The new series of The Rap Game UK will air on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on 11 August, hosted by Krept, Konan & DJ Target.
Meet the six unsigned UK rappers who travel to Manchester and get to compete in what’s been dubbed ‘the UK’s rap Olympics,’ performing, living together and competing to win a once-in-a-lifetime £20,000 cash prize and mentorship scheme to help the winning artist create, and launch, their own music after the contest ends.
Each week the artists are set two challenges in which they will be asked to step up and show that they have got the hardest bars, the song writing abilities, and the stage presence to cut it in the music industry, whilst trying to impress Krept, Konan & DJ Target, and each week’s guest mentors, too.
The Rap Game UK is a 6×60′ series made by Naked Television for BBC Three. It is commissioned by Fiona Campbell, Commissioning Director BBC Three; Patrick McMahon and Muslim Alim are the BBC Commissioning Editors. Steve Earley and Gregor Lauder are Executive Producers.
Meet the rappers…
Hailing from Croydon, South London, Big Jest has dubbed himself the ‘punchline king’ due to his effortless flow, and ability to seamlessly incorporate (and use) wordplay in his bars. An established artist in his own right, and the oldest of this series’ contestants, Big Jest is an entertainer, and has been since he began making music with his brothers at 14 years old. Using music as a medium to process his emotions and the trials he’s faced in life, the rapper, who’s previously released viral hits such as ‘Mo Salah’, is hoping his years of experience will set him apart from the rest of this year’s talent.
How did you get your start in music?
My start came from rapping on the playground – everyone used to rap in my school and the genre was mainly Grime, but that wasn’t my thing as much. I’ve got two older brothers who I really look up to, and they were also doing Grime; so I was in Year 10, about 14 years old and I had all these bars I’d written that no one had heard, but I wanted to do what they were doing, and I’d see how my dad would react when my oldest brother would spray his little eight-bar, and I really wanted that reaction too.
So, that’s what really made me want to get started – my brothers; and it was just something that all of us tried our hand at, especially if you’re young in South London. Honestly, I only really got into it around Year 10, and I was writing these bars that no one had heard – not even my brothers – but I was with the guys in school and just rapped it to my friends one time and they all went mad like “that’s so cold!”, and they gassed me up so from then, I’ve just always been writing. Later I started making music with my brothers and some close friends, but life happens, and I guess I’m the last man standing – but there’s always been that encouragement and support there. They’re always pushing me.
How do you think having an established level and prior experience in the industry has helped with your experience on TRGUK S4?
I think it helps me truly know myself. I always know the way I want to translate myself to others, and how I want to come across in my lyrics because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the music that resonates is music about translating your feelings into sounds and words. When they give us a challenge, and we’ve got to think on the spot – I still know how to be me, and those challenges are where sometimes, if you don’t know yourself, or have a little less experience finding yourself you’ll struggle.
Experience ultimately helps you to translate your personal message more clearly, and the more experience you’ve got, the easier it gets for you to paint that picture.
As you may have already been known by some of the mentors, cast and guest mentors because of your prior music experience, why was appearing on TRGUK S4 important for you to do?
How I see it, is that there’s always going to be pros and cons, because obviously some of the mentors and other artists may have seen or heard about me before and that may seem like pressure, but that’s fine because that’s when I perform best; it brings out the best in me.
When people may already know who you are, or know you have a certain level of experience, there’s that pressure there that you have to deliver – and that just helps me to be honest. There’s no room to fail. I’m humbled that my career is currently going in the right direction, and even more humbled to be able to have the chance to perform on this massive platform and further expose myself – but I’m far from where I want to be so why would I not jump on this opportunity?
There may be people who know who I am, but there are millions more who are watching this not knowing who I am, and this is a great opportunity to give them a chance to get to know me. I feel like if God gives you an opportunity and you don’t take it, you’re blocking your own blessings, so this can’t be a bad thing. Those are the principles I live by: if it was meant for me, it will be, and I was meant to be on the show.
In this series which challenges do you think brought the most out of you – which challenge did you find the hardest and one you’d do again?
