When Hip Hop is so often blamed for the glamorisation of violence, it becomes easy to dismiss the ghetto mentality of some MCs. The rise of bullet-scarred rappers like 50 Cent allow many to dismiss each story as an act, playing down the seriousness of the situation. Ramson Badbonez separates himself from wannabes with lyrics entirely free of glamour that paint a picture of social deprivation in the heart of London.
Badbonez defends violence in Hip Hop, “Battle lyrics are a form of self-expression; it’s for entertainment. People are fucking aggressive because we’ve got a reason to be.” Raised in Islington, an area dominated by organic delis and £800 buggies, he represents those that were born and raised in the city. Using slang that is equal parts cockney and patois, he embodies the underbelly of the bourgeois borough, home to the Mayor of London. He is dressed in a grey tracksuit; a silver earring swings from his ear as he talks. Badbonez’s lyrics provide a unique commentary, one which you share with him if you can still spot the alcoholic single mums, phone boxes reserved for drug use and the kids searching for the next bag to snatch. It’s bit like the Sixth Sense except these people aren’t dead yet.
Aged only 26, Badbonez could be considered a veteran in the UK Hip Hop scene. His debut appearance on Dragon Kings by Task Force in 2000 launched his career and appearances on the Louis Slipperz £10 Bag LP soon followed. Chester P of Task Force has hailed him the best MC in the UK, but despite such a long career, a steady supply of music has only come in recent years. Despite an army of fans patiently waiting for each release, it’s taken some time for him to take his career seriously.
Badbonez describes his childhood as harsh, with a mother that showed little affection. He learnt to hold in his emotions and keep to himself from a young age. After leaving home, Badbonez entered a period of homelessness, sleeping at friends’ houses. “I wasn’t really serious about music. I weren’t even living anywhere, I was just doing what I had to do to eat.” This situation toughened the rapper and led him to question relationships with those close to him. “You start thinking, who’s real? When you’re rock bottom, that’s when some of the most unlikely people come through. Certain people let me stay in their house when their chick was there staying with them. Others had a chick in their yard, they were like, ‘you can’t come in man, you gotta go and find somewhere else to sleep’.”
Realising the route ahead of him, Badbonez took control of his future, allowing him to escape the path of his peers. “You know when you think, ‘What am I doing in my life?’ Everyone’s in jail, some man are dead. No one’s progressing; I ain’t trying to stay like that. I had my child when I was 23 and I started to be serious. Fuck this, she ain’t growing up like me.”
“If everyone knew how to tackle the problem, the system would collapse. They’d have to blow everyone up and start again”
As a child he was thoughtful and analytical and these silent, untrusting ways are still in place today, “If I’m in a room full of people, I won’t say shit, I’m not revealing nothing.” His anger eventually emerged through music, “Onyx made me punch holes in my wall when I was about ten. My mum heard the tape and was like, ‘No, you ain’t listening to this’. They were crazy, off their faces. They’re very intelligent guys but caught up in that lifestyle. You don’t get that kind of energy in Hip Hop anymore.”
Having grown up near the brothers Chester P and Farma G of UK Hip Hop group Task Force, Badbonez entered the scene at the height of its popularity. But typically fickle fans moved from Garage to Grime to Dubstep during the following decade and UK Hip Hop lost its shine. Only real followers hung around to see where the scene was going. “Music’s just like fast food these days. Easy to get, eat it quick but you won’t remember it after though.”
The music industry is seen as an escape into another life for many young working class males. Some of the most influential genres in the UK were born in the streets. But as much as offering a way out, advancing into the music business often raises a new set of problems for many artists. “They just wanna chew you up and spit you out, you’ve gotta find a way to play their game. But this road thing, you can’t bring it into the business. It’s hard for people like us because we don’t know how to deal with it. Boy, I grew up thinking until I was sixteen or seventeen that if someone gives you a problem it’s alright to use violence, but it’s not.” Several careers have been cut short and traded in for a long-term visit to H.M.P. Realising the risks, Badbonez has learnt how to adapt himself to suit the business, “It’s like a game, innit, it’s all kissing arse and I can’t do it. I’m cool with people but they get wrong and I get ugly quick. You gotta be patient with people, but I ain’t got patience.”
At school, Badbonez was intelligent but caught up in chaos. “I got a B in English and I weren’t even in school at the time, they wouldn’t let me in. As bad as I was in school, they knew I weren’t dumb but they never ever pushed me that hard. If I was a teacher and saw a kid that smart, I’m not letting them fail, that’s my job as a teacher. But they never pushed me; they let me do what the fuck I wanted to do all the time. They’re probably told to do that shit, if they don’t wanna learn then leave it.”
We get onto the subject of the government, which inevitably leads to plotting imaginary revolutions, “The government has done a great job of dumbing people down. If everyone was leaving school with top grades, they’d have a revolution on their hands. ‘Nuff educated people start thinking, ‘Hold on a minute, everyone’s armed innit. We know, so if everyone else knew how to tackle the problem, the system would collapse. They’d have to blow everyone up and start again.”
Having witnessed gun crime from close range, he has his own opinions on why the situation is so common amongst young people today. “Man don’t wanna fight, he’s scared to get punched up, innit. That’s all it is.” Though there is no simple solution to gun crime, in order to find an end to the problem, we must surely find the cause. Amongst the increasing availability, the perceived glamour of gang violence and the paranoia and fear of young men, there are more factors influencing this issue.
In speaking to Badbonez, there are no signs of aggression until certain subjects that are raw to him are raised. Then the anger is suggested in the speed of his movements, the volume of his voice, the intensity at which he looks at me. It is these aspects of his personality that remain suppressed. But the issues that bother Badbonez the most are those that are permanent, “People will be like, why are you angry? Some people don’t even understand why man’s angry! Look at me, I’m young, I’m fucking coloured, in this society. Why would I not be angry every day?”
Almost as rapidly as he became angry, he exhales smoke and returns to a relaxed state. Fuck counting to ten, this guy is fully in control of his emotions. “That angry shit is more about you than other people – don’t let them get to you innit. Certain times, I just have to keep my mouth shut and don’t say anything because whatever I say is just gonna be fucked, even though it’s the truth.”
The topics that make Badbonez angry prove to be very inspirational to his music. But rage is not always helpful. “Anger’s a part of our emotions; it’s a part of our nature. It’s been around since time, dogs and kids get angry. But if I’m really fucking angry, I can’t write, I can’t do nothing, I can’t talk to no one, I can’t eat, it affects me in a different way. I need to go outside and clear my fucking head, because I’m gonna mash myself up. But I think I just channel it differently. When I’m writing, the anger comes out but not as anger, just as the music.”
By Lily Mercer.