“I should be dead or in prison, but I’m alive and enjoying my freedom,” raps Morrisson on “Bad Boys”, and it’s true: he’s been through it. The East London rapper—who’s also an avid supporter of West Ham football club—is the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover: sure, he’s white with a combover, but he’s lived the life of most disenfranchised youth within the city’s four corners. For over a decade, Morrisson has been hailed as the “realest white boy in rap,” a line he’s heard since the very start and one he happily accepts because, why not?
When it comes to white rappers pushing those hard street rhymes, however, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never questioned the validity of said rhymes—it’s certainly not a norm in UK rap—but to have a career last as long as Morrisson’s has, with no evidence of fraudulence, speaks volumes. His first two projects, 2008’s Currently Getting Currency and 2009’s The Best Of Morrisson, were certified hustler soundtracks upon their release, with his hard-hitting pen capturing a legion of fans from similar corners to road rap vets PDC and Giggs. The only other notable white rapper to have this type of hold on the scene—by that point—was Skinnyman, a whole generation prior.
Before making his comeback in 2017—after serving time behind bars on a drugs charge and more recently signing a deal with Sony’s Since ‘93 imprint—rapping was something that Morrisson did for fun; making quick street money was his main aim. But now, with a focused team fully behind him, the possibilities are limitless.
We met up with a suited-and-booted Morrisson at The Curtain, a new members’ club in East London’s Shoreditch, to discuss his trajectory in music and find out what’s next on the cards.
“Jail and beef on the streets brings out the real in you; it washes out all the shit, and all the people that ain’t fully with you.”
COMPLEX: You just got back home from shooting the video for “Bad Boys” out in Zimbabwe—what was that experience like for you?
Morrisson: It was a real eye-opener; it made me appreciate the things that we take for granted. I was well looked-after out there and the people were very welcoming. My friend, Dylan, he’s from Zimbabwe, and many years ago there were some issues between the whites and blacks, so this was about showing unity.
I think the first time I came across you was in 2008, when SBTV dropped that freestyle video of you in the infamous Ruthless Records store. Talk me through that time.
That was a long, long time ago. I’d just started doing music and, at the time, Giggs used to be in and out of Ruthless Records selling CDs. He’d heard my music in there because I’d done one or two songs. Ruthless, who owned the shop, he put us in the studio together and said we should do a song together, so I did the tune with Giggs but around that time I wasn’t really putting out much music, but I would always stop off at the shop and get the latest mixtapes. Then this one time, as I pulled up it was like a bit of a set-up [laughs]. When I walked in, there were cameras everywhere, all in my face! Like, what’s going on here? That was when I did the SBTV freestyle. I hadn’t been in front of a camera before then. They chucked a beat on and I started doing a few bars then, obviously, it went on YouTube and it became a big thing.
It blew up.
Yeah, bro, and now people knew what I looked like. It started becoming more of a hype. Then I started building, working on some tracks. I thought, “If this is where my music is going, let me put a bit more focus on it.” So I started recording, recording, recording. Then I went jail, and that was that. When I came out, I did a little freestyle, but because I was back on the roads I caught another case. I got about two years and it just slowed it all down. I had so much going on in my life, you know? A lot of drama, bro. Until I sorted all that out, I couldn’t do music.
Coming up as a rapper, which known rhymers would you say left a lasting impression on you?
Definitely Eminem and 50 Cent... Obviously, you’ve got 2Pac and Biggie—everyone listens to 2Pac and Biggie—but I was more on G-Unit and Eminem. That was getting me gassed! And then Styles P.
That real New York stuff.
Yeah, all that. And then Gucci Mane and all the South stuff.
A lot of rappers say they rate Gucci. I mean, he’s not the most lyrical...
Some things he says are fucking mad! Sometimes, these guys aren’t the best. He’s not the best rapper, I agree with you, but he’s real with it. He’s genuine. I like his whole aura. But these new ones, some of them are shit, bro, but they’re good at it. They’re good at talking about life. So yeah, Gucci is hard. I rate him.
“Morrisson’s hard for a white boy...” That’s a line I’m sure you’ve heard countless times over the years. Is this something you were ever annoyed by? I’m guessing you’re getting that even more today, in this new social media era we’re in?
It is what it is. In my area, it’s calm. Growing up, I’d always have people saying, “My man’s a wicked white boy!” In the part of East London where I’m from, being white was the minority. A lot of people rated what I was saying, they could relate on a different level, so they took me in.
What do you think of the other white rappers that have made their mark since, such as K Koke, Benny Banks and Don Strapzy?
As a white rapper, it’s good when you see one of your people rep. So Benny Banks, K Koke and all them, they’re repping—they’re all good. They know what they’re doing and they’re in their own lane. Me, I’m very English. I’m the most English rapper out there [laughs]. A lot of people get me confused for Albanian or something, but nah: straight-up English boy!
What are your thoughts on Aitch? He’s more of a commercial rapper, but what do you think of his whole vibe?
I like what he’s doing. I rate him. He’s repping as a white rapper and he makes good music.
Does the mainstream, the bright lights, interest you in any way?