I loved the clash because it’s something I’d never done before, and there was an added adrenaline rush going face to face in front of a crowd. But other than that, I would say the other challenge that pushed me the most was the digging deep on personal things. When I’m digging deep on those things, I’m trying to paint a picture, make it as accurate as possible, and go back to how I feel at the time; whether it’s sadness, anger or happiness. When I write those type of bars they hit harder, I go to that place and write from the feelings of remembering when I was 18 or 19 or going through a difficult situation so that was a lot for me – I had to lock myself away in the house and just get it right.
We’ve got artists from all over the UK in this series, how do you think like being from South London (which has birthed the likes of Stormzy, Dave, Ramz) makes you stand out in this competition?
South Londoners – we have our own energy and flair! I just feel like there’s a certain charisma and vibe that comes with being from South. Naturally, it’s a bit biased to say that, but I do think so – musically speaking there’s so many rappers that have emerged from South London, have been successful, and represent our industry. So, there’s pros in being associated to south, and then there’s also cons because where’s there’s lots of people of a high calibre where you’re from you just feel like you’re one of many and it’s harder to stand out.
In comparison, if you’re from Ireland, or Scotland, or Wales there’s not as much over-saturation in the scene, so it’s easier to stand out and take the front seat.
East London Arts & Music (ELAM) alum, JClarke is a rapper from Brixton, South London. Winner of the viral 2019 U18 Black Box Cypher, the rapper and producer grew up in a musical household – his dad is a DJ and mum a pianist, and he always knew music was his calling. A regular on the skatepark when he’s not behind the mic, JClarke approaches rap in a tactical manner, dissecting and strategizing as his method to success.
Where did you develop your love for music, and rap music specifically?
For the most part, I come from a very musical background: my dad was a DJ, my mum knows how to play the piano, and my sister’s a singer, so it’s always been around me and something I just naturally gravitated towards.
Were there any artists you listened to, or that particularly inspired you when you were growing up?
This is hard because my answer always changes. When I was younger, I was first introduced to rap with the early 2000s American sound, so Chris Brown, Jay-Z and all the notable names of that era, but it was more of an image thing of being in the spotlight than the music itself. But, as I grew up, I started to appreciate sounds from the UK more, artists like Kano, Stormzy, Ghetts, and Chip really influenced me.
Did you always see yourself pursuing music as a career long-term, or was there anything else you thought you might do?
I think so – when I started trying to write I was in primary school, so I always kind of had it in my mind that I wanted that arrogance that rappers had, like “yeah, I’m gonna be a rapper – I’m gonna do something like that when I’m older”. So, I feel like from a young age I always knew I wanted to do something along those lines, and as I grew older, I figured it out and worked to make it happen.
Where did you learn to write, and like how did you develop your flow and your lyricism?
I wouldn’t say my lyricism, but my ability to use language and my confidence in using it came from reading. I was an avid reader as a kid, and it’s not to say I neglected it, but as I grew, I started to focus more on my flow for instance – that came from when I started picking up drums and I think that’s the main place I developed my rhythm.
How did you find out about TRGUK and was being on the show different to what you’d imagined?
I was very tuned into the first season when it launched, and after that, so it’s a great platform, especially when you’re coming up in the scene – it helps you to connect those dots.
From a TV aspect, I wasn’t really surprised by some of the ways things worked when filming. From a musical aspect of it though, especially the group we had this year, the level was just so high. It was sick because the other artists just brought it, and everyone came with a very abundant mindset – everyone wanted to grow and get better, so it was great being in that environment; it pushed me to not only progress and do more with music, but it was a good experience.
Did Krept, Konan, DJ Target, or any of the guest mentors give you any advice that you’ll take on after the show?
Yeah, for sure, especially from a business aspect. I’m naturally big on strategy, so when I spoke to Konan he talked a lot about the way they operate – it’s very business-oriented, they’ve always been, and they always have their ducks in a row. Essentially, it’s just being ready to shoot your shot at all times and carry that same mentality with business. It was also reaffirming things and I already stood for, but it was good to hear from someone else not yourself. So, I’m just keeping the same hunger as always, growing, progressing and that will stick with me.
