Kingpin made his mark on the underground scene with his explosive rhymes, energetic stage presence and thought-provoking social content. London born and raised, he has used his environment as inspiration for his music, making him the voice of generation in the capital. He founded the creative company called Underworld Konnect, through which he masterminded the independent releases of his debut album and Shame The Devil from Caxton Press, both of which were critically acclaimed. With a worldwide fan base, Kingpin is now part of the hip-hop elite. He takes us on his musical journey, from early inspirations to the crew days to Art Of Survival.
Let’s start from the beginning, tell us about where you’re from.
I’m from around the Wood Green, Tottenham area, that’s where I reside, that’s where I do my thing.
What was it like growing up there?
It was an interesting environment man, it’s the environment that’s inspired a lot of my material. I’m from a council block so I’d see deprivation, I’d see drug use, criminality. For whatever reason, I feel like I had a slightly different mind set from a lot of the people that surrounded me, and maybe that’s something to do with a good upbringing. My mother gave me a good basis to develop from, and my grandmother spent a lot of time putting books in my path. I think that’s one of the key things for me as a lyricist, the literature that was handed on, started off with just Roald Dahl and maybe a few comics but that hunger, that passion to read, to learn words. I would say to any aspiring rapper, pick up books, because it was kinda like the most critical thing in my education.
Can you remember any books in particular that inspired you?
I dunno, for some reason the books that stand out are a lot of the Roald Dahl books. I just remember once picking up The Witches and being completely consumed in the story. I think sometimes I was disruptive and talkative in class and one of the tekkers the teachers would use, they’d just give me a book. The stuff that I read in school wasn’t interesting, but the stuff that my nan put in my direction, I’d say Roald Dahl, I credit him for a lot of my initial early literature.
How did you get into music?
Like I said, literature was a big thing to me. I had one poetry book that is so distinctive to me, like the illustrations were sick. I found the poetry thing so interesting, reading out these rhymes. I think that was the beginning of the process. My mum has this friend who was a DJ at a radio station, I think it was Kiss FM at the time, and he was getting rid of the stuff that he didn’t want, passed it to my mum and she passed it to me. And one of them was Derelicts Of Dialect by 3rd Bass, that album was straight up rap and I was like, “I really do like this, this lyricism, this flow, the beats”. I had a cousin that moved in with me, and she used to pass me material, like Ice Cube Lethal Injection, Snoop Dogg Doggystyle, suddenly this stuff started to find its way into my CD collection. That was kinda like the beginning point, the building blocks.
So what’s the first time you put lyrics to beats?
The first memories I have is of cassette tapes of other rappers, and rewinding it and writing it out because I wanted to be able to rap along while I was listening. I remember ‘O.P.P’, and the first Ninja Turtles movie, there was a rap called ‘Turtle Power’, this ain’t cool but I’ll bust it! [he raps ‘Turtle Power’].
Then you started making music and you were 18 when you got picked up by the radio right?
It was actually the first hip-hop song I done. I took the demo CD and handed it into a competition called Rapology, which was on Choice FM - any aspiring young rappers submit your material and you could get an opportunity to perform at Fairfield Halls in Croydon and we might play your stuff. I wrote this song called ‘Line Up’ and it was about my frustrations with the mainstream industry. I remember writing the words on the CD, “this is hot shit”, sent it in, and within hours I had a phone call, it was Jigs and he was like “ok, we’re gonna play this on the radio”. So I did this showcase and a girl who’s name was Adele was there, she was an RnB singer from Scotland. We talked, she sent me video footage of the performance, and I was like wicked, we should work together. Years later, MOBO Awards, Emeli Sande, and I’m like “I swear that’s the girl at Rapology that I should have collaborated with”. Lo and behold, you check on Wikipedia what Emeli Sande’s real name is, it’s Adele. I guess one of the regrets of that is I should have collab’d with her because she’s gone on to some astronomical levels of success. But yeah you never know who you meet in the journey as a musician.
You spent some time with a crew didn’t you?
It was a time I enjoyed, it really helped me in terms of developing my profile and connecting with a new audience. I worked with a crew called Caxton Press. It was real strategic approach to getting our music out there, and it did really well for a first album. It was critically acclaimed, the British Library contacted us, they wanted to preserve the work, it won an award in Wordplay Magazine, the fans voted it their album of the year, which was deep, the videos got loads of views. It felt like the snowball was just getting bigger and bigger, but I think sometimes when you’ve got a lot of egos and then there’s business and money and success, it’s a deadly cocktail. Sometimes it can split apart and I think that’s what happened with Caxton Press, but while we were together we did a fantastic album called Shame The Devil, and I enjoyed it, but it’s history now.
You had your successes there with them and you grew up around people who have gone onto success.
Yeah I used to go to primary school with Sway, at secondary school, I used to go to school with Skepta. We had a mutual friend that was a little bit of an entrepreneur and he wanted to be a promoter around the garage days, he would do loads of events, and that’s where I’d find myself sharing the same stage as Skepta, but then he was DJing a lot more than spitting. In fact I thought of him as a DJ, and yeah he’s gone onto great, great things.
