Meet the MC: V9
Part of a collective of East London MCs pushing UK drill into new territory, V9 (pronounced Venom) speaks to DJ Mag's Rob McCallum about his milestone ‘Yūdokuna’ mixtape, police harrasment, and working with the scene's most exciting young producers
It’s late on a Saturday evening in August and V9 is in the vocal booth at the Bermuda Music studio in North London. His engineer, M6, is in the control room, flanked by KO and Jimmy. The trio of Homerton MCs are laying down material for a project that has been teased on social media under the hashtag #98s — a reference to East London postcodes Homerton (E9) and Holly Street (E8). The debut track from the sessions, ‘Homerton2Holly’, lands just a few days later; featuring an intro from V9 and four minutes of frantic bars by Jimmy, Stally, DA, Hitman, Mazza, KO, and Billy Billions, all backed by a collaborative instrumental by M1 on the Beat and X10, it’s undoubtedly one of the coldest UK drill tracks of the year.
V9 (pronounced Venom) picks up the phone to DJ Mag in the early afternoon the following day. “We’re cooking up together,” he says of the recording sessions and ‘Homerton2Holly’, not being drawn on the rumours that a #98s mixtape is in the pipeline after the launch of the 9inety8ights Insta page at the end of July. “There’s something coming,” he hints.
He speaks at the end of a busy week of recording, during an intense period of productivity. Over the past few years, he’s risen quickly — his direct, aggressive delivery as immediately recognisable as his signature Deadpool mask — culminating in the release of his ‘Yūdokuna’ mixtape in May (the name means 'poisonous' in Japanese). Starting out with the darker UK drill sound of his earlier work — as on ‘Intro’, ‘Bruck It’, and the CS-featuring ‘Bouj’ — the tape switches mood via the brighter melodies found on the Goko!-produced ‘Hello Hi’, before swinging to trap on the Billy Billions-collab ‘Gasoline’, and finally returning to UK drill for the final trio of tracks. Following on from his 2019 mixtape ‘Homerton Sensei’, it marks a huge step up for the East London MC.
“If you heard my first mixtape, the mix was horrible. You’d have thought I’m drowning or something,” he laughs. “It’s like I’m underwater. That’s how horrible the mix was. It’s got big tunes — but ‘Yūdokuna’ is a level up. The mix, the bars, the songs: it’s a level up in every single way. You get it? ‘Homerton Sensei’ was me knocking on the door. ‘Yūdokuna’ is me kicking it down.”
The tape features some of UK drill’s most innovative young producers, including Ghosty, AV the Producer, ZCBeats, ESTheProducer and Foreign Kash. “My first tape was typical drill bits,” he continues. “Normal shit like everyone would jump on. So I thought, ‘You know what? I need to make something different. I need to make my own sound’. You hear ‘Hello Hi’, ‘Ambition’; no-one jumps on beats like that. You’ve got to be different with it. The tape is done in moods. It starts off gritty. But from ‘Bruck It’, it gets jumpier and jumpier. You get it?” He pauses. “I’ve got to stop saying you get it!” he laughs.
Despite the assured sound of ‘Yūdokuna’, and the tape holding such a strong narrative, V9 says he recorded it in just six studio sessions. The quickfire nature of the project is reflective of his writing process; he feels it’s the best way of delivering an authentic voice as an artist. “I don’t write outside the studio,” he explains. “There’s more of a vibe if I’m in the studio. If I’m at home, I’ll get distracted. I’ll get in the studio, play some beats, and if I click with a beat, I’ll start writing. If I write a quick eight-bar, I’ll lay it down, listen to it, then continue writing.”
He says the step up from ‘Homerton Sensei’ to ‘Yūdokuna’ came from a change in his own hunger to succeed as an artist. And part of this was a conscious decision to take on management for the first time through Bermuda Music. “I had no management ‘cause I felt there's no one that could do something for me that I can’t do for myself. I didn’t know no one like that,” he says. “Someone who can pattern me up. I was doing it all by myself. I was buying my beats. I was uploading the songs. All on my laptop. If you wanna evolve as a fucking artist, you need help. You can’t just do it by yourself. Since I got my management, and ‘Yūdokuna’ has come out, it’s more professional.”
