Yxng Bane: Mask off
Like his Dark Knight villain namesake, Yxng Bane used to wear a mask to hide his face. His first-ever show, at Dalston’s Birthdays, got him so nervous that his cab had to take him several times around the block before going in. Today he’s gearing up to play London’s biggest music venue, the O2 Arena, alongside Pusha T and Chance the Rapper. It’s safe to say he doesn’t need the mask any more.
We find Bane in his dressing room at the Greenwich arena, of which every inch is taken up by his extensive entourage and manager G FRSH, slap bang next door to Tottenham drill artist Headie One’s dressing room. The pair were just out in Aiya Napa together, shooting the video for This Week. “We had villas on the same road, we rode our bikes, we had a lot of fun out there, man.” Bane’s tired – very tired, he explains apologetically – because he just got back from Ibiza, then played a record label showcase, had shoots, more interviews. His instagram account is captioned with words like ‘no sleep just bags.’ Slumped on a sofa in a puffa jacket and hoodie, he speaks softly into my phone like someone who’s only recently left their bed, flashing a wide smile as he does it.
Put simply, Bane doesn’t do tracks that don’t bang. Having shot into the public consciousness after his remix of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You replaced the vanilla vocal with patois-soaked lyrics like “You know mi love when you get nasty,” and a firing gun ad-lib, he’s now at the forefront of the Afroswing explosion in the UK that’s currently rippling through the charts. Its video, that sees Bane devouring a carton of chips on a car bonnet, was the first time he lifted the mask to show his face in a promotional material. It now sits at a cool 17 million views. More tracks ensued, laced by his stretchy sung-rap flow: the Yungen-featuring Bestie (which went platinum), the club-favourite Rihanna. The stats are pretty jaw-dropping: his discography is studded with entries in the Top 10, multiple in the Top 40 at once. Khloe Kardashian recently posted a video of herself applying makeup to his Both Sides, something he and his mates laugh about: “Out to Khloe!”
“If I met a younger me now I'd tell him: you got this. Be true to yourself and you'll be good.”
Today’s venue is “literally five minutes down the road” from where 22-year-old Larry Kiala grew up, in Custom House – an area in the borough of Newham he nicknamed a “favela” in its comparison to Brazilian slums. “It’s a bit of a madness,” he says. “It’s gonna be a rockstar night. London is home.” The middle child of six to parents from Angola and the Congo, he grew up hearing gospel, R&B and Congolese artists like Fally Ipupa around the house. He was more of a fan of 50 Cent, Tony Yayo, Jim Jones and Lloyd Banks, though, and his friends would come over to his house to freestyle over Wiley beats they found on YouTube. Dropping his first solo track Lone Wolf onto SoundCloud aged 19, it went on to amass 790,000 plays, and a throng of fans in quick succession.
Studious as a child, Bane had almost gone on to study Economics at Greenwich University, but ended up immersed in the music world once what was previously a hobby started gaining traction. It was news that luckily wasn’t too difficult to break to his “laidback” parents. He flew out to Nigeria recently to join Skepta, Burna Boy, Davido on stage at NATIVELAND Festival in Lagos, something he enthuses about as the best live experience of his life. “It’s a blessing and I’m just grateful, man. It shows you how far you’ve come and how far you can keep going,” he says. Where he started out doing seven days a week in the studio, now his travelling commitments mean he’s more likely to do two or three (supplemented by selecting beats and writing over them on the plane or car he’s in).
Like many of the Afrobeats/Afroswing tracks that have gone on to do numbers, songs like Vroom are packed with digestible references and interpolations of 90s hits, from Ricky Martin’s La Vida Loca to Beenie Man’s Who Am I (Sim Simma). It was no surprise, then, when the King of the Dancehall jumped on the remix of the track. Though that’s not the only co-sign Bane has received. He can now count collaborations with the likes of Ella Eyre, Craig David and MØ, plus the seal of approval from Tinie Tempah after being signed to his Disturbing London label.
While Bane’s discography is rich with standalone singles and features, he recently dropped a mixtape that’s all him. His HBK mixtape is full of Afroswing’s production crème de la crème, including Nige and “legendary” powerhouse trio Team Salut, plus Cardi B producer Scribs Riley and Grammy-nominated Christian Rich who have produced for Earl Sweatshirt, Clipse and J. Cole. Bright, poppy hooks (Needed Time), sit alongside cuts like the darker, harder-hitting Christopher Nolan. While Eyelar and frequent collaborator Kojo Funds feature on the tape, it feels light in terms of its guest slots. “A lot of people know me for my features,” he explains of the decision, “so I wanted to do something that was just me. I wanted to give my supporters a bit more of me.”
The tape’s cover art sees Bane perched on an upholstered tube seat with his kid self looking up to him – literally and metaphorically. “If I met him now I’d tell him: you got this,” he says. “Be true to yourself and you’ll be good.”
Later that day at the O2 Arena, Bane fills the whole stage with his larger-than-life melodies, bringing out D-Block Europe for their Gucci Mane collaboration. As he removes his shirt on stage for Vroom, it’s clear the shy kid who needed to hide his face to perform is nowhere to be seen. Cutting the music completely for the chorus of Fine Wine, the entire arena belts out the lines – unaided – for minutes. Despite this, Bane is humble about his progress so far. “I think success is a journey so I wouldn’t say success has come,” he finishes. “I think I’m on the road to it.”
Photography: Rio Romaine
Styling: Isaac Luutu
Grooming: Laila Zakaria
HBK is out now via Disturbing London