UK music has been on the rise for years, and amongst the array of artists who have carefully carved out their own lane on the scene, are the duo Young T and Bugsey. Although they’re still in the early chapters of their careers, they’ve already established themselves on a global scale.
Hailing from Nottingham, the talented pair have only gone from strength to strength since they first started releasing music together in 2016, and just four years later dropped their debut mixtape Plead The 5th, which went on to birth some of the biggest songs we heard that year, including “Strike A Pose” featuring Aitch, and of course, their viral hit, “Don’t Rush” featuring Headie One, which lived at the top of the most popular TikTok challenges for months.
It seems Young T & Bugsey never miss a beat and as they prepare to drop their second mixtape Truth Be Told, they’re proving once again how their consistency and their organic teamwork creates only quality tracks. We sat down with Young T & Bugsey to chat through the making of their new 15-track project, their viral moments and how they first became a duo.
Firstly, congrats on the new mixtape – talk to me a bit about the process for this project and how long you’ve been working on it.
Young T: “We started this project after the first lockdown – the summer of the first lockdown 2020, that’s when we came back in the studio and we started working from there really. A lot of the songs that are on the tape are songs from the first session that we even did, so we’ve obviously been sitting on this music for time, like a year and a half.
“I think it was kinda charged up because I think the break that we took from lockdown was the break that we needed and we just went back to Nottingham and chilled out with our family and friends and just soaked a lot of things in. So, when we came back we were kinda focused, so like I said, a lot of the songs on the tape are from our first session.”
Bugsey: “The creative process has been super long, most of these songs are from 2020, I think there’s only probably two songs from 2021 – I think that’s the song T produced and the song with Quincy called “Hall Of Fame”, I think that’s the only two songs from 2021, so I feel like this tape was made from the stuff we had in lockdown.
“We was in the studio quite a lot after that, once lockdown got lifted and we could go back to the studio, so I feel like we were just on a high, that was the biggest point we had been in our career and we were just getting so many things left, right and centre. So, when we were making music at that time, everything was so easy. That’s one thing that I was happy about; that the tape was made during that time.”
With Truth Be Told being a follow up to Plead The 5th – how did you find the difference when making your second album compared to your first?
Young T: “There wasn’t really that much difference, we was just making music. I think how we work in the studio is we make all of our music from scratch, so probably like 95% of our sessions we’re going in with producer and the beats are being made from scratch, so that’s how we always do it. Then however that happens in the session, either we make the beat and then we go in there and lay some melodies, or we go in there and we write first and then put it in – it’s kinda the same process. It’s kind of a laid back process when it comes to us, we don’t really try to force anything.”
Bugsey: “I would say maybe at the time we were making it, it was pretty easy, but as time goes on – because like I said, we made most of the tape in 2020 – and something most artists will tell you is that after a while, you get bored of your own music.
“So, I feel like it’s not harder but you might just judge yourself a bit harder because you’re tougher on yourself, especially once you’ve been making music for a while and you maybe feel like ‘I made this song a while ago, I feel like I’m maybe better than this now’. Like, ‘this is old to me but it’s new to other people’, so you kinda just have to bank on the fact that other people haven’t heard this music yet, it’s new to them, it might be old to you but it doesn’t mean it’s not good, does that make sense?”
Obviously Plead The 5th was huge for a debut album – did it give you a standard to work towards when making Truth Be Told?
Young T: “It was a bit more relaxed I think, to be honest. Plead The 5th did alright, and obviously there was some songs on there that did amazing, like “Strike A Pose”, “Don’t Rush” – which was a global smash. But we tried not to chase a dragon, we don’t wanna chase something, you know, I don’t think it ever ends well. We don’t really try and focus on that, we just try and make sure that we’re making good music and the music that we make and release is always of quality. Regardless of what it does, you can never say it’s a bad song, you know what I mean? If it blows, it blows and if it don’t, it don’t, but at least we can hold our head high and know it’s a good song; that’s how we approach it.”
