Friday signalled another symbolic moment in the UK drill scene, as OFB members Bandokay and Double Lz unveiled a mesmerising collab with fellow UK rapper Abra Cadabra. Titled “BLM”, after the Black Lives Matter movement, the reflective meditation spotlights an issue close to the three rappers' hearts: that the UK judicial system doesn’t seem to give a damn. It’s extremely potent.
Instead of the warped, 808 bass line of quintessential UK drill, each verse is brushed with the piano keys from Coldplay’s smash hit “Trouble”. It’s an unexpected touch and the effect is pensive and sincere, as Bandokay and Double Lz do what they do best: delivering carefully-crafted verses on issues such as police brutality, legal injustice, racial stereotyping and mental health.
Beginning with a mellow hook in Abra Cadabra’s smooth baritone before referencing officers putting knees on necks, the track then zeroes in on each artist’s experience within an unjust system.
“The fеds keep killing my people, they’rе not good peeps, they’re evil / And it hurts when they take one of ours, 'til we take one of them, when the gang’s all equal,” Bandokay raps on his verse, before nodding toward the prosecution of fellow OFB member SJ in January 2020 (“21 years got slapped to his chest”, despite what Bandokay claims to be “no evidence”) and Bandokay’s father Mark Duggan, who was shot and killed by police in Tottenham in 2011.
“Yo, I just want P like Diddy, police on my back cah I look like my Pops,” he says, “hold up, stop, 'cause of that, why you want me locked?”
The “BLM” cover art is a tribute to Duggan, featuring a young Bandokay embracing his father. Then there’s the video – monochromatic visuals shot by Nathan James Tettey (better known for Dave’s “Black” and “18Hunna” by Headie One) that brings in footage from this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in London.
The YouTube description also reads “this record is a tribute to not only Mark Duggan, but also Black lives that have been lost to police brutality”. It’s a song of precise, lived detail that zooms out on the bigger picture.
VICE caught up with the young trio to talk about the meaning behind the track, upcoming projects, censorship from police, and what it's like navigating the music industry as young Black men from claustrophobic inner-city estates.
VICE: What do you hope the new track achieves?
Abra Cadabra: Whatever it can do. I’m just trying to give back to the community and the song has got a big message behind it. Like you see people talking about gang violence and police brutality but you can’t put them in the same category, it just doesn’t make sense. Police have a duty to protect the public.
Bandokay, your verse makes a distinction between police killing civilians and civilians killing civilians. How would you respond to those who talk about Black-on-Black crime?
Bandokay: When the police kill someone, it affects everyone. Crime has always been happening from way before I was born. It’s not only Black people.
Abra: You got cartels and the mafia – there’s gang violence way worse than our thing. There are mad people [out there] that are cutting off heads – that’s a whole other level of gang violence but you don’t see them bringing that up in the media.
Bando: Probably because they're not Black.
Abra: That’s the thing. If it was man now running around doing that, it would be heavily promoted in the media. I always see mad videos, but if it’s not a Black person I only see it on Snapchat or something, but if it’s a Black person you see it everywhere, really and truly. So, when we’re talking about police brutality and man are saying “Aah Black people are killing each other”, bruv all races kill each other. Our ting is just more visible and, in the media, they focus on our ting more. But yeah, just because there is Black-on-Black crime doesn’t mean we don’t feel the effects of police brutality.
How do you guys feel about drill rappers like Dutchavelli and Digga D being threatened with recall for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Bando: I don’t rate all of that, what the police have been doing.
Why do you think police have been targeting drill rappers specifically even though there were thousands of people in the streets?
Bando: Maybe it's because of the things we rap about.
Double Lz: At the same time, we’re just rapping about our reality.
Bando: They’re just trying to control the masses.
Abra: Police always do that stuff.
Bando: Whether we like it or not.
Abra Cadabra, on the track you use the visceral metaphor of a “knee on the neck”. What were you trying to convey with that?
Abra: The message is very blatant innit. You don’t really have to go into it cos we see it all the time with the police.
There was an article that resurfaced recently from UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying that he is a grime fan and understands the importance of the UK urban scene. What do you think of that?
Abra: It's a little bit of hope innit. The fact that someone from over there can chat like that. It’s mad. You don’t normally hear them speaking like that; normally they’re just taking our shit down.
How do you think the popularity of UK drill has changed people's perception of the genre over the past few years?
Lz: Obviously, I reckon since we started making music there's a lot more people making music. Some of them got their influence from us or someone before us. It’s nice to see the whole scene grow.
You guys are the second artists ever to be cleared for a Coldplay sample, how did that come about?
Abra: That was down to the producer N2theA.
Bando: It means a lot. Second clearing ever apart from Drake.
