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Meet the MC: BackRoad Gee

The third artist in our Meet The MC video series is BackRoad Gee. An MC that needs little introduction after blowing up in 2020, he’s been hard at work in the studio with artists including D Double E, P Money, and Joy Orbison

BackRoad Gee has the kind of voice that makes you stop what you’re doing and listen. The East London-born artist has spun himself a formidable reputation through his blistering blend of grime, dancehall and drill, with tracks like ‘Party Popper’ and Pa Salieu collaboration ‘My Family’ gaining cult street anthem status. If there’d been live shows in 2020, you can guarantee BackRoad Gee would have enjoyed reload after reload.

When DJ Mag calls him up, he’s nipping into a cab and heading into the studio. He’d recently been in Paris and Germany, taking flights non-stop. He did his DJ Mag Meet The MC freestyle having not slept for four days. “I was running on E — on energy,” he laughs, “it had been session after session after session after session. I was so knackered.” Despite this lack of shut-eye, BackRoad’s freestyle delivers, with longtime collaborator Finn Wigan on the buttons, making for some of those heart-in-mouth vocal moments that you can hear on his ‘Mukta vs Mukta’ EP.

It takes talent to flourish during a global health crisis, and BackRoad Gee’s unorthodox flow is the key ingredient in his success: at times it sounds like he’s rapping exclusively in ad-libs, using plosive sounds like gunshots. His verse on the remix of Gully’s ‘Ying Dat’ is one example of this, a series of rapid-fire vocal utterances.

Rather than fixate on elaborate wordplay like some of his peers, BackRoad Gee’s charm is in his energy and unpredictability. He’ll pepper his lyrics with the native tongue of his Congolese parents, Lingala, or drop in some words from French and Arabic, languages he’s studied on YouTube. These linguistic switch-ups mean that — to the casual listener — at times he sounds almost possessed on the mic.

Growing up, the Congolese music his mother listened to around the house, as well as playing instruments for his local church choir, first piqued his interest in music: “The first piece of music I remember thinking ‘What the hell is this?’ about was Wyclef [Jean] and Mary J Blige, ‘911’.”Back in the day, rap music in the UK used to be more tribalistic, divided firmly into the ‘road rap’ or ‘grime’ camps. Now, with drill having hit the mainstream, genres are blurring, and BackRoad Gee is refusing to be pigeonholed. Asked to pinpoint his own style, he says simply: “Indescribable.”

Where he’s been collaborating with some of the finest MCs the UK has to offer (D Double E, P Money, Frisco), he’s also been working with English electronic music royalty, Joy Orbison. ‘Party Popper’ featured on Orbison’s show on Grand Theft Auto V’s Still Slipping Los Santos station. “Yeah man, we working,” he says, keeping tight-lipped about the pair’s scheduled releases.

“As long as I can go studio and make stuff happen then I’m alright, really,” he says of how the pandemic has affected his growth as an artist. “The whole journey of people supporting and showing love has been crazy,” he continues, speaking about the wealth of love that’s come out of various scenes in the UK for his sound. “When I met Burna Boy that one hit man different, though!”

BackRoad’s December release, ‘Take Time’, showed a remarkably different direction to the fiery rap that’s come before, seeing him take a softer, more danceable approach. With a forthcoming mixtape titled ‘Summer Ina Da Winter’ due, “2021’s gonna be a crazy year,” he promises, cryptically adding: “You might hear some of your favourite rappers link up. Expect the unexpected!”

Finn Wigan

The producer behind the beat for BackRoad Gee’s Meet The MC freestyle is a regular collaborator with the London rapper, who is also behind what is arguably his most recognisable track so far. He talks working with BRG’s unique flow, and capturing the rawness of '00s-era grime in his sound

Few UK rap tracks have cut through the collective consciousness like BackRoad Gee’s ‘Party Popper’ did last year. While BackRoad’s barking, direct vocal is partly responsible for its success, the otherworldly, bruising beat that accompanied it should also take some of the credit. The swinging synths that introduce ‘Party Popper’ sound like alien lifeforms contacting Earth, before a heart-stopping bassline pounds in. “Hope my neighbours like the beat,” says one typical YouTube comment.

The beats are the work of an almost previously-unknown producer called Finn Wigan. So how did someone with few previous production credits come to produce one of the best rap tracks of the year? Wigan began dipping his toes into beatmaking at school aged 16, taking it semi-seriously before studying music tech at university where his production took a bit of a backseat. Degree in hand, he took on an engineering job at Disturbing London’s studio, which is where he first met BackRoad Gee.

“That was really when I started taking it seriously, when I met him,” he explains. The pair clicked instantly on a personal and musical level. “I just found his energy so exciting and I knew I wanted to work with him,” he says, “but at the time I wasn’t making beats he would rap on, so I had to experiment a bit to find the sound that he would jump on. And so I upped the tempo of what I was making to more of a grime tempo, with drill influences, and we made a new sound. He was really excited by it, and we worked from there.”

Together they made most of BackRoad’s ‘Mukta vs. Mukta’ EP; ‘Commando & Steve’, ‘I Got Mine/My Famlee’, ‘Dirty Business’. There’s a common thread running throughout those tracks that suits BackRoad Gee’s teeth-gritting flow. The London rapper has positioned himself as a nebulous artist with influences plucked from grime, UK rap and drill, but his sound is like little else out there. His rawness harks back to ‘00s-era grime, and elements of Wigan’s production — hollow Wiley snares, for example — take you slamming back into that time.

At the same time, you definitely couldn’t call it grime. As someone who grew up on a farm in Scotland (“I was around no music scenes at all!”), Finn Wigan was physically removed from grime’s epicentre. From afar, though, he was obsessed with the genre during its golden age, consistently banging D Double E, Skepta, Roll Deep, and it was that feeling of excitement, of something raw and authentic, that he wanted to emulate in the production. “I was just really inspired by BackRoad himself and the way he raps, because he raps with so much energy, but with a drill flow. I think I felt that the production had to match that energy.”

Finn Wigan might not be a household name just yet, but his fingerprints are on other street heaters (if you do some digging), and he’s produced soundtracks for high-end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Supreme. “I’d love to continue working with BackRoad,” he says of his future plans — with his sights set on working with Pa Salieu (who features on the remix of ‘Party Popper’) and Skepta in the future. “I’m definitely looking to broaden what I’m doing as well and grow as a producer and experiment with new sounds and new artists.