I often find myself gazing into my ceiling stuck in an ocean deep quandary about what the most utterly ridiculous rap lyric I’ve ever heard is. Kanye West’s “She got a light skin friend, look like Michael Jackson/ Got a dark skin friend, look like Michael Jackson” is a strong contender. J Hus’ “I was a real nigga ‘till I fucked my niggas girl/ the only way to repay him is to give him the world/ and when I get my own wife, he can fuck her as well” is just twisted. But then you have RV’s “How many times have I touched them kids, the whole opp block’s been molested”, which is downright absurd.
But it’s kind a of absurdity that is very unique to him. It’s an absurdity that is utterly bizarre but at the same time; massively funny and actually really clever too. It’s an absurdity that is filled with unpleasantness put to us in a way that we really, really like. Hard to get your head around, I know – but that is the enigma of RV.
Peel back another layer, and you find a man that can see the bigger picture as well. A man that sees “more to life than the roads”, as he so eloquently raps it himself. He has more dimensions to his personality, and musicality, than just anger and rage.
Long before drill existed, RV was making road rap as a teenager. Guided by the sounds of Shower Malik, Blade Brown and DVS, RV dropped his debut mixtape Cruddy on the Streets as far back as 2010. In 2019, RV would get his first glimpse of commercial success with Drillers x Trappers II – the third instalment of his and Headie’s collaborative endeavours. And now, after a stream of successful singles and featured appearances with other artists, RV gears up for the release of Rico Vondelle – his latest solo venture. This project, as he tells me, should give us an insight into the different sides of his personality, laden with reflective street poetics, tributes to his “lovers” on top of the abrasive drill sound he made his name with.
He caught up GRM Daily last week to discuss everything from Rico Vondelle to his early upbringing and family life.
Tell me a little bit about your upbringing. Where were you raised, what was it like? What was the community like?
“Obviously, I grew up in Tottenham, Broadwater Farm. I didn’t actually live on the block, I lived just outside of it. But yeah, that was my local area. My mum did everything she could to make sure I was never in the area. I went to primary school in Highbury, I went to secondary school in Finchley, and she tried to make sure I was never in the area for longer than I needed to be. But obviously, that’s where I used to play football, that’s where all my friends were. But yeah, my upbringing was steady. I liked kicking ball, and at school I didn’t really get into a lot of trouble.”
So, at what point did you turn to music?
“Probably like year 8 or something. These were like Channel U days, grime days. Myspace days, I had a couple tunes there, still.”
So what kind of instrumentals were you rapping over?
“Ghetto Kyote” and that. Wiley beats and that. “Nutty Violin” too. So, that was like school times. Then obviously, man come on the roads and I wasn’t really rapping. Then a couple of years later, so like year 10, year 11 I made my first rap song “Cruddy on the Streets”. Then 0’10, 0’11 I went jail, then I came back out and I was just chilling, I wasn’t rapping like that. Then I started rapping again, end of 0’16, start of 0’17.”
How comes? Why did you stop rapping?
“I went jail for a long time init. Then I came out and I just didn’t think it was salvageable career. I wasn’t that big before. I went jail when I was 18 and I when I came out I was turning 22. I had a few other things that I needed to pattern up, so that’s where the focus was. But I was seeing people around and they were like “I swear you’re RV?” and on the internet, people were asking for me and that. Then obviously, around that time Headie was trying to do music as well. These times he was in jail. So he just wanted me to keep the buzz going, and plus, some of the mandem were doing music too, so I just jumped back on it.”
Who were your early inspirations?
“I wouldn’t really say I was inspired by anyone, musically. The mandem were just trying to do their own thing. We had a lot going on. Me and Headie were doing our ting, then the OFB as a collective were doing their thing so we were just like yeah, let’s push this.”
Perhaps I should ask instead, who were listening to the most throughout your adolescent years?
