The UK music scene continues to bloom day by day, producing talented artists and songs that outshine their American counterparts. With this comes a pressure to succumb to trends, diluting the quality of the music as a result of this chase for attention.
West London’s Kid Brunswick is here to partition expectations. The self-taught musician is creeping his way to notoriety, channelling a philosophy that few mainstream artists are exercising. His material dates back as far as 2017, with recent singles “4AM” and “Prescription Kid” gaining promising traction that foreshadows an imminent ascent.
Kid Brunswick joins Mic Cheque for a striking conversation in the most exciting edition of The Spot Cheque yet, touching on everything from his experimental style to the state of rock, his thoughts on social media and the climate of American politics.
What kind of music defined your taste growing up?
I grew up listening to trap. This was when I was in secondary school. And I was into old school hip hop, Tribe and a lot of Biggie as well. I had always gone to schools in London where it was primarily white and classically trained. It’s where I got a lot of my music education too. But then when I got into secondary school I experienced a massive culture difference.
I got into Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers and I was obsessed with this song called “House Party”. I was listening to all of that era, Rick Ross, Wale. They had a song called “Diced Pineapples” which I learnt on the piano and played it with my mate at a school talent show!
So you experienced both musical worlds?
Yeah completely. When I went there I got introduced to what was going on in their culture, and the music they were listening to was the American hip hop that was just coming out. It was like a new sound. Even though I listened to rock at a young age I got into, as it used to be called “urban music”, which spanned the whole genre of black pop music. That kind of changed everything for me because I thought if you liked rock music you were a rockhead for the rest of your life. But I loved this [hip hop] just as much.
You mention playing the piano. Do you play any other instruments?
I play the guitar, and I played drums when I was a kid. That got me into music, I was obsessed with playing drums.
How did you learn to play the drums?
I put on a DVD of Guns N’ Roses and they have a song called “Paradise City”, which is one of the simplest beats to learn on a drum kit, and I just played every single day. As soon as I got back from school I would be on my drum kit. The neighbours would complain but I would play for 6-7 hours a day. I did that up until I was around thirteen.
With the incorporation of rock in your sound, how conscious are you of reviving the genre?
Classic rock and the classic rockstar is dead. It has been for ten years. There’s no band that I can think of that’s made an impact across the world. It’s all copied and trying to be how it was in the 90s and the 60s. I see that and think that’s fucking boring. Music always has to evolve.
That’s exactly what I was thinking. Music these days is never just one genre.
The reason why is that everything from pop music, rap music, trap music is meshed into the same thing. The one thing that hasn’t really crossed over yet was rock and I wanted to be the first person to do that in a way where it is a proper sound you can identify. The closest person to doing that was Lil Peep. He died, and you’re left with this big empty space for someone to come in and update what was already done.
What sort of influences inspired the sound you’ve gone for?
When Travis came along, he was the biggest inspiration for me because he had trap music with a rock vibe. That for me was like “Oh shit, this has opened up so much for me”. So I thought what if I go into doing what I’m doing with rock music but with a trap vibe. With rock music you can always remember the guitar riffs. I thought what if I put in the craziest trap beats and industrial sounds that will take it a whole new place where not every song sounds the same. That was the stepping stone and thought what was gonna separate me from the rest.
I’ve always been cautious of how I want my creative direction to go. Artists like Travis and Kanye had a vision which came from their head and they completed it.
How was it like getting signed to a major record label?
All major record labels get on the bandwagon a bit too late. With me, I’ve had to fight my whole short career to get my music heard by a label and get them to appreciate it. When I signed that deal it made something concrete. That I have something. But then that fear of losing it came as well. It bought so much anxiety instead of making it the best time of my life.
What do you think the label’s expectations were?
They were looking for a pop act. For the first few years no one gave a fuck about the music. They thought it was too mental. I wrote this song called “Bipolar Rhapsody” three years ago and the first time someone at my label in the UK said that they liked it was a month ago. It’s taken me a long time to get recognition for what I’m trying to do.
How was life like for you during the time you signed your first deal?
I had a load of shit going on in my life. I went through a lot of substance abuse. I had nowhere to live. When I was that age I had no clue what life was. It brought so much anxiety and depression instead of making it the best time of my life because I had so many problems outside of that. Eventually I was diagnosed as an addict and everything under the sun. And since then I’ve really been able to focus on my mental health and work a programme that suits me to get on with my daily life.
How much did your mental health affect the relations with the people around you?
The pain that you put your family and friends through that see you overdose is fucking horrific. My mum was married to a drug addict for years but even she couldn’t see the signs. She didn’t know that I was a drug addict and that I had depression. I couldn’t get out of bed for months at a time. She used to come into my bedroom and say that I am lazy, you just have to go for a run. I remember just saying, “I can’t”, and she would say “Come on, everyone can do this.”
And now she will come into my room and say “Are you okay?” Just that massive shift told me that she understood this wasn’t something I was choosing to do. I couldn’t just get out bed and live a normal life because my mind would tell me things and I would have a voice in my head saying “You can’t do anything”, “You’re worthless”, “No one cares about you.” It’s something you need to learn to fight and if you don’t it will kill you.
Do you think social media can be a double-edged sword for curing mental health?
We are able to connect with people and do things we were never able to do before thanks to the internet. But social media has impacted all of our daily lives and brings us into these addictive behaviours. Everyone that I know of my generation is addicted to some sort of social media. There is not one person that is not online. That can then go deeper into people who already suffer with major depression and that hijacks all of their mental issues and makes it even worse.
And it is very difficult to tap out of that cycle.