If I wanted to do that, I could’ve done it a long time ago. It ain’t nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made music that’s radio-friendly but I’m not watering it down. I can’t water my music down, so I’ve got to be clever with it so it can go where it needs to go. It started in the ends, as you know, so the crowd that’s taking in my music at the moment, they don’t buy music. Depending on how I orchestrate and the way I behave, I can cut through. I could’ve manipulated it and I could’ve run with it, but I’m not that guy. I would’ve cut big cheques from early! I could’ve easily said, “You know what? The streets don’t buy music, so fuck the streets.” I could’ve done that a long time ago, but that ain’t what I rep. It’ll be a big achievement if I can bring what we’re about, the culture, to a wider audience and manage to get that on the radio—I’ll be a lot more proud of myself at the end of it.
“I’m doing all this for my bro.”
Since you came back on the scene in 2017, you’ve had a few tracks like “Buckingham Palace” and “Enemies” make some noise, but none of them popped off like last year’s “Shots”. Whose idea was it for you to jump on a drill beat? That was definitely unexpected.
I was in the studio with my mates Luke and Gav—they’re also management. M1OnTheBeat was in the studio and I had a few rough ideas, a few things I wanted to talk about in my head. M1’s chucked a beat on and he was like, “Look, I’ve got something you’d fit perfectly on.” I thought here we go. You know how many producers have said that? I’m thinking, “Yeah, yeah. Is the beat going to make me look good or am I going to make the beat sound good?” But it was a hard beat so I said, “Let’s see what we can do.” I had some ideas so I chucked them on and the studio went mad! We had all types of man in there: street guys, music guys, girls, and the reaction was just mad. They were all feeling it so I could tell it was something special.
The video added something to it as well.
I direct most of my videos. I think of the vision and I like to be in control of that; I like to come through with the ideas. Obviously, some of the cameramen add to it, but moretime I like to come up with the ideas and point them in the right direction.
The remix was heavy on drill rappers, which made a lot of sense. To me, UK drill is road rap’s offspring, but it hasn’t always been embraced that way. When the sound was first coming up, what were your initial thoughts?
With drill music, I can understand why certain people don’t like it. There’s a lot of shit that comes with it. There’s a lot of violence in the music, and a lot of them don’t even do what they’re talking about but then they’re encouraging these other kids to be bad, to do badness. But on the other side, a lot of them are on their thing. I went down that bad boy road so I can’t blame them or say they’re doing the wrong thing; I’d be a hypocrite. I understand the politics of it.
The “Shots” remix video looked like it was a wild day.
Do you know how close we were to having a madness?
I can imagine.
No one likes each other. It’s very political. They all hate each other and they’re all standing very close to each other. One person’s got a problem with someone and someone’s got a problem with someone else. We had to have the older lot there and each little set had their older lot there, who were a little wiser and understood the bigger picture.
That’s important. They need that.
None of them wanted to be there and the atmosphere was horrible. It was all in my head: “If it goes off, it’s on me.” There was a lot of weight on my head. I just wanted to get it over and done with.
It came out well, though.
It did, it did. Would any of them link up again? I don’t know. It was very tense and could have easily turned nasty. I understood how political drill was, but now I understand it a lot more. Do you know what the maddest thing is? It’s not even that personal. No one has personally done dirt to each other. It’s a postcode thing. If it was personal I’d understand, but then it becomes personal. Then they start sending for each other, dissing each other. That’s just the roads, though. It’s nothing new. UK rappers and MCs have been getting stabbed since way back! It’s always been like that, it’s just more in the public eye now and they’re making a bigger thing out of it.
You’ve been to prison a few times now. Do you regret any of that, or has it made you the man you are today?
You know what? Jail and beef on the streets brings out the real in you; it washes out all the shit, and all the people that ain’t fully with you. You need to go through that shit, but I definitely learnt my lesson. It’s made me step my game up. At the same time, when you’re in jail, you don’t care about money. You’re worried about your family and that’s it. It’s been a long road, with a lot of stress, but I’m finally there now.
That’s called growth.
It’s a good feeling! The other day I signed a big contract. I’m up in these offices with these labels, and it’s a whole new setting.
Management told me you’re currently working on a project.
Yeah, an EP.
When’s that dropping?
The first half of 2020, definitely.
They also said you’ve got a tune with Steel Banglez coming up. How was that working with him? He’s a real hit-maker these days.
Yeah, he’s a hit-maker bro. If he puts a beat in front of you, you need to be able to do that beat justice. You both have to be on your A-game. One can’t be doing all the work. You can’t have a hard beat and someone’s doing shit on it, and you can’t have someone killing a track and it’s a shit beat. Two people on their A-game, good at what they do, equals a banger. We definitely work well together. We’ve got something with Young T & Bugsey, something with Beatfreakz...
—oh you’ve been working, working.
And I’ve got my own solo tracks that are hits. I’ve mentioned it before, how it all started, the music thing. I had a set of decks and my brother would be DJing. He’d tell me to do the mic and bite other people’s lyrics [laughs]. From there I started writing. And then me and my brother, we both caught a case. I got not guilty and my brother got guilty and he got 8 years. That was another big inspiration that made me want to do well. I’m doing all this for my bro!
What’s he thinking of your success so far?
He’s happy, man. It’s mad, though, because not everyone’s happy. You’ve got friends changing, even family members changing. When you’re doing well on the roads, people are happy for you. But it’s like, fucking hell, I thought you’d be happy with this legitimate music thing. Friends you’ve grown up with and your own family—it’s horrible, bro.
It’s only gonna get worse, you know that right?
It’s an ugly game, but it’s beautiful.