Eighteen year-old P3Lz (pronounced P-Three-Elz) is the youngest contestant in this show’s history thus far. Born and raised in Toxteth, Liverpool, she prides herself on being a “proper Scouser” and loves her city and the uniqueness of her accent, which she believes makes her stand out in the competition. With acclaim from Liverpool talent such as Ayystar, P3Lz is representing the female rappers out of the region and believes it’s her time to contribute to the rappers putting Liverpool on the map. Family-oriented, P3LZ started rapping three years ago, and focuses her style on drill – but is adamant to do it her own positive way, veering away from its usual dark themes and negative lyricism.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – how did you develop your stage name?
My name is Pelumi, basically growing up everyone just used to call me PELZ. So, I thought I’d go with that, but ‘PELZ’ is only one syllable, so I was like “sounds a bit awkward to say” so I changed the E to a three, to make it sound like ‘P-Three-Elz’.
How did you get started in music, and particularly rapping?
I’ve always enjoyed music, like listening to it, and one day I just started writing and I’ll admit at first it wasn’t the best, it was quite bad [laughs], then for my 16th birthday my sister bought me some studio time and I liked it. She noticed my passion for it, and she could see I was getting better, so she encouraged me to continue and that’s basically how it got going.
Were there any artists that inspired you when you were starting out, and who did you listen to?
Yeah, I really like Bugzy Malone, and Ard Adz is probably my favourite rapper.
What’s your favourite track at the moment?
Ard Adz – 74 Bars Of Pain
What are you most proud of being from Liverpool?
I’d say it’s the scouser mentality – scousers are proud people in terms of where they’re from, so it’s just taking pride in where I’m from and how we do stuff. It gives me a lot of confidence being from Liverpool because it’s a whole [Liverpool rap] community that not only has your back but the bigger community in general. I’m from Liverpool – I’m a scouser, and you can only ever say that if you’re from here, and that’s something to brag about.
There are a lot of eyes on the Liverpool rap scene at the moment, with the likes of Hazy and Young LS. What does it mean to you that your name is going to be part of the rappers putting Liverpool on the map for rap?
It’s cool, I can’t lie. I feel like I’m doing it for the females as it’s very male-dominated right now, so I feel like it was needed for me to emerge at this time.
Where did you first hear about The Rap Game UK- is it something you had watched before?
I watched the first and second series, so I did know about it. Then when this season was being cast, my sister suggested I apply, so I went for it and that was that. Initially, I just wasn’t feeling it honestly, then they got in contact with me I was still sceptical up until the point they said, “you’re on the show”. I just couldn’t believe I was going to be on it, honestly.
…was it nervousness or did you not feel ready?
Yeah definitely, I didn’t – I felt like I just hadn’t had enough experience in the music world, I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep up with the intensity of the show. When you’re watching it on TV it’s completely different to being on it – like the levels, it’s ten times harder doing it. But I am glad that I did it because I stretched myself in terms of my ability.
What have you enjoyed most about being on the show?
I enjoyed getting to meet, and have time with the mentors (both Krept, Konan & DJ Target, and the guest mentors), and hearing their feedback as well. Normally, I would never meet people who are in the industry and get their take on me as an artist, so that was special I feel.
Was there any mentor or guest mentor that gave you really good feedback or piece of advice?
All of it in general, but in particular Unknown T’s feedback, I’m not going to forget that. When I heard he was coming I was nervous because I’ve listened to him forever, and he’s big in the scene, but his feedback was good – and the one I’ll probably always remember.
How did you feel during the challenges? Were there any that pushed you out of your comfort zone, or one you would do again?
I feel like the clash was the thing I was always a bit nervous about going into the show because obviously, that was going to come up, and I’ve never had the opportunity to clash before or write bars on such short notice, as a battle against someone – so I was just a bit nervous about that. But I enjoyed it and really surprised myself there, so I’d do it again for sure.
As the youngest contestant in the show’s history, what advice would you give to other young rappers hoping to apply next year?
I’d encourage anyone young to apply because even though it might feel like you’ve got less experience than other people, it doesn’t mean that you’re less talented. Being on the show really gave me a sense of independence that I’d probably never get at this age, and it was important for my personal development – I feel a lot more mature, and I feel like I’m able to have more confidence in myself, too.
I’d say the show really stretches you musically as well, like the timeframes you’re given to write bars and then having to remember them, you wouldn’t have to do that in any other place, so musically, lyrically and performance-wise, I feel like I’m a stronger artist overall.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time, following the show?
