For the next few weeks, Noisey UK is running pieces about what 2016 holds for the UK music scene: which artists possess the power to make it tick, what scenes are approaching boiling point, and what issues we need to fix before we can move forward. You can find all the content so far, right here.
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As I look out at winter creeping over Croydon, I wonder how many of its residents are aware of the influence their neighborhood’s starting to have on rap music across the UK and the world. Swift, Sleeks, Littlez, Inch, Knine and Deepee, who together make up Section Boyz are part of a new generation of artists coming out of South London—a scene that’s beginning to rival the impact the grime movement in E3 and its surrounding postcodes made just over a decade ago.
Growing up on the same streets and in the same colleges as Krept and Konan, Stormzy, Bonkaz and Yungen, (within a stone’s throw of the Brit School, only without the vocational training or funding) Section Boyz’ sound sits somewhere between the ad-lib trap of Migos and Rae Sremmurd, the 16-bar rallies of early grime radio and the Southern-influenced road rap pioneered by Giggs and SN1, all filtered through the kaleidoscopic swagger of London Posse. What differentiates them, though, are the strange personalities in their disjointed, off-kilter and sometimes even child-like flows, which tread a thin line between laugh-out-loud hilarious and deeply ominous. Whether it’s bangers for the car, bangers for the headphones, or bangers for the rave, the South London crew are going to make you feel some sort of way.
I dare a man put a hand on my friend
You can get a blade if you wanna act brave
Still up in the ends, that’s south of the Thames
None of these niggas can surf on the wave
- Knine, “Trappin Ain’t Dead”
When I first meet the group toward the end of 2015, there's a palpable sense of excitement in light of their MOBO nomination for "Best Newcomer"—an award they’ll go on to win a week later. The MOBOs have grown some relevance again after some real wilderness years around the turn of the decade (Dappy covering The Killers, anyone?), and Section Boyz victory was testament. There’s a nice sense of continuity to their win too, with the same prize having gone to South Londoner’s Krept and Konan in 2013, and the "Best Grime Act" trophy to Stormzy the year after. These are artists Section Boyz call family, all getting into music in their early teens, rapping in the “playground, bus, house, anywhere,” says Sleeks
The idea of Section Boyz grew out of, “the same hunger, the same vision—we all wanted to make the same thing work,” as the rest of the artists in their area. The spirit of the group certainly feels organic, with all six members answering questions with no obvious ringleader, laughing and arguing like a group of mates on the way home from a 7/10 night out. They’re warm and charming, despite not always giving that much away, especially when I bring up former member Reeko’s departure (who left the group after the Sectionly mixtape in 2014), which elicits a curt “next question.” I ask about South London’s influence, highlighting how much Section Boyz and their contemporaries have achieved without record labels. “Good energy,” Deepee suggests. “Something in the water,” Inch smiles. “Hunger.”
If your line’s dead put your phone in the grave
I love the hood I’m like fuck the estate
That ain’t a skeng I’m like put that away
That girl ain’t peng she fucked the whole estate
- Swift, "Phone In The Grave"
With 2015’s Don’t Panic, the group succeeded in a task not many British rap albums manage—a body of work that was cohesive, consistent and enjoyable from beginning to end. As I stare through the broccoli (read: weed) haze at Knine’s mesmerizing swegway moves, I ask how they hear their own sound. “It’s a new kind of pattern. A new breed of music. Sectionism,” Deepee tells me. “We’re not grime but we’ve got grime tunes—we’ve got everything. We’re like a wavelength, we can go through every sort of genre.”
Some of their ad-libs (often bordering on sound effects) already feel iconic—sitting somewhere between Rick Ross, D Double E and Michael Winslow’s character in Police Academy. Distinctly British slang (“Peng peng peng”) sits comfortably alongside stuff borrowed straight from artists like 2 Chainz (“Skrr skrrrr”)—testament to the international cross pollination in post-broadband hip-hop. It’s fitting: much like your Odd Futures, ASAPs and Yung Leans, Section Boyz are an act who broke through the internet first, with radio playlists and sold out tours coming only after they’d already clocked up millions of YouTube hits. They’ve also done it completely DIY thus far, funding the recording and release of both mixtapes themselves—no mean feat. “We had to put money between all of us to go studio for hours and hours,” Sleeks explains, “and everyone’s arguing like, ‘Ah bruv, I put this in’ and all of that stuff—we’ve been through a lot, bruv.”
