Fresh from releasing his Cost of Living EP, we caught up with Capo Lee to discuss his recent collaborations, full circle moments and why grime will never be dead.
Words Poppy Warren (@poppy___Warren)
I’m outside Wood Green tube station on a crisp February morning waiting to meet UK rap and grime legend Capo Lee, when he texts me saying that he’s going to pick me up. Hearing a honk, a black BMW soon pulls up and he admirably takes me around his ends, talking about the familiar places around us. We meet in the midst of a busy month for Capo, who’s performing every weekend, but the chaos doesn’t seem to get to him, as his demeanor remains calm and collected. En route to a café, we drive around North London where I soon become accustomed to his warm persona. So much so, that our conversation swiftly turns to football.
Capo is quick to point out that, this season, Arsenal supporters love to bring up football. As an avid Chelsea supporter, and having collaborated with them on multiple campaigns, he has less to say and keeps his comments minimal “We’ll be back next season” he utters, with pride and zero doubt.
Driving around the area he grew up, Capo relays stories of his upbringing and life in North London, where I quickly learn about his mentality. He confesses that it’s difficult to stay on a straight path here, but making it as a rapper afforded him a different lifestyle. Now, he dedicates a lot of his time to helping kids find their journey into the industry; through, ‘Youth work UK’, a youth club that he and artist and radio presenter, Shay D started together. He enthusiastically speaks about the projects they run, ranging from industry professional masterclasses to hip-hop theatre pieces; it quickly becomes clear how much it means making a difference to the lives of the kids he works with. With no booking agent or manager, how does he do it all, you may ask? “I don’t know” he replies, looking equally as surprised as me.
We arrive at one of Capo’s local cafes, where he’s a frequent visitor, and the Sir Spyro collaborator chats to people that work there with familiarity. Once we sit, he recalls his musical journey, which dates back to when he was 15 years old and began mixing, hosting sets at his house after school. He informs me that he started mixing rather than MCing first as his voice hadn’t broken. One of the highlights from our time together is when he relays stories from his school days, where he would clash with friends and kids from different schools on bus rides home. “Instead of fighting, we’d be like ‘what do you spit’? And then we would clash on the back of the buses or anywhere really, playing instrumentals on our phones. It was sick.” When asked whether he has an interest in clashing now, Capo replies poignantly, “There’s no point clashing, I’d murk everyone anyway”, he says with a smirk on his face.
Fast forward a few years and Capo was making songs with his friend and producer Wardot. However, the tunes they made during that time never left the walls of the room in which they were mad. This changed once Capo hit a low period in his early twenties, where his normal life was swept out from underneath him. Thankfully, Capo got over this time by releasing music, including the infamous track ‘Liff’, which was created and put out on Soundcloud and subsequently changed his life trajectory forever. “I’d just come out of one of the deadest situations ever, I thought that I had nothing to lose.” He then found himself part of the burgeoning Soundcloud scene of the mid-2010s, an undeniably infamous era for British ‘underground’ rap music.
The conversation then turns to the present, reflecting on how times have changed with the rise of artist popularity via apps such as Tiktok. “I feel like there are different eras. I know how to navigate in music but I don’t know how to do that on Tiktok. With the new generation they might not know how to navigate in music, get certain connections and meet certain people” he says with a growing grin, chuckling to himself with childish amusement. He seems glad to have come up in a different era.
Although Capo isn’t exclusively a grime artist, his ties to the genre are undeniable. The British subcultural phenomenon is in a weird state, with many brandishing the phrase ‘Grime is dead’ again, just years since Boy Better Know and others brought it back with a serious vengeance. “I’ve always been fine, I’ve always been able to work with brands, and I’ve always got shows so grime can’t be dead. Maybe certain people are just dead” he says laughing. Regardless, the music that Capo’s making now explores a broad range of UK sounds. We were recently blessed with a new release: the ’Cost Of Living’ EP, which is produced entirely by El Londo. Shifting towards a more distinctively ‘underground’ rap vibe, Capo grew tired of the formula that had worked previously, to the point where he struggled to release music altogether. 'I needed to refresh. I needed to get myself realigned.'
During his break he was doing a lot of Youth Work, revealing to me that they were inspiring him as much as he looked to inspire them. Evidently, his realignment was successful, demonstrating a fresh new sound on the EP. He also cites other artists as a source of inspiration for him. ‘I got bored making songs on my own, that’s why I like to collaborate a lot.’ When I bopped Londo I thought 'this is sick', and I started working with a lot of other people like Frisco, Spyro, ReekO and Bakey.’
In what feels like a full circle moment, when linking up with Ashbeck and El Londo, Capo says that the artists told him his 2015 Soundcloud releases were the reason they started making music, playing the tunes obnoxiously at school.
More important than genre, Capo declares that he wants to make timeless music. “The worst thing you can do as a rapper is follow a trend because then you end up leaving the game with no identity.” It is without a doubt that Capo Lee’s music meets the criteria and we will be listening out for all the ways in which he fulfills it in future releases.