When Central Cee strolled into UK drill in 2020, he threw two tattooed fingers toward the genre’s stereotypical aloofness and walked in with his gold teeth grinning. Labelling himself as “the one who’s got the party turnt” on his breakout single “Day In The Life”, the west Londoner popped up with the same hyperactive energy you might have seen at a Friday night rave in the Before Times.
Bubbly and often cheeky, his punchy cadence and witty one-liners radiate a mischievous energy that comes across as more playful and party focused than his peers. “Molly” – the follow up to “Day In the Life” – dropped in July 2020 and its video featured phone shot footage of hundreds of teens at a block party in Shepherds Bush, shouting the lyrics and bouncing up and down to the hit single.
Since then views have come thick and fast for the 22 year-old MC and on “Pinging” – a track from last year’s debut EP Commitment Issues – he boasted about turning down “six figures” for a record deal. Still, in spite of all the attention, Cench is determined to let fans know he’s only just getting started.
The release of 14-track EP Wild West last week showcases Central Cee’s evolution from cocky upstart to bonafide rap star. The cheeky persona is still on display, but things feel less juvenile. With R’n’Drill instrumentals on “Hate It or Love It” and a mature approach to storytelling on tracks like “Ruby” (as well as a smartly placed sample of Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice”), Cench enters the next stage of his career with an army of party-starters under his belt.
Off the back of that release and Cench’s general rise, VICE caught up with the young star for our Behind the Bally column to chat about growing up in west London, dead trims and post-lockdown hopes. Like always, we asked if he could bless us with a freestyle – catch that below, then the interview below that.
VICE: You called your debut EP Wild West. What was it like growing up in west London?
Central Cee: Growing up in west London. I mean it was wild, that’s the short and sweet answer. But you see west London yeah... Why I rep my area so hard is because west London is different from other areas – it’s so unique. Not many rappers in London come from where I come from so I think it’s important that I embrace it. You’ll find the [musical] history of other areas of London on the internet but not that much on west London.
Did you like school?
I was cool in school you know. I was kind of naughty though, I mean the teachers weren’t fucking with me but I slid through.
Were you chatty?
Nah definitely not chatty – I kept myself to myself. I would just lose my temper here and there.
In your single “Commitment Issues”, you said you don’t believe in love. Is that really true?
Yeah I don’t believe in love. I think love is a facade you know, but I think that’s a conversation for another day because I’ll be talking for time about that. I couldn’t put it in a sentence.
The song gets into what you would do for someone you’re with. If it’s not love then what is it?
Okay, that might be love [laughs]. I don’t know.
Is it possible you believe in love even a little bit?
Not in the way people make love out to be. I have my own definition of what I believe love is. I’ll get back to you on that.
I get the sense you’re not very emotional. What are your outlets when you’re not feeling yourself?
Only music you know. My friend’s at the back trying to answer for me. But it’s mostly music yeah.
You go out of your way to clarify you don’t do fraud quite often. Prior to music what did you do to make money?
Just odd jobs, you know. Pharmaceuticals [laughs]. Yeah, an apprenticeship in pharmaceuticals.
This is what’s going in the interview so is that your final answer?
Okay… I had a few odd jobs. [I was a] Dog walker.
Is that true?
Nah, I’m joking. I worked in a shoe shop one time, that was my first legitimate job. I held it down for like three weeks.
I didn’t realise how much they were paying me. I asked them what the pay was and I just lost my mind.
You corn man for using Snapchat to move girls on “The Bag”. Which social media apps do you use the most?
[Laughs] I wasn't grilling people for using Snapchat, I use Snapchat myself, but not to move girls. I use Instagram the most. I’m active on the gram. Tell them to follow me up!
You’ve previously said your dad inspired your decision to go into music. What genres did you grow up on?
I grew up on a bit of everything you know. Rap music, reggae music, dancehall music.
Who were your favourite artists?
I didn’t have a favourite artist like that. I don’t have that. I never listened to anyone religiously. Unfortunately, I never had the facilities to listen to something all the time. The first time I was able to listen to music on my own time was on the radio, and even that wasn’t on my own time, it was just whatever played. The first time I started listening to and downloading music I was like 16, and by then I was making it.
Tracks like “Hate It Or Love It” and “Tension” lyrically follow the style of UK drill but melodically mimic R&B. What do you think about the emergence of the R’n’Drill genre?
I like the sound of it still. I feel like that’s what “Commitment Issues” is like – a couple people in the comments were saying it’s like R’N’Drill. I’ve seen those types of beats on YouTube. It’s not easy to do but if you get it right that’s a good song for sure.
What’s the worst trim you’ve ever had?
I could never go back to short hair, I always need long hair. I’ve been bald before – my dad cut all my hair off.
Nah nah not shiny head but really low, like 0.5, so it might as well have been. It’s something I’d never go back to. It doesn’t work for my head shape.
“I got suburban children using our language” are the opening lyrics on “Gangbiz”. Do you find the love of drill from those in the suburbs disingenuous?
I think it’s genuine. I like the love that they show. I couldn’t say why they love it though. I wish I knew.
You also say “they want to ban it, they don’t understand it”. What are your thoughts on the censorship of drill music?
I think drill music is just like any other music. You’re expressing yourself, and from what I’ve heard of, no other genre has ever faced these bans – music videos being taken down and whatnot. I don’t think that’s fair.
What is your star sign?
Gemini. We’re two faced, apparently.
What do you think about that?
I don’t know what they mean by that – maybe a split personality. I don’t know.
How do you think the government has handled COVID?
I wish I knew more about politics. I couldn’t really speak on that. I don’t pay enough attention to say what could’ve been done better.
Do you believe that lockdown will truly end by June 21st?
You know what. At the beginning of lockdown, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it was going to last. I was saying to everyone like ‘yo, this isn’t real, we’re not going to actually go into lockdown’, this and that. I was being optimistic. Now, I’ve lost hope, I’m pessimistic. I don’t know what to expect. Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. I don’t know if it will end. If it does, I'll be happy, I'll be surprised. That’s the way I'm setting up my mind, so if it does end I’ll be excited.