Peckham's most authentic driller chats his new album, having one foot in and one foot out, and his unlikely link-up with Ed Sheeran.
London’s drill music scene has become the talk of the town over the last few years; the collision of explosive real world testimony and visceral visuals creating a perfect storm to drive discussion and reinvigorate UK music. From a media demonisation which has literally seen drill artists incarcerated with lyrics used as evidence against them, to music pundits and artists alike hailing it as the most authentic expression of London life since grime’s resurgence almost 10 years ago, the genre has dominated conversation, forcing itself into the nations psyche with it’s raw lyrics and lo-fi, jarring instrumental production which pulses with the unpredictable frenetic energy of life in the capital.
At the centre of it all stands Peckham-born Kwengface. A self-professed proponent of “authentic drill”, his new project, YPB: The Archives, is an amalgamation of the decade that has seen the young driller get to where he is today. And, with streams well into the tens of millions, and a collaboration with Ed Sheeran on the cards, the next decade is looking revved up for Kweng and his fellow drillers.
FLB: I just wanted to start a little bit talking about how you got into music. Were your family musical at all?
Kwengface: Nobody in my family was ever musical, you know. That’s so weird, now that I think about. Where do I get that from?
FLB: Was there anything on around the house that influenced you growing up do you think?
Kwengface: My influence definitely came heavily from R&B. Not even too much hip-hop: Keyshia Cole, Alicia Keys. Lionel Richie.
FLB: Do you remember a time when you were like, ‘ok, music is what I want to do as a career’?
Kwengface: I never really did it like that. Everyone my age at that time was working in Ladbrokes. So I would say to myself, ‘if I can get myself on the Ladbrokes wages for music, then cool. I can take it as a job that I can say that this is what I do.’ And that’s what I did.
FLB: I read a quote from you saying that, in your music, “you get that Peckham flavour mixed with the African flavour that nobody can replicate.” How much of an influence has your Ghanaian heritage had on you, both personally and in your music?
Kwengface: It’s definitely had a big influence on me. Growing up…just being alive, still. I grew up I grew on a lot of hiplife, also like P-Square and a lot of Nigerian artists like that. That’s probably stuck with me until now.
FLB: You’re obviously the Young Peckham Bandit, an OG Peckham resident. How much did seeing the rise of fellow Peckham stars Giggs and his SN1 crew in the early 2000s tell you, yes, this is possible and I’m gonna do it? How much of a blueprint were they for you?
Kwengface: I’m much younger than them, so when they were coming up I was mad young. But yeah, everyone wanted to be like Giggs back in the day. Everyone wants to be someone that’s come up off nothing. They were like heroes.
FLB: I’ve heard you speak previously about some of your peers around you while you were coming up warning you not to be one of those people who had talent and didn’t take it seriously and wasted it, pushing you to stay on it. Looking back, was having a strong network of people encouraging you to keep focused on the music really important in the way your career has progressed to where it is now?
Kwengface: The past three years, I’ve just been mad focused. Even when I’m linking up with my old mates, and we’re just reminiscing and they’re like, “remember this? Remember that?” And I’m thinking, you lot have actually been there for man, and that’s love. But when you’re just in your shit so much, you forget. So now I’m linking a lot of people that were there as I was coming up. Well, I’m still coming up now, but yeah. They’re just telling me they’re seeing a big difference in me now, even just how you carry yourself as a person. I rock with that, still.
FLB: That must be nice to hear.
Kwengface: Definitely. You don’t clock it, because obviously you’re just you; every day you’re doing you. But some people they might not see you in like a year, two years.
FLB: I always get told I’ve gotten fatter.
Kwengface: I wish I could get fatter!
FLB: You were obviously a part of the seminal drill crew Zone 2, who made a splash in the drill scene with Known Zoo in 2017. How did that come about, and how did you find operating in a crew, with all the collaboration and sharing of ideas that comes with it?
Kwengface: You see, we went to school with eachother, and we all live in the same area. So we’re more more or less thinking the same anyway. So, in terms of that being creative and that, we’re all on the same page.
FLB: So it came naturally.
Kwengface: Yeah yeah, we’re brederins innit! Some of them, I’ve been friends with for over 15 years.
FLB: And so how did your transition from Zone 2 to being a solo artist come about?
Kwengface: My bredrins just kept on going jail. We would do a lot of work together, but obviously them going jail is going to affect me on the outside. It’s affecting all of us, still. I can’t now release music, because all my bredrins that are on the record, or on the projects or XYZ, they’re all in prison. So I’ve kind of started thinking, you know, I can’t sit here and wait for my friends to come out of prison. I gotta make things happen because you know how the music scene is; it don’t wait for no one. One minute they’re on you, the next they forget about you.
FLB: Was that difficult decision to make for you? Or were you so focused on the music that it kind of just was a natural decision?
Kwengface: A bit of both.
FLB: You’ve said many times that your music is ‘authentic drill’. What is ‘authentic drill’ to you?