Bugsey: “I’d say it made us feel like ‘ok cool, we can never go below this level’, if that makes sense, I think that’s one thing we pride ourselves in, that anything we release, it either has to be as good as the last one or better, it can’t be worse. Something about it has to be some sort of upgrade or some sort of elevation, whether that’s lyrically or the music video or just the production, so I feel like I deffo had it in the back of my mind like ‘this tape, regardless whatever the first one does, it has to be of the same standard or higher’, otherwise there’s no point releasing it.”
Since a lot of your tape was made during lockdown, how did you find the pandemic impacted you making music?
Young T: “I think we were more focused because there was less distractions, less things to do around the days and things like that, it was literally just studio every single day, so it kinda just made us a bit more focused. With it being a lockdown, we were kinda driven for the fact we hoped the music was gonna be released after lockdown, like it is now, so I think the excitement of knowing that we were gonna come out of lockdown and we were gonna have things to release and that, just made us more focused. I think that was the main thing around that time.”
Bugsey:“The only thing I’d say was most studios – we normally work at a studio in Ladbroke Grove and a lot of them you can have bare people in the studio but when the pandemic happened you could only have maximum three people, so it was a bit weird like sometimes our A&R would come and stay 30 minutes then leave, then one of our friends would come and stay two or three hours then get off then A&R would come back. That was probably just a bit weird but we were definitely more focused, there’s nothing else we could do apart from go studio.”
Do you guys have a favourite song on the album? And are there any tracks that didn’t make the tracklist?
Young T: “I’ve got a couple on there but one of my favourite songs on there is “Blessed” featuring Chronixx, I like that song because I think it’s just real, we’re saying some real stuff on there. Obviously the sound of it – I’m Jamaican as well so it’s nice to actually do a song of that type of substance, where we’re actually talking about something real and proper with someone from the same land as me. The “Outro” as well, again we’re talking some real bars on that. I like the intro; the self-titled track, “Truth Be Told” – I produced that one. I like the one with Aitch, there’s loads man, on different days you vibe with different ones.
“We’ve got loads of songs [that didn’t make the album] we’ve got bare songs. We had one with J Hus, that one’s fire but obviously we’re just trying to save that one for a different time. We’ve got loads of songs, we had to do the tracklist like three or four times, so it was difficult, but at the end of it we came down to an agreement. It’s not to say that those other songs won’t ever come out, they’re just still in the vault.”
Bugsey:“I think my favourite song is probably between the “Outro”, “Oh Lordy” with M Huncho, and maybe “Glitter Ain’t Gold”. There’s other songs with honourable mentions probably like “5th Not Atlanta”, “Truth Be Told” – the actual title track, I like that one a lot because obviously T made a beat, and I love when T does production or is more involved in that side because it really makes it super duper Young T & Bugsey. It’s like man made a beat and we’re the ones rapping over it as well. Another honourable mention is probably “Tense”, but my favourite ones are definitely the “Outro”, “Oh Lordy” and “Glitter Ain’t Gold”.”
Let’s talk viral moments – “Don’t Rush” was and definitely still is one of the biggest viral songs after it was used on TikTok for the “Don’t Rush” challenge – what was your initial reaction to how that blew?
Young T: “First reaction, it was mad, it’s hard to describe it sometimes because again, we was in lockdown, so whenever someone has a song that particularly blows or things like that or does things of that nature, you experience it in different ways. You’re out and about, but we didn’t really get to experience that because we were in lockdown so we were just inside every single day, just seeing it on socials blow up – which was sick, it was mad but it was a bittersweet thing but it was still sick to watch. Just as much as everyone else was seeing it, we were seeing it at the same time. There was a lot of icons we’ve seen do it and things like that, a lot of people we grew up watching and listening to was shouting us out and doing remixes like Busta Rhymes.”
