Exclusives Interviews 20 February 2023

GRM Exclusive: Sliime Talks Identity, Role Models & His Quest to Uplift South Asian Culture in UK Rap

20 February 2023

When it comes to the music industry, there are different ways to make an impact: you can make music that sounds good, music to make a statement, music that people can relate to… or you can make music that does all of these things at once. Rising UK rapper, Sliime, aims to cover all bases. He was born and raised in Sheffield, but his roots are in Bangladesh, and the duality of his identity is hugely important to who he is as a person and an artist; he has made it his mission to not only represent his community, but to build a community through his music.

Sliime is certainly one to watch, with his hit “Lehenga” racking up millions of views and streams across Spotify, TikTok and Instagram. Having received co-signs from the likes of Headie One and Tiffany Calver, as well as being ‘Artist of the Week’ on BBC Introducing on the Asian Network last year, it’s clear that Sliime is heading in just one direction: up.

Sliime is fiercely dedicated to providing a voice for South Asian and Bengali people in UK rap culture and popular music at large. In doing so, he’s building the community that he struggled to find for himself. “I’m originally from Bangladesh, my Mum came to the UK at a young age. Growing up in Sheffield, I never felt like I had a place where there were people like me… In primary and secondary school, there were all sorts of people around and I was always meeting new people. I grew up with white people, and some people from Yemen and Somalia, but I only knew a handful of Bengalis… I never felt like I had my own community until now.” Sliime’s experience will resonate strongly with many young people growing up in the UK from minority backgrounds, who aren’t surrounded by people who look like them or can deeply share in their culture. 

As he grew older, it became clear to Sliime that he had to find solace in the uniqueness of his heritage. “When I got to 16 or 17, I realised there was no point in me trying to fit in with everyone else. I just thought, ‘I’m from where I’m from, and if people don’t like that, then it is what it is.’ I realised I need to be proud of myself.” And this epiphany inspired Sliime to make creative decisions that would stand out and truly allow him to shine in his artistry. Fusing South Asian sounds with his UK rap style brought new waves of success for Sliime, setting him apart from those around him: “it’s probably the best thing I could have done, to be honest. Nowadays with music, everyone is trying to be like everyone else. The most important thing you can do is find your substance and be yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do, we’ll see how far it gets me.” And in expressing himself in his music, he is giving young people a voice and an art form to look up to. “With the music, I’m trying to bring everyone together… I want to inspire people like me, I want to give them something to latch onto.”  

Importantly, Sliime is trying to give his young South Asian listeners that special role model that he struggled to find. There was only one artist like this for Sliime when he was growing up: “he was a Bengali rapper who didn’t live too far from me, his name was Rubze. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, he was coming up and doing quite well, but he unfortunately passed away. This guy was the closest thing to an inspiration for me – he lived down the road, he was Bengali and he did exactly what I’m doing now. Since then the only Asian rappers I came across showed up later, and they weren’t from Sheffield. It wasn’t like how it was before.”

So where did it all start out? Sliime began to realise his rap talents around the age of 14. “I would just mess about in the back of the bus to school. Then it got to a point where I thought, maybe I should freestyle properly. That’s when my mate pulled a camera out, and I posted it on Facebook and things took off from there.” Since then, his sound has expanded and changed with time. “At the beginning, every song I dropped was different to the last. It was a process of trial and error. If you find my old music, you’re going to find all sorts. But I found what worked the most.” After toying with different ingredients, he found his recipe, and stuck to it.

Sliime speaks up for a demographic that is largely underrepresented in the UK music industry, and through his art he celebrates his culture, fusing his Bengali-British roots to create his own lane. The duality in Sliime’s background, can be heard in his voice, his lyrical content and the sound of his songs. “You can clearly hear that I’m from the North [in my accent] and then when I use Bengali or South Asian lingo, you can tell I’m from there. It’s nice to be able to represent people from Sheffield as well as Bangladesh”. And sonically, Sliime’s tracks are often adorned with the motif of the South Asian flute, distinguishing his sound from his counterparts. This is perfectly exemplified in his smash hit, “Lehenga”, which boasts lyrical wordplay inspired by the lehenga, a traditional ankle-length skirt from the Indian subcontinent. “I listened to the beat first, and then the bar just came into my head. As soon as I heard that South Asian flute melody, it just jumped out to me – ‘I put my Asian ting in a lehenga, and now she look ten times lenger’. It just went from there.”

As always, Sliime’s intention was to put his people on the map, but he also wanted to take the time to celebrate Asian women in particular. After all, some of his favourite things about his culture are “probably the food, the music and the girls!.. Uplifting South Asian girls was definitely a key part of it. I know that there are a lot of South Asian girls who have these beautiful traditional dresses, but they don’t express themselves in them as much as they would with other outfits that everyone else wears.” Here, Sliime took the opportunity to lift up young girls and women who don’t see themselves in the typical beauty standards and hot trends displayed in everyday music culture.

So what’s next for Sliime? Well, he has dreams so big that he can’t define them. “I have a mindset where I’m just looking straight up. I’m not limiting myself in any way.” His main aspiration is to keep expanding and to create music that can extend across the world. And it looks like he’s already on track: “I’ve had a lot of feedback from India, the US and Canada. In those countries there are big brown populations and things are slowly kicking off over there, it’s great to see.” 

Sliime is an artist who aptly displays what modern-day music should be all about: bringing people together and celebrating each other’s differences whilst bonding through our similarities; uplifting each other and representing people in the best ways that we can. When asked what impact he wants his music to have, Sliime is clear on this: “I want to keep speaking to my style and making sure that each new song is better than the last … And I just want people to acknowledge my community more. I want people to listen to what I’m saying. There’s no way to fit in without being yourself.”