Kennington rapper Blanco discusses his commitment to experimentation, favourite freestyles and how to make a hit in the studio.
For UK rap kingpin Blanco, the music really matters. Disinterested in fame and fandom, the former Harlem Spartans member seeks success in the studio, blessing beats with his trademark tone and truthful tales. It’s a journalistic cliché to praise an artist’s versatility, but an innate ability to experiment with global flavours has put Blanco firmly on the map. After hearing a baile funk beat in prison, the rapper started interweaving the genre’s Afro-Brazilian swings into his own music. It took time for his former record label to realise the sound’s potential, but after convincing them to release “Pull Up”, there was no denying its brilliance.
A wise head on young shoulders, to call Blanco a veteran would be a disservice to the poignant music he makes today. But, after nearly a decade in the game, his longevity cannot be understated. Rising to stardom with Harlem Spartans, Kennington’s seminal rap collective, the wordsmith found himself at the epicentre of UK drill, creating some of the genre’s earliest hits. After experiencing a series of legal issues, the group never quite reached their potential, but Blanco’s vision quickly became bigger than the scene they so quickly rose from.
“Carpe Diem” is the first official single since Blanco released his critically acclaimed mixtape ‘City of God’. Potent and percussive, the “Shippūden” rapper’s flow slices through Jacob Manson’s chameleonic beat, which skates from punchy 808s to crunching breakbeats. It’s a tantalising taste of what’s coming from the artist, reminding the scene that he’s still one of the UK’s most influential voices.
With a new single, titled “Londis”, dropping on March 30th and the promise of a full-length project later in the year, we spoke with Blanco about his music aspirations, favourite freestyles and more. Dive in!
Let’s get straight into it, tell us about your new single “Carpe Diem”. You’ve got all sorts going on in there, from Dora the Explorer and Crash Bandicoot punchlines to a jungle break at the end…
So, that was a studio session with one of my favourite producers. We made one song, but I wasn’t really satisfied so I wanted to make another. As soon as I heard the beat, I knew we could make something special. I stumbled across the words Carpe Diem, and I thought it made sense for the nature of this song.
It does and there are some deep lyrics in there. The first line talks about how you don’t like to perform live, why’s this so?
The performance for me is making the music in the studio session. I know people get a thrill when they see crowds singing their songs, but I don’t get that. The biggest juice I get is when I listen to the beat and the beat is so sick, then I write lyrics and the song turns out to be good. That’s the best feeling.
It’s been two weeks since the single’s been out. How do you think it’s been received so far?
This time, I’ve decided to release music on my own platform. I don’t really read the comments, but people seem to like it. At the same time, I want to make a song that people don’t like. Everyone always says things like ‘this guy doesn’t miss’, but I want to miss so I can improve.
I think people were surprised to hear the jungle influence at the song’s back end. Are there any other sounds you’ve experimented with that fans would be shocked to hear?
I’ve done a lot! At one point I researched many genres and even Celtic-like sounds. Everything done right can be a hit. I like the jersey sound at the moment. I’ve got something in the works like that.
Is this single indicative of a wider release? It’s been a long time since we’ve heard about a Blanco project.
I do have a project coming out around June time, called ‘Rebourne’, but I’m already trying to make another.
This is the first project that you’ll be releasing since you were signed to Polydor. How have you navigated becoming an independent artist?
It’s difficult doing things yourself, especially when you haven’t done them before. I’m bad at communication, which I’m not proud of. So I find it hard being independent and reaching out to people.
Making the song is most important to me. I wish that people could stay focused enough and take a minute to listen to the music. This is why people need marketing, because how else are you going to make people listen?
Do you stick by any guiding principles or philosophies when making music in the studio?
I don’t have any principles; everyone is different. When I want to make a deeper song, I write beforehand. If I want to make a song that just sounds good, then I write in the booth. The first lyrics that come to your head are often the best.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia in your music, especially in the lyricism. I feel like this was best encapsulated by your “Daily Duppy”. Why do you use your music to analyse the past so much? And why do you reference it to explain how you live today?
Boy, I don’t know. Maybe it’s my head telling me. I wish that I could go back to the past. They were the good years, the good times! I’m always talking about it. When I make these references, they’ve been in my head for a while.
Do you have any favourite “Daily Duppy’s” or other UK freestyles that aren’t yours?
When it comes to football bars, Don Strapzy’s “Voice of the Streets” freestyle is the best. And Krept & Konan’s, Nines’ and Wretch’s “Fire in the Booth’s”, Snap Capone’s “Behind Bars”… there are so many.
Many that you’ve referenced are conscious freestyles, with deeper lyrics. Is that something you respect in rappers?
When I was growing up, that’s all I used to listen to. From your Potter Payper’s to your Nines’.
Compared to others in the UK scene, you’re an artist with a global vision. A big part of this is your pioneering baile funk sound, which many have tried to copy since. When did you find your love of this sound?
I’m Portuguese and I have Brazilian cousins. Growing up, we used to watch Brazilian shows, which influenced me. When I was in prison, I heard a baile funk song and the beat just made sense. I became fixated on it, writing a bunch of songs every night. “Pull Up” was the first song that I wrote, and I told the label that this is what I wanted to do. They pushed it aside until I finally got to release it, and the reception was amazing.
And so, where would you like to take Blanco now that you’re an independent artist? What are your plans for 2023 and the year ahead?
I want to take myself out of the UK. The UK’s only so big and they love me in other places, so I want to explore that. It’s about belief though, and those around you must have the belief. It’s not their fault, they just don’t see what I see. At the end of the day, it’s my career. I’m going to do these things anyways.