The young MC Bang On! may play dumb, but he's sharp as a tack.
His debut album may have slipped through the cracks when it was first released back in 2012, but there’s a lot of heavy noise coming from those cracks. Liverpudlian rapper Bang On! (née Elliott Egerton) created in his debut, (sic), some of the freshest and most formidable grime tracks put to tape. Critics zeroed in on his brassy MC persona: a young dubstepper who played dumb but was as sharp as a tack, spitting rippling flows of verbiage at breakneck speed. His beats and rhythms reflected a far more multi-tonal sound texture than his contemporaries and he managed to engage the listener with an infectious high octane energy, despite the lack of a true catchy hook. So his failure to obtain larger success is a bit mystifying. At turns mischievous, enigmatic and brazen, Bang On! signalled his arrival with “Hands High”, a garishly crisp, brine-soaked dubstep number that was featured on the Project X soundtrack. From there, he steadily worked at putting together tracks for what would become (sic), an album that fused together the elements of hip-hop, dubstep, electronica and punk.
(sic) rightly establishes Bang On! as a hip-hop contender. The rapper manages a balance in which he doesn’t cheat with paltry gimmicks and, at the same time, breaks a few rules here and there, all in the name of a corking tune. “Got It”, a cheeky slice of hip-hop straight out of the Bronx, is given a British makeover via a modish guitar-line; it lacks a hook but provides a blast of colour and energy by way of the rapper’s jackknife rhymes. The highly ironic and satirical “Your Gay”, exposes homophobia amongst the grime scene, putting case in point with the help of a punk-skronked groove. On “Munnys”, an obscene gush of electronic bass levels out the rhythm to a dirty, crushed groove. When the rapper hypes up the bass to aggro heights, as on the eerie, thuggish grind of “Hutzlin’” and the slow-mo explosion of the heavy, heavy “Fars Yer Whop”, he gives credence to the ghetto blaster as hip-hop’s principal instrument of delivery. In fact, by the MC’s own admission, the album was designed for the live crowds, his beats aimed squarely at the subwoofers of massive sound systems.
Currently, Bang On! has been laying low in places like France, recording with fellow French rapper Grems and generally working out his new musical direction. His most recent material is decidedly more relaxed and chilled, eschewing the brash, clattery raps for a more subdued and temperate delivery. “Buffy”, his latest track with Grems, demonstrates a suave humour neatly contained in the jittery grooves of some lushly quirked glitch-hop. It’s a mature production of sounds from a rapper finally making use of the full range of colours on his palette, and it promises a most interesting detour on his upcoming work.
PopMatters: Can you give me some details on your life before starting music? What were you up to until you began with music?
Bang On!: I started rapping when I was 9, when I first heard Dr. Dre 2001, so I wasn't up to much before then really to be honest, just living in Toxteth, Liverpool, going to school, playing out with me mates -- normal stuff.
How did you start in music? What kinds of people were you meeting when you began music and what were your first forays into the scene like?
I had been rapping for a few months with my brother and friends who lived in the same building as me when we heard about a big youth workshop thing in St George's Hall. We went down and when a fella called Tony Lawson asked if anyone could freestyle, I put up my hand, started freestyling and then he let us just go to the rap classes all week because we were being disruptive in the street dance classes and all that other stuff. We did a showcase at the end of the week, my first time performing live. From there, me and Tony kept in touch. I recorded my first songs that year with producers he introduced me to. The 'scene' was mainly clubs like The Zanzibar and The Magnet who would have national and internationally known DJs and MCs come into town. Tony, myself and other local acts would pretty much be the crowd warmers.
What kinds of themes does the album (sic) explore?
I made that album a little while ago now, so I'd say in hindsight it was an attempt to be as impactful as possible, a deliberate intention of sounding raw sonically to hopefully emulate this in terms of an emotive response. I wanted to make the raps as technically proficient as possible so even if you didn't like my artistic direction, you couldn't deny the skill and hard work on display. The album is really just a classic example of a young man talking about his environment, trials and tribulations in the way any debut hip hop album usually is and being honest in this portrayal.
You have described your music as "punk-donk-dub-hip-hop"; can you explain? What kinds of influences have gone into your music?
That was obviously taking the piss a bit because people need to pigeon-hole anything if they want to understand it and the extent of labelling and arguing that happens with so many different music genres (this isn't "real" hip hop, etc.). But basically these are the three main influences: it's young, angry and full of distortion like punk, bass heavy because I was just getting into dubstep around this time, and hip hop because that's its foundation. I was a hip-hop MC before I ever rapped on grime tempos. I like all sorts but, at my core, I will always be a bit of a hip-hop head because that's what raised me.
Grime is essentially a very British scene; a lot of times, people outside of the UK just don't get it. But you also explore a lot of other music like old-school hip-hop and Motown blues. What new angle do you think you have given the Grime scene with your album (sic) and its particular sound?
