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“The phone cuts off every 15 minutes in here, so I’ll just ring you back when it does.”
It’s one of the UK’s hottest days of the year when I get on the phone with CB, aka Cracky Blacks, who is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence on firearm charges. Now in the fourth year of his bid, of which he’ll likely serve half for good behaviour, the rapper sounds surprisingly upbeat during our call. “Everything’s gucci,” he tells me. “I’m comfy right now.” Good to know, but serving a sentence like that—and you’re barely 23 yourself—must be tough. I ask if he regrets the actions that led him here: “I regret bare things that’s happened in my life,” he explains, “but at the same time, I knew what the risks would be.”
Born Lekan Akinsoji in Forest Gate, East London, CB grew up watching and being inspired by the stars of underdog music station Channel U, 50 Cent—during his Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ era—and his friends on the ends, one of which is the chart-conquering rapper J Hus. While he respects the sounds and scenes that came before him, it was that unabashed rawness of drill that piqued CB’s interest to get inside in the booth. “UK drill’s like an upgrade from grime,” he says. “It comes from grime as much as it does Chicago, but it’s more for my generation. What we rap about is what a lot of us really go through and I dunno, it just exploded.”
CB’s breakout moment came in 2017 with the track “Take That Risk”: produced by MKThePlug & M1OnTheBeat, the eerie synth work and loaded 808s allowed his vivid street tale to shine and connect with audiences who were far removed from that lifestyle. The clarity he showcased, the considered rhyme schemes—few, to this day, have been able to come close. “That was the first time I ever got a million views,” CB says of the tune. “That was when I realised the industry was truly fuckin’ with me.” Two years later, he dropped his debut mixtape, A Driller’s Perspective, a 16-track set packed with menacing energy, something CB feels the drill scene has lost over the years. Despite knockback from mainstream media and the ‘establishment’, UK drill is now commercially viable and highly polished in parts, with No. 1s and Top 10 hits to back it up. But, while he can appreciate the love the genre is now seeing, CB believes the sound itself is becoming “watered down.”
On a mission to take things back to basics, the rapper just released A Driller’s Perspective 2, on which he shows growth—his first ever “girl tune”, “Married To The Streets”, made the cut—but he also gets back to drill’s foundational elements. We caught up with CB to discuss this, and much more.
“I don’t feel like I’m underrated or overrated. I’m just here, doing what needs to be done.”
COMPLEX: Firstly, CB, how are you keeping in there?
CB: Everything’s gucci, bro. It’s calm. I’m comfy right now. It is what it is, really.
We’re not going to dwell on why you went inside, but I do have to ask: do you regret some of the decisions that led you to be behind bars?
I regret bare things that’s happened in my life, but at the same time, I knew what the risks would be.
What do you do to keep your mind occupied? I know some guys who have a few albums’ worth of written lyrics from their time in prison.
I’m just chilling, honestly. Just normal stuff. Obviously, man writes sometimes, but I feel like it’s hard to write in here. I don’t like writing on pen and paper—I find it hard. I need to hear a cold beat to rhyme on, there and then. Other than that, I’m just chilling, watching box sets and stuff… I’m plugged into Love Island right now [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah?! Who on the show would you couple up with if you had the chance? Indiyah?
She’s good, still! I’m glad they put a Black woman in there who’s getting love from the people. Finally.
To the music now, you’ve released two mixtapes while you’ve been locked up. How do you go about recording the songs, or is it all pre-recorded material?
All of the tracks are pre-recorded; I did them before I came to jail. Bare of the tracks are from different studios and some of them are mad old, but we just changed the beat on a few of them and got some fresh features to bring them up to the times.
When did you know you wanted to rap?
I used to rap when I was younger, but it was never, like, a serious thing. Everyone around me grew up wanting to be a rapper so I didn’t really take it seriously, you get me? It’s like being a baller: everyone wants to be one. But rapping, I was doing that from a young age, and then I started taking it more seriously around 2017. I was putting out music a bit before then, but that’s when I really took a chance on this music thing.
Which was when you dropped “Take That Risk”, a track I honestly believe is in the Top 3 UK drill tracks of all time. When you were making that track, did you ever think it would go on to have the impact that it’s had?
You know what’s mad? I didn’t even think it was gonna be anything major. I knew it was cold, but I didn’t think it was gonna blow up because, at first, it was never even meant to be a tune—it was a freestyle. But then Fumez [The Engineer] was like, “Let’s put a hook in here.” So we did that and it sounded mad! So I was like, “Yeah, cool. Let’s run with it.” I knew it was an anthem, I knew it was a banger, I knew it was cold, but I didn’t think it would blow up like it did. That was all mad to me. I remember, I was in jail, in Pentonville. I wasn’t even going to release it; I didn’t want to release it while I was in jail. But then the mandem kept on telling me to drop it, and when I did, it went off. That was the first time I ever got a million views and when I realised the industry was truly fuckin’ with me.
Some of the lyrics of that song went viral recently when right-wing agent Nigel Farage quoted it during an interview with Fumez The Engineer. I thought it was hilarious, myself. What did you think of them using your lyrics to downplay the drill scene though? They can never just see it for what it is: a form of art and expression.
I expect it. It’s calm, man. They didn’t grow up the way we did; we had different struggles and come from different places, so I don’t really care about their views. Love for the free promo, though. Nigel boosted my streams.
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Getting To Know CB, The Self-Crowned King Of Drill Taking It Back To Basics – Complex