Flowdan: From this point onwards

Words by:
Photography: Simon Wheatley
Styling: Adémidé Udoma
Grooming: Blessing Kambanga
Art direction: Michelle Helena Janssen

Flowdan is a giant in the U.K. underground. As part of Roll Deep, he steered the influential grime crew to murkier places. Alongside The Bug, he pushed dub and dancehall to its limits with his uncompromising flows. In February, he became the first ever British MC to win a Grammy for Rumble – the Skrillex-featuring hit that shook dancefloors as much as it did TikTok. Where does the east Londoner go from here?

“I grew up on jungle, which had a certain feel, a grit,” says Marc Veira fondly, as he sits overlooking the stalls selling saris and fresh produce that make up Chrisp Street Market, one of the few oases of working-class life remaining in an increasingly gentrified east London. “When my friends started going to garage raves, that aesthetic and sound wasn’t me – so I checked out of socialising with the mandem. Some of us didn’t sign up for that glam part of the game.”

As Flowdan, Veira has long been an advocate for the darker, deeper corners of music. A cult favourite on the mic, the 44-year-old MC and producer is known for his gruff, rumbling vocals, which effortlessly resonate across dubstep, grime and jungle beats like a bass siren. But there have been times when this “grit” – an integral, inextricable quality of his sound – has felt out of step with the zeitgeist. In the last half of the 2000s, tensions between underground credibility and the pop mainstream once again came to a head. Grime, the genre that had burned so brightly, was rapidly fizzling out under a hail of major label fickleness, media ignorance, racist policing and unfulfilled potential.



“I was seeing my peers – the Dizzee Rascals, the Kanos – surpassing me, and doing things differently,” Veira reflects, as thoughtful and calm in person as he is fierce and glowering on the mic. “They were more radio worthy, more viable, not as dark. It had me thinking ‘OK, how can I be me in that pop realm?’ Which wasn’t the thing to be thinking, I realise now – but it’s just a natural part of wanting to be successful.”

For Veira, the road to success started with the formation of Roll  Deep in 2001. Veira was not just a founding member of the storied east London grime crew – perhaps the closest thing grime has to Wu-Tang Clan – but gave them their name, and anchored their sound in grime’s Caribbean heritage, as they soared from the pirate radio stations of Bow to a memorable prime-time Top of the Pops performance in 2005. 

In 2007, Veira was invited to Plastic People, London’s legendary subterranean home to grime and dubstep night FWD>>, by producer Kevin Martin (a.k.a. The Bug) who was looking for MCs with a dancehall inflection to their flow. As they began working together, they discussed the grime scene’s gravitation towards saccharine dance-pop. Veira’s Roll Deep peers Dizzee Rascal and Wiley hit No. 1 and 2 in the charts respectively in 2008 with Dance wiv Me and Wearing My Rolex; Dizzee, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk went on to secure five No. 1 singles between them across 2009. The success was gratifying, considering the prejudice and condescension with which the music industry had treated the grime scene in its prime – it’ll never sell, went the received wisdom; it’s too fast, too weird, too violent. But the Ibiza-esque pop-rap storming the charts sounded like an Auto-Tune plug-in dropped into a glass of supermarket cola, and could not have been further removed from Veira’s instinctively ruff-and-tough style. 


FLOWDAN wears: Jacket: DAiwa Pier39 c/o The Garbstore, Trousers: Artisanal One, Sunglasses: Artist’s own, Shoes: Artist’s own


Veira played Martin some of his own attempts at crossover tunes, and was met with a respectful but unequivocal takedown from the experimental producer. “I asked, ‘Don’t I need to refine myself?’ He had a whole reverse take on it,” Veira recalls. “He said, ‘It’s cool, but it’s not you. Stop being so forgiving. Don’t dilute your sound. Take the reins off, and go in harder.’” Working and touring with The Bug felt “really easy” and natural, and convinced Veira that Martin was right. “He gave me full range to be as obnoxious as possible,” he laughs. “He would say, ‘Fuck that track up, please.’ He gave me so much confidence – like, ‘I’m a weirdo and you’re a weirdo. Let’s go for it.’” 

The results of their collaborations, such as seminal darkside dubs Skeng, Jah War and Pressure, have not only become underground dancefloor classics, but also affirmed for Veira that he could step away from the jungle and grime instrumentals he grew up on and “attack the beat” without ever compromising his vocal style. There is, perhaps, something karmic laced into the path he chose back then. 

