UK rap and grime are not one and the same. Though they operate in very similar spaces, the two British genres are distinctly different. UK drill, the offspring of Chicago drill and London road rap, is arguably the closest thing there is to grime—from styles and flows to beat patterns—but even then it has its own, very unique stable.
So many lazy, uncultured hacks would have you believe it but not every black British artist that rhymes is a grime MC. Cardi B, a world-famous rapper living in the United States, was recently labelled a grime artist by The Evening Standard, which just goes to show there’s a way to go yet when it comes to black representation in mainstream media. Black music is running the world right now so that extra bit of care needs to be taken at all costs. We’re big on correct terms and labels at Complex UK; it’s something we pride ourselves on when representing the culture and giving it the respect it deserves. But today is different, and for good reason.
I first came across BackRoad Gee, a rapper from East London, four months ago via the song “Party Popper”—which sonically meshed everything that makes drill and grime uniquely great. Spitting alongside fellow rhymers Ambush and Pa Salieu, BRG’s energy stole the show—an energy I’d only ever seen before in grime MCs. And this was further confirmed upon hearing his Mukta vs Mukta EP; produced mostly by Finn Wigan, across seven tracks BRG dances over the riddims like an MC at Eskimo Dance gearing up for a reload. BackRoad Gee is not a grime artist, this is something he makes clear, but his latest offering is undoubtedly one of the best grime projects of the year.
Catching up with him over the phone, BRG tells me he had just left a funeral. I offer to do the interview another time, but—sounding upbeat—he replies: “Nah, I’m good to go, bro.” And we jump right into it.
“I want the people to have fun with my music.”
COMPLEX: BackRoad Gee! Firstly, what’s the story behind your rap alias? It’s self-explanatory to me, but give us a breakdown anyway.
BackRoad Gee: My good friends gave me the name BRG, which obviously stands for BackRoad Gee. I don’t really like being on the main road so the mandem used to call me BackRoad because I used to operate on the back roads [laughs]. So that’s how that came about and it just stuck with me.
You just released your new project, Mukta vs Mukta. Congrats on that. From the title and the cover art, it looks like you’re battling with your inner self—walk me through the creative process.
Basically, Mukta vs Mukta, the whole concept, well, you got a bit of it right there: me battling against myself. Literally, the tracks on the tape are fighting each other. It’s all a madness! It’s all Mukta! So now, when you’re listening to the whole tape, I always tell people, “Please take extra precaution when you’re driving. Keep your seatbelt on. Wear that stuff, because it gets hectic!” I want the people to have fun with my music. The bars and all that, yeah: it’s there. It’s all a chapter, and we’re growing as we go... I’ve got plenty more for the people, though, and I know not everyone’s gonna like everything I put out, but I cater to everyone. That’s what people have to understand.
When I first heard you on “Party Popper”, you gave me an early grime vibe: rapid-fire, punchy flows, and it also comes out in your cadence. And on top of that, the beat is half-grime, half-drill. Has anyone told you that you remind them of a grime MC before?
Yeah, 100%. I hear it here and there. Obviously, what we’re doing is not grime, but we’ve got a fusion of everything going on.
You’re still young, 23, so you probably didn’t grow up on grime like I did. But have you come across any MCs from that scene that you thought were dope?
Grime was everything to me, bro! I was there for that little period. Growing up, that transition from grime into road rap when Giggs came through, I was there for that. I was into them Dot Rotten beats, I grew up on Ghetts, D Double E, all them lot. I grew up on grime! That’s what my uncles used to play. I was growing up around my uncles, so that’s what I listened to for a good majority of my life.
Finn Wigan produced most of Mukta vs Mukta, which, again, has a heavy grime influence running throughout. How did you guys initially connect?
Finn, my fam-a-lee! He used to work in one of my manager’s friends’ studio. He used to be an engineer there so when I started working with my manager, we hooked up. Then Finn used to send me beats, but it wasn’t really my type of thing, until the day we actually sat down in a session and he was like, “What do you like? What if I do this?” And then boom! The sound of “Party Popper”.
You had a lot of drill tracks on your debut project, 2019’s Mukta Wit Reason. Why did you decide to switch it up for this latest set?
You know what it is? I went to jail and I ended up making just one lyric in my cell. Then when I came out, I put that on a drill beat and it sounded wavey, but when I met up with my manager and my bredrin, my manager heard the song and he was like, “Brudda, what is this? This is something else. When you get out of jail, we need more of this stuff because the other stuff’s gonna fly over everyone’s head right now. So bring back this ting.” Two days after I came back, I had “I’m Free Part 1 & 2”.
When did you get released?
Late last year.
Obviously, when you’re in the penhouse, you have a lot of time to think and reason with yourself. What was going through your mind when you were in there, and how did you come to the realisation that you wanted to do music and do it seriously?
Bro, you know what? I didn’t actually think to myself I’m going to take music seriously when I was in there, but I would spit to the mandem and they would tell me I’ve got to do it. I was just thinking to myself, ‘I wanna come out of jail and not sell drugs no more.’ But I came out and fell back into that trap. Then my guy took me away from it and brought me to my manager and, boom, bow bow, look where we are now.
Your “my fam-a-lee” ad-lib is one of the best I’ve heard in a minute. From the outset, people might think you’re just talking about your blood family, but in some bars you talk about your friends being that for you too. How important is it, especially as someone coming up in the game, to have people around that you can trust?
It’s very hard to find some real, genuine people to be around and have around you for the journey of growth. I’m lucky, bro. I’m blessed! I’ve got some very genuine people around me that love man and understand what we’re trying to do.
You grew up in East London, right? How would you say your ends have impacted you as a young black man?
Yeah, I was born in Homerton. I grew up in Plaistow...
—real grime ends! [Laughs]
Yeah, bro! Come on! I used to get on the 262 and look out the bus and see Ghetts and Griminal just chilling. I grew up there, but I actually grew up all over London, but that’s where I originally come from. If I wasn’t from there I wouldn’t be where I am today. But London, in general, has impacted me a lot. I love London, I love my city, but I’m an African boy so I’m more in touch with my back-home culture than I am with stuff over here. There’s stuff I’m totally oblivious to around here sometimes.
Your family’s from the Congo—have you visited there yet?
No, I haven’t been blessed enough to touch down in the Motherland yet. But you know what? Soon!
How have you found being in the music industry so far? It’s only been a short while, but you’ve already made a huge impact... Come across any haters in the scene yet?
Nah, man. That’s all long, bro! I’ve had so much love. I love the way everyone’s supported man genuinely; it’s nothing forced, and I love that. There’s no reason to hate man at all.
What are BackRoad Gee’s life goals and aspirations?
I want to conquer the world! That’s what I want to do. I want to conquer the world and fully take over. This is more than music for me; I’m trying to change my life—change everyone’s life! I’m trying to be a good influence on everyone… Not even an influence, because I don't wanna be no role model. Just hear my music and feel good! I just want everyone to be happy.