Bugsey: “I can’t lie it was bare normal, like obviously it was sick but because it was lockdown it just felt normal, we didn’t really feel the impact of it until when we probably started going back out again. Like when we were at home, there was actually a point we were doing, like, I wanna say maybe five, minimum four interviews every few days with American publications, Spanish publications, African publications, just different magazines – things like GRM in their respective countries, we were doing interviews with them, Zooms with them. That was when we thought ‘maybe this is bigger than what man were thinking’ because these times I didn’t have a TikTok account.
“Me, myself, I didn’t have a TikTok account and I don’t think T did either, like our Young T & Bugsey account was on TikTok but we didn’t have individual accounts, so at first it just felt like one of our songs was doing well. But when we started going back out again and going to London and just seeing everyone’s reaction, we thought ‘this is actually crazy’. When we knew it was crazy was when Da Baby sent his verse, like before it came out. Let’s say Da Baby verse came out in August, he sent his verse in like June, and once he sent that we knew this song was bigger than what we’ve done before.”
I saw that Barack Obama added you guys into his 2020 summer playlist – that was a mad moment knowing music from the Midlands reached him – how did you first find out about that?
Young T: “I think I found out the same time as everyone else – sometimes management like to keep things a secret for the surprise so I think I found out around the same time or just before it was announced. So, yeah it’s sick, some things you can’t really describe like that. I’m just grateful and honoured.”
Bugsey: “Yeah that was sick, I didn’t see it ’til I went on Twitter and I seen it and thought ‘I’m on one of these tings’. Bare different people were on the list and people were saying ‘I can’t believe Barack listens to Young T & Bugsey,’ especially with completely different artists to us [on the list], it was just sick to be in that type of conversation. Because like I said, we’re just from Nottingham. No matter how much success or how much money or however much we gain from this, we’re actually just two boys from Nottingham.
“You don’t usually have time to take things in and stop, but anytime you do stop and look back, it’s always kinda overwhelming because you wish for all these great things and all these blessings to happen to you and when it does, you’re really like ‘wow, this is actually happening’ type thing. Like when people talk about UK music we could literally be part of that conversation, that’s the most fulfilling thing about it. One thing I would say is that me and T have always wanted to be rappers, so it’s actually the fact that we’re just doing what we wanted to do, like our career is what we wanna do so that’s what makes it even better. It’s all just overwhelming, but in a good way.”
Let’s take it back to where it started – you met when you were teenagers, right? How did you guys first meet, how did Young T & Bugsey come about?
Young T: “Yeah, so we just had mutual friends in Nottingham and around the age of 14/15 we met each other properly and built our own friendship through that and then started making music together, but even before it was Young T & Bugsey there was like a group of us, so it would’ve been like seven of us all making music. And then bit by bit everyone started doing football or getting a job, it just started trickling down to just me and Bugsey and luckily me and Bugsey live like five minutes apart from each other. So, that’s when our friendship grew stronger because even when we’re going to meet the rest of the people, I’m meeting him before because we only lived five minutes away and then it was just me and him that was in the studio everyday.
“We didn’t even think that we should be a duo or planned for us to be a duo, literally we just started releasing songs saying ‘Young T & Bugsey’ instead of one featuring the other, just so that we can share the experience of the song rather that taking ownership because we were making the music together. Then people just started taking to it in Nottingham and we just started to run with it from there.”
Do you feel like making music together over the years has changed at all?
Bugsey: “I don’t wanna say it’s the same, but it’s pretty much the same [as before], like we pretty much just go in [the studio] and just vibe to whatever beat is playing, whoever’s got an idea first or we both listen to each other’s ideas and just make a song. I don’t know, I feel like it’s always been pretty easy to make music with T, I think because we’re actually friends. I feel like a lot of groups and that have been put together, but me and T are actually friends.
“Like outside of music and whatever success, me and T are actually friends so it’s not just a Young T & Bugsey ting, so that’s why I feel like making music is not hard. Plus because we’ve been making music for so long together, our relationship has been growing for so long, it’s just easy. Obviously the main difference is the budget, the studios and the producers that we work with but other than that, everything is pretty much the same.”
If you had to name one thing – what’s one thing you think you’ve learned about each other since over the years that has really stuck with you?