It was the horrorshow menace of Skeng, released 17 years ago, which led a then-little known producer called Frederick Gibson to seek Veira out for collaboration in 2018. They linked up in the studio to produce a track that would later be called Rumble. “As every MC knows, when you leave a session with a producer, all you’re thinking is, ‘Right, when are these songs coming out?’” Veira says with a rueful smile. He would text every few months to be met with polite apologies, until eventually, not wanting to be “a pest”, Veira gave up texting Gibson. Finally, he got a call back. 

“He said, ‘Yo, we ain’t spoke for a while.’ I’m like, ‘I know,’” he laughs endearingly. “‘But, do you remember the song Rumble? It’s gone crazy on Boiler Room.’” Gibson’s breakout 2022 Boiler Room set as Fred Again.. peaked when Rumble – which included new production input from EDM giant Skrillex – was rewound to a raucous reception. “From then on, everything went crazy,” Veira recalls, almost in disbelief. “My manager’s phone was going mad. My bookings was going up. The feature requests was going up.” To the astonishment and glee of his many longtime admirers, that was just the beginning. Last month, Flowdan stunned the world and became the first ever U.K. MC to win a Grammy. Accepting the award for Best Dance/Electronic Recording for Rumble on behalf of the trio, Skrillex gratefully described Flowdan as “one of the biggest inspirations in underground music in my life”.

FLOWDAN wears: Jacket: Meanwhile, Trousers: Nanamica, Shoes: Artist’s own.

Vindication is all the sweeter when it comes so many years down the line. Even before the Grammy recognition, 2023 was by some measure the biggest of Veira’s career. Rumble spent ten weeks in the official U.K. charts and broke the Top 20, while Baddadan, a drum’n’bass collaboration with Chase & Status, soared even higher, peaking at No. 5. His social and streaming metrics exploded as a whole new generation of fans discovered ‘the big Flowdan’. “I’m over the moon that he’s got to this position,” Martin tells me over the phone from his home in Brussels. “He genuinely hasn’t compromised – and to see him killing it now, it’s so deserved. His voice has got such an incredible tone which is instantly recognisable; he’s got the intensity of someone like Cutty Ranks. He’s an incredible lyricist, which he doesn’t get enough credit for. Marc is a genius documentarian of London noir.”

In person, Veira comes across as one of the most relaxed, affable and quick-witted of grime veterans. Less sharp elbows and war bars, he exudes the calm of someone who has learned to find contentment running his own race and pursuing his own sound. Martin recalls watching him on stage with Roll Deep: “It often felt like there were about 25 MCs on stage trying to grab the mic, and there was an excitement to that chaos – and Flowdan was very much the strong, silent core of it, really. He was solid as a rock.” Similarly, the general mood among people who knew him at the height of grime’s explosion in the 2000s is, more or less: this is an apt reward for someone who has always cared about developing his sound outside of his own ego. These days, Veira is the embodiment of patient wisdom, but is honest enough to admit that this wasn’t always the case. “Before, there was always worry if I was struggling to write, which would make me hit a brick wall. Now I don’t rush or force things because I’m sure it will happen.”

“Marc is a genius documentarian of London noir” – The Bug

Black British music continues to be preeminent in 2024 thanks to a web of fascinating legacies and artistic endurance. Caribbean sound system culture has given Britain (and beyond) a set of practices that has defined contemporary dance music; from turntablism and microphone clashes to the all-important rewind, it can all be traced back to Jamaica. This was not only crucial to Veira’s musical education, but his personal life. Veira’s father has long performed as Gappy Crucial in Sir Coxsone Outernational, a major reggae sound system based in Brixton. As a teenager in the 90s, Veira went to see him perform at Notting Hill Carnival. “He’s a pioneer, he’s legendary. When I tuned into what he was saying,” Veira recalls, smiling, “I began to see these massive links between what I was growing up on – jungle and drum’n’bass – and realised that this was a U.K. evolution of sound system culture. It was all about sounding better than your peers, or as good as your idols – whether in your production, mixing, live performances or engineering. There was so much competition going on.”

U.S. rap, dancehall and jungle were Veira’s first loves, and when he was ten, his mum bought him his own stereo for his birthday. As a teenager, he would tape his favourite songs, pausing, playing and rewinding over and over, painstakingly working out his favourite lyrics from MC Hammer, P.M. Dawn and Shabba Ranks. “It was a practice I got from watching my mum do it,” he says affectionately. With the lyric sheet to hand, he practised delivering them in his bedroom. “I found joy in it – it was therapeutic, and I felt like I’d accomplished something,” he remembers. A young Veira started tweaking the words slightly, “making variants”, putting his own name in place of drum’n’bass MCs like Stevie Hyper D, MC Det and Navigator, and took them into school. He would compete in lyrical battles in the playground or the school toilets – spitting a capella, or while another kid drummed a beat by hand. “The emulation didn’t stop, even though I was evolving into my own guy. I was always listening to others and learning.”

