Grime legend Lethal Bizzle is currently doing his thing on a European arena tour with US hip hop superstar 50 Cent.
Bizzle took time out to chat to Music Republic Magazine editor Simon Redley about his lengthy career as a pioneer of the Grime movement, his role as a mentor to the younger artists coming in to the scene and how f***** off he is of British politicians telling porkies. He pulls no punches…
Lethal Bizzle is a Grime artist. His given name is Maxwell Owusu Ansah. A London boy, from Walthamstow of Ghanaian heritage. He emerged in 2002 as a grime MC as part of More Fire Crew, with their grime single “Oi!” charting in the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart.
His debut solo single “Pow” two years later, smacked people between the eyes and did the impossible: charting at number 11 – despite being banned from radio airplay and clubs.
He has dropped a slew of acclaimed singles and three studio albums: “Against All Oddz”, in 2005 and “Back to Bizznizz” two years later, then “Go Hard” in 2009. The compilation “Best Of Bizzle” came out in 2011.
He started his own very successful clothing label in 2012, with his cousin and footballer Emmanuel Frimpong, featuring his catchphrase “Dench”. He is also a pretty decent actor and has appeared in films and on TV.
Now, the intro to this feature is deliberately downplaying the man’s achievements and status. To open up with a bland statement saying “Bizzle is a Grime artist” is a bit like saying Lionel Messi is a footballer or Usain Bolt can run a bit!
Why? Because Bizzle, as he is known by his fans, is a down-to-earth, pretty chilled and humble guy when you get to chat to him. You’ll not see him flashing his cash on YouTube videos, showing off a Rolex collection or flash motors (he does drive a Rolls Royce…) or slagging off other artists.
Boasting about his wealth and his success just ain’t his thing. And he urges other Grime artists to follow suit and not to diss others on social media through jealousy. To stick together and help each other, to be stronger as a group and to sustain a long-term career just like he has.
I caught up with Bizzle on his mobile recently, to plug his guest spot on the 50 Cent tour to mark 15 years since the US rapper’s debut album smashed its way into the global collective consciousness: “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ ” – which was produced by Dr Dre and Eminem, has sold more than 10 million copies and gone 10 times Platinum.
US superstar actor and rapper Curtis Jackson III, aka 50 Cent, plays three UK arenas in Birmingham, London and Manchester before a date in Dublin, on a much-anticipated European tour this month (September). His original band G-Unit, have reformed especially for the tour.
Bizzle got the call out of the blue to open for one of his all-time musical heroes and was thrilled. A big influence on his early music, in particular on “Pow” in 2004, which was Bizzle’s break-through track.
That must have been a huge day when you got that call? “100% man. It was well unexpected as well. He was definitely a big influence on my music, earlier on. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is definitely one of the best hip hop albums ever. It takes me back, every time I think of 50.
“Just being on a council estate, where I just used to hang out, and 50 came out and he spoke a voice (sic) that we could all relate to. It gave me some determination, because it was at a time where we were getting shut down a lot by the police; the post garage era with So Solid. 50 came out so raw and a lot of my earlier stuff was kind of on a similar tip.
“It was talking about our surroundings, and it just inspired me to be myself and say, you know what; why should I tone down my content? This is what I am living, what I go through, then shortly after I made ‘Pow’. That album definitely inspired me to do that”.
Indeed. They tell you to write about what you know, to keep it real, yeah? “100%. I feel the most authentic artists talk about real life experiences, and as time has gone on, things have changed dramatically for me. I’m not in the hood as much, but I still go there. I don’t live there anymore and my life has totally changed around
“My music is a lot different now. I do not really talk about the stuff I used to, because I don’t live that life no more. But I still keep it real to myself and talk about where I am now, and that really connects with people. Also, there’s a journey involved; if you followed me back then and you follow my success now, and see the progression of where I’ve come from”.
Bizzle, who will celebrate his 34th birthday while on the road with 50 Cent, had a very brief encounter with the US star some years ago in London, but he has a friend who works for 50 Cent in the US as his right-hand man, and he put the word in to get him the invite for the tour.
Bizzle promises some old and new skool in his set for the tour, and some surprises. Some of his “cool friends” he has collaborated with over the years, may well pop up on the dates, but he wants to keep that info’ on the down low for now.