As well as the Japanese theme running through his music (‘Yūdokuna’, ‘Homerton Sensei’), V9 makes regular references to anime like Dragon Ball Z, football (‘Andy & Dwight’), video games, and comic books in his wordplay — with his name a reference to the Marvel Comics character Venom. “It’s what I’m into,” he says. “I write about things that are relevant to me. I’m not gonna come and write bullshit. Talk about being in Afghanistan or something. I ain’t been Afghanistan. You get it? I’m going to talk about what I know, my experiences, and what I like. So I talk about Mortal Kombat.”
“Before it was an underground thing. It’s still underground, but it’s getting more commercial success. People are investing in it. It’s all part of the process”
‘Yūdokuna’ landed with a series of videos that continue this theme. ‘Right Or Wrong’, featuring KO, sees V9 in a dressing gown eating Lucky Charms. ‘Drip Drip’, with Unknown T, features bespoke comic book imagery, with the video set in a Gotham-like world. ‘Hello Hi’, with Jimmy, takes place at a party — tying in with the narrative of the mixtape — and is shot alongside footage from Mortal Kombat. V9 says he recently recorded the visuals for his Billy Billions-featuring trap cut, ‘Gasoline’, which is to be the final video from ‘Yūdokuna’ — it also follows his recent contribution to the Daily Duppy freestyle series.
“See me,” he says. “I like to make my videos different. I don’t know what the fuck the Lucky Charms was about,” he laughs. “I don’t even eat Lucky Charms. At first I wasn’t really on it, as it’s not really me. I’m kind of a chilled guy, man. Unless I’m on the Hennessey,” he smiles. “It looked proper lit though, I’m not gonna lie.”
As well as his own prolific output in 2020, the original quartet of Homerton MCs, made up of V9, Unknown T, KO, and Jimmy — all friends since childhood — have been on unstoppable form too. Unknown T hit No. 14 in the UK Albums Chart last month with his own debut mixtape ‘Rise Above Hate’. The tape included ‘AVEN9ERS’, the first track to feature V9, Unknown T and KO together. “Mad innit!” he enthuses. “It was worth the wait though! There’s more coming. That was just a little somethin’ somethin’. A little teaser. You’ve got to scratch the surface first?”
Each of the Homerton MCs has their own distinct delivery. “You got KO with the wordplay, Unknown T with the flow, and I’m just there shouting and angry,” laughs V9. “Then Jimmy comes in smooth. But we’ve all got bars, so the fans love it.” Younger Hackney MCs like Hitman and DA, who feature on ‘Homerton2Holly’, also form part of a wider Hackney collective, who look set to take the next step in their unstoppable rise.
When he speaks to DJ Mag, it’s almost three years to the day that V9’s debut track, ‘Japan’, landed. So what was he like when he first started? “I was too shit man,” he laughs. “I’m not gonna lie. I was actually whack.” Last year’s ‘Japan 2.0’ — produced by MK the Plug — showcased an artist who’d honed his raw talent and was ready to deliver a tape as strong as ‘Yūdokuna’.
V9 flew out to film the visuals for ‘2.0’ in Japan. “That was a horrible experience,” he laments. “We couldn’t shoot nowhere. I got stopped by police more than I get stopped here. I'm walking down the street and I get, ‘Hi. Hello. Hello. Search? Search?’ I’m thinking, ‘Rah!’ But they’re so polite going, ‘Touch? Touch?” The cameraman told him to refuse to allow them to touch him when asked. “So I said to them, ‘Nah you can’t touch me.’ And they’re all taking their handcuffs out and that. I was like, ‘Nah! You’re just trying to get me arrested in Japan fam,’ he laughs. “Trying to lock me up. Fuck that.”
