- Ruby Savill-Downs
Ones to Watch: BabyStep Meets the Rising Rappers of 2021
The turn of a new year invites us to reflect on the the defining musical moments of the past 12 months, and the continual rise of rap is one that shouldn't go overlooked. As a genre that effortlessly re-moulds, 2020 was a momentous year for rappers in reinventing its sound once again.
Looking back at a time where creative life came to a steady halt for many, the dynamic exuberance of rap continued to prevail. All eyes were on the UK, as drill, experimental hip-hop and other fascinating sub-genres continued to conquer the world stage. The talent oozing from the likes of Headie One, Pa Salieu and Enny would not go unnoted, as their ability to redefine the genre again and again blend together the sounds of R&B, afrobeat and dancehall and grime.
The start of this year also saw us, most unfortunately, celebrate the life of late London-born hip-hop legend MF Doom; a name that will forever hold the highest status in rap, as an artist who's legacy stretches beyond underground hip-hop, and will impact those within the scene far into the future.
Of course, the UK is not the only place in which rap and hip-hop dominate - American rappers in particular continue to triumph the charts; from the late Pop Smoke, to the greats of Kendrick and Kanye, to the rising women on the scene - Megan, Cardi and Doja Cat - bringing a new face of feminine power that rap has been waiting for. Looking forward to this year, the genre is in an exciting place: its borders are limitless, people are listening, and 2021 brings more variety than ever before.
Here at Babystep, we caught up with some of our favourite rappers in the game. From Leeds, London and across the pond, these are the rising stars of 2021 that are taking this year by storm.
First up, we meet one of the most promising rappers of North London - Razor. As an artist that holds collaboration and performance as the unrivalled components of musical style and success, this year has been an adjustment. However, with an ever-growing repertoire of tracks, Razor has taken the opportunity of this year to reflect on his creative process, and allow this to bounce back into his sound.
Welcome Razor - firstly, tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to in the past year, especially with the release of LEMSIP, produced by Hamdi.
I'm fortunate in the sense that I can work from wherever I am. The kind of job that I have means that I haven't had to worry too much about working - if I've needed to work it's been easy. I'm very grateful, honestly.
Hold tight Hamdi, every single time. That's my guy, my brother. We've been working together for a number of years, he worked on the remixes on my very very first mixtape that I put out in 2016. So yeah, we have been building up to doing this sort of stuff. We collaborated a lot last year, not just on LEMSIP and a B-Side for that, but on the track Facts (ft. Tintz) and on a tune called Trust That, featuring Big Nate. Me and Hamdi have been mashing a lot of work together.
The longest project I've released to date, The Sharp One, came out in March. There were a couple of issues, so it had to be re-released at the end of last year.
How does the music scene in London inspire your work? What are the things you love about London’s music?
The music scene in London doesn't inspire me, it does nothing. Now and again it frustrates me I guess. However, London as a city, London's music definitely inspires me. It's a cultural hotspot.
I draw my main inspriation from the parts of London that are away from the scene, for my music. I can't step outside without seeing real life. You can if you're not looking for it, but I feel like I've been raised in a certain environment that I see it. I'm glad I see these things as they give me perspective.
I guess when it comes to the London music scene, there's so much going on, stuff being made for every single person. I think it's a melting pot, there's a lot of diverse talent with even more coming through now. You could be on the overground sat across from the next big thing.
Things I can change - you can't even change them because it's human nature. Human nature is to get excited by clout, or to want to be liked, to do what other people are doing. All those things aren't just present in our music scene but they're present everywhere, even in a corporate workplace.
You work very closely with Hamdi, Represent Radio and other creative collectives – how does collaborating and getting involved with other organisations impact your work?
It's the best thing and the worst thing. The best thing is being surrounded by creatives, in work, in my family. When you put something to a creative, and you both trust each other, you go through a special experience where both of your magic creates something. Sometimes, it's not always 50/50, sometimes you just need someone to give your work a little something. When it goes well its beautiful and when it doesn't, it's heartbreaking. Obviously Hamdi, Represent, my crew OverTheEdge - these are the people whose energy I need to harness in order to do what I do. There are other times where I've harnessed the wrong energy, and it's impacted on the experience of making the music. I definitely think there's positives and negatives with collaboration, and you need to go into the process knowing what you're after so that everything is aligned for you.
If you could change one thing about the music scene in London for rappers, what would it be?
I feel like it's hard being a rapper, many people would disagree haha. It's hard, until it's not. It's hard in the sense that people expect you to prove that every single bar that you've spat is good, they look at every bar you've written and hold it up to scrutiny. When you're in underground stages of rapping, people wanna know if the things you talk about are true - that's why there's so much bullshit in the rap game, there's so much pressure from the audience to be authentic. My thing is that I do me - if that's the only expectation then you can't go wrong. But if I'm expected to be the flashiest guy, or I'm supposed to get the most women, then there's going to be someone that wants to contest that claim. I'd love to remove that pressure.