And how did seeing these people do well influence you?
I think it just motivates you and makes you hungry because I think no matter what level of success you have, the bar just rises. At first you might just get in the game and think well if I can just get a 1000 views on YouTube I’m a happy man. You get a 1000 views you start looking at someone with 10,000. You get 10,000 views you start looking somewhere with 100,000, there’s always a constant aspiration to reach the top. I think seeing people around you go on to great levels of success, some might get bitter about it. For me it just goes to show that anything’s possible.
So what’s your angle coming into the game? How are you gonna approach this?
It’s just do me, do myself. I look at myself as an artist, not as some guy following the latest trends. I try and be a reflection of all the things I’ve absorbed, so that when people listen to my music they feel that they understand exactly where it is I’ve come from. Hearing my material would be a reflection of being a young black male growing up in contemporary society. Sometimes I get frustrated when I see artists like OT Genasis, who’s come up with a song “I’m in love with the coco”, and I think to myself, boy, if in a hundred years time people look back at black males and think is that what it was about, that would be a terrible misrepresentation. There’s some very intelligent, articulate young people out here that have gone through experiences that could really reflect their society a lot better.
If people wanna look up and check up on you, what’s the first thing they should look at?
I think that one of my milestone videos, in terms of work I published would be a tune called ‘I Need Money’, because it was one of the first videos out there. My newest album is called Art Of Survival, and I’m now starting to publish my work from that. We just put a song out called ‘Capital Punishment’, which is about the difficulties of growing up in the capital.
It’s a big video man, talk about the creative process behind that.
I had a crew called Society Dance that got involved and gave me a lot of time and energy. I got some outfits together, just went on the hustle and got some authentic Dutch prison uniforms, which I got the dancers wearing, we got a few chains. It’s all meant to represent the fact that sometimes being part of this system can feel like you’re on lockdown, in a bit of a prison. Art Of Survival is probably a culmination of a couple of year’s worth of work, since I left Caxton Press. As soon as I left I started getting my head down and I felt really liberated, because sometimes when you’re doing collaborative projects, everyone’s got different ideas. This is true freedom of expression now, I don’t have to tailor to anybody else’s wants or requirements.
And tell me about the album launch.
We’ve got a number of videos coming out prior to the album, and when the album drops, which is 21st May, I’ve got some of my favourite artists supporting me. In terms of the night, it’s happening at Birthdays in Dalston. I’ve got Native Sun, Deadly Hunta, a young emerging artist called L Reece, I’ve got the LC Collective, and the reason I picked all these guys is because they are sick when it comes to this live ting. I can’t wait to get out there and perform my new material.
What does the future hold for you?
Well right now everything’s about this album. I did a short film which was in the British Urban Film Festival and something that I kind of held onto with the hope that it was gonna get broadcast, but I think following on from this album I’ll actually release that video online. The short film’s called The Initiative, same name as my first album, it combines hip hop with a deep narrative. And I’ve got an EP finished as well, which I filmed with a producer called VR in Switzerland, and that’s called Life Sentence. It’s like a heartfelt project. That will be dropping shortly after my album drops.
If you could go back to one era of music, what would it be?
My favourite era that’s bygone would probably be that golden age of hip-hop. I do love a lot of hip-hop that was coming out around 93, 97. I was a bit of a junglist, in terms of how that was for a British movement and how that got people moving. A lot of them UK MCs from the jungle scene were inspirations to me as well, like Stevie Hyper D, Shabba D, these guys that used to spit over drum and bass, they influenced my flow a little piece to be honest.
If you were making the rules, what laws would you change?
Everybody likes to complain but not everybody’s got solutions I tell you that much, and I do like to complain! Solutions wise I would talk about social housing. We’re building a lot of these new little mini professional type houses where people still gotta have plenty of money to be getting a property, and I think we’re causing a lot of problems by not building social housing that gives people an opportunity to actually have their own space.
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything in the world what would it be?
My guilty pleasure, right now off the top of the dome, it’d be like Haribo sweets. I love my jelly sweets, especially the cola bottles.
Anything else we should know about?
Yeah man, I grow my own food, and that’s something I’m proud of. I have an allotment. That come about, my dad recently passed away from cancer, and I have a friend that has been diagnosed with it, so it’s had a prevalence in my life of recent. You can be defeated by something or you can fight it, so I stopped smoking, I started growing my own food because I don’t really trust too much what’s put in food, all these GM crops and chemicals. I started juicing, big up my man Deadly Hunta on that one, he taught me about the power of juicing. I actually got a lot of coverage from Channel 4 News for being a rapper that grows his own food, so you can find that on their website, Rapper’s Guide to Gardening.
What food are you growing?
I’ve done sweetcorn, spinach, onions, chillies, sweet potato, which wasn’t really a success story if I’m honest, potatoes, tomatoes, spring onion, beetroot, carrots. With music it’s so sporadic the way that it works, but I get there as often as I can. It’s easier to write lyrics after you’ve spent time there, it clears your mind from a lot of the bullshit of life.