Birmingham’s Lady Leshurr features on Bizzle’s latest single, “Don’t Believe You”, (which is a cracking track), and they really pop in the promo video. Bizzle stamping on photos of Theresa May and Boris Johnson while sat in a soft top Rolls Royce.
More on that later and his forthright political views. But fans at the Arena Birmingham show next week, on Tuesday 18th September, may not be too surprised if Lady L. drops in to join in the fun.
“I feel that for a lot of people who listened to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ around that time…. my music around then was a bit different and so I feel I definitely need to throw in the classics. Pow, some More Fire Crew stuff, some of my stuff from the first album, and throw in the nu school stuff.
“I am quite looking forward to it because I am gonna probably perform some songs I haven’t performed for so long. A lot of the kids I perform to at festivals and my shows, I am capturing a new generation; but when I perform songs like ‘Oi!’, they don’t know what the fuck it is. So, it will be nice to perform it and if they know Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, they should definitely know about songs like that”.
We get on to the new single and that video. “I really wanted to capture the earlier days of just being in a car park, in your car, playing the music, getting bars. But obviously the progression…I’ve got a Rolls Royce now, but I didn’t want to put my one in there, so we put a different colour one in there.
“It had the nostalgic elements of one take, none of this fancy shit – just get the camera out, spit some bars and yeah; I thought we executed it quite well. Lady Leshurr. For me, she is one of the best British MCs, and she really kills it. I’ve been a fan of hers for so long”.
The aggressive stomping on the faces of Boris and Theresa in the video looks pretty convincing to me. Not just acting? “Yeah man, I mean, I just kind of had enough. Been sitting here quietly in the background not really talking too much.
“In terms of the Boris and May thing, I just think they are a bunch of liars. This whole Brexit thing, Grenfell; everything they say, I just think they just lie all the time. I wanted to just throw them in there and let people know I am backing the cause of the Grenfell incident….and the way they handled Brexit was terrible.
I have literally just had enough
“Cameron was the first one, and now May…I have literally just had enough man. I just wanted to express my feelings, and I feel like a lot of people from my community agree with what I am trying to say”.
How does he feel about Bojo’s recent comments about the Burka? “It’s disgraceful, man. He’s a powerful person and condemning a religion and people’s way of life. In condemning it, you are almost putting them in danger, and I think it is very inconsiderate. Everybody should respect each other’s faith. It is going to affect people’s everyday lives and he don’t give a shit about that, with his nice house in London and his security.
“He never knows what a normal day in London really is. He just doesn’t give a fuck and what he said was not right at all”.
So is Bizzle a Corbynista then? “I am on the fence with Corbyn. I like what he stands for. I am actually a Labour voter, but the thing with Corbyn; he definitely has the right ideas, but I feel his approach needs to be a bit more aggressive.
“He’s a bit too laid back in terms of how to really try and win the next election. I like what he stands for, but in terms of if you want to be a Prime Minister, there are so many other things that come into it.
“He needs to gain the people’s trust. He does seem like the better candidate, but he seems a little bit of a push over. In the Brexit thing, I think he could have done a lot more and he kind of went a bit missing…Hiding. That could have been one of the biggest campaigns, and he could have really made a big mark that this is all lies and a façade.
“But he went quiet and didn’t really go for it, and he should have. Corbyn should have been counteracting the Tories lies and let us know the facts. It worries me about his character; if he is strong enough to lead, but I do like him”
Bizzle is a born leader, it seems. Check his Twitter and social media feeds and most of his message is of solidarity and staying humble. Not bragging about meaningless shit on the net, and starting beefs with other artists because they might be doing better than you.
He will give advice when asked, and he is there for all his fellow Grimies (is that a word? It is now? Copyright Simon Redley!) if, as and when they want guidance from an old hand at this business they call music, and how to make it into an earner. But his main thing is, how to stay in the game for the long haul.
“Coming from the beginning of this whole urban movement and just seeing how things are changing, I wanted to express my opinion on a few things. To let people know that Yo; a lot of things you are doing, there’s not a lot of substance, no longevity in it, you know. All the money you’ve got and all the chains and jewellery you are buying… Listen, I know the new generation’s having fun right now and they’re in the spotlight, long may it continue.
