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It’s starting to feel like the London Borough of Croydon has a factory hidden somewhere churning out new-age rap icons. We look back at the Smoke Boyz’ reign throughout the mid-section of the twenty-tens as a seminal moment in the reformation of the scene today. Krept & Konan became trailblazers in UK rap/pop with crossover hits that connected globally, while Stormzy became the first black solo male artist to headline Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage – and the poster boy of UK rap & grime. So, in spite of all the negative headlines and unsavoury news stories about Croydon, its pool of talented music artists just keeps growing deeper and deeper.
Thornton Heath & Finesse Forever’s Gotcha, is a star of a much different kind though – he’s the platinum producer behind drill’s first official UK number 1. He was also the man behind Russ’ two other top ten entries; Gun Lean & Keisha & Becky. He – with the assistance of Russ & Tion – has taken drill to the very place they said it could never reach! His impact hasn’t been bound by the borders of the UK either, with production credits for Australia’s OneFour and New York’s 22gz. Oh, and he’s only 21.
So, if these last few years are anything to go by, the future looks extremely promising for this exciting young talent. We caught up with him last week to discuss his early beginnings, working with idols and how his mum reacted to his decision to do music.
Let’s start at the beginning, tell me about your upbringing.
“I grew up with my mum and my older brother, we didn’t have a dad around. Just seemed like any other household in the Thornton Heath, Croydon Area.
“My mum was trying to make sure I wasn’t involved in a lot badness going on, so a lot of time I’d just stay inside. She did have a laptop, but more time didn’t even let me go on the laptop, but when I did broke it. Then she got another one, and from and then from there I believe I downloaded fruity loops music software.
“At first, I didn’t even make any music. I literally just had it just searching around seeing what it does stuff like that. But because we had like such a great musical influence within the house. Such as like, upstairs to my brothers room and he’d be banging out some some hip hop music, maybe some r&b a lot of Uncle Murder. A lot of Cassidy, Jadakiss, Nas – a lot of vibes. Down in the kitchen, my mum’s vibesing to some reggae, lovers rock, some Chaka Khan, some Earth, Wind & Fire.
“So with those musical influences in the house house, eventually, like, I got around to using the DAW(Digital Audio Workstation), and the first thing I actually did is I recreated a lot of the music I’d hear in the house. My brother would be playing old, old school Meek Mill. Back then the producer for Meek Mill was Jahlil beats iced, and I’d recreate a lot of him. And then yeah, from there, I was slowly but surely just trying to find my own sound.”
Who were the producers or artists shaping your early interest in music?
“Okay, so I’ll start with the producers first. The first producers were Swizz Beatz, Jahlil Beats and Pinero beats. And artists? I don’t know, my minds drawn a blank. We’re gonna have to go with Michael Jackson. Because every time I make a beat, I’ll be three quarters of the way through and a lot of people that know me, know I like to dance. I’m popping one, two moves. Oh, and Meek Mill. That Dream Chasers era? Peak.”
When did you decide that there was a career in music production for you?
“Um, when I made my first beat sale, and it was more than £300 . So “Mr. Sheen” by Digga & Russ, I must have sold the beat for like £500 at the time. Which to me was mad.
I think them times, I’d just dropped out of college. And so, when the money came in I ran downstairs ran to mumsy and was like: ‘YO, I JUST MADE FIVE BILLS OFF A SONG’. She weren’t even gassed like that.
So then after that, I kinda had like an image in my head was like, if I can make £500 or something like that. Imagine if I worked with bigger artists and just keep progressing.”
It’s not the traditional route. How did your mum react?
“My mum she was always pushing me to do more. You know, that was going to a good college, going to uni, and becoming a doctor or something. But when I finally decided to do music, and obviously at the time, me and my mum, we weren’t on the same level, because I wanted to do music and she wants me to be more, do more. So she didn’t take it in the greatest way, but she wasn’t angry. But she wasn’t sad either, she just kinda accepted it. I think she just wanted to see how far I could go.
“But I think it wasn’t until I was able to buy my mum a car (I don’t put stuff like that on social media). But she realised I was okay.”
“But a lot of a lot it may be a generation difference, you know? A lot of the risks that we’re willing to take nowadays compared to what their generation was like are mad. I was even telling my mum this the other day, I was like ‘you know, if you invested into cryptocurrency, when you were younger, you would have so much money.’ But their generation weren’t into taking risks like we are.”
What is it about the drill sonic that you find so interesting? What other genres get you excited like that?
“Before I looked to drill or adapted to drill, I was adapting to every other genre that I could possibly hear. Whether it was rap, trap, old school hip hop, like boom bap, and even garage and funky house. Every single genre that’s out there, I’ve tried. One at a time, I basically tried to build myself around that sound for like a short period of time. Then around 2016, I gave myself a fresh slate and just tried to be as progressive as possible in the drill scene. Because I was so close to drill, especially like knowing a lot of people from my area who existed in that space. That inspired me to give It a go. Slowly but surely, I realised there was a market there.”
“The other genres that get me excited like drill, are trap and old, old school R&B.”
Massive congratulations on the success of “Body”. Mad kinda accolades. How did you three connect for this one?
“Russ released his Plugged in freestyle a few weeks before. Did very good numbers. Tion reached out to me, I think maybe three, four weeks after the Plugged In came out. And he said, his own words, ‘that beat there is special’. He said what Russ done on that 16, he wanted him to do it again on a single. He told me he wanted a beat just like that.”
