What if grime, but soulful? This is the question answered by east London based producer KwolleM and his catalogue of smooth, laidback burners.
Popping up on the scene a half decade or so ago, the Newham native flew the flag for a genre that is most accurately described as ‘mellow grime’. Doing away with the industrial, warped production of early grime classics, the genre’s sister sound is warm, melodious and vividly rich.
Nostalgic-tinged remixes featuring acappella vocals from the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Skepta, AJ Tracey and Trim came first, on KwolleM’s 2015 release Mellow EP. Perhaps it’s the golden hour-esque production or the throwback grime vocals, but a tune like “Hood Antics” evokes, for me, the feeling of pedalling down a looooooooooong road somewhere on the suburban outskirts of London, seeing in the last of the summer sun, Rubicon in hand.
KwolleM’s dropped a few more remixes since then, including “Da Mellow”, a breezy but no less psychedelic remix of A$AP Rocky and Skepta’s “Praise The Lord”, released in 2019 via London based streetwear brand Places + Faces.
His latest project, c2c, is an eight-track long odyssey of life in and around grime’s east London birth place and beyond, feat vocals from east London legends Crazy Titch, Devlin and Roachee. Named after a train line which serves London and Essex, each track centres around a place, like West Ham or Stratford. The sound is bright and colourful, capturing the oft-not documented but very present radiance of each area. It’s a fruity, vivid ride.
Whack on your headphones and slam the link below to see how evocative it is.
VICE caught up with KwolleM to chat about mellow grime and c2c.
VICE: We spoke back in 2015 when you released your first tape the Mellow EP, which featured sampled vocals from the likes of Dizzee and Skepta and bits from new acts like Rayf and AJ Tracey. Was this one of the first examples of mellow grime or had there been other bits before, peppered throughout grime’s storied history? When do you reckon the genre kicked off?
KwolleM: Mellow grime how I make it? Prior to me, I'd never heard it. But mellow grime as a concept – the concept of mixing mellow sounds as opposed to super bass heavy or electronic – that would probably be Tinie Tempah "Wifey Riddim". It was typically wifey riddims, them ones about girls. A very specific type of beat, but it did sound very grime.
Yeah, I hear that. Back then you’d only hear the more soulful production on songs that were geared toward girls in the sense they were almost like love songs rather than classic, hard grime. What motivated you to pair grime bars with fluorescent beats?
Do you know what it is, before I even started doing grime I was making electronic music. Then when Soundcloud got super heavy and we started getting introduced to things like Soulection and the future bass style of music, I rolled with that. I changed my name to KwolleM, which is Mellow K backwards. The whole vibe was I was going to do mellow, but it was never specific to grime. At least at that stage anyway.
I think I must have released a Chief Keef remix or a Waka Flocka [Flame] remix or something, but super mellow. It wasn't until I made my first project – I must have thrown it on Bandcamp – and I made mellow remixes to acapellas I could find. When I got hold of, I think it was a Big H acapella, that was the stand-out track of the whole project. Instantly I was like: 'ok, this makes sense', people like it, it's British as well. Then, fortunately, one of my friends who heard it is family friends of members of Bloodline Family – so Big H, Meridian Dan, people like that – and he managed to get me some fresh acapellas. This was the time grime was making its way back for its second wave. It was good timing.
What have you been doing for the last few years? Jut to give our readers like some context.
I only started making music because when I got to uni my mum was like ‘cool, we're gonna buy you a laptop.’ I'm from the torrent generation so I was like ‘if I get a laptop, I want to stuff it with every application.’ I got [music production software] FL Studio. So I was doing that while I was doing my university degree. After finishing uni I worked at a few fashion brands and while doing that I got into DJing. That's when my relationship with Places + Faces started. I wasn't releasing much music. I did a 67 remix for the Places + Faces tape. Then the last thing I released was a Skepta and A$AP Rocky remix. But yeah – I've only made three songs in the last two years.
That's what I was wondering. How come you decided, like, "ok cool, let's come back with a full project in 2020’? Was there a change in circumstance?
I think it was late last year... Schlomo does these summer mixes where he does like 60 minutes of pure remixes. Then they create a visual for it. I wanted to do something similar, so I created a bunch of remixes. We ended up doing something for High Snobiety and it was like 20 minutes of brand new music. That spurred me on. My initial plan was to do one track, with Joe. It was called "Plaistow" and it's now called "West Ham". This must have been a month before Covid started. The concept for c2c came about in July. I said to Joe [James, who features on several tracks on the record], ‘listen, let's do one more song – we've got ‘Plaistow’, which is my hometown, let's do ‘Basildon’, which is your hometown, and release it as a single’. I sent him two instrumentals and he sent back two tracks. One was "Basildon" one was "SSS". So we decided to do a project.
This record is named after the c2c train line, which runs from Essex to London. Can you explain how that journey is rooted in the vibe of the record? What was the selection process for all the featured artists too?
The c2c is the link between Joe and I – me in London and him in Essex. It's significant because in my teens I was partying in Essex, going on that same train line getting drunk and what not. And it was the exact same for him. That was the initial vibe of calling the record c2c. So when it came to features, all the features had to make sense in terms of these people have to have some sort of relationship also to the song. It had to all fit the narrative.
For "SSSS", one of Crazy Titch's cousins sent me that and it fit the song perfectly. For "Barking and Dagenham" I was like, if I'm gonna get anybody, if it can be anyone, it has to be Devlin. He's the quintessential Dagenham rapper. Patterned that. Roachee on "West Ham" – he's a Roll Deep legend and he's from east London. The song, being based on Newham and that being the hub of grime initially, he had to be on there. Rafe had to be on it – he's family. That was a no-brainer. Then DC... we chose DC, because if I'm gonna do the concept of a train journey it makes sense there's a diversion.
(Editor’s note: DC features on the track “Woolwich Arsenal”, which is in south London compared to the other tracks named after east London spots).
Your music pays homage to grime’s early years by featuring legends from the east London side of the scene – this new record for example has a verse from Crazy Titch as well as Devlin. I clocked how one of your early press shots was outside the Welcome to Newham sign too. How much has the east end impacted your music?
For whatever reason everyone that’s born in Newham reps it to the tee. That being patriotic, I applied that to only really creating remixes or songs that are east London. Or London. Or the UK. It’s about keeping it British.
What’s the plan for the record’s release? I’d love to see a visual. I reckon you could do something really impactful and strong by shooting a vid in Newham.
The plan is to do a video for “West Ham”, but it depends. If people gravitate toward a specific song, I’d love to do one for that.