In five years, I’ll be cemented in the scene, and truthfully, I feel like I’m going to just carry on doing what I’ve been doing and see what happens. Of course I have goals and expectations for myself, but I also like to just see what happens in life and where it takes me.
Scotland-based Mayo (pronounced Mai-əʊ) has lived a little bit in a lot of places since moving to the UK from his native Nigeria at the age of one, and it’s this wealth of experience of different environments that make him one of the most ‘conscious rappers’ this series. Drawing from his real life, the 21-year-old biomedical graduate, who only got into rap aged 14 when his family settled in Scotland, wants to spread positivity with his music, whilst also writing songs people gravitate towards.
What’s the rap scene like in Scotland at the moment, is there one?
The rap music scene in Scotland is just starting off – there’s a lot of rappers around now, but aside from that [creatives] are starting to come together to make music, create visuals and just get to know each other. I think it’s bigger than rap, really, it’s just the beginning of an era and that’s what we’re witnessing now – the growth is great to see.
You stated that your style of music is ‘real rap’ – can you explain what that is?
What ‘real rap’ means to me is that anytime I write a track, I aim to write it coming from a personal place and standpoint, and people usually can relate to that – especially when you’re talking about sensitive topics. ‘Real rap’ is a record that really helps you express yourself the best way you can in the music. That’s not to say I wouldn’t make club bangers or something that would get the people moving, but I’ve had a lot of life experiences because I’ve lived everywhere, so I’ve experienced a lot of things, you know, and I feel like a lot of people can relate.
Who or what inspired you to start rapping?
One of my idols is Dave, and I was listening to him early, like when he was 16 and still starting out and I knew from the jump that this guy was gonna be big – the passion and the raw energy was there. I feel like if you’re just being unapologetic with it and you’re just going for it, you’re just going to get heard you know, so I think Dave 100 percent encouraged me to become more conscious with music.
How did you hear about The Rap Game UK?
I heard about The Rap Game UK when I was in uni – I stumbled upon it on Instagram and thought, “this seems like a bit of me” – and I had just started rapping at the time so I would watch it and be judging like “I can do this easy”. That’s until you really do it in real life, it’s a tough experience.
…and how have you found it, from seeing it on social media and TV to being on it?
I expected a lot of the memory challenges, having to remember your bars on short notice, so that wasn’t a surprise. Also, watching the show it’s easy to think people are alone and doing it by themselves – but it’s not like that at all, everyone is around and there for you, and you’ve got lots of support.
What would you say your favourite challenge was – what brought you the most out of your comfort zone?
It was a lot of challenges, really. I’d say the clash because even though I’ve done clashes before the pressure is different when you’re on TV, and you only get one chance.
What’s something that Krept, Konan, DJ Target or one of the guest mentors told you that you’ll carry in your career going forward?
There were a lot of things said that I’ll take advice from, every challenge, every advice from a mentor. I feel like I’ve improved from the whole experience.
How do you feel you’ve personally grown through the duration of filming the show?
It’s really been a great experience – I feel like a lot of these things I had within me anyway, but on the show, you have to really try and find your feet because coming from Scotland with a scene that’s still emerging there’s not a lot of competition, so I’m in the bad habit of taking it easy. But on The Rap Game UK the other artists are very talented, so it forces you to work harder.
What was it like working with the live band in one of your challenges?
I felt like when I was in church performing with the choir like I used to. My love for music started in church and that’s how I learnt to drum, so it was like being back in that family type of environment.
What did being on the show teach you about the industry?
Being on The Rap Game UK taught me that collaborations are crucial, 100 percent, because as much as you’re an incredible artist, you just can’t do everything yourself and be everything that people want. Say you want to do a Reggaeton track, instead of doing that yourself – because your genre is ‘real rap’, for example – it’s better to collaborate with an artist of that genre rather than force something yourself. This really taught me that you can’t do everything, just do what you’re good at, be the best at that and work with other people who are the best at what they do, as well.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In five years, I see myself at the top of the scene with numbers ones – I would have dropped an album by then. I’m really focusing on being number one and making music that I’m happy with because it’s about legacy for me; legacy is so important because it could take me five years to blow, but if I blow on the fifth year then I’m in the game for life.