Two keys get a man robbed
Two keys get a man singed
Two piece, chips in a box
Movies, clips, man watch
- Deepee, "Lock Arff"
In the last six months Section have picked up some pretty big co-signs. Shortly after Skepta told Peter Rosenberg that they were the only thing he was listening to (during his tell-all Hot 97 interview), Drake started posting Section loving Instagram pictures. He went on to open the sixth OVO Apple Radio show with “Trapping Ain’t Dead,” just as everyone was tuning in for the premiere of What A Time To Be Alive. There’s rumors floating around of potential involvement from Champagne Papi on a bigger scale, but the boys bat off my enquiries (“I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about that you know,” says Swift). On the subject of big name hook ups though, are they going to fall into the quicksand of Americanising their sound to achieve Transatlantic radio success? For every Krept and Konan featuring Jeremih there’s a Chipmunk featuring Chris Brown. “Our music’s gonna stay UK. It won’t change, it won’t start sounding like this or that.” As someone who lives for an oblique Eastenders reference, I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief, though when I saw Rita Ora mouthing along incorrectly during their joint MOBO performance, I’m reminded that there are musical dangers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Hate when the food gets mad low
Gotta re-up, gotta get the bank rolls
I’ve seen breast and thighs like Nando’s
I’m old school like Kangol
- Sleeks, "Came Back (Bando)"
From faces getting chopped arff to the eternal call of the trap house, Section Boyz’ lyrics often deal in cartoon violence and local drug dealing braggadocio. Considering incidents like the murder of Konan’s (from Krept and Konan) stepfather in 2011, (which was purportedly linked to Konan’s former association with the Gypsy Hill based Gipset gang) or Giggs’ arrest without trial in February 2012 (before being acquitted on all charges six months later), it’s fair to ask if they are worried about any of their lyrical imagery appearing to promote so-called gang culture, in turn peaking the interest of the police. The Met’s unfair scapegoating of British rap music and use of (essentially racist) legislation to stifle its growth is something that is already well-documented.
“We never intend harm in our music. We don’t glorify, we’re telling a story” explains Swift. “We’re good people,” Inch interjects. “We ain’t getting in those sorts of predicaments.“ So you haven’t had to “tell a policeman ‘it’s only broccoli’ in real life yet?” I ask. “Not yet,” they laugh. It's an age old dilemma when it comes to any sort of rap music, but I feel the need to raise it: what about the way they portray women in their lyrics? Peng tings and trophies, who only really come up when they are being sent emojis, stripped down on command, or just generally objectified? This question takes them somewhat by surprise—they tell me they’ve never been asked about it before. Sleeks is the first to pipe up. “It’s always got a twist. For example, Swift says ‘Gal, give me that uh-hm, make her say ‘ah-ha’. It’s funny innit. Do you know what I mean? You know exactly what he’s saying but it’s a little twist, with a little cheekiness. It might be seen as graphic if you translated it literally, but it’s just supposed to be funny at the end of the day.”
“Everyone’s having sex anyway innit,” continues Littlez. “We’re all here ‘cos of sex.” I suppose I can’t argue with that specific scientific statement. We talk for a good ten minutes about how women are generally portrayed in rap, and they reason that it doesn’t seem to prevent female fans from coming to their shows. “We’ve got respect for women—you can put that.” Swift concludes. And what emoji is the best to send to a potential lover anyway? “The eyes,” Inch answers with authority. “It always starts with the eyes.”
Fatty on the phone, man say she wanna jook him
Promoter on the phone, man talking ‘bout a booking
Tryna stay quiet, but my gyal's cooking
Sideman get cut off for the looking
- Inch, "Who Needs A Hook?"
“What time off? I’m behind two years on sleep,” Sleeks tells me when I ask what they do in their spare time. “Inch goes partying by himself,” Swift laughs. “Man has to find him on Snapchat.” Any partying isn’t undeserved. With a mixtape in the album charts, a MOBO, new friends in high places, hooks blasting out of phones nationwide, and a headline show at KOKO in April, Section Boyz are making the biggest moves. Their UK tour next month is already sold out and they’re currently shutting down shows all over the EU, especially if their Instagrams are anything to go by.
Being on the frontline of their fair share of London shows over the last year, I do wonder what they think of the way the city is changing at the hands of the government and its corporate interests. “It’s getting better man,” says Inch. “It’s about your perspective.” Having got so used to the idea of the capital losing its edge, it’s refreshing to hear people being positive about the city, talking about how it continues to inspire them. “Everyday…This is where we’re from.” We laugh about what success is (“Happiness”/ “Good health”/ “J Lo”) and they tell me that they’re successful already. I’m inclined to agree. But when they enter the next phase, and money and fame start to play their part, will they still take inspiration from the same things that makes them so appealing, or will their perennially nocturnal CR4 lyricism no longer be able to honestly reflect the struggles they could be fast leaving behind? Like the old myth of the ravens and the Tower, would a South London without Section Boyz mean trapping really would be dead?
“Nah. It’ll never be dead, man,” Sleeks promises, interrupting my passively stoned thought process. “We’re always in the traps.“
It's not that deep, they can't compare to the depths
Section, we the best in the ends
I heard it's your girl, but she left with my friend
She came on a bus but she left in a Benz
-Littlez, "Not That Deep (Remix)"
You can find Fred on Twitter: @FredMacpherson