“Them days were DIFFERENT. Channels like UKOverstood, LimitlessVIds, and Rap City. That was like Youngs Tef, Pak-Man, Blade Brown, Colours, Shower Malik, DVS, Dubs; all them sort of people. That’s what I grew up on. Then there were the Americans. Right now, I’m really feeling Drake, Future, Durk, Gunna, 21 Savage – I f*ck with 21 Savage still, he’s one of my favourites. People don’t even deep, my man actually has bars. Then of course, Glock and Dolph. Their new tings hard. Pooh Shiesty been going in recently. I listen to a lot of trap and wave.”
Then when did you decide that there could be something there for you, career wise?
“Probably January 0’18. That’s when Headie and I had our first headline show. Knowing that everyone in that building came out and spent their money just to see us. That meant a lot to me, still. Up until that we’d done hella university shows, and you never really know if they’re there for you or the club. But out first headline show sold out, that was proper still.”
I read somewhere that you worked a ‘normal’ job in retail after your first stint in jail. Interested to know what that experience was like for you, considering the ’social pressure’ all men have to shoulder and the paranoia.
“Firstly, I feel like I was set up by probation. They were telling me I had to get a job because they were trying to pinpoint me as some major gang leader, and that I’m a threat to society. But then, if I’m such a high profile gang member, how you gonna give me job in the middle of Stratford Westfield’s? If I’m such a menace to society, what the hell am I doing there? Everyday I went to work thinking “yo, today I’m going back to jail”- I’m in a mad place, I’m gonna see someone and I am not gonna be the guy that gets moved to, I’m gonna be the aggressor. Then it’s back to jail. They just put me in a mad position.
“But what the maddest thing was. I’ve done so many things in my life, met many people and been in so many different situations. Like on a few separate occasions, I’ve had guys come in to where I was working like “what, you don’t remember me?” Then I’m thinking, “Is this a vibe or did I violate this person back in the day?” But luckily they’ve all been people I know.
You know what’s even worse, I would never have even gone to these places on a normal day.”
Was it depressing to have those kind of thoughts every day?
“Nah. It just made me more active… To try and change the situation. There’s no point in complaining or over-worrying about going to jail again, when I can be out here getting some new patterns.”
You and Heads. I’m interested to know how close you guys were before you started making music together and how your relationship changed after you did?
“The relationships the same, bro. We’ve always been cool, that is my guy – music aside. The relationship hasn’t changed, it’s more that life’s changed. People are busy, there’s a lot of things going on. And obviously, I’ve got a son so I’ve got more responsibilities. I’m just not around as much. Plus, I moved out of London. So, we don’t see each other as much, but every time we link up its love. And even when we don’t link up, it’s love. That’s my guy for life.”
Jealousy and envy is something we’re taught is bad, but are emotions all of us feel all the time – I’m not entirely sure they’re purely bad but that’s another conversation. But was it hard for you when Headie really took off, since both of you were such instrumental parts of each other’s success. Did his success uplift you or discourage you?
“Nah, bro that’s encouragement. That’s all love, that’s my guy. One; it’s inspiring and two; I’m happy for him. The only thing I would say is it what mad for me because “Know Better” was the turning point. And obviously, I went jail as soon as it came out. So, I missed out on a lot. But then again, after “Know Better” Headie put in a lot of work and dropped a lot of bangers. He deserves everything he’s got right now. It’s all love.”
You have a very strong business acumen that I assume you learnt from your time on the roads. What other skills have you learnt on the streets that you still apply today?
“The value of loyalty and ownership. From the streets I guess it was the art of war, but it doesn’t have to be a beef ting all the time. You can adapt that into other things. Just, like making chess moves and stuff.
“I feel like in the industry, you can’t be too clean-hearted. You can’t just trust everyone ‘cos there’s a lot of snakey stuff that goes on in the industry – that’s what happens on the roads as well.”
Literally everybody says that. What does that really mean?
“I wouldn’t even be able to tell you, you just have to be in it to realise. And remember, I’m from the streets, so this is new to me. This is completely different – this is industry stuff. I try not to think “I’ll see you and…” you know what I mean. Like on the roads, if you violate me and I see you, you already know what it is. But in the industry, things are different. Like bruddah, there’s some weird stuff in the industry and I think “like bro, do you not rate me?”
As a rapper, business-owner and one of the elder statesmen of the OFB collective, do you ever struggle to find time for yourself – to just be yourself?
“Nah, that’s what I’ve been doing recently. I’m taking in how life is now and who I am now and just embracing it and enjoying it. It’s easy to get caught up in the mix, and the internet and society and everything; but at the end of the day, you need to be you, as well.”
The kind dark of humour that you lace your lyrics with often spills out through your social media. At the start, was that a more calculated decision to get the music out further? And, I know how the hood looks at people on the internet, so did that mess with you, at all?
“Nah, ‘cos basically on the internet, I only really use Twitter. So, my twitter started going off when I was in jail, init. When I started it had nothing to do with music. Before I went to jail, I was active on snapchat and then when I went to jail my snap just kept crashing. So, then I was like fuck it, I can’t take pictures in jail, them times I still wore a bally, so I wasn’t gonna be on Insta; so I thought let me jump on Twitter. Then my Twitter just started going off.
“But then with the internet and the roads, they’re two separate things. When you’re on the roads, you know what’s going on on the roads, it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the internet. Like people will force a narrative on the internet or act up on the internet but when you come off it, we still know what’s going on the roads. Like people can troll and say whatever online but the roads are still the roads.”
I enjoyed the new tape more than any of your other tapes. I particularly enjoyed the level up in production. There was a line on the first track where you said “no man should miss the birth of their child, but I did cos I was in jail”. Could you expand on that experience a little more for me. How did you receive the news? I’m sure you were conflicted with emotions of sadness and happiness, what was that like?
“So obviously, the mother of my child was pregnant when I went to jail in 2018 and my son was born while I was inside. I think he was 9 months old when I came out. But yeah man, it was a blessing at a mad time. My first and only child, I would have loved to have been there for the birth and the experience, but I’m just happy that he’s healthy. I can’t dwell on the past too much; we’ve got a good relationship now.”
So, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a new parent?
“It’s the fact that you need to figure out a whole other person. Every decision I make, every move I make and everything that I do, I have to think how that will affect him as well. It’s like sometimes I’ll think about blowing a bag, but then I think “what about his future?” So, that’s the main thing.”
Was it hard for you to deal with that switch up?
“Nah, you know. I’ve kind of always been on this planning for the future ting. Mainly ‘cos of jail, ‘cos when you’re in there you think about the future a lot. And ‘cos I’m independent as well. I spend a lot of money on myself, I don’t have the funding of a label. I’m cool being steady now, so I can be steady for the rest of my life. I feel like a lot of people that are lit now are spending all of their money now and not really planning for the future. Like I’m cool not cashing out right now if I know my son’s gonna be good in the future. It’s a no brainer. Like what are we all doing this for? Are we working to pattern your future or to be lit right now?”
What was the biggest challenge of putting the tape together?
“Deciding what kind of music I wanted to make and how I wanted it to sound. It would have been easy to do another drill tape. Like how far out of my comfort zone did I want to go? Like I recorded a bag of tunes that just sounded like all my other stuff. Am I gonna do a whole tape that sounds like this? Then I’d make some other songs and think “this ain’t even me, what am I trying to do here?” So, it was about finding stuff I was comfortable with.
“I’m more of a project guy than a singles guy. Listen to my projects, they make sense. From Drillers x Trappers, even Sticks & Stones, I’m a Savage, Fresh Prince of Tottenham. This one was a way longer process though; this one took way too long.
“There were so many complications, even away from recording. Apart from the time when I had writers block for months ‘cos I wasn’t doing anything. I was at home with my son a lot, I didn’t really have a lot of inspiration. Obviously, Covid. Then problems with features and getting samples and stuff cleared. I feel like at certain times, the vibe was off. There were songs I recorded that I just had to scrap. Like for example, Drillers x Trappers was recorded all in week. I had some bars from jail, but we were in the studio like 12 hours a day, 7 hours a week over the course of two years.”
What is the goal for you now?
“More sold-out shows, chart success and to keep elevating! I don’t really want to put a number on it. I just want to keep progressing. As long as I keep progressing, I’m happy. Shoot for the stars, aim for the moon, you get me.”
Take in a list of our most essential RV Tracks right here.