BackRoad Gee walks his own way
“Last year was a big year for me. Got back into the music ting, sorting out my life, everything…” BackRoad Gee is mid-sentence when, suddenly, a blind unravels dramatically in front of his screen, interrupting the rapper’s train of thought. He looks to the blind, and then to me on the other end of the video call, then back to the blind. “The fuckery!” he exclaims. “You know what, yeah? I was scared to pull my blinds all the way up because I don’t know how to make them come back down, but fuck it, we’re gonna do it.”
The Londoner’s energy is as infectious, just like the music he makes; a captivating, sometimes chaotic blend of drill, grime, rap and ad libs. Yet when he speaks, he possesses a calm authority not always guaranteed in emerging artists, and rarely found in your average 24-year-old. “I’m just not like everyone else,” he offers nonchalantly. “I’m always doing the opposite. So, when people want to stay at home and moan, I’m out there trying to work. Just keep it going, nothing can stop me.”
It seems to be working. Just look at how the last year or so has played out for him: January 2020 – New Year’s Day, to be precise – saw the release of his breakthrough banger Party Popper. This was followed by his first link-up with Pa Salieu for the addictive, Ambush-featuring Party Popper remix (a Pan-African union of riotous, mosh-pit-inducing proportions – if it weren’t for Covid-19). The lockdown summer saw the arrival of the well-received Mukta vs Mukta EP. Then there’s a smattering of spotlight-stealing guest appearances on tracks like D Double E’s Tell Me a Ting remix alongside Novelist, P Money and Frisco, Ghetts’ No Mercy alongside his “brother” Pa, and NSG’s After OT BOP. Not forgetting, crucially, the anthemic (and undeniably reloadable) My Family, again with Pa.
Speaking to BackRoad Gee, or just BRG, it’s clear why so many of his peers are clamouring to collaborate. He’s magnetic, the kind of artist capable of sprinkling his energy, vision and voice into the very beats he’s riding; submerging bars into basslines (supplied by producers like Finn Wigan) with such finesse it commands the full attention of his listeners and compels his cohorts to up their game, too. It would be easy to forget that he only began pursuing music seriously in 2019. Oh, in case you were wondering, the moniker stems from a nickname coined by his mates. See, he’s a fan of back roads. Wait. Literal back roads? “Literal. You can be with me and you won’t see one main road,” he assures me. The Gee came later.
Full look: ABAGA VELLI
Trousers: ABAGA VELLI
BRG was born in east London to Congolese parents and raised by his mum in various areas across the capital. Her love for Congolese music and extensive music collection influenced him early on, setting him on the course he’s on today. When asked about his favourite tunes as a teenager, his voice drops to a low, confessional tone. “The thing about me, yeah? I had a lot of music in my house. I would listen to anything. One day I’d be on some rap stuff, some days I would be on the African ting, one day I’d be listening to UB40 and the other Bob Marley.” You see it in how he approaches music today. A kind of ‘pick & mix’ MO, right? He nods approvingly, “Exactly.”
As he got older his attention was drawn more and more to grime. This was inevitable, really, with BRG growing up in an era of Risky Roadz videos and Lord of the Mics clashes; the likes of Sir Spyro or the Butterz crew broadcasting out of his local station Rinse FM and a slew of MCs on his doorstep. When he retells how he worked with Lethal Bizzle and JME last year on his single Enough is Enough, he beams with fanboy excitement: “I never thought that one day I would be with these people.” That’s not to say he’s crossed every name from his bucket list – Adele’s still very much up there. “When I boogie with Adele it’s gonna be lovely,” he says. ‘When’, not ‘if’ – worth noting.
Suit: Zegna c/o SILHOU ARCHIVE
Hat: ABAGA VELLI
BRG’s still young, but he’s encountered a lifetime of challenges already. He left school before sitting his GCSEs, drifted through periods of homelessness and had a stint in prison. I’m curious whether delving into these aspects of his past, or darker themes in general, ever makes him feel vulnerable. “You see, from [the] time you choose to be an artist, there’s no privacy. Everything is out there,” he explains. “Me? I’m just good with myself innit, so I know how to separate myself. It is what it is. Obviously, I’ve taken myself away from situations. Now I’m able to reflect and talk about certain things.”
At one point, we touch on the pressure that comes from being an emerging artist on the precipice of fame. Not only that, but an emerging artist on the precipice of fame who also doesn’t shy away from painful lived experiences. To counter these stressors, he seeks out mindful ways to unwind. “I feel like a boring guy,” he says, with a sigh. “If I just don’t wanna hear nothing, I won’t even switch on my TV. I’ll just get into my thoughts, meditate. I’m a very loud person [at times] but I really like my peace.” In a roundabout way, this links into his style. He doesn’t consider himself to be materialistic and opts for monochrome outfits and brands like Nike. His style could be considered casual, but that’s because he prefers to express himself through his music.
Full look: ABAGA VELLI
When it comes to his 2021 output, there are a few choices that he’s mulling over right now. Which tracks to include on his debut mixtape Summer Ina Da Winter is perhaps the most crucial. BRG says he has “tapes and tapes” worth of tunes to choose from ranging from solo cuts to collaborations with the likes of Pa, long-time inspiration Burna Boy, and others. He says he’s excited by the routes opening up to him, and bristles at the idea of being dubbed solely a drill act – a label some have attempted to thrust upon him on his journey so far. “People might try to box me into this one idea. That’s not me, man. I cover all boxes,” he says, firmly. He wants to be seen as an artist in the broadest interpretation of the term. Someone who caters to diverse tastes and evolves markedly – and intuitively – with each project. He’s hoping the mixtape will demonstrate this visceral feeling. “When I play the ting, it makes my heart flutter,” he says. “I just hope it does that to you, too.”
Jacket, top & bottoms: A-COLD-WALL*
Hat: ABAGA VELLI
A Yo is out now via 23 Formation