Kwengface: Me! [laughs] Were a generation, the first or second generation, to do the drill ting. That’s why I say it’s authentic. I think it started around about five, six years ago, and now it’s been watered down a lot. A lot a lot. There’s a few artists that that are doing authentic true things like this old school drill ting. This is real drill. This is what drill music’s meant to be. I don’t know about all that sample shit. I don’t know about all that other goofy stuff. Man’s authentic drill, still.
FLB: Your flow is something that instantly impresses when I listen to your music – obviously it’s drill, but it seems like you’ve soaked up some elements of other UK rap, as well as more US and African sounds too. Is flow something you’ve thought a lot about; does it come naturally to you, or do you work on perfecting and harnessing it?
Kwengface: At first, it was just about saying the maddest bars possible. But then I started clocking that some people had a certain flow and the rhythm, and I liked that so I started targeting that a little bit more. Like I said, I listen to a lot of r&b, Hip Hop… I don’t even listen to drill music! I’m being influenced from other places, and then I’m bringing it onto the drill ting. It does kind of come naturally though, if I’m honesty.
FLB: What I loved about YPB: Tha Come Up was the versatility in flow that you deployed throughout the album. You spit a kind of storytelling, more straight faced flow on tunes like ‘Zoo Rock’, then it becomes a bit more confident and almost like a statement of intent on songs like ‘Tetley’ & ‘Bruck It’, and it even gets a bit catchy and vibey in part of the album like ‘Moodish’. Is being an artist who is able to be slightly chameleonic with their flow, and come up with flows to suit different moods and themes within songs, important to you?
Kwengface: 100%. But honestly, I just feel that my supporters aren’t taking in as much as they should do. But they will.
FLB: In what way?
Kwengface: I feel like they love me for drill: harsh, violent, authentic drill. So when I’m doing other stuff, it’s like they’re not really respecting it. But then it’s like, fans that aren’t [all about] drill aren’t really gonna want to listen to my tape, because they’re thinking that every third word is just going to be some mad drill stuff. When I play certain songs to people, they’re looking at me like “rah, when did this come out,” and I’m like “two years ago!”
FLB: It’s quite an inevitable part of this intermediate stage as you’re trying to do more interesting things, I think. I feel like they’ll come round.
Kwengface: They better!
FLB: Talk to us about your new project, YPB: The Archive. It certainly feels like, if you look at you in 2017 and when you first burst onto the scene, you were this really raw expression of Peckham, and London and what it sounded like at the time. Has that changed?
Kwengface: It’s still got that rawness to it, but it’s definitely also showing growth, and elevation. There’s a lot of things I’m saying on there that are things that you wouldn’t even hear me talk about before.
FLB: You’re also clearly not afraid to be introspective, and look inwards and reflect on the upcoming album. The single ’10 Years’ has you reflect on the last decade of experiences you’ve faced, and it’s quite striking how bars like “OT trips for the money, been through weeks, kinda miss my bed” are very honest, and almost show a side that not many drill rappers would like show.
Kwengface: I feel that you have to say things to make you you, that are going to make you different from another artist. So with the little stuff that I’m saying…I’m just telling my stories. That’s my thing innit. So I feel like sometimes it’s about being honest, just being open. I listen to a lot of Lil Durk, and he has that bar: “I ain’t gon’ cap, you gon’ smell Percs and lean when I fart.” To me that’s cool; he’s telling the realness innit.
FLB: The video for 10 Years also sees you balance some really slick, cinematic visuals with some more diy, lo-fi vloggy elements, which to me seems to allude to the tension / contrast between your success in music and also life on the road. There’s also that bar “This music help man levellin’, but I still fuck with the .38 specialist” which speaks a lot to the juxtaposition between a life of fame and adulation in music, and one of violence. Is this contrast, or tension even, something you’ve found difficult to come to terms with the more famous and successful your music has made you?
Kwengface: 100%. Obviously, I’m not tryna incriminate myself [laughs] but when you do get to a certain place, you have to leave a lot of things behind behind. And sometimes it’s hard ’cause that’s all you knew, and that’s how you’ve been living for X amount of years. And it’s like, cool, you might want to change. But you might have done things to people and they don’t want you to change. They’re seeing it like “rah, you’re doing your ting and you’ve done something to man in the past? Nah, fuck that.” And then obviously you got the police hassle as well. I’ve never been arrested for no gang member activity. But police be knocking on my door every three months, talking about how I’m a gang member. And I’m like to them, “what have I been arrested for? What gang activity I’ve been arrested for?” And then obviously that’s gonna affect my shows. It affects how man’s rolling around on the road. It’s gonna be affecting my day to day man. It’s like one foot in and one foot out, innit.
FLB: Talk to us about the visuals for ’10 Years’.
Kwengface: I feel like YPB Tha Come Up had a lot of high end, big videos, and I wasn’t really comfortable with it. So 10 years was the first video that we shot for the camera. I mean, for The Archives. I was like, my life’s kind of interesting already, so we should just do normal videos. Less is more, just them how we’re living. And we shot that in our studio, on zero budget. You just get to see how we’re moving.
FLB: It’s like how Skepta spent £80 for the video of ‘That’s Not Me’ and won the MOBO for Best Video.
Kwengface: That’s what I’m saying, man. It’s about how you do it.