Thinking wider to the perception of rappers - there are bare wavy rappers who happen to be women. I speak of them in that way as I hate referring to them as female rappers or female MCs - why am I front-loading the fact that they're a woman? When the front-loaded bit should be that that they're a wavy rapper or artist. So, not only do I think we need to see more women rapping, I feel like the ones that we've got, at every level, they need to reflect their talent as much as possible.
Looking forward, Razor's has all his focus on producing - his attention to detail and focus on meaningful collaboration will undoubtedly take his music to new heights.
Darius the Barbarian
We now fly overseas, to meet Miami-born rapper Darius the Barbarian. Loaded with style and force, he is unafraid to bring fierceness to rap that many have never seen before. His lyrics emanate identity and truth, but in a way that contrasts to much discourse within rap at the moment. It has an absence of violence and hierarchy, and instead is charged by the discussion of social causes that resonate with him. As an advocate of LGBTQ+ and POC rights, he utilises his voice as a means to advance the issues that are close to him, and so retains a real reflection of himself in his work.
Darius' work is bright, punchy and incorporates exciting genres within - as seen with his latest electro-meets-rap EP On Screen, in collaboration with Cherriep. Travelling back to just a year ago, during Darius' time making his first EP Escapades, and his life was strikingly different. Without a job, money, or musical prospects, there was a feeling of hopelessness for the American musician. However, with music as his motivation, Escapades led him to greater and greater heights. He now travels the world to make music, which was an opportunity put to him for the making of On Screen. He tells us "it's crazy to think that I heard Cherrie P being played by a roomate a year ago. When I asked him for the artist, I fell in love with his music all around. Skip over to a couple Instagram messages, and demos being sent, I flew to Canada to make this magic with him. It was so surreal."
Firstly, let's look back to your younger years - have you always wanted to be a rapper? Or have there been other elements of composition that you’ve been drawn to? When I was 6, my uncle was a rapper. While he made his music, I was writing bars to match. So when I showed it to him, he never believed I wrote the music and claimed he heard them somewhere else. He gave that up, so I was reintroduced in high school but not really serious. I knew that I was meant to be BIG but in a sense of presence. When I came to finally pursue rapping on my own 2 years ago, I knew that this was it.
Who are your inspirations, and how do they manifest in your work? My inspiration is everyone. I like the way my songs will make you smile and feel yourself. There’s this pure sense of joy when you completely let go and enjoy who you are.
"When I make my music, I think of me. Darius the Barbarian is this part of me that’s the big bold ferocious beast who only believes in living life to the fullest. So I make it fun."
How has your sound and ideas progressed in the past year? Absolutely. Lyricism and rapping is the best part of music for me. Expanding your creativity and skills and an ongoing experience that you’ll forever go through.
What has lockdown made you realised about your work and your sound? It’s made me realize my faults in work ethic for sure. I need to focus better. It has also given me so much creative ideas on projects in working on. I’m more than thankful for this time... it’s like a whole new era for me.
The future for Darius the Barbarian is certainly bright. When discussing his upcoming plans, his immediate response is to perform, which is an expected reflection of the energy and life he brings to his music. "I’m going on tour for damn sure. I’m ready to bring it to the stage". His new project, DTBX, was produced in London and involves more in-depth visual work than ever before. His closing comments? "All in all, just to be free."
KIT is a name that has been bouncing around Leeds since his releases began back in 2019, starting with his debut single Day Job. As a collaboration with Charla Jay, this track exudes the coolness and clarity reminiscent throughout his musical style, as an artist that often turns inward to source inspiration. Reflecting on the past year, KIT talks of lockdown as a time best suited to delve into his production. "I kinda got lucky with music like mine, introspective and melancholy, music that is general suited for headphones. There’s a lot of space for positive and negative reflection in these times and I think my music brings that."
The fruition of this work has shown too, with his latest track My Brain (ft. B. Fisher) reaching over 190k streams on Spotify. Although written before the calamity of the past year, this track perfectly encapsulates the limbo we have found ourselves in. It rejects the obsessions of modern life - of technology and social media - as ails that isolate us further away from the daydream we are trying to reach. “And I hate this fucking phone, makes me feel stoned. Everyone so involved" he sings.
KIT, this year has been a huge success for you. Tell us a bit about your track My Brain, how it came about and how this track has pushed your music further.
Thank you! My brain was a track I made a year or so before COVID featuring rapper and friend, B. Fisher. It’s mainly about everyday insecurities and inner thoughts we all have. I feel I like I’m constantly waiting for the perfect time to drop music, the unfortunate events of 2020 boded well for My Brain. When I write stuff it’s often intuitive, I try not to think about it too much, but often a deeper meaning comes later to me. I felt like COVID brought that song to life. It’s lovely to see the response I got from it - I feel like a lot of people connected with it. It shows me that personal and honest music goes a long way. In terms of pushing music further, I like the idea of a concept and a journey in music, I want every song I put out to follow or reply to the previous, kinda like a story. I want the release to have meaning and context.