UK drill also finds itself in a very different place to when V9 dropped his first track in 2017. “A very different place,” he agrees. “Before it was an underground thing. It’s still underground, but it’s getting more commercial success. People are investing in it. It’s all part of the process.”
He says it has had an impact on the music — “I’ve watered it down a bit. You can’t be too violent ‘cos it won’t get radio plays or nuttin” — but that drill artists will never change their sound for the industry. “More times people are independent so they don’t care,” he explains. Despite its success, UK drill has been blamed by the police and mainstream media for fuelling violence. But V9 says its artists are just telling the stories of growing up in a major city — stories that ring true across the world.
“The thing about the UK and these pricks is this: if I had an American accent, the radios would be playing me all day long,” he says. “There would be no problem. But there is because of the police thinking, ‘Yeah, drill does this, drill does that’... When it was rock & roll, you’ve got Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a fucking bird. You don’t see drill artists biting off fucking birds’ heads on stage and talking about sacrifice. But that’s alright.
“Most of the time drill rappers just chat shit anyway,” he continues. “They’re words. They’re just making music. The police: I don’t know what is wrong with them. They’re weirdos. Imagine, one time we was at the beach, all the way in Kent. The jakes drove all the way from Hackney, an hour and 30 minutes, just to watch, like some fucking creeps, fam. That is fucking harassment. Leave us alone! “When it’s a function for young people, they’re always there. But when there’s anything for grown ups, or it’s a white people thing and what-not, they don’t lock you up for doing anything stupid. They’ll come with two officers, like, ‘Everything alright?’ If it’s Black kids, young kids, it’s a problem. They’ve got to bring a riot squad. All for a BBQ.
“Certain people just think we’re talking about violence, but I want to prove to people that this is not just a mask and violence. I can actually rap. If you listen to my bars properly there’s wordplay behind it”
“You can have songs with 10 milli-plus, they’ll still try to do shit to tarnish your name. It’s just how they are. Artists like 67, who have been famous [for a while], when they try to shoot a video, the police come like it’s a war,” he laughs. “Trying to lock it off and what-not. You see Dave getting stopped. You get it? What the fuck are you stopping Dave for, man? What’s Dave gonna do?” he laughs. “They’re just bored, fam. Because we’re from the ‘hood, and they've seen you from young, but now you’re successful, they will always come and pester you. Just to be a prick.”
British police and the media have a history of persecuting Black music, with grime and Form 696, Sheffield’s bassline scene, and UK garage all prominent examples. UK drill’s popularity grew via social media, in part due to the Met Police’s Trident operation putting a stopper to many artists performing live because of perceived gang connections. “A lot of people have performances,” he explains. “But there should be more. That’s where the money is. Every time there's shows there are police there trying to shut it down, saying we’re inciting violence. We call them the party poopers.
“They know there is work going into it. They don’t care. But it’s a way out,” he continues. “It’s like playing football, basketball, and what-not. With talent and hard work you can do it. Don’t let no police try to put you down. Just keep pushing. In life, you’re always going to have people that like something and people that don’t. But sometimes negative is good. Because you can just prove them wrong. At the end of the day the police don’t own the music industry. There’s only so much they can do. Drill is charting. So people are listening. They can’t stop us. You can’t stop good music.”
V9 is returning back to the studio again for another night of recording shortly after his call with DJ Mag. “I’m keeping busy,” he smiles. “You’ve deffo gotta set the bar high. Certain people just think we’re talking about violence, but I want to prove to people that this is not just a mask and violence. I can actually rap. If you listen to my bars properly there’s wordplay behind it. I’m from Homerton. We do wordplay. Everyone saying: ‘ching’, ‘splash’ [slang for stabbing]. Stop all of that. “As an artist you’ve got to evolve, man," he concludes.
"It’s about progress. If I did the same thing, people are going to get bored. You’ve got to switch it up sometimes to show people you’re versatile. I’m taking baby steps though. When you’re popping, everyone wants to work with you. When you’re not popping, no-one cares about you. It’s a business at the end of the day. If you’re not bringing it, they’re not going to put you at the table. You get it?”