“But my thing is; I’ve been in the game 17 years, and I didn’t get here by buying loads of watches and showing off my money to everyone – showing how much money I’ve got. I just want them to take some heed from that and think about the bigger picture. Do you still want to be living this life you are living, in 10 years’ time?
“So, I just want to put a point across, that I know this life you are trying to show on social media; you are just exaggerating as much as possible, and I don’t believe it, and I know what’s really going on”.
Bizzle comes across as a very sensible, grounded geezer and for me, he’d make a great community leader and voice of the people. How about ‘UK Grime Star Stands For Parliament’ as a headline one day? Future PM? Stranger things have happened, eh Mr Trump!
Back to the music, simple question: what is Grime? “It started off being a music genre born out of East London, on the pirate radio scene. MCs freestyling over 140 BPM instrumentals. It went on from there, with actual songs.
“I feel like it has changed into a lifestyle, a culture, the way we dress, the way we talk. Grime is the representation of UK street culture. Our version of the US hip hop. It speaks to the kids, it speaks to people in the deprived areas that really have a voice. It’s a genre that has changed my life and changed so many other people’s lives”.
Bizzle names the main Grime players for me….“Joint number one, Skepta and Stormzy. The beautiful thing of the Stormzy story is, he is almost like a product of our success. A product of the environment of us grafting from nothing. Going through the doors, trying to open the doors to create opportunities for the next generation.
“He’s come through and we can tell he grew up listening to us, through his music. Even some of the beats he actually raps on, some people would never know, some of them are over 10 years old. Like ‘Shut Up’, one of his biggest records. That instrumental; that beat is about 15 or 16 years old. I used to freestyle on that beat on Pirate radio.
“For him to even know that; Stormzy’s now 25, so he’d be about 11 or something like that when that beat was out. It’s a proud moment to see someone who grew up on us and pays homage, who chose this as the path he wants to go down”.
You say “us”. Who is us? “Myself, Skepta, Wiley, Kano, Dizzee Rascal, So Solid. The pioneers of the early Grime scene, the guys doing it before it was even accepted. Before the media coverage, when we were just in the underground on radio, doing underground clubs, and it was all about having yourself on pirate radio and that’s the way we promoted ourselves.
“You can tell he is a part of that culture. A kid in the bedroom listening to us on pirate radio in the evenings and recording it on tape, buying the underground DVDs and buying the clothing. You can tell he invested himself in the culture and for me, the proud moment feels like all our hard work we did, is actually paying off for the next generation”.
Who is the Godfather of Grime?
There’s been a long running public beef between Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, over who is the rightful owner of the title, Godfather of Grime. So, let’s ask Bizzle; Wiley or Dizzee? “Oh, Wiley is the Godfather. Wiley taught us all how we can make this a career. Definitely taught me. At first it was just a bit of fun and it was never really meant to be a job, because at the time there was not much money in it.
“It was just about something to do on the weekends, while still doing an everyday job. I was at college at the time. But Wiley showed me this could be a career, this could be a business and I am pretty sure he inspired everyone else. He was the one person who always stuck to his guns when people writ (sic) us off, when people were making different genres of music.
“He made a few different kinds of record, but always stuck to the foundation and he always said: ‘We are in this together, we can’t stop making this music. We always need to make sure that Grime is the mother, and we’ll always go back to her’. He definitely was a big influence on everyone and he’s 100% the Godfather, definitely”.
So, if he is the Godfather, what are you Bizzle? Nephew, cousin, Uncle, brother? I think I am one of the Kings. I don’t really like calling myself a King, but in terms of my journey and what I’ve contributed to the culture, some people call me King, some call me legend.
“I don’t really like to focus too much on that. All I want to do is make sure that what I am doing is contributing, helping the genre prosper and hopefully it opens doors for the next generation. I’ve always been about helping and trying to make sure the next person coming through, can come in and have a good career, tour, come off the streets. That’s my role, I dunno what you’d actually class that as, but that’s what my role has always been. Hence why I do collaborations a lot. I feel like that’s definitely a strength”.