Have you always wanted to be a rapper?
Naa haha, still don’t really see myself as a rapper, hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m a producer and musician at heart, just have now started mumbling lyrics over my own stuff. I want to utilise my drumming more, I wanna do something that’s new and different.
What has lockdown made you realised about your work and your sound? Are you happy with the time it has given you, or has it prevented your goals?
It’s definitely impacted a lot of motivation levels, when you’re stuck in inside, after a while it’s hard to make new music without that new experience. Think everyone has had a hard time, not just creatives, tricky to keep up the pass with not much to look forward too. I think mainly the amount of uni work in 3rd year has been tricky to balance , I’ve got a lot unreleased music sitting from the last 3 years of uni, just waiting for the right time to get them out.
As a city packed with music, art and culture, the intensity of Leeds has its effects on musicians, KIT alike. The abundance of (what once was) social events, sweaty, packed clubs, and a fast-paced nightlife fosters a natural dominance of electronic music within the city. For KIT, his music and experience are very different. The contrast of this life to his sound suggests a subconscious withdrawal from it all: "I love the busyness, but it can be distracting" he says. "My music is kinda the opposite, fairly subdued, maybe that’s a response to the intensity of the student life in Leeds".
His sound roots itself in the influences of jazz and hip-hop, creating a sound that is expressively intimate, yet perfectly chilled-out. The hustle of Leeds again pushes his musical ideas further, as he describes its creative bubble as essential to his influences. "I've met some good friends through music and art, for me it’s other jazz musicians or vocalist that I work with that defo help influence my sound". But drawing on the production of his tracks, KIT very much sits in the drivers seat: "On the production side it’s not as collaborative, as I like to do most things myself, so other DJs and producers in Leeds haven't had a massive direct impact on my work. However now that I am becoming more confident in my voice I’m opening up to working with some other producers, which is exciting."
What do you miss most normal life as a musician?
Usually the process of making music for me is in isolation anyway, when I’m doing vocals I can’t work with anyone else in the room. So lockdown was great at the start, that summer was really productive too, nothing drastically changed for me as a musician. When it’s permanently like that, you eventually run out of things to say, things to write about. I just miss going out with friends and seeing live music.
What’s next for you this year?
I have a song I have been sitting on for ages now called Act II Scene III, featuring my close music pal JP from 640. It kinda acts as a motivational response to My Brain, as it was made just after. Me and George (Shark Smile) recorded some visuals for it in-between lockdowns. Slightly more jumpy and active, I’m very excited for this one. Its got me playing some live drums for the first time in one of my productions too.
Act II Scene II will be released in March.
Lanky Sun is another name that has risen from the beginnings of LS6, now looking to find his way through the world of music. As an artist, he is remarkably humble, a character who very much downplays his achievements in light of others. His music has a very personal feel: "for me, it's just a way to manifest my thoughts, it's kind of meditation I guess. For somebody that overthinks as much as I do, it’s nice to just whack an MF Doom beat on, and say what I have to say."
Angel, his latest track, was a musical anomaly for Lanky Sun. "It was a weird one, because I’d never hopped on that sort of beat before. Me and my mate Selom were just vibing to some old school garage and we thought fuck it lets try and make something that mixes that old school garage feel with new school alternative hip hop." And it paid off, as
On the subject of identifying as a 'rapper', Lanky Sun is very much opposed to the idea of making it big. "I'm a private person, but I still like people to hear my music. I should probably wear a balaclava or something to hide my face and just make tunes anonymously, but I don’t think it would really work with the type of music I make haha". As a multifaceted artist, Lanky Sun enjoys the process of writing poems and spoken word, as well experimenting with samples within his tracks.
You're mostly based in Leeds – have you found this city an inspiring place to make music?
Yeah Leeds is banging. Bare different from London, where I’m from, in terms of its culture and the people, but I love it. Even though I’m in my last year I’ll probably stay on and do a masters here or something just so that I can fuck about for a bit longer and make some more memories up north, once rona is over that is.
There’s so many students who have mad musical talent. I’ve tried to embrace it as much as possible, and I’ve made tunes with Kit who’s a sick producer and Amy Young who’s voice is ridiculously good. To be honest, I’d love to do a set in Leeds at Headrow or Belgrave or something with a DJ on a ravey one, and hopefully I can once venues are at full capacity again.
What do you miss most about normal life, and what are your plans moving forward?
I just miss going out to the pub and having a few guinesses to be honest. As a musician, I’d say I miss performing, but in terms of music itself I just miss going to see artists perform live. It’s a difficult time for artists at the moment, and the lack of support that the government is giving to the arts industry is a disgrace. But if I had to say what’s next, I’d say that I’ll finish uni, and then try and release an EP, hopefully then get some shows booked for London and Leeds.
Be sure to check out the artists above on Instagram, Spotify and SoundCloud - thank you for your contribution.