Aniefiok “Neef” Ekpoudom is, hands down, one of Britain’s best music writers, as attested by his new book, Where We Come From: Rap, Home and Hope in Modern Britain, a kaleidoscopic, state-of-the-nation social and cultural history.
Chapter 9 tells, in fascinating, granular detail, Dave’s story – “a unicorn of sorts” who rose from the streets of South London to the top of the charts. With Dave’s keenly anticipated third album expected to drop this year, we’re privileged to present, below, his full backstory, as recounted in Where We Come From, along with an introduction from Neef himself.
Around a third of my book, Where We Come From, tells the history of rap and MC culture in South London, but more crucially maps the history of the Black community in the region. It starts with a handful of HMT Windrush passengers who were temporarily housed in deep-level shelters under Clapham South tube station in the late ‘40s. It then traces the Sound Systems of the ‘70s and ‘80s with the likes of Smiley Culture and Tippa Irie, the early shoots of ‘80s hip-hop culture with Cookie Crew and London Posse. So Solid take centre stage in the early ‘00s. Roadside G’s, Giggs and PDC move into focus in the ‘10s, as do the likes of Cadet, Stormzy, Krept and Konan after that. Every generation just following the last.
Dave represents the next iteration of a culture and a community which has been rooted here for around seven decades. There is something distinctly South London about him; the glimmering silver caps in his teeth, the cadence, the punchlines and deep introspection that has long been a hallmark of the genre in the region. It’s how he speaks: a young boy of Nigerian heritage casually slipping into slang that ranges from patois to pidgin, Arabic to faint cockney. South London is a mix of these cultures, a symbol for how varied immigrant communities have converged on British soil and slowly created an identity that is unique.
His music represents the very best of this. His story is woven into the fabric of the city, and therefore when he speaks on his life and his times, he, maybe without knowing, speaks for more than himself. There has been a boldness and an ease in which Dave has stood for something on national stages. From the iconic performance of Black at the BRITs, to the nine-minute-long Question Time video which tackled everything from Grenfell to NHS cuts.
I first came across Dave when I was working at SBTV, the company founded by the late Jamal Edwards. Dave’s name was beginning to buzz online with a few freestyles across UK rap YouTube channels. When he released a “Warm Up Session” on SBTV, the excitement about him only increased. What immediately stood out was a gift for lyricism, a radical introspection and a worldview that seemed beyond his young years. It felt as if we were watching a child prodigy; he was being spoken about in the same way New Yorkers of the early ‘90s spoke about a teenaged Nas. In the two years that followed, I watched one of his first live performances at the SBTV Summer Cookout, watched his second headline show at a small cap venue in Camden and then interviewed him for VICE the day after.
When we met, I remember being struck by just how young he was. At the time, Thiago Silva was already out in the world, as was the Wanna Know remix with Drake. He was being coveted by labels far and wide, and even with no album out, many were anointing him as the new face and future of the genre. These were big titles, and yet he was only around 17. We spent a few hours, talking about Streatham, about South London, about his early forays into music, about the incarceration of his brothers and how he was beginning to fly all over the world. Then, he sat and played the piano for a while.
I left that interview feeling I had witnessed a young man’s life changing, a chapter of his story being closed out and a new one beginning. Evidently, that turned out to be true. I carried that moment with me as his stock continued to rise.
When I next interviewed him, a few days after that BRITS performance, it was heartening to see him fulfilling his potential, as well as playing the piano on stage. He was on the road to becoming a global star, no longer that 17-year-old. His music was moving arenas and he was touring the world. But through it all, the music had retained an essence, an urgency, a connection to the communities that had raised him and the regions that still go unspoken for. In his music, and in his rise, he was writing a new chapter in the history of Black Britain and South London. I wanted to capture that in the book.
South London folklore is written in the tarmac of a quiet North London side road in Camden.
There are teenagers, around two hundred of them, clustered in the middle of the street. The side road is locked off. Cars can’t enter. The young ones had the winter evening jumping like a block party.
They are swarming around a boy. He is eighteen years old, in the centre of a storm he spoke into existence. The crowd tug at his arms and jacket, shrieking and screaming in his presence. Hands and fingers thrust phones in his face, their flashlights beaming in the darkness, casting him under a spotlight. The flock snap pictures and selfies, pulled into his orbit, desperate to claim a piece of history as their own.
He tries to push through the crowd, moving through the bodies, the screams and hands and iPhones falling towards his face.
“Oh my God,” the boy, David Omoregie, eventually mumbles to himself, jostling for space, “this is mad.”
British rap was changing, MC culture in Britain mutating into something new as an emergent generation sought to hand-craft the sounds of their forebears into something they could call their own. When change came, South London sat at the heart of the evolution. Among the high tides of the grime and UK rap boom, young sons and daughters of the ends began to experiment and grow.
