RV is one of a handful of artists who can legitimately claim to have carried UK drill into the mainstream without watering down its street-centred, cruddy content.
The north London spitter is probably best known for connecting with OFB stablemate Headie One for two volumes of the legendary Drillers and Trappers series in 2017 and 2019. Check his ice-cold verse on notorious single “Know Better”: featuring super-localised bars about doing dirt on the other side — “Get ‘round there and try burst man (boom)” — before grabbing a munch in enemy territory — “Blue Nile or I hit Kervans (everywhere)”, its outrageously audacious energy sums up RV’s give-no-fucks approach and has been spun over 10 million times on YouTube. First though – here’s some key backstory.
Eagle-eyed (or old) listeners might have spotted him as a teenage road rap specialist way back in 2010. Operating under the name Young RV, his distinctive lisping cadence and killer punchlines (“Even Superman dies in the end / I don’t street fight, I’m not Ryu and Ken”) began to create a buzz, before an extended stint on the wing halted his progress from 2012 onwards.
When RV returned to music in 2016, he jumped on the drill wave that had swept northwards across the river from the blocks of south London. Early cuts like “Virus” and “25 Bells” paired uncompromising gunman chat, trap talk and disdain for the opps with funereal keys and pulsing 808s. It proved to be a potent formula.
With the transition from road to music well underway now, and his third solo tape due to land soon, RV is beginning to step out of his comfort zone. Latest single “Moonwalk Slide” sheds the brooding menace of those early cuts for something guaranteed to lock off any lockdown-loosening shubz, with an infectious hook perfect for chanting loudly with your day ones between blasts of backrolled spliffs and big gulps of tonic wine. It’s chart ready, mosh-pit inducing drill, but the smoky bars he’s built his name on remain. You get the sense he’s ready to take his career to the next level.
VICE caught up with him for our UK drill freestyle and interview series, Behind the Bally. Watch the freestyle below, then catch the interview after.
VICE: Do you remember the first drill song you heard?
RV: The first song I heard that could be classified as drill would be Chief Keef, “Don’t Like”.
What was your reaction to it?
I heard it in 2012, when I was in Feltham. I liked the song, but I didn’t know about their drill movement over there in Chicago. I just reacted to the energy. Chief Keef’s ting is separate, still.
What was school like for you?
My mum didn’t want me to go to any schools in the local area, she always tried to get me into the best schools and that. So I felt out of place. It was cool, I’ve always been intelligent and academic naturally. But sometimes I’m my own worst enemy, so I was bunking, misbehaving and getting suspended. All that was messing up my educational progress. Secondary school, I got bumped. I ended up going to a boys school. That wasn’t part of my plans.
Yeah, that’s a bit long init.
I was unaware of what was going on until it was too late. I didn't get into the school that I applied for, so a letter came to my house saying I have to choose between these schools in the local area, which were supposedly ghetto schools, and my mum wasn’t having it. She did her own ting and appealed for me to get into the next school. I turned up and there were no girls. I thought maybe today’s the boys’ induction day and next week there’d be girls. But next week didn't come, and there were never any girls.
Was there a girls’ school nearby though?
Yeah there were a couple still, but on a day-to-day basis that’s no consolation. I’ve heard other people’s school stories and that, but I can’t relate. My ting was a lot different.
Do you remember your first studio session?
Like way back in the day, like grime days when I must’ve been 12, I used to make music. Then I stopped, and jumped on UK rap around 2010, when I was 16. I remember for my birthday one year my dad bought me a mic and he had some old mixing desk. I managed to set up a little pattern in my room from young. My friends used to come round and we’d record there. Thinking back, the first studio I went to was in somebody’s basement. It was Random Impulse. I’m not even sure if he makes music anymore, or if he changed his name. But yeah, his studio in Finsbury Park was the first proper studio I went to.
And you were spinning grime then?
Yeah it was grime then, this was Channel U days.
Your lyrics are often centered on putting in work on the roads, but have you ever had a “legit” line of work?
Yeah, by force, but I took a lot from it. When I first come out of jail in 2015, my probation was like, “you have to get a job or sign on, or you're in trouble”. My chest wouldn't allow me to do the signing on ting. I was looking for a job which was suitable for me. But then I went to probation one time and they offered me a job. Because I was unemployed, I couldn't refuse – I had to take what they gave man. It was working in a shop in Stratford Westfield.
That job was mad. I’m on probation. They’re portraying me as this serious gang member, but they got me working in one of the baitest places. It wasn’t adding up. Either they’re trying to set me up, or do defamation of character because I’m not who they were trying to make me out to be. Every day I’m going to work thinking today’s the day I’m gonna see someone, something mad’s gonna happen and I’m gonna end up back in jail. But that was when I learned about taxes and all those things too.
So did that lead you back into doing music?
When I first came out of jail, I wasn't making any music because I’d just done a long stretch. I was trying to get my life on track and whatnot. When I started again, around 2017, it was more like a hobby. I was doing personal training at the time. But then the music started picking up.
Do you remember what you bought with your first music cheque?
I can’t disclose that information. If you listen to my music and take in my lyrics, you’ll be able to gather that for yourself.
Have you ever cheated on your barber?
Yeah I have, twice. The first time was my old barber. It was New Year’s Eve, and I said to myself I can’t go into the new year without a fresh haircut because that’s setting myself up for failure for the rest of the year. But my barber was full. I’m talking like five or six people in the queue in front of me. I ain’t got time to wait. So I was going around Tottenham trying to find a barber that didn’t have people waiting. I found one, I think it was Old Boys. See that haircut, I didn’t want the new year to start, it was so mad. I was so angry at that barber, I wanted to go back and turn the shop upside down.
The moral of the story is you shouldn’t cheat on your barber.