I wouldn't say I impacted the grime scene in any way; it's very different from what I'm doing. Everyone says they're different but I actually am. I'm completely independent of any scene and I've been lucky enough to have that luxury and still have people interested in what I'm doing. If you know grime, you know I'm not a grime MC, I'm more of a hip-hop MC but operating at a faster tempo, more like Twista or Bone Thugz or something in the rhyme schemes I use. I think it had the intended effect though; people who are into that sort of music just viewing it as a refreshing new take on something they're already familiar with, as it should do because I'm from a different part of the country from where grime was founded and most of its MCs come from, so that's only natural.
Much of the grime/dubstep scene originates out of London. You are from Liverpool which isn't usually regarded as a hotbed for the grime scene. What elements of your lifestyle in Liverpool found their way onto (sic), and how would you describe the hip-hop/grime scene coming out of Liverpool?
When anyone thinks of me I want them to think of someone who is strong minded and pig-headed who exists outside of the realms that peer pressure controls. So there is obviously some grime and hip hop scene in Liverpool but I'm not a part of it, no disrespect to any people that identify themselves as part of the scene; we're probably mates but, being honest, how many times a year do ya see me? When all those nights are happenin’, where am I? Elsewhere...
Those other places are what influenced the album, real life, not conversations with other artists. I feel like musicians get so caught up in competing with contemporaries that they forget the other 95% of people that they were once part of, who want to blast tunes and not be bored to death and told how wrong they are for not appreciating a certain key change. I want to be these people man, ‘cause that's real life to me. It's claustrophobic existing within a scene. The elements of my lifestyle demonstrated on (sic) would probably be petty crime, substance abuse, unemployment and a small amount of violence.
Listening to (sic), the one element that sets you apart from other grime MC artists is the bass. There is a lot of emphasis on the bottom end in your tracks.
Yes, it was intended more for live performance because I had got bored with performing most hip-hop songs in my catalogue and wanted something to get the crowd dancing or moshing more, so the general shift in my sound was birthed by this and heavy bass tunes will always come across powerful regardless of how bad the soundman is (unless he's truly inadequate). As a young gentleman growing up this was a natural progression as I grew old and secure enough to dance and not give a shit about what others thought of me, so it was just a new adventure for me and something that set me apart from others when I performed. Also, my somewhat shrill hyper tone deserved a contrasting soundbed.
Often record labels have a difficult time nurturing an artist through their formative years and don't always see the potential all the way through; what have your experiences on a label been like?
Exactly how I expected them to be. I'm a true G from the streets of inner city Liverpool, so I'm not sheltered from the true nature of existence they do their thing, I do mine. It's a battle like any relationship; the true battle is to pretend you're not battling. I will always respect anyone who takes a chance on a young lad from the background described instead of trying to hinder my pursuit of happiness and cash. There are many, many '90s rap records you can refer to for good advice on this matter; see GZA’s “Labels”.
Listening to your new material, there is a drastic change in sound and style. Firstly, a lot of the stuff you're doing now is smoother and warmer, as opposed to the brash, icy grooves on (sic). The new track with Grems is a revelation; your rapping is not as much in your face like it was on (sic), but a lot more understated and chilled, not exactly stepping-out bangers you were doing, but more home-listening. Can you talk about the new stuff you are exploring?
I think everything I do will be a change of style to be honest; like most other elements of my life, I change what I like very often so music is the same. My natural demeanour is probably like (sic): loud, abrasive... fast? I might release an album where I basically don't rap on it soon. With (sic) it needed to be instantly impactful. I have loads of different music. I'm just thinking of the best way to release it. You can find videos of me singing in fields with guitars and everything. I probably look as awkward in that setting as you would imagine but I don't care. I've had too many nervous breakdowns and nearly died too many times to be bothered about anything aside from my pursuit of freaking out squares, spreading love and subtly educating people in a backhanded way that doesn't seem patronizing, like blending broccoli and putting it in the gravy.
There is a strong visual component to your music; naturally, the music videos have a very brazen, flashy style, which I think relates much to your sense of humour. In fact, humour is an element that runs fairly deep in both the music and the videos. Often, there is a fine line between when you are being serious and when you are taking the piss. What are some of your thoughts on how you present your music?
I overthink it a lot, because everyone who meets me knows I'm the perfect mix of a proper cool arse dude and a nice guy who you would invite round for tea and feel safe with unattended in a conversation with your grandparents. However through the medium of a three minute promotional video constrained by time, budget and a host of other issues, this may not come across. This worries me because I would rather be hated for what I am rather than loved for what I'm not and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, I just try to have fun with it and be thankful that I have a legitimate excuse to run round acting like an idiot for a bit. I've embraced the importance of videos recently and have some great ideas for my next ones. At first I didn't want anyone to know my face and stuff for a variety of reasons, like Ghostface Killah, but now I'm outchea!
What new music are you currently writing and recording now?
I'm recording a lot and it's very eclectic in its influences. Again it doesn't fit in with any scene, movement or anything like that; it's just me making what I want to make. I'm singing more, trying to make interesting arrangements, trying to work with more live musicians to create a more ambitious soundscape. The last album was the opposite of easy listening -- hard listening, if you will. The new album is much more easy listening, although it still has lots of time to change and I'm still making big, loud records because I enjoy doing that. I think once my old album is fused with the new stuff, I'll have an excellent live set that I can work from both albums, which will take you on an hour-long emotional journey…or that's the hope anyway.