Tottenham has long been a breeding ground for gifted lyricists. Skepta, Chip and Wretch 32 are just a few examples of an OG generation of rhymers that broke through and made their mark in UK music with clever wordplay and layered raps.
More recently, however, a music collective hailing from the Broadwater Farm Estate, OFB (aka the Original Farm Boys), has taken the mantle and added their names to the North London borough’s storied history. The first OFB artist to cut through was Abra Cadabra: in 2016, his Krept & Konan-assisted “Robbery” remix went on to win a MOBO Award for Best Song, which set him up for even more greatness. Two years later, Headie One and RV stepped out with “Know Better”, their eerie—and controversial—anthem, and have since established themselves as top names in the UK drill scene. Now, however, there’s an even younger contingent of OFB who are staking their claim with their vibrant spin on the genre.
Bandokay and Double Lz, alongside incarcerated rapper SJ, dropped their debut tape, Frontstreet, in August 2019—headlined by underground smash-hits like “Ambush”—and have built up a cult-like following ever since. Commercial radio play, millions of YouTube views and healthy streaming numbers have followed courtesy of their energetic and unapologetic brand of drill, which sees the pair go back-to-back in effortless fashion.
The age-old debate of whether a rapper should stick to their core sound or incorporate other genres into their music is no more applicable than it is to the UK drill scene, but Bando and Lz have managed to stay true to their sound while dipping their toes into other pots. On “Magic”, their collab with production duo iLL BLU, they occupied a more radio-friendly sound but still came with a swagger that only comes from drillers. “BLM”, released as a tribute to Bando’s late father, Mark Duggan, shows a more vulnerable side, which they built upon with “The Process”. “Some things we don’t know yet/Dad died, had me scratching my head/I was only 11, outside trying to protest,” Bando raps on one of their deepest cuts to date.
When Frontstreet dropped two years ago, Bando and Lz were relative unknowns. But as they roll out its follow-up, Street Commandments, they’re now considered two of the UK’s most promising artists. We caught up with duo, over Zoom, to discuss their journey thus far.
“As we’ve gradually gone on and made more tunes, everyone can see the progress and see how we’re getting more character to us.”—Double Lz
COMPLEX: I’ve been watching you guys put the work in these past couple of years, so it’s good to finally be speaking with you. How did OFB initially come together as a music collective?
Double Lz: There’s always been a music vibe to our estate. As the years have gone on, we’ve all just carried it on. That’s how me and Bando got together—we just said, “You know what? We can really do something here, still.”
When did you notice your music was starting to make serious noise out there?
Double Lz: When we got our first milli! “Bad B On The Nizz” got to a million views in, like, a week. “Ambush”, that was our anthem—that’s the song that made us and let us know we’re official and doing something right.
Why do you think “Ambush” took off the way it did?
Double Lz: Free my bro SJ, innit. He was something different in this ting… It was all of us on that tune, don’t get it twisted, but do you see how he kicked it off? It had to be a banger. That had to be the anthem—no ifs or butts! Even before the song was released, we said: “If this one don’t go off, then I don’t know for this ting.” But it went off and followed the plan.
How did it feel when your music videos—including the one for “Ambush”—and your whole YouTube channel got taken down and censored?
Double Lz: In certain moments, we can’t really argue with them. Certain things we used to put out there, some of that was a bit explicit for YouTube. But there’s other people doing the same exact thing. Every time we were releasing, they were giving some random excuses, like certain little bars and things like that. They were blocking the age of viewers and them things there, but you just gotta maintain what you’re doing and carry on.
When your work gets taken down, how long does it take to get the views back once it’s re-uploaded?
Double Lz: “Ambush” got taken down three different times. And each time, we had to start from zero views. And each time, we hit a milli before it got taken down again. Like I said, “Ambush” was probably our quickest tune to hit one million views. In two and a half days, it hit a milli.
Let’s talk about another one of your hits, “BLM”. It was so refreshing to hear you two and Abra Cadabra talk from the heart about such a real topic. How did the track come together?
Bandokay: We dropped that around the time of George Floyd’s death, and we were coming up to Black History Month. Our manager said that we should pay respect to my dad, but not only him, all the other people that died from police brutality and just express our feelings on a song. Then, one day in the studio, Abz just put down the hook and me and Lz finished it off.
Bandokay, how did the death of your father, Mark Duggan, impact your upbringing?
Bandokay: Man was young at the time, but it definitely affected me. It was like ten years ago, so I can’t really remember how I coped with things, if that makes sense? I can’t just tell you, “this day, I was like this”, or, “this day, I was like that.” But I wasn’t a happy kid at the time.
9 years ago today, Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in Tottenham, North London. Rest in peace 🕊️🖤— Complex UK (@complex_uk) August 4, 2020
It’s time for Britain to own up to its own police brutality: https://t.co/r9XkIfTWO0 pic.twitter.com/QXRjfnHVhE
Were there any support systems to help you cope with his passing? Was there a particular place or person to help guide you through that time?
Bandokay: Nah. Unless it was family, no one else reached out to help. It’s not like I needed help, but unless it was my uncle or my nan or my mum or friends back when I was a little yute, no one came. There was no one really there. But I ain’t complaining.
How have your lives and surroundings changed since you’ve become charting rappers earning a pretty penny off of your music?
