boots' line - 'I ain't too big for my boots, I fit inside my Timbs' - yeah, someone in a group chat asked me about that (laughs). Phone Ghetts and ask Ghetts - I actually sent that to him before Big For Your Boots came out. I had no idea Stormz had that tune, I just thought it was a good line. I'm waiting for him to phone me and say, 'What's that about bro' (laughs). It's just one of those coincidental ones."
My Brudda ft. Dotty.
"Dotty is one of my oldest friends. We both used to MC together back in the day, years ago, just in the ends, sending MP3's around on phones. I started to take music seriously and he didn't, he kept hustling. Then he had a daughter and that became his priority. But all of us have always been on him to come back. I remember him saying, 'Bonkz just go through the door then open it up for me. I'm not going through all that building shit up rubbish' (laughs). He wasn't on it. At least he was honest about it! So yeah, we had been meaning to make a tune together for a long time, I knew I wanted him on this project. He came to the studio; it was just me, him and Soul. He was in one corner, I was in another, I sang the chorus to him, and from there it was just straight honesty on the verses."
Murda ft. Brandz
"Brandz is a new, young guy who has the popping tune out right now- Tizz and Brandz, All Ways. He's sick and he works really well in the studio. He's a friend of my friend Renz, Renz introduced me to him. I put a verse on another one of Brandz's tune for a remix - they were really excited about it and since then we've just been cool. Murda, in my head, I just wanted to make a banger again. It's about people doubting you, not believing in you. The chorus is about even if people don't believe in you, you can still murder your bars, you can kill the beat."
Greenlight ft. Loick Essien
"The beat to me was so old-skool so I was thinking of songs that meant a lot to me from that old-skool era. I was either going to do my spin on Jay Z's Girls, or 50's 21 Questions. I started rapping loads of girl's names, it was fun, I enjoyed it, so that became that and it's my take on Girls. I done my verses before the session with Loick, but I had it in my head for him to do the chorus. I get confused as to why a lot of the UK vocalists don't get so much hype as the MCs and rappers. I wanted to bring a few singers onto this to show other rappers what these guys sound like on a rap project. These guys are sick, they're easy to work with, they really know their craft."
"Notebook is weird cos a lot of the girl songs I write, I usually take two or three situations and mix them up into one song - they're not usually about one situation or one person. But this is about one person, one situation. It's a situation that happened a long time ago, I don't know why it took me so long to write about it. In the chorus I say, 'Remember the movie I showed you once'. That film was the Notebook, hence the track's title.
"So this is another track about relationships, but it's an outlook on a repetitive situation that I keep finding myself in a lot - last year especially. You go out, drink, come home, argue - and that happens over and over. So I wanted to make a tune about that - about people complaining and not really understanding. I put that together to lead into…"
"… Simple. So One Too is the night before and Simple is the next day. 'Feels like you had one too many, all the shots and we drank one too many'. But the situations are pretty much the same. It's pretty much one of those ones where it's, you're into me, I'm not as much into you."
Easier ft. Paige Lihya
"I think this is a really important tune. Some of it is about me, but then there are two lines about my friend who went through something one time. He didn't tell us at the time though, he ended up telling us a lot later. 'Can't find nobody that I want to tell, they ain't got me so I got myself… maybe I just need to be around some love'. When he told us what had happened, he explained that what he'd needed was to be around people that loved him, that understood his situation. There was also a tweet I happened to see - I don't even know this person - about being depressed. I put something in the song from their perspective too. I tried to take in lots of experiences around me and put a line in for everybody. At the start it's negative, in the middle there's light at the end of the tunnel, and at the end it's me saying, 'It's ok, it does get easier'. That song is for me but also for everyone else. So it's not just a journey for myself, but for other people who might find encouragement from feeling like they're not alone. I wanted to share the strength that I have with other people. I hope it motivates people and makes them feel better. Everyone always thinks they're the only ones going through some shit - and that's not the case."
Quality Control: 2:0 is out now.
Text Hattie Collins