Meet the Tottenham MCs fronting Skepta’s SKAir campaign
Late last week the internet was buzzing with news of Skepta unveiling his very own trainer in collaboration with Nike – an exclusive multitone Air Max 97 with its own TN-esque logo dubbed the SKAir.
The campaign images were all shot in the Mercury Prize winning artist’s native North London starring two Tottenham MCs turned models – 20-year-old Belly and 22-year-old Shailan of Tracksuit Mafia, a movement birthed by Skepta’s close friend, the late Lukey Maxwell.
We caught up with the two up and coming talents who gave me a tour of Meridian Walk, the estate that gave us BBK and has been immortalised with countless name drops in classic grime tunes.
First things first, what exactly is Tracksuit Mafia?
Belly: It’s a lifestyle.
Shailan: It’s the way we live, we wear tracksuits. It’s our culture, it’s a London thing.
B: We’re just embracing the fact that we don’t wear Louboutins or all these designers. We’re breaking down all these barriers, it’s about being yourself really. You and what you’re comfortable in. That came off the roads.
…and how’d it all start?
S: Shout out to king Lukey, may he rest in peace. He’s the originator.
B: Shailan, Lukey and the mandem were just out there dressing in trackies. These were the times when rappers were only on wearing bare chains and designer.
S: Even Skepta’s been on it for time, the old-school Nike tracksuits with that old-school material. What man were wearing back in the days is what we feel comfortable in, us and all of the mandem from Meridian.
How’d you become part of Skepta’s SKAir campaign with Nike?
B: Grace, Skepta’s manager, got at me like “Skeppy wants you to model for the Nike ting”. We were proper modelling, they put make-up on our faces. Obviously Shay’s the natural model, getting all the girls.
S: Nah, my humble brudda Bellz looks good on camera.
And when you’re not busy modelling, you’re both also artists. How long have you been making music?
B: From time. Everyone round here makes music, everyone’s got bars. That’s just [what happens] when you come from a place where people before us were doing this. It’s a matter of how seriously you take it…
S: …and how long you’ve been taking it seriously. That’s recent for me, but I’ve been doing music for about four or five years. From early, people from the ends inspired us.
When you say “people from the ends” are you referring to Boy Better Know?
S: Yeah, definitely. JME, Skepta, Bossman Birdie, Paper Pabs, President T…
B: We’re from Meridian so we’ve got that affiliation with Meridian artists. Everyone Shailan just listed is from the estate. BBK’s like family.
S: Certified family. Not just a music thing, actual family.
Tell me a little about the ink you’ve got on your face.
S: The tattoo says “MWF”… Meridian Walk family.
S: That’s my family. I got it tattooed when I was 16.
Other than BBK, who are some of your biggest inspirations in music?
S: Right now I’m listening to a lot of Kodak Black and Drake. I’m inspired by a lot of different music as well, it ain’t gotta be grime or rap. Different sounds.
It’s always good to take in a range of different sounds, especially as a creative.
S: Yeah, of course.
B: Who’s that girl we were listening to earlier?
S: Her name’s Sälen. From the music she makes you’d think she’s getting millions of views, she’s cold. The tune’s called The Drwg.
Belly, you featured on Wiley’s U Were Always Pt. 2 along with Skepta. How’d that come about?
B: Basically, I was in the studio with Skep and he said Wiley wanted me to write a little hook for him. It was proper random but I went home that night, wrote the hook and smashed it. When it was done I shouted Skeppy and asked “so, who’s gonna perform the hook” and he just said straight “you”. I really thought they’d have someone big it like Stormzy or something, I didn’t think it was gonna happen until I heard the tune. Before I knew it was premiered on Beats 1.
That sounds mad.
B: You see in this thing, there’s so many twists and turns fam. There’s been so many things that have happened for me not even expecting them to happen. You’ve just got to get used to it. I remember Wiley had a show and the day before I found out I was meant to be performing there. The day before, no preparation.
S: This whole thing is exciting. It’s a blessing, you never know what’s round the corner.
B: I love what comes with music, I’m a creative and man’s good at this so why not do it? It can change your life.
You got involved with Skepta’s Levis music project too, right?
B: Yeah, basically I was working with 12 other young producers, singers, musicians and rappers – all different genres. We had six weeks to come together, make music from scratch and create a setlist for a show we did at the V&A. I made a track with this singer called Kali Claire, she’s an amazing vocalist. There was a lot of networking going on.
What about you Shailan?
S: I wasn’t really involved because I’d just come out of… What do you call it? Incarceration. At that time I was getting back on my feet.
S: Same old story, I was young and a bit crazy but things have changed. I went in last year, a couple years before that and a couple years before that but it’s all over now.
B: That’s done, it’s about moving forward.
If you could collaborate with absolutely anyone dead or alive who would you like to work with?
S: That’s the maddest question.
B: I’ve got a couple. Firstly, it’d have to be Chippy ‘cos he’s too versatile. If we were doing a grime ting he’d go hard and if it was a tune for the girls he’d go hard. I’d work with Drake as well, he’s versatile too. They’re both sick.
Quite tactical choices there
B: They’re both sick.
S: Mine would have to be Skeppy ‘cos that’s big bro. Also Kodak Black, right now I’m just listening to Project Baby 2.
What have you guys got coming up in the future?
S: We’re working on a lot of stuff, look out for it all. Watch out for Skeng – that’s me, Geovarn and Belly
B: My video for Petrol Gang with my brudda Ekeno is up on SBTV right now, go and check that out.