Interviews News 3 June 2016
Author: Alex Griffin

Young Fire: A conversation with Avelino

3 June 2016

Over the past two years or so, while the Stormzy’s have been bringing grime to chart topping highs and helping beckon in a whole new generation of fans, 22 year old prodigy Avelino has been honing his own brand of London rap music. An up comer who perhaps hasn’t been as celebrated as his peers until more recently, but one who is going to prove to be vitally important.

With a slew of mixtapes and videos under his belt already, the past few months have seen a steady increase to the pressure on the accelerator. It’s been a whirlwind for the Tottenham-born artist, linking up with legends, releasing viral hits and dropping incredible bodies of work. With that must surely come some immense pressure. You’d never be able to tell upon meeting him in person though.

Avelino rolls into GRM HQ in an off white sweatshirt and black jeans, calm and collected. His 6 ft-exceeding stature should give him a level of omnipresent control over the room, but he’s relaxed and hardly intimidating. Although his debut EP ‘F.Y.O.’ (or ‘Fuck Your Opinion’) is fresh of the presses, Av still speaks with a deep quietness in his voice when discussing the project, which had been six months in the making.

“I’m really happy, because I feel like what I wanted to get across is coming across. Which is that I’m prepared to be different, but still be important to the culture,” he says. “I couldn’t think of anything more positive. Be positive within yourself in an uncompromising, dangerous manner. There’s something Prince said, rest in peace Prince. He said, ‘What’s missing in today’s pop is danger’. F.Y.O.’s not the safe option. I don’t really think I’ve contributed that much to pop culture, as this is my first EP, but it’s never too soon to think that way.”

Fans and critics alike have responded well to the project, which is charged by the left-field production of his friend Raf Riley and packed full of Avelino’s trademark lyricism. The seminal release is entirely produced by Raf, who Av explains he met in 2014.

“As soon as I met him, we were eager to work with each other. After a few studio sessions we thought, ‘Oh somethings coming together here’. We were both in the same place,” he details. Fast forward a year or so and the pair began work on ‘F.Y.O.’, leaving Avelino with a big lesson on artistry. He says, “You just pick up different things from different creatives and what I got from him especially was attention to detail. That’s the gem I left with, because my creative technique is very free flowing, it’s very off the cuff.

“Raf is the complete opposite. When we’d finish the tune in the studio, he’d go away and look at it at a much deeper level. Start looking at every hat, every snare, every drop. He’s a real perfectionist in that area. That kind of opened my eyes up to the fact that like, you can go back in and add a backing vocal, or an adlib if you’ve missed something. Whereas before I wouldn’t have done that and just kept it moving.”


“I’m trapping music…”


“Off the cuff” is probably the most apt way of describing Avelino’s artistic technique. He’s become notorious in rapper circles for how he puts together verses. Legend has it, that when he’s prepping a 16, nothing gets written down. He shuts his eyes. He blinks. A lot. A little while later, he’ll hit the booth and ignite the Young Fire.

He distinctively laughs when it’s recalled back to him. “That’s just my personal technique. I’m very much an artist who lives in the moment, so whatever feels good in that moment, whatever feels right to me is what I go with. I know what feels right for me to say each time. I know when the lines right, I know when it’s not right. That’s not right in terms of the real meaning of the word right, because I don’t know what the meaning of the word right is in general, but right to me”. He grapples with his own explanation, before concluding, “You just let it flow. It’s not like mathematics or science, so I don’t have the most perfect explanation.”

Although he doesn’t have a formula, he does believe his upbringing in Tottenham had something to do with it. “Your surroundings, your upbringing is very important. There are the things you speak about and the lot of things you reference lyrically will come from these things, because they’re what you know.

“I’ve always noticed in my area especially, my part of Tottenham, a lot of the rappers are quite lyrical. They have a knack for wordplay and I think that’s what they enjoy. It’s kind of always been like that. It’s interesting. Maybe that’s something that I get from there. That, and just passion. Hard work. Everyone’s grinding, everyone’s trying to feed their family. I’m just doing it this way. I’m trapping music.”

The undercurrent of being different plays out not just lyrically or sonically on the EP, but also in the guest features too. It’s common for a new artist to get a veteran on their project to cosign it, but ‘F.Y.O.”s member of the old guard isn’t the most obvious one. Garage legend MC Neat unexpectedly appears on track “What Do They Know”, something which Avelino had appear in his vision during the creative process. He confesses, “It wasn’t something that I premeditated. It was after making the song, until that point where he comes in. I kept hearing his voice for some reason in my head. It could have been before the chorus, underneath the other vocalist… It could have been in any shape or form. I suggested it to the producer and asked if we can get MC Neat to come in and do something.  The rest is history.”

When it comes to legends, there’s one other who has become synonymous with Avelino in recent times. Wretch 32, a fellow North Londoner born in Tottenham with a penchant for lyricism, has taken him under his wing. The pair delivered one of the best ever Fire In The Booth freestyles, released a collaborative mixtape, ‘Young Fire Old Flame’ – heralded by some as a modern UK classic – before putting on two monumental shows off the back of it.

Avelino touches on the first studio session the pair of them had, saying, “He invited me to the studio quite some time ago after hearing a song I put out a while ago, called “Right Now” with Hurricane Hunt. He invited me to the studio to work on his album, which is amazing. Normally you get a call from one of the OG’s and it’s telling you to keep it up. But this call he gave me was to come studio. I put two together and it made six.

“I learnt a lot in that first studio session, that’s the first time I actually saw someone not have to write bars and write lyrics… When I got home, i didn’t say ‘Oh my goodness, that’s overwhelming, I can’t do that. I said to myself, ‘I need to learn that technique’ and I’ve never looked back since.”

The dynamic duo’s chemistry has been unrelenting, as prosperous as it is poetic. Wretch has passed the torch to Avelino, carrying on the lyrical legacy laid down by himself and those before him. The forefathers are obviously on Av’s radar, who is quick to raise light to their effect on him.

“You have your Wretch 32’s, you have your Kano’s. You have your Jay-z’s and Nas’. For anyone starting out as an MC, you have those people who you look up to and you think I want to do that.

“In the time when 50 was cleaning up, you look at his hits, there’s melody all over what he was doing. That’s so important,” he says when discussing his own use of melody in his verses. “I remember J. Cole said something the other day, that you can’t rap without melody any more and win a Grammy.” It’s not just the hip-hop side of things either, as he remains equally influenced by London’s other sonic lovechild.

“I’ve got a good relationship with grime, as any young kid from London does. I remember hearing Kano “Ghetto Kyote” and being blown away at the lyricism at that speed. It was crazy to fit all of that content on that and it was incredible for me at the time. It was a really mind boggling moment, because we were like, we can actually be that lyrical.”

The musical element that can found throughout his raps – just see the hook for viral smash “Hulk Hogan” – comes from living in his family home, he explains.

“You have to love music when you’re growing up in a house where culture is a big thing. There’s  African music, there’s rap music, there’s R&B music from my older siblings. A lot of good memories. What is the world without music?” he asks. Answering back to himself, he concludes, “A dire place”.

After the conversation, Avelino hangs around the office for a while. He and his boys eat, before Posty has to flex, slapping out his wallet and challenging him to a game of pool. Several bets were made, each one sounding more increasingly ludicrous than the last. Unfortunately for everyone in the office, Posty wins. Av eventually quells his calls for one more game, calling it quits before any more money can be lost. Although calm and collected he’s also fearless of the potential losses ahead. The conversation concludes with a final declaration: “The only guarantee I have is more music.”

Words: Alex Griffin