Music interview – Bugzy Malone: ‘Grime music kind of went away for a little bit but I didn’t stop – I’d found a medium in which I could express myself’

Bugzy Malone. Picture: Jordan Curtis Hughes
Bugzy Malone. Picture: Jordan Curtis Hughes
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Hot on the heels of a top 10 album, Bugzy Malone’s 13-date UK tour is said to be the largest ever undertaken by a British grime artist.

Its scope is a matter of evident satisfaction to the 27-year-old Mancunian, whose real name is Aaron Davis.

“Yeah, 100 per cent,” he agrees at the thought that he is perhaps blazing a trail for other British grime artists to follow.

He adds: “I think it’s good for grime and it kind of gives people hope, it allows people to believe in themselves.”

Malone’s debut album, B. Inspired, reached Number 6 in the UK album charts when it was released in August, cementing his status as one of this country’s foremost MCs.

But he’s actually been on the scene since 2010, releasing a string of mixtapes and EPs, notably King of The North, which was certified silver (for sales and streams of over 200,000) last year.

I was 16 years old and I was just off-track. I kind of came from there and I started training in a boxing gym where I learned discipline and I learned to stay out of trouble, to get rid of the frustration that I’d kind of built up.

Bugzy Malone

Malone says he’s been waiting until he had a body of work that he was happy with in a longer format.

“I just wanted to make sure that my best stuff was on there,” he says. “I put my blood, sweat and tears into the album. I made sure I gave it everything, so that this point I’m over the moon with the way it turned out.”

The album was preceded by the single Drama. It’s a track that he feels encapsulates a lot about where his life has gone and where he is now. “It’s quite an accurate representation of the past and where it’s gone,” he says. “In there I say I feel wanted like a young Pablo, and I’m talking about the amount of attention that the fame brought to the table, so yeah, Drama’s a good one.”

Malone spent time in prison in his teens, having been convicted of assault at a nightclub (a charge he denied). He also saw Manchester in what he has termed its “real gangster days”. He says he thinks the point where he realised he had got to make a change was when he was behind bars.

“I think it was jail, really,” he reflects. “I was 16 years old and I was just off-track. I kind of came from there and I started training in a boxing gym where I learned discipline and I learned to stay out of trouble, to get rid of the frustration that I’d kind of built up. I’d say that was the point where I realised I was messing up.”

Music began to play a part in his life during “the first wave of grime – when the Skeptas and the Wileys and stuff were doing their thing. I was just out on the streets and we started writing lyrics, so that was an interesting period.

“Grime music kind of went away for a little bit but I didn’t stop. I’d found a medium in which I could express myself so that was quite important too.”

Other songs on the album mention the rising prevalence of guns and machetes in British cities. Malone says he’s merely chronicling what he sees going on around him, but he also sees his own story as an exemplar to others.

“I mean I’m certainly documenting what I’ve experienced and what’s currently going on, whether I’m a voice or not I’m bot particularly sure but what I do know is that everything I do at this point is making an example for the younger ones coming up. To show where it is you can go in life if you focus on something – that’s more what I’m focused on, setting a good example.”

The song Ordinary People, featuring Malone’s fellow Mancunian JP Cooper, addresses Northernness. Malone admits feeling to some extent an outsider in the hitherto London-centred grime scene, “certainly in the beginning a little bit”. But, he says: “I don’t focus on all that, I don’t care. Artwork is a universal language and that’s why I’ve got fans in France, Australia and America. To be part of the grime scene, so to speak, is a bonus because of its momentum, there’s a lot of other talented artists creating a current which between us we can kind of flow with.

“But I’m not one of these people that likes to congregate, I find my own way in life anyway, so I don’t think I’d feel too bothered whether I’m isolated or not. I just focus on doing music.”

Coming from the North however does give a different perspective, he feels. “It gives me a USP. I don’t know, if I’d have come from the North and things weren’t going well then it would’ve worked against me; coming from the North and doing OK for myself just means that I’m unique, I’m one of a kind in a certain respect.”

Arguably the album’s most radio-friendly track, Run, includes guest vocals by Rag N Bone Man. “I approached him,” explains Malone. “I’m a massive fan of what he does. I’d written a chorus to the song, I knew it was a demo, it wasn’t the finished article, but I just thought his voice and the amount of soul that he brings to the table, his was probably the only British voice that was going to do a song like that justice.

“It was quite important to me to feature British talent on the album and people that I am a fan of.”

B. Inspired talks extensively about inspiration. Malone says his own inspirations when he was younger were family members. “And boxers as well – people like Muhammad Ali, I was big into football as kid too. I had an uncle that was involved in crime – not that it was the crime side that was an inspiration, I just think it was lifestyle and the fact of someone coming from nothing had landed themselves in what appeared to be a successful situation, I think that kind of inspired me to be somebody.”

Ultimately Malone hopes people will listen to his album with open ears. “I don’t think it’s up to me to tell people what they should be taking away from it, but listening to the life story of somebody that could’ve been in a very different situation and righting themselves, I think that is just testament to the fact that anything’s possible and that’s possibly the message I’d like people to take away: that no matter how colourful your past is, anything’s possible.”

Bugzy Malone plays at O2 Academy Leeds on October 25. www.facebook.com/thebugzymaloneshow