Young T: “There’s a lot – but I think one thing Bugsey does which is good, a lot of the times he stands with his core values. If he thinks something, he’s gonna stand with what he thinks and if he truly believes that, he’s gonna stick with it and a lot of times that’s valuable, you know what I mean?”
Bugsey: “I think T is a great family man, I think that’s one thing I’ve learnt from T. I was born in Nigeria and came here when I was five with my mum, my dad and younger brother and so my mum and dad are split up now, since I was kinda young, so my idea of family has always just been, me my mum, my brothers, so it’s like I never really had contact with my family in Nigeria like that.
“I wasn’t really an introvert, but I was never really a person that lets people in, I can get along with people quite easily, I’m very personable, but I don’t really class people as friends. But after me and T became close, I think he kinda taught me – he cares a lot about his friends and family. I would say T’s family is like my extended family, like I know his whole family and they see me like one of their cousins. He’s a really good person in his core, he’s got very good morals.”
You guys are arguably the biggest artists to come out of Nottingham – do you feel like you get a lot of love when you’re at home and at shows in Notts?
Young T: “Ah yeah, most definitely, Nottingham show us love. They’ve always shown us love, like we were big in Nottingham before like everything else, and ever since then they’ve always supported us and shown us love.”
Bugsey: “Yeah, it’s always sick. I mean, we don’t get to perform in Nottingham as much as we’d like to but the last time we got to perform there was for Headie One’s show like two months ago, but yeah it’s super sick. Every time we come out, the reaction, the way the crowd goes you’d think it was our show. I always think ‘these lot proper like us innit’, it’s mad, I just wish we could do it more.
“I don’t ever want people from Nottingham to think we forgot about them or we don’t wanna do shows there but yeah it’s always a shutdown, the crowd’s always going crazy and know all the words. And every time we perform in Nottingham there’s someone who’ll have like a throwback picture of us from like five or six years ago, it’s always a heartwarming moment. I’m proper grateful for everything Nottingham has done for us, they gave us that initial push.”
Is there anyone you guys have your eye on to work with this year that you haven’t had a chance to before?
Young T: “That we haven’t before? I wanna work with Ghetts, I really think we can make something hard, like a proper rap ting. That’s the one I can think of at the top of my head.”
Bugsey: “Ooh, do you know who I wanna work with, we’ve actually got a tune with him but we need to finish it up – DigDat; I mess with DigDat a lot you know. In terms of American, obviously like Drake, 21, Nardo Wick, Gunna. I’d love to do a song with someone like Brent Faiyaz or Don Toliver, like an R&B type of guy. Obviously, we’ve got an R&B artist on the mixtape with Blxst, but I feel like we can work more in that lane as well.”
So you guys obviously worked with Aitch for “Strike A Pose” and again for “Caliante” – do you feel like it’s more organic when you guys link up now?
Young T: “Yeah, I mean we’ve been around each other for time init, so it’s normal, and I even think “Caliante” may have been the first time we actually made a song together in person, like “Strike A Pose” we made that and sent that to him. But we’ve been around him so many times that when we went in it didn’t even feel like it was the first time we was in the studio together because we’re so natural around each other.”
Bugsey: “It’s hard to explain with Aitch because even though that was the first time we’d been in the studio with him, we’ve worked together bare in terms of like doing photo shoots together, press, radio, performing, like we’ve worked together bare. Even though it was the first time working together in the studio, with Aitch it just feels like we’ve known this guy for time – I don’t know if it’s because he’s from Manchester. Like, Manchester, other than Nottingham, Manchester is my second favourite city in the whole UK, I think it’s such a great vibe, so I feel like with Aitch, we just have this thing where we just connect.
“I also think because at that time when we done [“Strike A Pose”] with Aitch, he was a relatively new artist. He had the verse on the “Keisha & Becky” remix which was banging off, but then “Strike A Pose” felt like his first commercial success song and for us it was also our first commercial successful song where we were the lead artist, that’s why I feel like our relationship is so locked in, because I feel like we both acknowledged that from each other, like it really helped to change our trajectories and directions. So I feel like whenever we’re together, it’s just mad love. It feels like I’m just chatting to my guy from ends.”