Section Boyz from the deep South blended trap and UK rap and grime into a style they called section sound, crawling inside instrumentals and pushing out a new, South London mutation, their experimental flow patterns and ad-libs becoming a guiding light for teenagers-turned-rappers in wider Britain.
And from the estates around Brixton and Brixton Hill, boys who had grown up on UK rap opened their ears to the contemporary music of Midwestern America, the booming sounds of Chicago drill and Chief Keef seeping into South London through the steady veins of YouTube. Collectives like 150 in Brixton and 67 in Brixton Hill sprang out of local street gangs who began using the genre to air out and document the experiences of a new generation of the young and vulnerable growing up on the roads. Songs like Skeng Man by 67 and Look Like You by 150 were a testament to this contemporary borrowing and influencing from the diaspora, the deep, haunting baselines typical of Chicago drill now rumbling out across the streets of South London and the wider UK.
As drill bedded in, producers and rappers began to reassemble the sound: the instrumentals growing faster and fanning out, the punchlines creeping in, ad-libs occupying the empty space between each bar, and references unique to British life coating their lyrics as this new hybrid became the style defining its generation.
By 2016, UK drill was a sound detached from the Chicago version, folding itself in under the umbrella of Black British MC culture. The instrumentals were pinned on sliding 808s and rappers bouncing and turning over them like dirt bikes over gravel, using the pounding bass as a vessel for the sometimes bleak accounts of life.
It was a continuation of UK rap. Many drill artists began as UK rappers before the new genres snatched their attention. There was a bond to grime too, a resonance with the earlier scene’s sound in tempo. Drill artists were raised under the haze of grime’s 2014 emergence, and some listened to and were inspired by the older MCs they saw having success in their local area. Both UK drill and grime hovered around 140 bpm, with the rappers and MCs flowing double-time over the instrumentals.
And so UK drill and a new generation of UK rappers came out of familiar surroundings: 150 out of Brixton, where PDC and Roadside Gs and many rappers and MCs freestyled in the summer days in Brockwell Park. K‑Trap came out of the deep South, the Central Hill Estate in Norwood where Krept was raised. A group named Zone 2 came out of Peckham, once home to Giggs; another, Moscow17 out of Walworth Road. Further afield, drill artists and groups emerged from the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, Hackney in East London, in Ladbroke Grove and the Mozart Estate off Harrow Road; Handsworth and Lozells and Hillfields in the Midlands; Butetown in Cardiff.
They were kids on the receiving end of Tory austerity, some of their experiences a consequence of cleaved youth service budgets and poverty and the surging youth violence that had followed. By translating these experiences into music, they were unknowingly following a tradition set in place long before they were born, Black kids coming out of working-class communities, pushing their day-to-day experiences into music, just like Smiley Culture, and So Solid Crew, and Giggs, and Krept and Konan, and Cadet, and Stormzy, had done before them.
They were who and what came next, utilising the infrastructure and platforms built and mapped out by the generations before to push their songs into the world, to wade into the charts and change the lives of the artists and producers who followed its tide.
David Omoregie, in the years stretching 2015 to 2019, was among this uprising, a unicorn of sorts, a UK rapper emerging in a generation dominated by drill artists. He sat distinctly aside from UK drill, choosing a more traditional style of UK rap, but was seemingly shaped by the same social, economic and political forces that had created it. Together, they were among a new era of rappers out of South London, whose presence and music deepened the legacy and history of Black communities in the region as their sounds continued to pull away from the homelands their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents travelled from.
He emerged on YouTube, a young boy with a story to share. In May 2010, at London’s Victoria Station, Dave’s older brother Christopher was involved in the group murder of fifteen-year-old Sofyen Belamouadden. Twenty teenagers were arrested, and by use of the contentious legal doctrine Joint Enterprise, which can make a group liable for a crime committed by one of its members, all were charged with murder. At the time it was reportedly one of the largest Joint Enterprise cases ever brought to court in England and Wales. The trial went on for two years, was covered heavily throughout British media, and by the time the final conviction had been settled in October 2012, Chris had been sentenced to life in prison.
Three years later, Dave was sixteen. Struggling to process the feelings rising from problems at home, he emptied himself into rap. Dave’s first freestyle proper appeared on the YouTube Channel BL@CKBOX in May 2015, recording the freestyle at their studio in Essex over a haunting Eminem instrumental. In the video, a Gucci hat leans off his forehead, and when he opens his mouth, four silver teeth glint out at the world.
