Music

Introducing rhythm nation

Meet the new Black British Music Artist mining their heritage, and thier experience of life in the UK, to create a soundtrack for our times.

D-Block Europe

D-Block Europe’s sprawling discography is, at times, a vivid soundtrack to south London’s darker corners, as Young Adz and Dirtbike LB float over hypnotic trap instrumentals, illuminating the allures and dangers of life out on the road.

‘Growing up in south London,’ LB says, ‘we put ourselves in every situation that you shouldn’t put yourself in – but we made it out.’

These street-diaries-turned-rap anthems are accompanied by a relentless work rate that has seen the pair deliver four full-length projects in the space of two years, pushing them to the forefront of British rap’s current renaissance.

Though they have been friends since childhood and have been making music together for eight years, their major breakthrough came last year. Three Top Ten projects were supplemented by two sold-out nights at the Alexandra Palace in north London.

‘I like to record for four or five days straight,’ says Adz. ‘We don’t do breaks.’ LB adds: ‘From the start, we realised it might take longer for people to understand who we are, so we had to double the effort.’

The Blueprint – Us vs Them (officially their debut album), released in October, is a 29-track listen that charts their transition from days spent hustling to the sold-out arenas they now grace.

‘It’s a good way to put a time on everything,’ LB says. ‘When you’re on the streets, you don’t even know how you felt six months ago because there’s no time to track that.

With music, you express yourself and watch yourself grow. It’s a good way to talk about what might’ve happened yesterday.’

PA Salieu

When he was young, 23-year-old rapper Pa Salieu was sent to live in Gambia with his grandparents.

Those early experiences have subtly moulded him into the man and the artist he is today. The stay in Gambia taught Pa about his history and ‘how unapologetic I could be about myself,’ he says. ‘I know who I am, I know my family.’

The fallout from that sense of clarity is found in his music. Hailing from Coventry, he has a cadence that is gruff but firm. A subtle Gambian inflection creeps into his melodic drawls.

Breakout single Frontline – recorded two years ago but released in January – sees him writhe over haunting, moaning drums and wailing sirens as he brings listeners into the bleak landscapes of Coventry’s inner city.

The city ‘has shaped who I am,’ he says. ‘Coventry is just like any other city in England: break down or make it out – no matter how.’

His most recent release, My Family, with London rapper BackRoad Gee, has been a slow burn, gradually becoming a contender for British rap’s anthem of 2020.

The pair trade sharp verses and hooks, peppering their lines with war stories from the West Midlands and the East End. A brooding yet militant instrumental holds their tales at the seam.

It’s a signpost for what is to come. In lockdown, Pa has begun work on his debut project – and in the process is learning ‘what it is to be an artist’.

Through the project, he is ‘trying to touch on where I’m coming from – Coventry. But I come from Gambia as well. You’re going to hear the essence of that, you’re going to get that picture.’

Swarmz

When 24-year-old Swarmz first began toying with music, he says he was ‘rapping at first, but I didn’t feel my voice was made for it.’

A few years on, the South London artist has finessed his brand, gliding on songs with his melody-heavy, butter-smooth vocals.

He’s a leading light of Afro swing, the London-born genre that filters the sounds of the black diaspora in West Africa and the Caribbean through a distinctly British lens.

‘I’ve got Caribbean parents,’ he says, and remembers how his Bajan mother and Jamaican father would soak the house in ‘reggae, Bob Marley, Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel’.

His upbringing in Eltham, south-east London, bred deep African friendships whose influence echoes through his music. ‘I feel like sometimes their accent has rubbed off.’

Before music became a viable career, Swarmz was a footballer, stomping pitches in Britain’s lower leagues. When he switched careers and leaned full-tilt towards music, ‘it was a bit heart-breaking,’ he says.

But now the decision feels vindicated. Debut singles Lyca and Bally are anthems of summers gone, and see Swarmz bounce over drum-light, percussion-heavy productions. Elsewhere, a feature spot on Houdini with gamer KSI introduced him to new audiences.

With lockdown having dampened a genre whose natural habitat is clubs and live music, Swarmz has hibernated in the studio. Some time next year, he sees a debut EP release.

‘The EP is a body of art,’ he says. ‘It’s your whole journey. Some people don’t understand what I’ve been through. It’s the start: where I was, to where I am now.’

Swarmz

When 24-year-old Swarmz first began toying with music, he says he was ‘rapping at first, but I didn’t feel my voice was made for it.’

A few years on, the South London artist has finessed his brand, gliding on songs with his melody-heavy, butter-smooth vocals.

He’s a leading light of Afro swing, the London-born genre that filters the sounds of the black diaspora in West Africa and the Caribbean through a distinctly British lens.

‘I’ve got Caribbean parents,’ he says, and remembers how his Bajan mother and Jamaican father would soak the house in ‘reggae, Bob Marley, Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel’.

His upbringing in Eltham, south-east London, bred deep African friendships whose influence echoes through his music. ‘I feel like sometimes their accent has rubbed off.’

Before music became a viable career, Swarmz was a footballer, stomping pitches in Britain’s lower leagues.

When he switched careers and leaned full-tilt towards music, ‘it was a bit heart-breaking,’ he says.

But now the decision feels vindicated. Debut singles Lyca and Bally are anthems of summers gone, and see Swarmz bounce over drum-light, percussion-heavy productions.

Elsewhere, a feature spot on Houdini with gamer KSI introduced him to new audiences.

With lockdown having dampened a genre whose natural habitat is clubs and live music, Swarmz has hibernated in the studio. Some time next year, he sees a debut EP release.

‘The EP is a body of art,’ he says. ‘It’s your whole journey. Some people don’t understand what I’ve been through. It’s the start: where I was, to where I am now.’

Swarmz

When 24-year-old Swarmz first began toying with music, he says he was ‘rapping at first, but I didn’t feel my voice was made for it.’

A few years on, the South London artist has finessed his brand, gliding on songs with his melody-heavy, butter-smooth vocals.

He’s a leading light of Afro swing, the London-born genre that filters the sounds of the black diaspora in West Africa and the Caribbean through a distinctly British lens.

‘I’ve got Caribbean parents,’ he says, and remembers how his Bajan mother and Jamaican father would soak the house in ‘reggae, Bob Marley, Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel’.

His upbringing in Eltham, south-east London, bred deep African friendships whose influence echoes through his music. ‘I feel like sometimes their accent has rubbed off.’

Before music became a viable career, Swarmz was a footballer, stomping pitches in Britain’s lower leagues.

When he switched careers and leaned full-tilt towards music, ‘it was a bit heart-breaking,’ he says. But now the decision feels vindicated. Debut singles Lyca and Bally are anthems of summers gone, and see Swarmz bounce over drum-light, percussion-heavy productions. Elsewhere, a feature spot on Houdini with gamer KSI introduced him to new audiences.

With lockdown having dampened a genre whose natural habitat is clubs and live music, Swarmz has hibernated in the studio. Some time next year, he sees a debut EP release.

‘The EP is a body of art,’ he says. ‘It’s your whole journey. Some people don’t understand what I’ve been through. It’s the start: where I was, to where I am now.’