Growing up as a talented up and coming rapper from South London, Yungen didn’t know where the music would take him. However, there comes a time for many artists, where everything just starts to make sense and you decide to take the craft seriously. “It was always the dream, but at the beginning, I just rapped to my friends. I think it was in 2011 when I was 19 and just did my SBTV freestyle. I saw the reception from that and realised that this could actually be something. I even remember Jamal (Jamal Edwards) telling me that the response from that freestyle was one of the best he’s ever seen from his Warm Up Session series.”
I personally remember listening to that freestyle for the first time, and always have a sense a nostalgia when looking back at the beginnings of the Play Dirty era. It was interesting to hear what mentality and approach Yungen had to his music back then. “It was sick, being around Krept & Konan meant that the levels were high, so it just kept me on my toes and made me want to be the best. After the SBTV freestyle, everything was happening so quickly, so to be honest I was really just going with the flow rather than planning out what I was doing. Back then, no one in the scene was really overthinking anything, it was just fun.”
Things were most certainly moving fast for Yungen, as he went on to put out two projects, Topic of Discussion in 2013, and Black and Red in 2014. I felt that both projects were of a very high standard, but due to the maturity of the UK rap scene at the time, they may have been overlooked. “They were… Kind of. To be honest, with Topic of Discussion I was just trying to find myself, because prior to that I would usually have an instrumental that I was feeling and rap on it, but I didn’t necessarily know how to make a song. So, Topic of Discussion was me trying to make proper tracks. Black and Red definitely had a lot more thought put into it, but that’s because I knew who I was when I did Black and Red.”
You know what, this is the Yungen I love”, but equally, hear my story and understand why I’m doing this.”
The transparency in Yungen’s responses to my probing questions was admirable. He never looked to hide anything, so when I asked about his statements suggesting he’d previously been written off, he was very straightforward in discerning whether his comments were aimed at the fans or the in-dustry. “It was the industry. I know all my supporters and fans had my back, that’s what gives you the confidence to keep going. But, there’s a lot of things that I had done, that I think got over-looked. I remember when I dropped Black and Red, that was a big moment and a big project, to the point that people still come up to me now and tell me how hard it was, but the industry kind of overlooked it.
Also, I think after that, people were like, “Ok he can spit, he’s put out a mixtape, but what now?”. Krept & Konan were blowing up, putting out hits and massive tracks like Freak of The Week, and a lot of people had this perception that we were a trio, so they looked at it like I had to be moving at the same pace as them when it wasn’t like that. They’ve always been a duo, and they were having their moment, their time to shine.”
The spotlight is definitely on Yungen now, and he is deservedly having his moment. However, I just couldn’t help but wonder if he thought he’d reach these new heights with a song like Bestie, as he originally broke through with tracks that had more of a gritty sound. “You know what’s mad, I feel like I had that with Ain’t On Nuttin’, which was one of the biggest street tunes, but there’s a glass ceiling with that. I can go to every university and shut it down, with all the mandem saying “Yungen is hard”, but you can only go so far with that. If you look at all the street anthems like Giggs’ Talkin Da Hardest, Sneakbo’s Touch Ah Button, and even Krept & Konan’s Don’t Waste My Time, they’re all breakthrough tracks for the artist, like Ain’t On Nuttin’ was for me. However, in terms of charting and taking that success a step further, Krept & Konan had Freak of The Week, Sneakbo had The Wave, Giggs had Lock Doh, and I have Bestie. I rapped how I rapped on Bestie on purpose, and I like the fact that I’m able to do that, I can light up a Fire In The Booth when I’m ready as well. I’m really glad you asked that.”
The success of Bestie alone has been a catalyst for tours, photo shoots, countless interviews and radio appearances for the 26-year-old. If I was Yungen right now, I’d be ecstatic about what the future holds, the possibilities are endless now. “It’s crazy you say that because I couldn’t even imagine what Bestie has done for me. To me, Bestie isn’t a commercial record, if it hadn’t done what it did, people wouldn’t see it as one either. It still gets played in our raves and house parties, but obviously, it did crossover and became a commercial hit, but that record really opened the door for me. I did the Jingle Bell Ball, and only performed one song, but that’s only because Bestie was the only song I could’ve done.
Rita Ora, Craig David, and Dua Lipa are in the lineup, so I left there thinking I need to have another song like Bestie to actually have a proper performance here. I have enough tracks to go to a university rave and shut it down right down, but you got to have both, because when you have a successful hit like Bestie you get thrown into the deep end, and it’s like okay cool, 20,000 people in the 02 Arena, they don’t want to hear Ain’t On Nuttin’, so you have to try and cater to everyone, but still remember that you can’t please everyone.”
It’s been 4 years since we’ve received a project from Yungen, and with the current buzz around his name and his music, I think it was only right to ask if he’s working on anything special to be re-leased in the near future. “I’m working on my first album. I feel like it’s definitely album time for me, so I’m trying to have it done by the end of the year. I’m going to have bangers on there, like Ain’t On Nuttin’, which are the tracks that you want to hear from me, but I’ll also have tracks that connect with a larger audience. Within all of that, I’m still going to try and make it fit and be cohesive, which is why it’s taking so long, because I want it to make sure it flows. I promise you, it’ll be the best body of work I’ve EVER put out and I want people to listen to it and think “you know what, this is the Yungen I love”, but equally, hear my story and understand why I’m doing this.”
Photographer: Niklas Haze
Stylist: Kirubel Belay
Hair & makeup artist: Meg Koriat
Production: Lilian Büechner
Writer: Reece stewart