We got a chance to catch up with the guys behind the AR15: Concrete Jungle project, a groundbreaking collaborative work that skims talent from the vast extent of the British rap scene.
Boss Baff, head of UK label, Alwayz Recording and Tommy Bones, artist manager at GB Records are the pair driving the project. Both have proven their talents, helping push the careers of some huge artists, with Chip, Wretch 32 and Marvell all coming through the ranks of Alwayz.
Uniting over 50 artists across the UK rap scene, the eagerly anticipated mixtape is currently unparalleled in its diversity and scale. Bringing together the likes of; Skepta, Bashy, Stormzy, Kano, Devlin, Wretch 32, Chip, Blade Brown, Tempa T, Frisco, DVS, Yungen, Sneakbo, Ghetts, Section Boyz, Youngs Teflon and more, this project offers up collaborative sounds from leading talent in the scene.
We spoke to Baff and Tommy about orchestrating such a large number of artists for the mixtape and difficulties they came across including bad blood and postcode rivalries between those working on the project.
This performance of Helpless an upcoming track from the mixtape with Wretch 32, Devlin, Swiss and Rebecca Garton gives some taste of whats to come.
Wretch 32: 'From my estate we got Baff who makes it happen'.
Baff and Tommy have certainly made it happen with this mixtape that can be previewed on iTunes and will be available to buy on the 28th August so keep locked for the drop.
PS: Thanks for chatting to us today, so how did management within the music scene come about for you guys?
A: (Tommy) For my whole life I’ve always had to manage scenarios. I’m from an estate background and I’ve always known how to and been a good manager of people. I never went school for this, I never took no course on management, don’t have a degree, but ive been running it for years now and its been successful. With the AR 15 project every artist that comes into the studio had a different way of being managed, so you have to assess. Some guys want to be loud and be the centre of attention, whereas some other guys want to go in the corner and write their songs by themselves. You have to manage everyone differently, I personally believe it’s a natural knack and some people just have it.
PS: You guys definitely have this knack to get so many artists together to create something so special. Did the artists all separately record their own section or do they come in and work together on tracks?
A: (Baff) All songs worked out differently. Some people were there together writing, some people just came in and did their own verse and then we had to identify who might compliment which record and put it together from there. In some cases we wanted something a bit quirky or to get a collaboration that people weren’t expecting. But we kind of gave each artist a topic and an idea to work with.
PS: The task of putting together the concrete jungle project with over 50 artists must have brought logistical difficulties?
A: (Baff) Yeah man it turned my beard grey and I’ve had to die it, I’m walking around with a grey beard right now. Nah I’m only joking, it was enjoyable, I'd say it was an enjoyable struggle.
Studio’s being booked, cancelled, artists not turning up or coming later than expected. But it was actually fun to see some of these artists in their working environment, to see how passionate they are about their craft and how they actually feel about music. It allowed me to feel their pain and struggle, like some of them work really hard and unfortunately there just not at the platform they should be relative to the work they put in.
A lot to do with that is radio and press and all that because they kind of pinpoint the stars of the UK. For me one artist who I don’t understand why he doesn’t get enough playlist time would be Scrapz, because he has had the streets on smash for the longest time but he just cant get play listed.
PS: Do you think the digital side of radio may help artists in this position such as Srapz, is that a positive force in the scene?
A: (Baff) That is a positive force, that’s a big big thing but that’s going to take a few more years for people to really be able to take everything from it. As long as we feel like this project and the work we’ve put in and the time and the money can open doors for the future we’d be more than happy to carry on doing stuff, as long as we get recognition for it.
PS: Back to the mixtape, which track was a standout for you guys?
A: (Tommy) As I represent a grime label I feel like Skepta, the Skepta, Kano and Bashy tune is massive.
(Baff) Skepta’s record with Bashy and Kano I think is an amazing record. I remember I had been waiting months for Skepta, but Skepta’s the kind of guy if he says something he’s gonna do it, he’s one of the real ones, Skepta keeps it real. So when he finally came, he came on his ones, ONE’S! Unlike a lot of other artists who come with unnecessary entourage. He came solo (Laughs)! We were playing him some ideas, some productions we did, and he just went absolutely crazy on it. And when he left he was like “Baff the rest is up to you”.
The hard thing about the project is because a lot of people didn’t know who they were gonna be on a record with, so some people were on records that they weren’t really too keen with who else was on it, but they kind of dealt with it cos they saw my vision. We’ve got another record that’s over 10 minutes long with 115 different artists on it, that records absolutely amazing because there all expressing the UK lifestyle whether you agree with it or not, it’s the truth. I think doing this project, a lot of people are from the streets and kind of feeling their pain they want to come out of it and music is the last hope in a sense. Me myself I grew up as a young guy from Tottenham in and out of trouble with the police, done so many things, now I pray every single day my kids don’t ever do none of the things I did. I was lucky enough to find my way out, through music.
PS: We've heard there is tensions between some artists on the project was it difficult to get people together because of conflicts among them?
A: (Baff) I keep it real, coming from the streets I know theres postcode beefs and what not, so you have to be smart in managing a project like this. You cant have artists coming in with people from different areas that don’t really get along because it causes conflict and tension. I had to go to estates and sit down with guys and say listen this is the bigger picture in America there’s a lot of artists who don’t like each other but they do records together because it’s the business and its for the public.
Q: Thanks for the insight, what’s to come for you guys next / after Concrete jungle?
A: (Baff) We want to be marketing and pushing it for another 6 months after release, drop videos and try get as many of the songs as we can on playlist. Two songs we’ve pushed have both already hit playlist for 1Xtra who we’ve been getting great support from, as well as Capital, Kiss and MTV.
Were just trying to show a lot of these artists that were going to get them to a platform and increase awareness. If you go to a lot of these radio DJ’s and ask them to name 25 UK rappers I think they will struggle and we have over 50 on our CD, so its not easy at the moment
Interview: Joshua Mac & James Goldring
Photography: James Goldring