FLB: The numbers that both your Daily Duppy and your Plugged In verses, as well as just your general Spotify numbers, were staggering – not just relative to drill, but also young artists generally. At a time where we have a driller like yourself getting 60/70 million Spotify streams, we also have people being jailed for bars they’ve written and people in government trying to outlaw drill etc. What’s your take on that weird contrast between drill’s ever growing popularity, and the establishment’s determination for it to go away?
Kwengface: You can’t stop it now! You see when police are trying to harass me. I’m like, “yo, I’m legit, bro! I make more money than you on a yearly basis. Stop bothering us! We’re doing our thing, bro. Leave us alone, just let us be that cool. People say that it might incite violence, but there’s been violence from before drill music.
FLB: Also, have you ever listen to heavy metal? OOr, like, played GTA? No one’s outlawing that. It’s art.
Kwengface: Exactly. It’s mad how we’re doing so well, but there’s still just tryna be so on us.
FLB: So how do you think that’s gonna change?
Kwengface: I think, as artists, we just need to start showing elevation. Instead of saying “yeah, man’s lit” and X, Y and Z, we’ve got to say, “young Gs – you wanna do this? I can teach you some lessons”. Man have to stary giving back to the community, and start giving back to the youth. I was even chatting to one of my bredrens Kye Whyte, who was in the Olympics, on the BMX ting. He’s got a mural in my area. I think that’s sick; we need way more of those. Because, now, all the young people in our area are going to be looking at him like “rah, I see him walking up and down Peckham. I can do that. My little brother can do that.” And you start pushing each other. A lot of people are competitive. But as long as it’s competitive in a good way, why not? Why not? We just got to keep pushing each other.
FLB: Yeah. And, you know, obviously, as someone who has made it from Peckham to the world, how much do you think about your legacy and what you want to be seen as by the next generation? Is it important for you, having smashed that ceiling, to hold the door open for younger people form London and those coming behind you to also come through?
Kwengface: Yeah, 100%. But also, you can bring a horse to the water, but you can’t force it to drink. You got to put the work in as well, and that’s a lot of people problem. Especially in the hood.
FLB: I guess seeing you achieve success will hopefully push that.
Kwengface: Yeah, but they’re just seeing the success; they’re not seeing how hard man’s working. [To his manager] How many times am I in the studio and I’m doing seven hour shifts back to back? I’m feeling like I’m going to work. Yeah, cool. I’m in the studio, and I control the environment. But work is work at the end of the day. When we’re sitting here stressing over paperwork, and a man’s going back and forth with lawyers and man’s got to pay lawyer fees and be focusing on on the beat agreement, talking to the producers, getting ready to release the song, marketing… you don’t see that! you just see the song out and it gets a million views.
FLB: Does it frustrate you that people don’t see how hard you work?
Kwengface: Kind of still, because when I’m sitting there like, “Oh, I’ve got this and I’ve got that,” people are sarcastically like “Ohhh my God, that must be so terrible.” Bruv, work is work at the end of the day! I won’t lie to you, I did music because I thought it will be easier. [Laughs] It’s not easier! It’s the same shit. Bro, this is the same as having a job!
FLB: You’ve got a song coming up with Ed Sheeran. Could you tell us how that came about and what we should expect?
Kwengface: The song is definitely a drill record. Ed’s a cool guy, man. I was just scrolling through my Instagram one day, and I see a post on Capital Extra. Now I don’t see Ed Sheeran on Capital Extra much, so I’m thinking, what does he have to say? And he’s like “Yeah, I listened to some UK Music, some drill music. I listen to this guy Kwengface-” and I’m like “What?!” I’m like “mum! Ed Sheeran listens to me!” Oh my gosh, I was gassed. A lot of people have been showing me nothing but hate and negativity, and people that I thought would show me love don’t show me any. And he’s random! So I’ve hit up Jamal [Edwards] because I got a good relationship with him, and I’m just like, yo, let me meet him. We don’t even need to get in the booth for now; let’s just chill innit. Obviously more time when people are trying to link up with Ed, it’s music-related. I was more asking him for advice about how it is when you get to that stage. He was just like, “bro, just keep doing your thing. Music is a mindfuck, and it fucks with your emotions. Not a lot of people know what you’re going through behind closed doors. They just expect you to be happy and be grateful because you’re famous”. And he was just telling me about a lot of things to do with his life. I was more listening innit. I was just thinking fucking hell, this is a down-to-earth brudda.
FLB: Also he’s been in the scene for a while no? He was on early SBTV with Jamal I remember…
Kwengface: Exactly! Even like when I’m talking to him about certain people… I’m talking to him about Giggs and he’s like “yeah man, I went to Giggs’ house for Christmas dinner!”
FLB: That’s so funny.
Kwengface. Yeah, Ed’s a cool brudda. Man rocks with him, still.
FLB: Obviously you’re still at the start of your career. But, if you had to say now, what do you think your ultimate aim is with this music thing?
Kwengface: I just want to be put in a position where I can’t go broke!
FLB: Well, when the Christmas dinner invite from Ed comes I think you’ll know. Thanks man.
Kwengface: Thank you guys.