But I'd never cheat on my barber intentionally. If I need to be somewhere at 12, that means being at the barber at 11 in order to be on time. And if he can't do 11, my hand is forced.
What’s the best thing a fan has ever done for you?
Got a tattoo. He got a balaclava with RV written on the forehead of the balaclava on his arm.
A portrait with the full face and everything would be a bit mad, though.
I’m coming for that one, I’m gonna request it. I’ll say, “who wants to get a tattoo of RV?” And I’m gonna pay for it myself. That’s on my list for 2021.
Has a drill track ever dropped and when you heard it, you wished you jumped on the beat yourself?
Yeah, it’s a mad story. You see Pop Smoke, “Dior”. 808Melo sent me that beat before he sent it to Pop Smoke but I didn’t see the email. I didn’t even open the email. So when that song come out, I put up a tweet asking why he’s sending all the good beats to America and not giving them to UK artists. He hit me back like, “yo, check your emails”. That’s my beat story. It’ll haunt me forever but the song’s a banger, I can’t complain.
Tell me about a happy memory from your childhood.
I was playing football. I scored. I pinged it, and it hit the post. I started celebrating, running around, arms out and everything. Next thing you know, I turn around and the game’s still going on. It didn’t go in. I was just celebrating by myself. Every time I think about that it makes me laugh.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I do a lot of driving because I moved out of London, and I’m always driving back and forth for work. Most of the time it’s just background music, I’m not actually taking in the music. More time it’s the Atlanta rappers, Future, Young Thug, Gunna and Lil Baby. But the artist I’m listening to properly right now is Pooh Shiesty. He’s doing American drill. I heard him on a song with Lil Durk and since then I’ve been listening.
You dropped the bally for the “Why Always Me?” video in 2019. What impact has that had on your career since?
It’s definitely made me more marketable. That was one of the main reasons I did it. I was wearing a proper balaclava, like what people use when they’re coming to rob a bank. I feel like there's a difference between wearing a mask, like a Scream mask or something, and wearing a balaclava. I'm this big guy, wearing a balaclava talking about violence. It was good for the streets and the fans. But in terms of progression for my career, taking it off was a good move.
Talk me through your tape that’s landing soon, because the vibe on “Moonwalk Slide” was jumpy, chart-ready drill in my opinion. Can we expect more of that?
I'm definitely stepping out of my comfort zone and also exploring a lot more within drill. Before, I felt like all the beats I was getting sent were dark and violent. Automatically when I'm playing a beat like that, my thought process and the lyrics that I'm writing have a certain nature to them. For this one I've managed to work with different producers and do different kinds of sessions. There’s one track – I’m not gonna call it a love song – it’s a song for the girls, but it’s still drill.
I saw there were some issues with the video on YouTube. Was it taken down for a while?
To this day I have no idea. Everything that’s been said was just speculation, but I haven’t received a comment from YouTube about it.
More generally, how much have the authorities interfered with your career?
Until 2019, there was a lot of interference going on. That’s when I was still on license and probation. I had to show them my lyrics before I put out music and all of that. When that situation ended, things for me personally eased up. But there’s still interference from the authorities towards people that I work with, which affects me in other ways. For example, there’s a cameraman who’s been contacted and told he’s not allowed to film with anyone from OFB. I’ve hit him up to shoot a video, because we worked together before, and he was like, “nah, I can’t even do that”.
The OFB roster is super stacked. If you man went Power League to play five-a-side, who are you bringing and who’s getting left behind on the block?
Headie has to get left behind. You see Headie and the football ting, nah, tired. He could maybe play goalie, at a stretch. Abz can kick ball. I would’ve taken SJ if he was available, baller. Double Lz can kick ball. I’d chuck Bradz in goal. Man would take up half the five-a-side goal.
Did you use to kick ball properly? I spotted the left foot technique when you and Headie did that thing with Ian Wright a while back.
Yeah, I used to play. My ting was John RV Riise. You see the left foot that broke a man’s shin, that’s me. He was my guy.
What position did you play?
I used to play left back or left midfield. The reason football didn’t work out for me is that I wanted to play on the left, but every time I got scouted it was to play centre back, man saying, “don’t cross the halfway line, head the ball”. I wanted to be up there, forget the centre back ting.
What have you missed doing most during lockdown?
Being able to sit down in a restaurant and eat food with somebody. Like, I’m going to restaurants and getting a takeaway, click and collect, and then I’m eating in my car. The other day I had a craving for [Mayfair restaurant] Novikov, got some and then sat and ate it in my car. Mad.
How have you coped with lockdown?
This lockdown ting, I’m ready for it to be done but I’ve been in jail, so I can definitely ride it.
Where’s the best place to get food in Tottenham?
For me personally, if you’re talking chicken and chips, I’m gonna say Chick-King. Caribbean, it’s probably Brown Eagle.
How do you think the government has handled the coronavirus situation?
They’ve let us down, one hundred percent. I’m seeing videos of legit parties and raves in other countries, because when COVID started they locked down everything and patterned up. The government left it too late, and now everyone’s fucked.
I’ve just become a dad, and I know you’re a dad too. What are your top tips for new fathers?
The main ones are being patient, and knowing that children are very impressionable. Certain times I’ll go to my son as a joke, “yo, go punch granddad”. I’ve said it meaning to be funny, but I’ve realised he’s learning these behaviours. You have to be aware of the things that you say and the things that you do, because they end up copying you.
Has becoming a dad impacted your writing at all, or is that separate from dad life?
I keep it separate. I feel like my writing has changed anyway, through progression in my career and changes in my life. I haven’t consciously thought, “I need to change my lyrics because I’m a dad now”, but my life has changed because I’m a dad, so my music’s naturally changed and the content has naturally changed.