Over four minutes, he tells his South London story. A boy on the edge, his older brother incarcerated for murder and his family coming apart in the aftermath. There are pills to cope with the pain, there’s his grandmother’s passing and the toll the loss has on his mother. There is anger and shock and prison visits and a sixteen-year-old boy relieving his burdens, an intensity as he stares down the microphone, barking his words, the bars flowing out in a simmering rage.
Dave’s South London was a three-bedroom house on a quiet road in Streatham. Streatham is South West London, SW16, a middle ground rooted between the region’s central communities of Brixton and Battersea and Clapham, and the outer zones of Norbury and Thornton Heath and Croydon in the deep South. You can walk the 1.8 miles of Streatham High Road, which some residents claim to be the longest in Europe, and watch the city turn.
The edges of Brixton Hill bleed over into Streatham proper, red double-deckers steaming down the street, heading south to Pollards Hill and West Croydon and Old Coulsdon. On the main strip of the High Road the continents brush fingers: a Somali barbershop teeming in the late afternoon. A Sudanese market store, a Polish supermarket, and a Lebanese food spot. Salons with Black women braiding hair and East Asian women giving pedicures. School kids in uniform gathered in the Morley’s Chicken shop, and Deliveroo drivers huddled in packs outside local restaurants. Then the road continues to stretch, past the low-rise tower blocks edging the street, past the big greens of Streatham Common with families holding BBQs on the grass. Past the war memorials and the internet cafés and Streatham ice rink and the pubs and the Cash Converters and the new-build flats hinting at a creeping gentrification, until you reach the William Hill down by Norbury, where Croydon opens its jaws and South London fans out into its deep, concreted suburbs.
David was raised here, the youngest of three boys. A mum who immigrated from Nigeria, a dad who immigrated from Nigeria too. They are Edo people, from Benin City in the south of the country. He wears that family line in places you can’t see, in his surname Omoregie, and his middle name Orobosa, subtle hints at a home beyond Streatham. But he grew up a South yout.
His dad wasn’t around, and his mum was a nurse, leaving in the early hours and returning late in the night. Then his brother Chris got life and his other brother Ben went to jail for robbery a few years later. He spent a lot of time with friends as a result, boys born of the city. You can hear it in his music, an identity shaped in these corners of the country where varying Black and ethnic communities have fused together and reshaped the land, redesigned the language, redefined what it means to be British. Here, they have birthed an identity of their own.
And so, in this distant son of Nigeria, raised under the veils of Streatham, you can hear Jamaican patois as he raps, natural references to patties and dumplings and dancehall anthems. Black Caribbean culture, which had been threaded through South London for more than five decades, was now threaded through him also. When you hear him rap in the BL@CKBOX freestyle, there is little hint of Nigeria on his tongue. Instead, there are casual slips of Arabic and fading cockney, and a distance between his parents’ generation, who arrived in London, and his, who were raised here:
“Bruv I’ve been to them graveyards.
I’ve been to the pen for my bros
And bruv I’ve seen what a skeng does to mugs in the south,
Like I’ve seen a shank leave a nigga’s guts hanging out
Seen big straps make a whip crash, no whiplash.
Big money-maker, big man look like a kid akh”
This was a language distinct to Britain, patois blended with English, English blended with Arabic, the many influences of Britain’s immigrant communities folding into one, and coming out from one of the region’s own.
He found music in his early teens. He was around eleven when his brothers went to prison, the aftershocks rocking both him and his mother. His brothers were moved between prisons all over the country, and he would go and visit them. His mum struggled, and he can remember how “A lot of the time when my mum was going into rooms when I was younger, it was this thing about her: ‘That woman there, her sons are in prison.’ My mum definitely felt the stigma.”
She kept Dave locked indoors, and on school days, his brothers would ring to make sure he had arrived home safely. At home he began to find himself, watching Japanese anime, spending hours drawing and listening to music, losing himself in films scores by Steve Jablonsky and Hans Zimmer. At school he liked playing the piano, so when he turned fourteen his mum bought him a digital keyboard, and he taught himself how to play. He and his friend Kyle would choose a piece like Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, or the soundtracks to films like Inception and Interstellar, find the sheet music or tutorials online, and then learn to play them. Sometimes he’d play piano for four or five hours every night. Eventually he reached a Grade 7 level, and, when he got good enough, he stopped playing others’ works and began to create his own melodies.
But his early music hints at more than a reclusive life in the sealed walls of home. There is a desperate hunger for money, a hope that pounds and notes would bring his life into balance; and there are the risks he seemingly took to meet that end. In his BL@CKBOX he raps with a sorrowful intensity about hustling, about street politics, and everything that comes with it: shootings and stabbings and fraud in the bleakest ends of life in the city.