So, what I’ve done was opened a project file for the beat I made for Russ’ Plugged In with Buni and I made a few changes. So, the main melody is the same old main melody, I added some effects to it, added halftime, changed the key of it, changed the pitch, and then move everything else in pitch with it. And then just made a few little changes here and there to 808s, to kicks, to snares. And then I added a violin which I don’t I don’t normally do for Russ type beats. And obviously, we already had a vocal in there, so we reversed it. So it’s basically the same beat, but not the same beat. And then yeah, I made like two three different versions. And then from there, I think I heard the preview, like two weeks before they were gonna film the music video and I was in shock.”
That happens so often, you know? producers will send their beats around and then the next they’ll see is the preview of the song. And they won’t hear anything until the songs ready.
“Yeah, pretty much. We’re pretty much like left in the dark. So as long as we play our role, we play our position and send it off. Sometimes we don’t hear back. Normally we see a little preview, but my manager sent me a draft of it, it wasn’t fully mixed. But I was able to hear what the artists did before anybody else. And I can’t lie at the time when I was listening to it, I low-key thought it was the best song that me, Russ and Tion had ever done.”
What do you see for the future of drill in terms of its longevity?
“I don’t know, but I can just see it growing consistently. Because if you think about it, realistically, music is subjective. So, there’s no such thing as good or bad. It’s more what’s out there, what’s on the radio and most importantly, what’s doing the most numbers. The younger kids will contribute towards that. So, I can definitely see it growing. Maybe in five or six years time it might not be as big as it is now.
“But because we’ve had like a few breakthrough artists. Like we’ve had Pop Smoke – Rest in Peace – where he was able to pave the way for a lot of people. But he was one of the most streamed artists in 2020 and he does drill and a lot of his album was not just him showing that he can do drill, but that he can also do the r&b stuff. He can also do hip hop, and I don’t know maybe slowly but surely, drill might turn into something that’s like a sub-genre in itself. Right? We have like a drill/rap or something like that. Yeah, cause I don’t know how to define drill, do you? Do you determine it by the lyrical content or by the instrumental?”
You’re pretty young, have you worked with anybody you used to idolise yet? How much more difficult – or easier – is it to operate in a situation like that?
“I like to stay as professional as I can in the studio session. Like, if I’m your biggest fan, and I’m gonna do a studio session with you, you’re not going to know. I don’t want that perspective to be put out there.
“I’ve had moments like that, though. I was in a session with a Yungen. And when I first met him, like, dude, like, I kinda had to pinch myself. He’s like ‘yo bro, I’ve heard some of your stuff – your sick’ and I’m just there like, ‘little old me?!’. Obviously, I had to keep professional. But for me, that felt like a life changing moment.
“Even producers, like Sykes Beats. Before I even had a placement, when I first changed my name over. When SoundCloud was really popular, the main producers I used to really look up to were LA Beats and Sykes Beats. And obviously, I’ve been grateful enough to work with these guys, several times, and even create friendships. It’s like you go from me as someone like, online, and then you meet them in person or wherever. And it’s like, you have that that moment of realisation when you clock that he influenced me to have the sound I have today.
“Tion was another one of those moments. But it felt more normal because we’d spoken on the phone and stuff like that. And when I met him live in flesh in person, like a day before we moved into number one on the Official Charts. We actually all went to meet up at a studio first. All the A&R’s were there, with all the managers. We basically just went down to just meet up take a few press photos and stuff like that. You just meet him and it’s like, you get this presence where he’s just like, he’s just like the voice of the room. But he just to me comes off as very humble and just a very charismatic, lovely guy.”
As a producer, would you say your technical ability is more important (for how a song turns out), or how you connect with the artists on an emotional level?
“For myself personally, I think it comes down to you as an individual and the piece that you make. I feel like there’s there’s a million and one artists out there, and you’re not going to be able to click with all of them. So, I think it’ll come down to technical ability of the producer that’s there, then to the artist and how well you click. That can help a lot with certain scenarios.
“So yeah, I’d say for myself personally, it definitely comes down to what the producer can do, or what the producer can provide for the artist, because I feel like if your vibe on the beat is good, the artist is going to hear it and proper feel it.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but unless you’ve seen me on my lives and stuff, like now you see me on other people’s streams, I like to dance I like to sing or rap along to my own music, you know, to like create a vibe and hopefully they feel that vibe and the energy I’m putting into this one song and f*ck with it.”
If you had to whittle it down to one thing, what would you say is your most important job as a producer?
“Making sure slowly but surely that you’re always improving. Making sure that you always learning. So for myself, personally, I know a lot of people may not think that it represents it. But I thought like when you’re a producer, you’re able to do more than just make beats Yeah, you’re actually able to be in a session, be able to record, be able to give them a dry mix.
“So a lot of that comes down to learning, just learning new stuff, learning new styles, learning new ways to make beats, and obviously, learning new DAW’s as well. So, knowing how to adapt certain situations. For me, it would have to be learning. Learning new stuff, and just learning in general. You can’t progress if you don’t learn. So learning how to market yourself and seeing yourself more as a business, than just a producer.”
What is the plan looking forward?
“The plan for me now is just to keep working and keep rocketing the artists. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll release my own single.”
Be sure to check out our last edition of The Architects right here if you missed it, and let us know on the socials who you wanna see us sit down with next!
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