It is this disarming humility that has made Veira so admired by people in the U.K. underground. He first got to apply some of those lessons he’d learned when MCing over jungle. “I had the confidence to try jungle because it sounded like me and the people around me. It had the feel of reggae, and it also had the vibes of the streets, with people speaking in a U.K. accent; a rude boy ting. It’s a hybrid: you’ve got that U.K. rave speed, but the voices, language and samples were straight from Jamaica,” he explains, keen to emphasise the balance. “This is what our generation learned from jungle: how to host a party, know when a drop is coming, keep the energy up and work with a DJ. [Until then], I hadn’t realised I was a raver.”


FLOWDAN wears: Jacket: Meanswhile c/o The Garbstore, Trousers: Nanamica, Shoes: Artist’s own


Veira grew up in the grime heartlands in east London, around Bow, Poplar and Leyton. The support of “locally famous” Wiley helped bring him into the Rinse FM crew, with the then-pirate radio station’s founder, DJ and producer Geeneus. That too involved overcoming obstacles. “I was rejected at first. I got told by Geeneus, ‘You’re not good enough.’ Me and my friends from school in my area sent in tapes to Rinse, but got rejected. Them lot laugh when I remind them of that,” he chuckles. That didn’t stop Wiley from continuing to bring Veira along to Rinse anyway. “I was this new dark horse,” Veira recalls. As his profile continued to rise, Geeneus eventually relented and gave him his own slot with longstanding collaborator DJ Karnage, which would evolve into the infamous Roll Deep show.

With the buzz around them and the emerging grime scene growing, Roll Deep signed to Relentless Records, and in 2005, released their debut single proper, When I’m Ere – a showcase of grime’s thrilling ferocity at the height of its powers. The video, dimly lit and in constant motion, features eight different Roll Deep MCs passing the mic as they charge around the underlit pathways and stairwells of Kildare Walk, in the sprawling Lansbury Estate, heading nowhere in particular – yet moving urgently forwards. Where their predecessors in U.K. garage outfit So Solid Crew were lucky to get 21 seconds each to flow, the Roll Deep MCs got just 14 seconds each to deliver a verse. “When I’m ‘ere, put your lights out when I’m ‘ere/ Big bag of weed, Dragon Stout when I’m ‘ere,” Veira begins, in his deep and immediately recognisable timbre. Flowdan sounded like a perfect encapsulation of the wintry, paranoid energy of London’s nascent grime scene; hoods up against the cold, skulking through the shadows of the city. 


FLOWDAN wears: Coat: Artisanal One, Shirt: MfPen c/o The Garbstore, Trousers: Artisanal One, Shoes: Artist’s own


For the Crack cover shoot, Veira is being photographed against the brown brick backdrop of the same Lansbury Estate, one of the largest housing estates in London, which emerged phoenix-like from the bomb sites of World War II. Half a century later, the Lansbury Estate was part of another kind of year-zero renewal, as Poplar and Bow became the epicentre of grime. When I’m Ere, and grime at large, is now a part of British heritage, just like the estate it was built on. (In 2016, the Lansbury Estate was celebrated by the organisation Historic England specifically because of the video for When I’m Ere.) 

Despite being a representative for his ends, Flowdan is, in his own words, a character, separate from himself. “Once I realised that this is a character that Marc is in control of, it became very easy to decide when to activate that character. People really don’t know Marc; people see and hear Flowdan. I don’t always want it to be biographical, true or realistic. I just look for the fun in the attitude, the delivery. I want to entertain you.”

Veira is not only cherished but also prolific, with a host of collaborations, solo projects and even his own label, Spentshell, all under his name. A lot of his endeavours, he explains, have purely been out of artistic need or curiosity. I recall him and Wiley turning up to FWD>>, without a booking, on more than one occasion, just to check out the latest evolutions of grime and dubstep in the late 2000s, and jump on the mic impromptu.

Even now, he seems to move quietly around east London, and isn’t always recognised – not correctly, anyway; but Veira appreciates the privacy this affords him. “I love it when someone comes up to me and says, ‘Oh my god, Riko?’ [Referring to fellow Roll Deep MC, Riko Dan] I say, ‘Yep! Cool man.’ It’s an opportunity to get the fuck out,” he laughs.

