Making waves with several singles, and his first Mixtape Mukta Wit Reason, Backroad Gee has solidified himself as one of the most exciting voices in U.K. rap. With his Pa Salieu and Ambush collaboration out in the open, we had a chat with the Londoner about weed, his Congolese heritage and being in your own lane.
When you are listening to music in solidarity, it is easy to forget how much time and energy goes into its creation. Whilst waiting for Backroad Gee, who had been avidly working in a studio that day, I wondered what goes on in-between those four walls where artists spend hours tirelessly crafting their sound for fans and critics alike.
In these particularly unprecedented times, one may have presumed that life would be slightly different for Gee, who ensures us “I’m really just purely concentrating on the music. Corona is mashing up the scene right now because no one can go out and enjoy themselves”. The dive he possesses is apparent from the minute we sit down for the conversation. Not even a worldwide pandemic can stop him from focusing on his art, which is rapidly gaining attention thanks to latest single Party Popper. Featuring PA Salieu and Ambush on its remix, the track champions a visceral, industrial sounding beat and some undeniable lyrical chemistry from all three rappers.
As a self-confessed lover of music, Backroad Gee speaks about the tune's origins with an admirable passion: “Basically, I wrote a whole verse for another song, but two days after that I met my guy and he said he had something for me. I heard the beat and it triggered my heart”. Imagining Gee's gas as Finn Wigan pressed play on the instrumental is one thing, but wondering how the rapper felt when he knew that Ambush and PA Salieu “were both fucking with it” is another. “That’s family. I knew they’d come out, but I didn’t think they would that quickly” the rapper explains to me in his casual, muffled tones with assurance.
Embodying his Congolese heritage, the Londoner's vocal delivery is one of the most innovative in England. For him, this is “Very important. Its my African roots that made me want to make music. When it comes to structure of songs and all this, the music from back home helps me to execute what I make.” It is refreshing that this generation of lyricists are looking to the past as influence for the future - encompassing the sounds they’ve heard from home to inform their own artistic direction. For Gee personally, his mum’s preferences have added to his musical dexterity. “Yeah man, she was playing Werrason, and even artists like Fela Kuti, you get me? I grew up on that. How I came across the rap was through my uncles and aunties”.
This versatility has attracted the attention of countless producers. Joy Orbison voiced his predilection for the rapper on Radio 1 a fortnight ago, announcing “We’ve been working on a couple of tunes recently”. Attempting to interrogate Backroad about Joy O’s statement proved difficult, particularly because of the contrast in our surroundings. His underground studio setting, and my comparatively suburban environment, gave our phone signals a real challenging, but finally the rapper could just make out what I was asking. “Ohhhhh Joe, bro me and him are working on some mad stuff. One of my bros from XL said he was proper feeling the tune [Party Popper] and played it at a show in Amsterdam. We just thought, let’s go. Let’s see what we can do, and we’ve come out with some mad work”.
Jae 5 is another beat maker who has expressed a fondness for Gee's lyrical endeavours, but the artist was more cryptic about what they have been producing. “100% that’s my don. We’ve been in the lab still” is just about as much as I could probe out of the Londoner, but he promises that it’s a mad collaboration. Like Jonathan Mensah, the rapper is a multi-instrumentalist. Backroad’s musical capabilities didn’t begin in the realms of U.K. rap - instead, they originally developed through participation in church choirs. “Its helped me a lot. I’m always banging the drums and trying my thing you get me. I still play you know” he affirms nonchalantly on the phone in the most humble of manners. Many rappers may have seen this question as a vulnerability, wanting to maintain a persona that lies solely in the streets - but not Backroad Gee.
Despite such a range of musical influences and diversions, the industry has been trying to pigeon hole the 23 year-old as a drill artist. “People are already starting to box me in. I don’t do drill music, you get me? The songs people are calling drill, I don’t even think are. I’m in my own lane”. For anyone who makes art, the issue with labelling can be detrimental to their creative freedom. Gee could subconsciously fulfil the prophecy that has been manifested for him, but It is clear that the DJ Semtex supported rapper is not going to let this happen.
“I’m still a young man, but I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had to mature so quickly. What my peers go through influences my music, but I make all types of sounds, right now I’ve got this weird little garagey tune I’m working on”. Murder, taken from his Mukta Wit Reason mixtape, exonerates Gee’s willingness to experiment with genre - the afrobeat banger is one of his catchiest to date. Later on in our conversation the Londoner revisited the subject of UKG: “Garage man, I miss that type of sound. I grew up on that stuff. All those little harmonies and choruses are mad, but I try and fit them within my own sound, you get me?”. Manipulating sonics into his unique, street-centric style has become secondary nature to him, and soon the industry will take notice.
Dedicating so much time to the studio, as rappers on the top of their game do, may seem gruelling to anyone trying to prevail from the scene. For the 23 year-old, weed has definitely helped him to formulate his intrinsic sonic. But what strain has he been smoking recently? “Wooooaaahh I’m smoking the Calalele, you know about that? Just the expensive trees haha” he ecstatically informs us, who are used to Cambridge’s comparatively bushy draw. With the munchies in mind, it was only right to ask what Backroad would get with 5 pounds from a shop if he is working late on music. “Ohhh that’s a sticky one. Okay, a sprite for my lean, a big packet of quavers, and a kinder bueno. Actually, nah fuck the kinder bueno, a pot noodle” he contemplates.
Throughout the chat I had with Backroad Gee, there was one element of his persona that constantly stood out. Coming from a scene where braggadocios lyricism is so prevalent, it was refreshing to speak to someone this humble. When asked about which cosign he is most proud of, he simply replied: “I wouldn’t lie to you my brother, there is no one in particular. It is all love, big time”. Equally, when we move onto the topic of fashion, where designer brands are so engrained in the wordplay of modern rap, Gee confessed that he’s not really a brands guy, and if he could wear one label for the rest of his life, It’d just be nike to keep things casual.
With plenty more in the pipeline, Backroad Gee is someone you should definitely keep an eye on, he believes so too. “Everyone stay tuned. Party Popper out now. I’ve got the next thing coming for you too, be aware, be prepared don’t be scared. More coming through trust me”.
The Party Popper remix is out now, watch the visuals below.