Sounds to me like Mr Bizzle is a mentor. Taking the young Grime artists under his wing, bringing them on and keeping them focused on the music and the culture, and urging them to drop the social media bullshit of boasting and bragging about their cash and status.
Reading his lengthy Twitter feed you can get a real tone of the man. His consistent message seems to be; ‘Come on, let’s all stick together, let’s not fight, stop being jealous of each other, we are all in it together’. Is that about right? “Yeah man. I’ve grown up now, and I have the advantage of having an early career. Everyone makes their mistakes and the best lesson you can have is your own one.
“I learned a lot at an early age and I’ve managed to sustain my career at a level, and I am still around now. I think it is important that I spread my message. I didn’t have anyone when I was younger, and I wish I had someone who could talk to me when I was coming up. To try and guide me.
“On social media, I always try and give out positivity and words of wisdom – Positivity is always the way forward”.
He is on record as saying the problem with a lot of artists in UK music is they’re scared of their peers becoming bigger than them. “That mindset will only hold you back”. He pleads: “Don’t be a selfish artist. It won’t end well. Especially in the UK. Share your powers and info with each other, because the people will rather see 10 poppin’ artists together, rather than just one”.
So, is he really saying: ‘It’s not all about you, let’s all be in this together and stop being a dickhead?’ “Basically, yes? 100%, 100%. Because, I’ve seen it too many times. It is all good winning all the time, but if you’re not wining with your peers or winning with your friends, then it doesn’t feel the same, and you also make yourself vulnerable.
“You are gonna alienate yourself. When you are young and get signed, you might be thinking; ‘Oh my God, I am finally on the way now’. Sometimes you can feel like the natural thing is to be, well, yeah; I’m the man now. Ha ha to you lot. Catch me if you can type attitude.
“I can see why people make that mistake, but that will not last long and it’s proven. People need to understand that someone else’s success in the same genre is going to help you go through. I 100% know More Fire Crew got an album deal because So Solid was doing so well and they were like, Yo; we need another So Solid. So we got signed.
“It’s like a domino effect, so everybody’s success will benefit everybody else’s. I think a lot more people need to understand that. Don’t just think it is about yourself. Obviously, you want to be the best you can be and that’s the competitiveness of anything.
“But please know that without a team, your journey might be cut short. I just want to instil that in people’s minds; if they want to be here for a long time. If not, then they can be selfish and once people get bored of them, they will just go to the next one. But if you are working with loads of different people who are on the same path, it keeps them (the fans) engaged. It keeps them interested and it keeps it fresh”.
Bizzle has said: “I know my immediate culture doesn’t give me the credit I deserve. My blue print is a winning one. Stormzy’s the only one who used it correctly, and guess what, he is king now”. So, what does he mean by stating that Stormzy is the only one “using it correctly?”
“Stormzy is a very intelligent guy. I brought him on tour four or five years ago. A lot of my fans didn’t know who he was, and he was the hottest kid on the street at the time, in terms of the Grime culture.
“I remember he had a conversation with me when the tour finished, and he was like, you know what; I need to go back to the drawing board. Because in a certain sector I am popular, but there’s a whole different other world out there who don’t know who I am. I’ve come out on stage and seen the whole crowd wearing Dench tee shirts; this is crazy.
“He’s always called me and asked me for advice, and I think the biggest thing he followed, was engaging with the fans. With social media you can just talk direct, they can message you. Social media has been a game changer for me. In terms of just having that dialogue, seeing what’s working, independence and the blueprint of how I came through. He’s studied it and he was like, you know what, this is how I want to do it.
“I want to go down the fan engagement route and having a good relationship with my fanbase, starting a label independently, doing a clothing line. I had my word ‘Dench’, he made his word ‘Murky’ popular. He clocked whatever you do around the brand, is always going to lead back to the source. Which is the person that’s promoting it: Stormzy and Bizzle. He studied that superbly well.
“I feel he has surpassed everybody and the country has taken him on like a national treasure, and he’s definitely gone from strength to strength and adapted to every situation.From when he went on tour with me and saw how I operate my business, and the little things I do which has huge impact, he took that onboard and used it in his game plan. He told me he had to go back to the drawing board and re-write everything; saying this is not working, we need to figure this out and he did. Now he’s absolutely smashing it”.