“When you get the OG winning a Grammy, I know that has some type of impact. If other artists followed me closely, they would know that there’s a career past their own sound. I can open their eyes to that” – Flowdan

Of course, this is likely about to change. On the night of the Grammys in February, Skrillex FaceTimed him from the car on his way to the ceremony in his native LA to say, “Win, lose or draw, we’ve had a great journey together – it’s love. I thought, ‘Cool’, forgot about it, and put my phone on silent. Later, I picked up my phone and it was full. I thought, ‘Shit, I’ve won a Grammy.’” Followed by showers of champagne? “Nah, but inside I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is everything. You don’t really play that game, but guess what you can do now?’” And what’s that? “I’m still guessing!” He throws his head back in laughter, flashing his signature grillz. Then he adjusts himself. “My day-to-day has changed in that I have less to do now, in a way. Before, my day consisted of trying to find a hit. I’ve got one now. So I feel relaxed, like the studio can wait. I’m starting to indulge and just dream.”

Unsurprisingly, Veira didn’t leave the studio waiting for too long. Two days after our meeting, I’m at Venue MOT for a night hosted by Night Slugs co-founder James Connolly, who is reviving his L-Vis 1990 moniker with a stack of bass-heavy, up-front club tracks. It’s a tiny, endearingly ramshackle 150-capacity venue in an industrial estate in Bermondsey, and the U.K. funky and amapiano is going down very smoothly in the small hours of Saturday morning. All of a sudden, Flowdan and Skrillex arrive, contorting themselves into the tiny booth with Connolly. It feels almost comically out of context: I’ve barely finished talking to Veira about winning a Grammy and performing Rumble for 26,000 people (as well as a global TV audience of millions) at the Fury vs Ngannou boxing match, yet here they are, in a rough-hewn club whose toilet doors are made out of chipboard. It’s far from glamorous – exactly how Veira likes it. He and Skrillex came to debut a new three-way collab recorded that very afternoon with Connolly; a spooky, low-slung post-grime tune called Release It, which Veira rides with typical low-pitched ease. The drop comes, and Veira wheels it up with a massive grin.

Wind back two days to our interview in Poplar, and Veira is telling me about his sanguine attitude to his upcoming projects as Grammy-winning MC Flowdan. “For me, it’s on request now. If there’s work to do, I will get myself into the zone. If Skrillex phones me and says, ‘I’ve got a sick beat’, I will put as much time as I can into getting the idea started. But if that doesn’t develop instantly, I leave it and take time out.” 

Veira isn’t the first underground artist I’ve encountered to be impressed, if a little surprised, by Skrillex’s sincerity and dedication to the roots of the global bass explosion of the last 15 years. “Every conversation I have with him is amazing,” Veira says. “I don’t know when he suddenly decided to champion this, but he really holds London as the hub; he’s a fanatic at all levels. I’ve seen it once or twice before in people like Geeneus: their laptop is their best friend. And that laptop is battered, because it’s been everywhere, but they live by it.”


FLOWDAN wears: Jacket: DAiwa Pier39 c/o The Garbstore, Trousers: Artisanal One, Sunglasses: Artist’s own, Shoes: Artist’s own


Though Veira is perhaps too modest to say as much, it’s a level of dedication and passion that is clear from his own journey, across a full quarter of a century in music. If there’s a lesson to be learned from his long road to fame, he says, it’s that Martin’s advice from way back when – paired with a fervent commitment to experimentation – can help U.K. MC culture keep evolving. “I think I’ve changed some people’s minds,” he says, with a knowing smirk. “Because one thing I’ve always noticed about my peers, even my grime lot, is that they often turn their noses up at a beat that’s not necessarily ‘home’.”

Veira is living proof that it is possible – perhaps even essential – for MCs to explore new sonic territories without diluting what made them great to begin with. “Unless you’re one of those special artists that can evolve, what you do gets old. When you get the OG winning a Grammy, I know that has some type of impact. And it’s not just the Grammy – I’ve been travelling the world for a long time, playing festivals and meeting producers the U.K. doesn’t even know about,” he asserts. “If other artists followed me closely, they would already know that there’s a career past their own sound. I can open their eyes to that.”

Black British music has been on a remarkable journey since Veira first started spitting on Rinse FM. It’s been a rocky road at times, with endless impediments from the very music industry that now cheerlead the same artists and genres they once dismissed. 25 years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that he’d be sitting here, holding a Grammy, in a world where Stormzy has headlined Glastonbury, Skepta has his own one-day festival, and Dave and Central Cee’s Sprinter broke streaming records last year. Has Black British music and culture’s long battle for acceptance, to succeed on its own terms, finally turned a corner?

“It’s beyond imagination,” he says, slightly dazed at it all. “I still stem it back to when Wiley said to us, ‘We can be a Dipset. We can be like those American crews, where we can branch off and do our own thing, but then come back to work as a group – we can do that.’ I just thought, ‘Shut up bro, no way.’” He pauses, taking his time to pick the right metaphor, and grins. “It’s like I won the fucking heavyweight championship.”

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