We’re stuck in a cycle where your phone feeds you information based on your previous search history. Your data is sold to thousands of companies that targets you. And if you’re a depressed person and you’re looking up certain things you’re gonna be stuck in that loophole on your ahead and it’s gonna keep recommending you information that makes you depressed.
Is “Prescription Kid” written in an ironic, satirical way?
Yes it is! You’re the first person to notice without me saying it first! I always try and have some element of irony in my music. That song is completely satirical until the second half. The first half is all about school shootings. I had this idea of writing the song from a first-person account who may not go and shoot up a school but definitely kill themselves.
A lot of people don’t get it. The message is sarcastic. I wanted to make a completely sarcastic song that says “Fuck you” to that romanticised culture. And when it goes into the second half it goes into the reality of the situation. I felt like I was writing something that had some political message to it.
Perhaps people don’t catch the message because there are a lot of casual listeners these days.
My music isn’t made for those people. A lot of people in my life don’t like Travis’ music, they think it’s too auto-tuned. But his music’s not made for those people because they don’t get it yet. I’m gonna keep doing what I do and I’m gonna write songs that I write and if people don’t like it they don’t like it, but I know that some people will.
The second half beat switch really reminds me of that Travis influence.
I have an upcoming song called “Bipolar Rhapsody”. I wanted to make something like “Sicko Mode” but in a way that’s even crazier. We pulled it off and it doesn’t sound bad! This is a song that when I play live I know there’s gonna be so many moshpits.
How do you perceive the political landscape of America? Especially with the presidential election coming up.
Looking at America right now, you can see the biggest example of political divide. If Trump was in for another four years, that could start a civil war. The amount of protests, fights and police brutality that has happened over the last year has all happened under his reign. It’s this crazy divide between the left who look at Trump and say “Is this a fucking joke?” – and rightly so – and the right that are like “We need a man who’s not a politician because all politicians have fucked us over in the past.” And to some extent they may be right but they don’t need fucking Donald Trump in office.
What are your views on the British media?
Tabloids in the UK are just as toxic as social media. There’s always right-wing and left-wing papers. And that changes the way you think and feel about yourself. The reason why people go to social media for news instead of the media is because movements like Black Lives Matter and End SARS isn’t documented accurately in the press. It’s always got some sort of stigma behind it. It’s very hard to figure out the truth.
What have been your favourite releases of 2020?
I love that new Digga D song, “Chingy”. The video for that is so sick. I’ve always loved drill. I love “Franchise”, the new Travis Scott song. I think it’s fucking genius. At the moment there’s so much coming out and it’s very hard to keep track of.
What were your gateways into UK rap music and how do you feel about the current drill scene?
I grew up listening to Boy in da Corner. That was the first grime album that I got into and when I started watching Kidulthood I really got into grime. And drill is just an evolution of grime in a way. It’s different types of spitting. Headie One and Digga D in particular are my favourite drill artists.
There’s a massive scene now in the UK and there’s a lot of new artists that are coming out with a different sound. I feel like American hip hop right now is just not doing it. I feel like I’ve heard the same sound again and again. The only song that has clicked for me for the US is Roddy Ricch’s “The Box”. Other than that there hasn’t been anything blowing me away.
Recently I said for the first time ever UK rap is having a better year than American rap. Would you agree?
Definitely. If you look at Pop Smoke, all his beats are drill beats! That’s from the UK. That for me is like “Fuck, yeah.” The UK drill and rap scene is just bangers on bangers, it’s unreal. And every week there’s a new song where I say “That’s cool.” I fucking love it. Like you said it’s having a better year than the US at the moment. And I think that’s really exciting. I think rock music is having a better year in the UK as well. There’s a lot of artists blowing up right now in the UK that are changing shit and it’s really exciting to be a part of and really exciting to see as well.
There’s no better time to be into UK music than now. Especially seeing how far it has come since the early 2010s with rappers like Sneakbo.
Yes, Sneakbo! “Show me the wave!” I was in an elevator with Sneakbo a few years ago. I was like “That’s fucking Sneakbo”, my Year 7 hero right there. I used to listen to K Koke and I was always into Giggs, “Talkin the Hardest”, “Monster Man”. I was massively into Kano. And Ghetts had some great tunes too.
But that was a different time in music. You need the artists for right now and you also need the people like Travis that come along and change everything. You also need artists from the UK like James Blake that collaborate with these artists.
Assume Form, that album is perfection.
Unreal. I fucking love that album. My favourite James Blake song is that song with Chance The Rapper called “Life Round Here”. He’s got a classical background and he started collaborating with rappers and I was like that’s the fucking coolest thing I’ve ever heard. James Blake’s albums in 20 years are still gonna sound like they were made tomorrow. That’s someone that’s an actual genius.
For 2020 music, I’d recommend 070 Shake’s album as well.
Yes! I’ve missed mentioning Modus Vivendi. I listened to that album a lot when it came out. I was obsessed with it. Songs like “The Pines” and “Guilty Conscience” are my favourite songs off the album. That’s all produced by Mike Dean who’s Travis’ producer.
What are your plans for upcoming music?
Right now I’m releasing singles, like the upcoming song “Bipolar Rhapsody”. I’m probably going to start working on a project going into the next year. I got singles after singles. We just wanna build it until we’re ready to drop something that’s gonna set the scene.
And finally, what impact is Kid Brunswick’s music aiming to have?
I think that our generation is fucked, and I wanna make music that is gonna give people the comfort to speak about those things, to be open-minded and be an artist where kids in our generation can listen and relate to.
📸 Portraits courtesy of Rachel Kiki.
Listen to Kid Brunswick’s song “SKINNY” on Spotify: