Hard work and patience. A mantra often preached, but practised by a precious few. Achieving success has become something that we’re almost expecting to happen overnight. Nowhere is this idea more pervasive than in the music industry, where overnight success stories and phenomenons have become the benchmark. It’s almost as if everyone is striving for that one breakout video or song, at the expense of taking the time to hone one’s craft and master the art.
However, there are some that still remain true to the old ways of gritting your teeth and putting a shift in, how ever long that may be. For some, as we’ve seen with the likes of Ghetts and Skepta, it could be over a decade before you begin to receive widespread recognition for your work. But the old guard knew no different, the marathon was a part of their DNA. The new generation see things differently, viewing the world through the distorted lenses of Snapchat and Instagram filters, while grazing on the meme and dance craze filled plains of TikTok. With this being the staple diet of the new generation, it’s unsurprising that their idea of success, and how to achieve it, have been shaped by this consumption.
To the untrained eye, it would seem that Central Cee is the latest sensation to take this ephemeral flight path to top of the food chain. But in fact, the sublime run of the last twelve months can be attributed to the five plus years that Central Cee has spent refining his sound. Since much of this refining process cannot be traced, it’s almost as if Cench has just emerged from the hyperbolic time chamber with an extraordinary skill we didn’t know he possessed. Most of Central Cee’s digital footprint pre 2019 has been meticulously expunged, but he’s been recording music for almost a decade now.
One of his earliest cuts, “Don’t Doubt the Kid”, sees a 14 year old C traversing the same grimey steppes mapped out by his forefathers years before. The writing process predates even these early studio sessions: “When I first put something together, like words on a piece of paper, I was probably like seven years old.” Like most of us who are seduced by the allure of the blank page, Central Cee was looking for an outlet: “somehow, even all the way back then, I was talking about pain. At the early stages of my writing, it was always me just trying to get stuff off my chest I guess. I never imagined people would listen to it though, I was just writing for myself.”
Once Cench’s ruminations manifested themselves on the page, and eventually grew to be fully fledged songs, he knew he was onto something: “I think as soon as I kinda got in that space (studio), I did think of it as a business, even at that young age. I did think yeah, man can do this and make money off of it.”
Central Cee was something of a musical nomad, blissfully wondering between genre demarcations, experimenting with the distinct sonics he discovered along the way. Cench’s business minded approach, meant that he was simply trying to find the best way for his music to connect with as many people as possible.
“The reason why my sound has changed so many times, is I’ve just gone with the trends. Certain times I’ve been maybe to late, certain times I’ve been ahead of my time, and now its just perfect timing init? I don’t wanna just have one sound though, I wanna be able to hop around, but at the right time. It’s all about timing.”
Cench actually did see some success before he decided to settle with the sound that has seen him shake up the scene over the last year. In 2017, he was shortlisted by 1xtra as one of five teenage rappers making a stir, and in November of that same year, he’d have his own headline show in Hoxton, where he performed some of his earlier hits like “Wavey Yute”, “Side Chick” and “Tek Time”. Despite covering a lot of ground, the ambitious Central Cee was unhappy with the inroads he’d made.
“I think I got to 17 or something then I took a big break, I just thought fuck it, I’m not really progressing as much as I want to be, let me just go and work. I tried normal jobs, every type of hustle bro, I just came back to the music when I didn’t really need it anymore like that. I was more content, I wasn’t rushing anything, and thats why I always express that you cant rush greatness, cause back in the day I was rushing it, and it never worked in my favour.”
Embodying the lyricism that has drawn us to him, has already propelled Central Cee to two top 20s, and one of the mostly hotly anticipated tapes of the year. During his nomadic musical expeditions, Cench has cherry-picked the best elements from the sub-genres he’s dabbled with, and distilled them into the sound we hear today. One of the most striking things about Central Cee, is the catchy, infectiously quotable lines that have formed the foundation of his most recent impeccable run of releases. C’s early tussles with grime, and his insatiable appetite as a fan of the music, are what informed his approach when formulating his own rhymes:
“It’s about the reactions. Like say I’ve written a hard verse, and I’ve seen the reactions of people when they hear me say something. Next time I write, I’m gonna try and get the same reaction, I think thats a grime thing as well, I probably learnt that from all the grime sets I’ve watched. Every first line that I say, has to be catchy, I have to be saying something.”
For someone with a lot to say, Central Cee has kept an unusually low profile. The mystique that he’s cultivated by avoiding interviews, and not parading himself across social media, has only served to heighten fan’s demand to learn more about the West London native. That’s not to say that Cench doesn’t know how to interact with his fans, he’s made appearances at birthdays before, and playfully answered fans phone calls after his phone number was leaked.
“The fans respect me in a sense that they don’t expect me to do much on the internet. You don’t see me doing mad things, I don’t go live, but they’re still riding for me. I don’t do much stuff, you haven’t heard me do interviews, they haven’t see my face here there and everywhere, they’re just happy with me being me and I’m grateful for that.”
Central Cee’s old fashioned approach of relying purely on the music to endear him to fans, appears to be working thus far. He’s sidestepped many of the gimmicky tropes so prevalent in music marketing today, even choosing not to have any features on Wild West. Clearly a statement of intent, but once again something he’s keen on taking his time on:
“It gives me and the fans something to look forward to, me doing features. A lot of people do things too fast, then theres nothing to look forward to, you’ve already done your tunes with him, him and him. You’ve already done everything, what you gonna do next?”
It’s clear that Wild West is set to be the high noon for Cench’s career, it’s staggering to think that this was in fact his plan B: “Music was my plan B, my plan A was just to make sure I’m successful regardless of what I do.” Cench has already displayed that he has the legs for the marathon, and with everything finally coming together for him, it’s clear that he’s here to stay.