Interviews 26 September 2016
Author: Nathan

The Local Hero: A conversation with Coco

Author Nathan
26 September 2016

Since 2015, there has been a massive shift in focus within the grime scene to look outside of London for the newest upcoming stars. In an interview with Charlie Sloth in 2015, Big Narstie said that artists from “up north” were some of the only people remaining true to the genre, while the native LDN seemed to be straying from it’s core. It’s true that there are big names that have come through that rep within the M25.

Birmingham have brought us Invasion with standout stars Jaykae and Sox, Eyez has shone for Derby and Bugzy Malone looked to put “Manny on the map”, representing for his hometown. We also have Izzie Gibbs and Snowy putting on for Northampton and Nottingham respectively. Another hotbed for emerging grime talent is Sheffield, with the Steel City pushing artists like K Dot, Kannan and Rawkid. One name that is always mentioned when looking at grime in Sheffield is native Coco.

As anyone from Sheffield will tell you, Coco has been on his job for a number of years now, originally part of a duo alongside longtime collaborator and close friend Remz. Their tracks in 2008/9 like “Chinese Whispers” and “Keep It Grime” provided a soundtrack to many within Sheffield and helped Coco to build a reputation within his hometown. But Coco had big plans and looked to push his music to a larger audience. Coming from a background of freestyles, Coco knew that making music was a completely different game;

With a freestyle, it’s just bars, a collection of things I want to talk about. It’s more about merking and executing what you wanna say. With a track, there is more forethought and thinking about your potential goal for that track. There is a lot more concept when it comes to making tracks”.

His “break” came early last year with his track “Target Practise”, produced by another Sheffield native, Toddla T which set social media alight and put Coco on many “One To Watch” lists including BBC Introducing and Annie Mac. He then teamed up with Toddla again for “Big Bou Yah”, a head thumping grime track filled with classic grimy wordplay and delivery, while showcasing his northern slang and accent. This track looked to prove why he was deserving of being named as a name to watch and was matched by an all-star remix including Jammz, Terminator and Trigga.

After dropping his subsequent release, “Big N Serious” (again matched with a killer remix from Nadia Rose and AJ Tracey), Coco knew that he had a tried and tested blueprint that works and both aforementioned tracks have gained popularity in part to their catchy and infectious choruses. With music in mind, it seems that Coco knew what he was doing.

“100% – that’s what a hook is for! You need a hook to get people hooked on the track and making it memorable”. His relationship with Toddla has also benefited his career path and it’s clear that the two have both a professional and personal relationship, “With Toddla, we are just good friends. But he’s a music guy so if we say we are going to do something, we’ll do it. Whenever he has got a beat, he sends it over and tells me to get on it because he knows what works well and what I can do”.

Another milestone for Coco came in the form of his link up with Jamaican recording artist Protoje for “Ova Here”, a certified carnival anthem, fuelled with a serious bassline that showed Coco’s versatility as he spits over a darker beat then previously heard. Another interesting part about the link-up between the two was that it happened more organically then people may assume.

I met him at Carnival last year on the Toddla T stage and he was bigging me up after my set. So a few days later, and we were in the studio together. He bought a stack of beats on a USB and after he dropped his hook, I was just freestyling quietly. Toddla heard me and as someone who is always looking for me to maximise my potential, he told me to write a bar and get it down because this could be historic. Then as we got more to thinking that this could be the next single, I wrote another 16, got it approved by Protoje and his people in Jamaica and we just took it from there”.

Alongside “Ova Here”, SBTV dropped an exclusive documentary which looked at Coco’s journey and subsequent time on his first trip to Jamaica. The Oliver Brian produced film follows Coco, Toddla T and crew as he links up with Protoje, explores the island and its culture. One of the best moments comes when Coco goes to meet family he has previously never met beforehand and shows them some of his music on his phone. When talking to Coco, it’s obvious that these moments stood out most for him as well and the trip has had a subsequent effect on his music.

It was a mad experience. I went there to do music so because of music, I got see my family. Jamaica is a wonderful place and everyone is so welcoming. It has definitely opened my eyes to how short life can be and how lucky I am to be where I am. You just gotta give thanks”.

