From taking part in rap battles in the streets of Brighton in 2008, to singing his loveable blues and soul vocals on the soundtrack of ‘Bright’ with the likes of Logic, Machine Gun Kelly and more in 2017, Rag‘n’Bone Man has come a long way, but he won’t stop any time soon.
He’s known for his silky soul and blues music, but a love of rap, hip-hop, drum 'n' bass as well as jungle transcends anything else. In 2008 the born and raised Uckfield singer was starting to understand the world of rap, but knew he needed to take a real stab at it to be the person he wanted to be.
“I remember getting really into UK hip hop in the early 2000s and my introduction to that was like, Roots Manuva, Task Force, Jehst and people like that. I was just being really heavily influenced by that and also kind of jungle music and dancehall culture and stuff like that. Then I started to write actual bars to beats.”
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With UK rap running through his veins and the confidence he could really do something in the genre, it was time to get himself a flat in Brighton and that is where his journey in rap really kicks off.
“There was a little scene in Brighton and it really started at one place for me. There was a place called The Hope on Queens Road in Brighton and that was where a monthly open mic night at the time, which was run by a guy called Heinz, who would have people from all over, to come down for this thing and they'd have one performer throughout the night and then open mics, that open deck for the rest of the night. I was not confident at all at first, but it was one of those things where from the outside it seems quite clicky but once you get under the skin of it, everyone's really welcoming and like everyone was just trying to push me to be to be like not afraid of being on stage and being like confident stuff. I started to meet people from that scene like Gizmo and I met DJ Direct, and at that time I reckon maybe 2009, there was talk about starting a crew.”
Soon after the meeting of key figures in the Brighton hip-hop scene, Rag‘n’Bone Man would end up in the crew, Rum Committee, which allowed him to really express himself. From rapping and singing on a couple of tracks, to being the main man in the group, it wasn’t too long before the scene started taking notice of him - enter the rap battles.
Don’t Flop rap battles were all over Brighton, crowds and crowds of people engaging and wanting more. They’re still popular now and even though a pandemic has happened, they have been providing rap battles where they can. It’s quite beautiful to watch. Rag‘n’Bone Man only competed in a couple of battles, but it allowed for some fun.
“I preferred watching battles than actually being in the battle to be honest. I much prefer my friends to do that rather than me. I only battled a couple of times really so I don't have a wealth of experience. It was kind of fun, but not that creative. Because it's just poking fun at someone”.
2011 became a big year of gigs in Brighton at venues such as The Concord, alongside festivals where mixing in rap and pop became the norm for Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, which is where he would meet High Focus Records, the label he would eventually sign to. He also had an incredible talent in Fliptrix who would not only become a friend and label mate, but also someone who constantly put out progressive music that helped inspire Rag‘n’Bone Man when it comes to consistency and experimenting with music.
It was this consistency and being surrounded by like-minded people that allowed a rap group to be born and also to gain attention across the world. Throughout his blues and soul music in the debut album ‘Human’ there were little hints of rap in tracks such as ‘Ego’ and throughout the years he’s been able to meet and work with some legends in hip hop, which is best to let the man himself do the talking here about rap life from 2014 to 2017.
“I think back in the day, I was introduced to a few artists from Leaf dog, who was my producer at the time, and he makes beats for everybody like Freebo from Wu-Tang. I started doing a few tracks with them, so I feel like I was on people's radar. Then I kind of got friendly with people like Pharoahe Monch, and I know DJ Premier really well now. He was like one of the first people from the US to give me props. You know, I remember like 2014 he was playing my tunes on his DJ sets. So he must have told people about it.”
Continuing on he says: “When it comes to doing the Bright film and soundtrack I don't know how else they would have found out about me because I feel like my music at the time was not really big in the US. But yeah, it was really cool to do something with logic. I feel like that shouldn't be the end. I know Logic’s taking a bit of a hiatus from music. I don't know for how long or if he's going to come back anytime soon. But yeah, I would like to work over again, like in person. Because you know, too many times these collaborations happen, but you don't get to work in a room with someone and I feel like, that's when I thrive in those environments. So I like to get in the room.”
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Since then he has always been making beats and writing the perfect bars, but it’s all about jamming in the studio and seeing what happens. Having recently released his second album ‘Life By Misadvantage’ it was a completely different direction from previous music, which focuses on the blues side of the singer. Even though this latest project has been doing well and showing a different side to Rag‘n’Bone Man, he talks about focusing on hip-hop in his down time.
“It's me, my keys player and my bass player who have started to make beats together. I started to rap on those beats. There's different people involved in it, I think there's potentially a rap EP there. There might be a couple of us rappers and stuff on there, too. I don't know when it's going to be finished and I don't know when it's going to come out. But I'm just not gonna push it. I really like it when I listen to it now. I'm excited, you know, for a time where I can just be like, okay, now I'm gonna put out a hip hop project. So, you never know, it might be in six months or it might be two years down the road, but it will come out eventually.”
It’s a beautiful thing to see Rag‘n’Bone Man still connect with his love of rap and work with local rappers to produce music - the roots of hip-hop will never leave this man.
Some people say that in the latest album that he tried too hard to be a singer-songwriter, but he’s been creating melodic lyrics and cleverly written bars throughout his career - this isn’t new to him.
Regardless of how much blues and soul music he creates, rap and hip hop will be a consistent part of his life. Whether he’s collaborating with big time rappers in the US or if he’s back in Brighton with the Rum Collective, Rag‘n’Bone Man will never stop rapping or making beats. It’s something to admire and something to celebrate as this writer has loved the rap career of Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and can’t wait to see it progress even further.
As this celebration piece comes to a close and the life and love of rap and hip hop in Rag‘n’Bone Man’s life has been discussed, it only feels right to conclude with a great quote from the man himself.
“All you've got is you, you know, it is about being authentic to your own ideas and that's exactly what I've done. So it doesn't really matter to me what people say, because I'm happy with it.”
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Words: Josh Abrahams
Photo Credit: Fiona Garden
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