It’s quite shameful in my view
So with Stormzy, Skepta, Dizzee, Wiley and Bizzle all having big chart success, has grime gone too mainstream and lost some of its street cred? It was born underground and stayed under the radar, but when you have the late night BBC high-brow shows debating it, and the likes of the Guardian and the tabloids writing about Grime artists, it’s made it kind of pop…..i.e. popular. Is it too mainstream now?
“That’s a tricky one, because all we do is make music. I’ve got to be honest, I feel a lot of the media are just following fashion. We’ve been making Grime since 2000, we have these spells where big songs cross over, but when the Americans really started jumping on it – and it’s quite shameful in my view – all of a sudden there was a resurgence of interest from the media.
“They were like: Ahh, grime is back. The funny thing is, Kanye and Drake, they have been watching us from afar, and obviously America is the biggest music market in the world.They have so much power, dominance and visibility.
“The big American stars are saying, hold on a minute, you’ve got these guys in the UK who are fucking killing it. Especially with Kanye, when he done (sic) the Brits thing, he understands how people think, especially the media, and he was inspired by what we were doing”.
Kanye West appeared on the Brits stage live on TV in 2015, debuting his latest track “All Day”, backed by more than three dozen guys in black tracksuits and hoodies. Among them were British Grime MCs Skepta, Jammer, Shorty, Krept and Konan, Novelist, Stormzy and Fekky.
“After that performance, the media was all back on Grime, Oh my God, yeah. This Grime thing is amazing. And Skepta was getting nominations for ‘new act’. I used to go on radio with Skepta in 2001….
“I just think it’s a real fickle place and all we can do is make music, but in terms of what we are making, a lot of the ground-breaking hard grime songs and the music we make; if it gets popular, that’s obviously out of our control.
“Obviously we want people to like our music, but it depends in terms of what people think Grime is, because there’s a bit of confusion. People think J Hus is Grime, and he’s not Grime. There’s a lot of chart success happening right now, and people are classing it as Grime, and it’s a different sound. Not Grime. There’s confusion as to what the media terms as Grime.
“I think the mainstream right now is the Afro Swing; The J Hus’, Yxng Bane (pronounced Young Bane), Not3s…. at the forefront in terms of the UK street music. But it’s not Grime, and I think the media are being a bit lazy labelling it all as Grime, because they think all urban culture is Grime”.
The British Grime movement has an audience worldwide, as proven by Bizzle and some of his UK Grime pals getting to tour Australia and New Zealand in October, for shows that feature Bizzle, Wiley, P Money, Big Shaq, Devlin, DJ Target and Rude Kid.
As we speak, Bizzle gets another call come in and it’s time to wrap up this chat. Let’s do it like this then… Sum up Lethal Bizzle in one sentence. “Oh wow, fucking hell mate. How would I sum up Lethal Bizzle? Errrr…empowering. I’d say in power with empowering, that’s what I’d say. He gets a second wind on that question and stalls the new call. “Yeah, the new me…you grow, you change: Empowering spokesperson for the new generation”.
I remark that his humble, giving nature isn’t what one would perhaps expect from a young guy driving a Rolls Royce, touring the world and filling venues, selling records and boss of his own clothing line. He agrees: “I am now more humble than ever, because I have achieved a lot of what I wanted to
“When I got there, it made me release, no matter how much money you’ve got or how much success you have; you are still a human being and it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. I just try to almost prepare people, because everyone’s got dreams and aspirations to get somewhere, but I don’t think it should change you as a person.
“I think you should try and remain as humble as possible. We are all human beings; we are just doing a job and some people’s jobs are more successful than others. But as a human, we are all on the same level and I just try to keep that mentality”.
But when all is said and done, Bizzle does have one really cool claim to fame that no other Grime artist or US rap superstar can match…
He’s spit bars with Dame Judy Dench! I kid you not…Google it. Man, I’d love her to turn out to join Bizzle and 50 at one of these UK shows! Now that would be lethal.
- 50 Cent, G Unit & Lethal Bizzle UK Tour Dates 2018:
18th Sept: Arena Birmingham
20th Sept: 02 London
21st Sept: Manchester Arena
By Simon Redley