“Yo Yo, whatsup”, they certainly aren’t interview shy. On the line are Kay Willz, Big Shizz, Tempz and Merkz, the four London cocksures who together form the rap group, Rascals. Aside from admiring “some mad rainbows”, the boys are in currently awaiting their debut release. ‘That’s all we’ve been doing…before we finished the EP we were in the studio every day, so now we have time just to chill out’. Having recorded their debut album in that same period, knackered must have been an understatement. With a bit of unsuccessful journalistic persuasion they revealed that “the album is supposed to be out around…the end of the year”.
We began by discussing their recording process, shrugging off a suggestion some of them took more of a lead role than others, Kay Willz asserted that, “we all have to pull our weight. What we try to do now is engineer ourselves, because it’s kinda hard to project what you want in your mind to someone and to turn it around in Logic or whatever you’re using. Even with production as well there’s a lot going on, working as a group.”
I was intrigued to find the extent to which Rascals had a say in their own sound, as so many rap artists right now seem to be presented with tracks simply to overdub. Even at the suggestion that they fell into that category they retorted, “we’ve got one producer, name’s Inflow, but one thing about him, even though he’s the producer he’s always open to everyone putting their input in.” Shizz chipped in, “even on the album there’s songs where we produced it ourselves. We were in a room together just us four, and a song got made from scratch,” pushing the fact that they are “in control creatively.” How refreshing it was to hear a group pitting themselves against one of the most commercially produced markets, taking real pride in their musical freedom. Didn’t say which songs though, they might be well shit, but the sentiment is still admirable.
So having found themselves on the pinnacle of their career, being interviewed by a student paper from York, where exactly did it all begin? “When we were about 9, we were in a group called Mucky Cubs, we were the youngest of the young wolf pack. Being from Bow we were surrounded by people like Dizzee and Tinchy, Wiley, Roll Deep, music was in our face, for us it was just normal.” But it transpires they’d been raised on something other than hip-hop. “I listened to The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix”. Willz recounted how, “when I was at 9 I realised the music going around me…but before that it was UB40, Bob Marley. More or less the music I listen to now is from back in the day; music that you’ve noticed that has longevity.” Although there was also praise for contemporary artists, “I like what Clean Bandit’s doing, I think there’s a lot of attention on Jess Glynne. Proves you don’t really need a whole back catalogue, you can just have that one song.”
Having first emerged in 2011 with early mixtapes, Rascals’ sound has changed dramatically with their releases this year: “100%, it was a process we went through, maturing, going through a stage where we were working with loads of different producers. When we made ‘So High’, that was the benchmark we set for ourselves, the sound we wanted to go with, the EP is a taster for the album.” Tempz adding that, “growing up, and the things we listen to, and yeah…just life I guess. It wasn’t forced, it just happened. Concluding that “it was a natural vibe, every tune we do, off the back of it we try and do something that’s totally different.”
Critics might argue that UK grime has somewhat dropped off the mainstream radar, but the boys argue that it’s never been stronger, having taken on a more official shape rather than the explosive cultural movement it began as. “100%, I believe that everyone’s more into the business, even supporting each other. Before, there’d be conflict, everyone took things too personally. For instance, there’d be an MC, I ain’t gonna say his name, but when you’d see him you might think ‘ahh he’s looking at me bad like’ but looking at everyone in the grime scene now there’s a lot of professionalism going on. Everyone’s making better music, everyone’s developing”. Bet it was Wiley the bellend.
Back to the present, the conversation turned towards their live show. As for a tour, they said, “we’re gonna be announcing something very soon,” so keep your eyes peeled. They described how “Live is a whole different vibe…an opportunity to play to people who’ve never heard it, and gain fans that way, is more intimate”. Rascals were insistent that “we’re trying to make this a live band, not a boyband, but a band,” a trend continued from their studio experience, especially with latest single ‘So High’ – as they oh so casually admitted, “the end of that song has actually got the drummer from a band called The Kooks” .
As we wound to an end, the rap ‘band’ ushered in a moment of modest, introspection. “We’re definitely proud of what we have, it’ll do what it does, but we’re proud to put our name on it and that’s everything really.” It’s certainly overdue but 2014 should be their year.
Rascals’ So High EP is out June 15th.