Talking of Coco’s love for remixes, we envisioned what a potential “Ova Here” remix could look like and with a choice of Mist, Popcaan and Dave, it would be very interesting to make that one a reality. This ability to see talent in others is something that Coco has shown since he came through last year. He previously put together an article for Dummy Magazine looking at Grime Outside of London where he named the likes of Dapz On The Map, Mez and Levelz which bought us round to a conversation surrounding the ongoing Red Bull Grime A Side tournament which pits crews from the around the UK against each other. The latest saw Sheffield take on Leicester (with the winner taking on London) and while Coco claims to remain unbiased, he saw an outright winner in this one.

I’m a very honest person and Sheffield took that for me for so many reasons. Leicester were sick but we had more hunger and fire in that clash. I think it’s sick that the world can see it’s not just me coming from Shef, there’s other sick MCs. It makes me proud to feel like there’s an alliance of us out there willing to go and make it. We can kick down doors and say ‘This is Sheffield, this is where we come from and we can do it as well!’”.

Talking on the scene as a whole, I posed the question of who did he think were people we should watch and it was clear that as a massive fan of the grime scene in general, it was hard to pin him down. After taking his time, he put across Kannan, L Dizz and Dave while recognising that there were so many more, showing his humility. Another side to Coco is his desire to promote a positive message. Early last week, Coco tweeted, “I wanna inspire the younger generation through music, show them it ain’t all guns, knives and badboy” which led to his inspiration behind the tweet and if he can serve as a role model for young people;

First of, I’ve got a 13-year-old brother and his friends and him listen to my music. So to know that they’re listening and being that older brother figure, I don’t want him to follow anything bad I say or do. Also, I don’t think people understand the power of words, especially when you’re a music person. I want to show people that while bare people want to be a ‘rapper’, you can do it without being bad. I know that I may not be able to prevent situations because I’m only one person, but I know that I can be heard

As well as dropping a string of successful singles, Coco has been putting in work on the live circuit with shows at Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing stage, Red Bull’s Manchester Carnival, supporting Stormzy in Ibiza, Notting Hill Carnival and Bestival. Amongst all those, it must be hard to name a favourite, right? “Ibiza Rocks at the #MERKY show has certainly a highlight. I had one at the beginning of the year back in Sheffield and what better way to kick off the year than in your hometown? I had my family up in the balconies!” One live performance which stands out is performing at the Royal Albert Hall for Jamie Cullam’s BBC Proms, joining Cullam on stage for a rendition of “Love For Sale”. While grime has seen success on the BBC Proms stage, with an exclusive “Grime Proms” last year, this event seemed particularly special as it was a complete surprise, even for Coco.

When they first told me, I was like ‘Nahhh’ but I knew it was time to represent. Jamie Cullum had specifically chosen me which was an honour so he must have liked what I was doing! He is another down to earth person who loves music and has a genuine heart. I felt like I knew him for time and we were bouncing off each other”.

Our conversation circles round to grime in the present day and more importantly the recent success it has had, both with Skepta’s Mercury Prize win (“People that know me, know I’m a big fan of Skepta. He’s been doing this for a while now so when he hits achievements like this, I’m not surprised. It’s a proud moment and we can all be proud of it. It just opens more doors for our music, I just hope it continues”) and the MOBO nominations which contained a massive nod to grime with nominations for AJ Tracey, Stormzy, Bugzy Malone, Kano and Ghetts. But what does this mean for an active grime artist?

It’s like a revolution. The hierachy can see that its working and worth listening to. The underground scene has always been certified but now the powers that be can see that is worth investing in. I think that these recent events mean we will be taken a lot more seriously. Just being a priority as a genre. We have been trying to show our worth for years and now we have got something to show for it”.

As Coco reflects on his time in the game, he says that there were times when he never thought he would succeed but his successes- from the tracks, to the live performances, to Jamaica and back – have shown him that being a grime artist from “up north” is by no means a disadvantage anymore. In closing, I simply asked Coco how he wants to be remembered as an artist and his reply reflects is character to a t, a local artist with global ambitions.

That guy from Sheffield that took grime to another level for his city in a way that represents how powerful it can be. We’re just repping for that organicness that comes from up north who want to make great music. So when people say Sheffield and grime, they say Coco”.