Producer, DJ and Rapper, Leeds-based Mwangi is of British and Kenyan heritage and describes himself as the ultimate “triple threat”. A professional DJ, Mwangi has made music a priority in his life, and prides himself on his unmatched work ethic and drive to succeed.
You’ve grown up in Leeds, but you’ve previously stated feeling a little detached from the town, what was your experience like?
I love being from Leeds, it was just that the town I grew up in was very quiet, very small. I’m a city guy, I’m a DJ who’s trying to break into the rap world, so the busier life was always my thing. It scared me to have to fall into the usual pattern I saw around me: go to school, leave, find a trade, it was what everybody else was doing. Nobody around me was breaking out, and I didn’t want to do that. I want to do my own thing, set my own path and do something different – something special – and that’s what I’ve tried to pursue.
Did you grow up listening to rap music, or were there any other genres of music that influenced you growing up?
Yes, I grew up listening to old-school Grime and Hip Hop – you know the classics that built the industry we have today. Most of my influence came from my mum, she raised me on Reggae, like Bob Marley, and African music too. I really didn’t realise how much of an influence that played on me as an artist until I got older. In terms of my rap inspiration, it was really artists like Chip and Lethal Bizzle – they built the foundations of UK rap music and I feel like the rap style I make feeds off that with its textures of skippy, sort of old-school Grime flow.
What’s your definition of real rap?
My definition of ‘real rap’ is rapping about my situation in the realest way possible, so it could be rapping about where I’ve come from, where I want to be, what I’m doing and where I’m going. If I’m talking about my problems and my financial situation, it’s just me being brutal and honest, and real. It’s possible to talk about situations and put your life on a track without it always focusing on the negative and violence; for me it should be aspirational and motivational – I’m talking about how I’m going to get there. I feel like a lot of people fall into the typical. ‘I’m just going to talk about hate and violence’ to get views, you get me; it doesn’t always have to be like that.
You work full-time as a DJ, how has your background prepared you for being on The Rap Game UK this series?
Being a DJ has helped me as an artist myself, because I see what sort of tunes go off in the clubs – I get to see crowd reactions five times a week so it’s great for me to trial and error tracks, I use it a lot like audience research. It’s the same with producing and rapping: I’ve made beats for a lot of artists in the past so I know what works, and it allows me to understand the music, and trial different sounds so I’m not stuck in one place.
What was your favourite part of the whole filming experience on The Rap Game UK S4?
My favourite part was the feeling you get after a clean performance. It’s just you, and you’ve finished performing and you can now exhale and enjoy other people’s performances. It’s no more “what are my lyrics”, “what are they judging me on”, you can just relax – so that’s not my favourite moment but has been a moment I look forward to at the end of every challenge.
I’m big on collaborating, when I’m home one of my favourite things is writing with my boys, mixing and just getting into a track and I’d missed that feeling. So, my actual favourite moment was not even captured on camera, it wasn’t part of a challenge, it was just me and JClarke vibing in the studio at the penthouse.
We were preparing for a challenge, working on this last hook together and at one point, I swear it got so good we were screaming and gassed and that’s what I love. We were just vibing; it was 2am and everyone else was asleep, and that feeling reminded me of why I do rap. It reminded me of collaborating back home with my boys, it was the exact same feeling – so I think that was the best moment in The Rap Game UK for me because it brought me back. It was the closest to home I’d felt outside of the pressure of this situation.
From your experience on the show, what has it shown you about what you need to do to succeed in the industry?
Honestly, I thought I was confident, I thought I had it all to be an artist and that’s the only reason I went on to The Rap Game UK, I wouldn’t go on it if I didn’t think I could win. But going on it, you realise – and I even said it to people – you feel like you’re a big fish in your tank until you go into an environment like this and realise that you’re not a big fish and there are sharks in the water too.
Working with the mentors (Krept, Konan & DJ Target), and then you have guest mentors that walk into a room, and you’re taken aback because you see and listen to them, and it makes you realise that these people don’t miss – they don’t mess about. If you want to be on their level, you have to step up quick.