What does OFB mean to you [Editor’s note: OFB refers to Original Farm Boys – a rap collective from the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London, whose members include Headie One and RV, as well as Bandokay and Double Lz]?
Abra: OF is family innit, blood type of thing. It's a way out. What do you lot think?
Bando: Same type of thing still.
Lz: It’s a brotherly thing still. We are all one.
I guess being together and having others around you helped a lot.
Lz: Obviously, we’re all doing our own thing. Basically, everyone on the [Broadwater Farm] block is a rapper – well not everyone, but the majority of the people. It’s nice that everyone is doing their thing.
Abra: Also the reality of bringing in everyone from the area is more of a reality now.
Bando: We’re doing a movement as well. Positive things always happen from a movement. Black young boys sticking together – you can see the whole group doing music together and the brand is becoming national.
Bando and Lz you dropped your debut tape Frontstreet last year and ever since then fans have been eagerly anticipating a new project. Is there anything in the works?
Lz: Yeah, we have a tape coming still.
Bando: In fact, we just finished it.
What can fans expect?
Bando: A mixture of everything in one.
Bando: What features, Lz, do you want to reveal?
Lz: Loski, Abra, and there’s a couple more still coming in due time.
Lz you have a bar in the “BLM” track where you say “lil bros listen when I'm talking”. How’s it been like becoming almost a role model to young people?
Lz: Obviously that was towards my little brothers that I've got around me. When I’m saying something, they listen, so it’s all positive.
Do you feel any pressure being a role model?
Lz: Yeah, I do, bear in mind that I’m young myself so you don’t really realise it as much.
How was it like getting success in the music industry at such a young age?
Bando: Obviously we’re just getting to understand the game more and more as we go along. Since we started it’s been good, it’s nothing that will stop us.
Abra: It feels cold still. It’s a cold job to have still [laughs]. Certi, but what I would say yeah, is that I wouldn’t tell a little yute to look up to me as a role model. Be for your own role model, because everyone has their own journey in life.
Bando: Yeah, but we always tell the little ones stay in school.
Bando and Lz, on the track you touch on SJ’s imprisonment. How has that affected you guys?
Lz: It’s made us want to push the OFB sound further.
Bando: 100 percent.
Why do you think it’s so difficult for men, especially Black men to discuss mental health?
Bando: Cos of the crime and jail, they’re not really getting the help they need.
Abra: Do you know what I think as well, men look at mental health as just running around and screaming and that. Mental health is like depression and that innit, but in the Black community mental health is seen more as someone who you can visually see as mad. So, you don’t really take things like PTSD.
Why do you think that is?
Abra: I dunno. Street shit innit. If you're from the streets you don’t let them things affect you. But it powers up and sometimes it can break you.
Do you think music is a way to release or express your pains?
Abra: Yeah. For us, it’s a release. Everyone has their own ways of expressing themselves. I’m not putting out music instructing people what to do, I'm just telling you how my life goes. Sometimes it might sound like I'm glorifying certain stuff but I'm telling stories. Some stories are sad, some stories sound lively, I might amp it up but it’s still a sound story if you look at the background of it. It might sound like a lively beat but the real meaning behind it is very gloomy and gruesome- that's where we come from. Don’t think I'm just dropping music, jumping up and down and thinking I just love this stuff. I find a way to make it look calm but there’s always deeper messages behind it.
How has COVID affected you guys this year music-wise?
Bando: It’s stopped us doing bare shows, going abroad.
Abra: Do you know what’s mad though? Police on our music is worse than COVID.
Bando: Hmm yeah, just put it like that. Police are ten times worse than COVID.
Abra: Ten times worse than COVID so we were having our headline shows locked off. They even took down that “On Deck” tune.
Really, why did it get taken down?
Abra: Police are ten times worse than COVID.
Touching on drill videos getting taken down, shows being cancelled and drill injunctions… How do want the essence of “BLM” to be applied to the music industry?
Abra: Just allow the music. The music is not the reason the crime rate is high. Time ago gun crime was way higher than it is now.
Bando: Way before drill music came out.
Abra: Remember we’re all street kids. We never grew up in the streets because of music. There were no lyrics that made man think, ‘yeah, I'm gonna be in the streets.’
Bando: Yeah, we just grew up into it.
Abra: Allow the music. Music is the solution, to be honest. Things would be way worse without the music.
Looking back, how effective do you think the Black Lives Matter movement was?
Abra: Obviously, everything takes time. Even now there has not been an immediate effect with [Black Lives Matter], like there is more awareness, but that’s the only thing that is changing. You never know what can happen, you just got to keep pushing.
Bando: This track is going to send out a good message. Trust me.