Exclusives 27 July 2021

GRM Exclusive: Is Unknown T Really the Best his age?

27 July 2021
Unknown T GRM

First Published – 21st July 2020

Unknown T represents the past, the present and the future of the UK’s street sounds. And now – ironically enough – he’s one of the most distinctively recognisable artists emerging from the UK’s flourishing rap scene.

Daniel Lena, better addressed under the moniker of Unknown T, first arrived on the scene a little over three years ago when he teased “Homerton B” during a Tim Westwood Crib Session. The following year – with only one official release to support him – he joined the self-proclaimed ‘voice of the streets’, Kenny Allstar, for a Mad About Bars freestyle. Clad in black, donning his infamous tinted shades, and armed with an unmistakably unique vocal presence; Unknown T delivered a fierce statement of intent.

Later that year, Unknown T unleashed the long-awaited official version of “Homerton B”. Amassing over 22 million views on YouTube and 35 million streams on Spotify, the song became an almost instant success – a boisterous drill anthem with appeal extending far beyond it’s typical audience of listeners.

After a busy summer of festival cameos, following a streak of hot singles – including features with Wstrn, Headie One and RV – his career was brought to an abrupt halt. In July 2019, Unknown T was charged with the murder of a 20-year-old man that was stabbed to death at a house party in January of 2018. He was held in police custody for 9 months before his case was taken to trial and he was proven innocent.

His untimely absence left a wide-gaping hole in the fabric of the UK’s rap scene. Returning with an appetite for rhyming whet by his stint behind bars, Unknown T announced his homecoming with the straight-talking drill-cut “Fresh Home” in April, and then the sucker-punching “Squeeze & Buss” shortly after.

It begged the question, is Unknown T really the best his age? Often when rapper’s make such bold statements, it is very empty hyperbolic platitude. But when Unknown T asserts the lyrics “I’m the best at my age, no boasting”, you just can’t dismiss it in the same way.

Unknown T’s quite remarkable manipulation of rhythm and melody is perhaps the largest distinguishing factor of his very unique rapping style. He overpowers intimidating drill instrumentals with intricately-crafted flows, driven by his commanding low-toned vocal presence. I would even excuse you for becoming so absorbed by the depth and trickiness of his cadence that you don’t always fully comprehend the complexity of his lyricism. He opens “Squeeze & Buss” with the lyrics, “The PO hate me ‘cos there weren’t no solving, gunman, sign outside the club said ‘no smoking’ but we brought that smoke in”. Instant reload.

At just 21 years of age, Unknown T has already positioned himself as one of the scenes front-running artists. Still, he is an artist that embodies the one of the most iconic generations of Black British music and culture. On his garage-tinged hit, “Throwback” – first previewed during his Fire in The Booth freestyle – Unknown T delivered his unique rendition of Tinie Tempah’s “Wifey Riddim”. Rather than the ‘love’ vignette that this instrumental typically invites, he built a new narrative centred around the nostalgia of his childhood memories. A really warm, touching sentiment that nearly every British adult can relate to.

He experimented further with a grime-inspired collaboration with AJ Tracey as the follow up. The pair made light work of the orchestral-composed backdrop, slicing through the instrumental with their incisive lyricism and sharp flows.

I should mention that he hasn’t actually identified as a drill artist, despite his obvious ties to the genre. Instead, he operates in that fuzzy grey area right at the centre of our musical zeitgeist, lending his talents wherever they’re necessary. His guest appearance on Wstrn’s “Medusa”, saw Unknown T conquer afro-swing, while the aforementioned “Leave Dat Trap” and “Throwback” saw him tackle grime and garage, respectively. He bodied them all, by the way.

The course of Unknown T’s artistic development over the past few years has been an utter pleasure to spectate and we cannot wait to see what else he has up his sleeve. Be sure to check out the stacked track list for Adolescence right here