Loud, fun, opinionated and a self-confessed tomboy, Zoellz was born and raised in Birmingham. Naturally the centre of the attention in any room, Zoellz charisma, charm and ‘main character syndrome’ makes for a bubbly rap style, which she describes as ‘wavy rap’, incorporating melody and flow into her heady rhymes. Performing in front of anyone for the first time on the show, she is hoping to break down barriers for females like herself in the industry – and debunking the ‘sex sells’ stereotype, Zoellz is here to dominate in the male-lead industry.
How did you get into music?
My dad’s really into music, so I grew up with it around me. I’d wanted to drop music for a while, but I didn’t do it because I’m a perfectionist and didn’t want to put out something bad. Then we went into lockdown, and like everyone else in the world, I had more time to get into something I’d wanted to. So, I started going to the studio with my friends and I figured out I’m quite good, so I started to do it more.
You describe your genre of rap as ‘wavy rap’, can you explain what that is?
With wavy rap I don’t just focus on transitions, but it’s about the energy as well – I feel that that should always be at least one part of music making. Even if it’s a bit crazy at one point, or it’s a bit slower on another area so that someone’s like “yeah, I like that bit”. I really like to make music that’s just more of a vibe; not everybody cares about wordplay and being technical all the time. You don’t want to be listening to a track and always trying to listen out for punchlines, you just want to enjoy it.
In terms of lyrics, is there anything you really enjoy writing about?
I like writing about having a good time, going out to party with good company, and overall good vibes. I don’t really rap about negative stuff – I don’t feel like there’s any point. Music makes you feel things, anything from anger, sadness, and joy, so when you’re listening to me I don’t want you to feel like you need to go and create negativity with anyone else. I like to make music that makes people feel good.
How did you hear about The Rap Game UK, and why did you decide to apply?
I’d watched The Rap Game UK even before I even really got into music. I thought it was entertaining ‘cos there are a lot of talent shows that don’t have any substance to them, but this was different and really felt attainable, that’s what I liked about it. I didn’t start rapping until lockdown, so after the third season I thought this would be a good show, so I put myself out there. The show allowed me to show my personality and other elements to myself too, rather than just music.
How has your experience on the show been – was it what you were expecting?
You think it’s easier when you’re watching it, and then you get on it and realise it’s not, you’re like “bro, I have 24 hours to do this like…”
What was the most challenging part of the experience for you?
The most challenging part for me was having to memorize for challenges, not necessarily because of the memory aspect, but the pressure of having to do it on short notice and doing it on tape (with only one take) because you’d never have to do something like this in real life. Before the show I’d also never performed in front of anyone – this was a first as well as having to do it all recorded, let alone in a pressure-filled environment. Everything was so new to us all, a whole new experience and we were all out of our comfort zones.
You’ve had some incredible mentors this series, was there anyone you were excited to work with?
My favourite mentor was Shaybo. I was also happy to see Meekz [Manny], as well as D-Block Europe, they are my top three ones out of everyone I listen to and, obviously, it was great to have a female mentor as well, she’s so big on the scene right now, so that was a plus.
…do you listen to quite a lot of Shaybo? Would you say she’s one of your musical inspirations?
Yeah, I’d say out of all the females on the scene right now Shaybo is one of the hardest. Shaybo and Ms Banks – I feel like they both represent female rappers well; sometimes people get lost in the whole sex appeal element of female rappers, and they forget that you are supposed to be rapping as well. I rate her a lot, she’s unapologetically who she is and such a talent.
What did you hope to get out of the show? Do you feel like you grew in any way?
Before going on the show, I’d never performed in front of anyone, I’d only ever made music from my room or going to the studio with a very limited amount of people, so I feel like the show got me out of my comfort zone in terms of my confidence, 100 percent. Also, I’m a competitive person, as well as being a perfectionist so it made me work harder, as well as having to do things in a shortened space of time.
What has the show taught you about the industry as a whole and who you need to be to excel in it?
I feel like it taught me to not give up on yourself and who you are naturally as a person. Sometimes, when you’re a lively character it can be weird if others around you aren’t like that, but it’s my strength and I feel like people gravitate towards me because of it. It’s a fake it til’ you make it industry, so you’ve got to believe in yourself because no one else is going to.