Double Lz: We’re doing something constructive right now, so the people around us are always pushing us to do more, to do better. We’re blessed, bro. That’s all I can really say.
How would you describe your impact on the UK drill scene?
Bandokay: I think we’ve inspired more yutes, and even our bredrins have confidence in themselves as young yutes to make music—whether it’s drill or something else. We get messages saying we’ve inspired people to do X, Y and Z. I think it’s because we’re young and people aren’t really used to seeing people so young doing what people much older than us are doing.
Double Lz: Every time someone asks us our age and we tell them, the faces we get, it’s like, “Are you shocked to hear our age or something?” [Laughs] I’m 18 and Bando’s 19, so we get it.
Are you still independent?
Bandokay: Yeah, we’re independent.
Have you had a lot of interest from major labels?
Bandokay: Of course! But we just haven’t been interested, really.
What would a label have to do to get you to sign on the dotted line?
Bandokay: It’s not always the price, but obviously the price has got to be right. It has to be a price that reflects what me and Lz are really worth. And the contract has to be something that we can negotiate on. Most man are just signing for any p, but me and Lz, if we’re gonna sign, it’s not just gonna be for money—it’ll be for the bigger picture. But right now, if we can do things independently, then why not?
It seems like you know exactly what you want out of this business, and at ages 18 and 19, that’s pretty impressive.
Bandokay: Yeah, we know what we want out of the game. And the masters! How long will we not own our masters for if we sign to a major? That all comes into play when you sign on the dotted line.
Double Lz: The way things are going, I don’t think me and Bando are the ones to be told to be doing this or that every two seconds. Right now, we don’t really sit right with that. If it’s something that benefits us and we can clearly see that, we’re not hard-headed, we’re gonna do it. But to a certain extent. You see in this music ting? Me and Bando know we’re popping. It’s a dead-on fact: we know we’re popping. We know we’re doing this, and we know what we’re worth.
“A lot of other rappers have professional managers and this and that, but we’ve just come up trying to get our family members out of the hood as well, by working with us. If they can do the job, then why not?”—Bandokay
Which rappers did you listen to and were inspired by growing up?
Double Lz: When I first started music, I would say Giggs, and then it switched to American artists like Rondo and the Chicago drill scene.
Bandokay: When I was growing up, who really inspired me was my dad and Lz’s bigger bro. As a young kid, that’s what made me want to do music. And I’d probably say Lil Durk has had an influence too.
You’re managed by Bandokay’s uncle, right?
Double Lz: He’s basically my uncle, too.
Bandokay: We’ve just come up from scratch. A lot of other rappers have professional managers and this and that, but we’ve just come up trying to get our family members out of the hood as well, by working with us. If they can do the job, then why not?
Double Lz: Managers, rappers—we can only get better at what we do. We ain’t gonna go downhill. It can only get better, as long as we maintain it.
In the ten years that I’ve been writing about rap music, I’ve seen a lot of artists come and go.
Double Lz: For real. I’ve seen quite a few rappers out there like that. I’m not a hater; if you’re doing your ting, you’re doing your ting and I’m not somebody to put down anybody else’s ting. I’m doing my thing, you’re doing your thing. But privately, I’m allowed to think what I’m allowed to think. If I want to put it out there, I’ll put it out there. There’s certain rappers out there where music isn’t really for them. Certain people put it on because they’ve seen other people succeed. Me and Bando, we’ve naturally always wanted to do music—it’s been something that we’ve always been doing. It’s not like we’ve seen this person or that person do it then say, “Yeah, come we do that!” It’s not a follow fashion ting. Big up my big bro, Cash, because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be rapping right now. He brought me on to the first-ever track I ever made, the first proper tune where we did a video.
What was the very first tune you and Bando dropped?
Double Lz: It didn’t come out but it was made in ‘017 times. But I wouldn’t say that was our first proper tune. As we’ve gradually gone on and made more tunes, everyone can see the progress and see how we’re getting more character to us. Before, I wouldn’t even move in a video. If you look at my older videos, people just know me for being stiff [laughs]. If you look at it now, people see us loosening up.
What did you learn from putting your 2019 project, Frontstreet, together that you took into creating your latest drop, Street Commandments?
Bandokay: When we released it, things weren’t really as serious as we’re taking it now. We’re not on a play-play ting now. I don’t know how to explain it, but this time round, stuff is just a lot more serious.
We definitely see growth in your artistry on Street Commandments—from the beat selection to the content and even the way you flow on the beats. For the people that haven’t heard it yet, what can they expect?
Bandokay: A bit of everything, you know…
Double Lz: That’s all we’re gonna put out there from now on: a bit of everything.
Bandokay: Expect the unexpected! We’ve got Loski and Mowgli on the tracklist.
Double Lz: Yeah, we just kept it humble with the features.
Bandokay: The rest is just OFB, our bredrins. We didn’t feel there was a need to reach out to bare rappers for this one. Maybe the next one.
When you see other OFB family members like Abra Cadabra win MOBOs and Headie One go No. 1 with his album, EDNA, how does that make you feel?
Bandokay: I don’t know what the word is, but I’m just proud of them. I know exactly what you’re trying to say, bro.
Does it make it seem like it’s possible to achieve bigger things with the music you’re making?
Bandokay: Of course! It gives us a way bigger push and how people look at us. Abz and H, I’m mad happy for them. But trust me: me and Lz are on our way.