Do you guys have any collabs with Aitch that we haven’t heard yet?
Young T: “Yeah – even in that session where we made “Caliante”, we made two songs, so there’s like one more which is like a fire back-to-back like all three of us and that one’s half finished. We’ve also had other things which we’ve sent to each other.”
When was the first moment it felt like you guys really made it – could you pick out your most surreal moment so far?
Young T: “I think there’s been different things really, maybe it might be at a show. I think one show we had, there was just a vibe in there – I forgot where it was but I just remember the show. It was like a club show but the venue was massive and just the vibe in there was just sick.”
Bugsey:“I actually don’t even know, there’s quite a lot of surreal parts… probably one of them was definitely the BRITs, even just getting ready for the BRITs, doing the whole suit-fitting and that, I was just trying on bare different suits, different types of designer, I didn’t even know the names of all of them, I was just like ‘this is crazy’. My mum FaceTime’d me whilst I was getting dressed and I was like ‘I’m just getting ready for the BRITs mum’ and she couldn’t believe it, she was like ‘wow!’
“Obviously she knew I was nominated but just the fact I was getting ready for the BRITs and doing the whole tailor ting. I was just looking at T like ‘yo, this is crazy, we’d have never thought this’. Also, personally one of our favourite moments was when we both got a Rolex, I think it was about the same time when we got a Roley, obviously that’s more of a personal trophy ting but yeah.”
I feel like even though you guys have achieved so much so far, you’re still so early on in your career – what’s your most aspirational goal for the next 5 years?
Young T: “Main goals for five years is a lot man, we’ve still gotta get our number ones; our number one albums, our top 10s, our top 5s, our top 3s, we’ve still gotta sell out, whether it’s the Brixton or Ally Pally or selling out things in Nottingham. Just the things as an artist when you’re growing that you wanna tick off. Those general things are really just spreading our sound, doing more things for Nottingham, shining more light on Nottingham artists because a lot of people think we’re hard but there’s so many other artists that we grew up on or grew up with who are just as hard as us, so we’ve just gotta shine a light on them.”
Bugsey: “The next five years I feel like we just need to cement our ting a bit more. I feel like a lot of people who know music or are a bit more in depth into the UK scene or are invested in it are like ‘Young T & Bugsey, they’re hard, they should be spoken about more’, so I feel like in the next five years, we’re gonna really double down on that, without being out of character. That’s one thing me and T pride ourselves on, I don’t feel like we do a lot of gimmicks and theatrics. I’m just a normal guy, I make music and then I go back to my normal life, that’s what I like. Within the next five years I feel like we’re gonna break that barrier a bit, like you’ll still see us about we’ll still be making music and that, but I feel like that’s what’s left in that chapter of our career and then there’s a whole other chapter.
“I know me and T wanna get into like being label bosses and we wanna have our own label and sign artists from surrounding cities like Derby, Leicester, Loughborough, like all them kinda places. Because I feel like we’re from the Midlands as well, a lot of artists from the Midlands will respect man a bit more and give us a go because we’ve done it before.
“Other than that, just cementing it more, putting ourselves as household names, like you can’t talk about UK rap without talking about us because we came up in like 2015/2016, that’s when money was coming into UK music. I feel like back then only one person at a time could be big and I feel like we were one of the first guys to even get signed outside of London, definitely the first rappers from Nottingham to get signed. A lot of things like that has shaped our story so I feel like in the next five years all we can do is try and do more groundbreaking stuff and I feel like we’re gonna have a big legacy for ourselves and for Nottingham.”
Inevitable continued success undeniably awaits Young T & Bugsey as they continue to pave the way through their humble roots and an unstoppable drive to becoming key figures in future conversations.
Truth Be Told is available to stream now on all platforms – check it out below.