“For half dark, half light, get it for a calm price,
Hanging out the passy, like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
What the fuck’s a one-on-one?
Fighting fucking punch to punch,
I’ll boot you in your face bruv,
I won’t ever watch my darg fight”
Rap was something that had been with him “since the dawn of time”. His brother used to rap, and Dave grew up on MCs like Devlin and Kano from East London, who rhymed their words cleanly, never wasting a metaphor or a bar. There was Youngs Teflon, who featured on the Lost Tapes of Brixton DVD many summers ago, and the producer Carns Hill. They were pioneers for Dave, both from Brixton, who on their records together would sample films like Karate Kid and Transformers.
Dave wrote his first bar at around eleven years old, something about Newcastle football club and relegation. By the time he began to rap properly, British rap was rising, entering its golden age. He was the first generation to grow up with the genre as a realistic pursuit, seeing Skepta and Stormzy, Giggs, Fredo and AJ Tracey make a career from writing.
When he was on his way to college, making the two-hour round trip to Richmond College, the same institution attended by Cadet and Krept, he would play the song Diamonds by older Streatham rapper Pak-Man, and stew in the restless and rugged ambitions of this South West London street anthem, his mind dreaming about the day his brother would touch road. He wanted to help get him up on his feet.
What came out of him at the BL@CKBOX studio in Essex was a culmination of these things, the memories and wounds and highlights of his sixteen years here. South London and Streatham was in him, and with this rare gift of his, he would walk both onto the world stage.
More freestyles followed throughout 2015. There was a freestyle on YouTube channel Street Starz where he is rapping under nightfall, moving over another Eminem instrumental, spitting at pace, his friends stood at his side, sometimes finishing a bar for him when the sentences ran too long and he needed to catch breath. There was another on BL@CKBOX, an under-eighteen cypher, where he lists the prisons he has visited: Cookham Wood in Kent, HMP Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey, Feltham in Hounslow, Swinfen Hall in Staffordshire, High Down in Surrey and Ford in Sussex, Wandsworth and Thameside and Brixton in South London. And then there was an SBTV Warm Up Session shot on the balcony of the company’s central London offices.
“Feeling like I can’t breathe, life in South London’s hard,” he raps, staring into the camera, heavy emotion in his voice.
It was on these platforms that his voice began to echo out across the country, a career forged on the networks and culture established by generations of British rappers and community-builders that came before him. The infrastructure, carved over many decades, as well as the heightened popularity surrounding the genres, allowed Dave, and other artists from his cohort a smoother and quicker transition into established music careers.
It meant that in 2016, just a year into his career proper, three of his first five singles landed in the Top 70 on the singles charts as a contained buzz begun to move out towards the country’s open ears. His videos scaled to views in the hundreds of thousands and then millions. Among those singles was a grime collaboration with AJ Tracey named Thiago Silva, after the Brazilian footballer. They shot the video in Paris, where Thiago Silva was then playing football for Paris Saint-Germain. They don PSG tops in the video. It became his first song to breach Middle England.
Some months later, when I saw him perform it at the SBTV Summer Cookout to a watching audience of a few hundred, he sprinted through his verse, unable to catch his breath, until there was no air left in his lungs and he had to stop and restart the song from the beginning: his career moving so fast that he hadn’t yet had the time to fine-tune and learn the live arena.
Elsewhere, there was the piano-led, melodic single titled Samantha, with another rising star J Hus. Wanna Know, a song from his 2016 debut EP Six Paths, was remixed by Drake, pulling his music into a global view and further altering the course of his career and life. By the end of 2016, he was throwing his first headline show in Camden, leaving the venue and walking out into the North London night mobbed by his new supporters, cameras thrust in and around his face, a boy caught in a changing world.
A few days after his show in Camden, he sat in his manager’s central London apartment. I had come to interview him for VICE. He sat at the piano, fingers tracing over the keys as he tried to explain an instrumental to me. Whenever he played the wrong key, or the melody bent out of tune, he would start again, trying to recreate what he had heard in his head. Obsessed.
There was a stillness about those fleeting moments, an anchoring in a life that was changing. I was watching a young boy from South London leave one world and enter territories new and unfamiliar. He had just sold out his headline show and seen supporters clamour around him as if he were a prophet. In the past year he had shared his heart and family pain on videos and freestyles with millions of views, his stark social commentary giving voice to those living and surviving and running into dead ends in the far sides of cities. Now, he was learning how to craft songs that would carry into setlists as well as car stereos and summer festivals. Wanna Know, one of his first attempts at striking that balance, saw a remix and the Drake co-sign. He had started to travel across continents, drove a rental Benz around LA, performed on stage at the Royal Opera House in central London. He was in interviews and photoshoots. His songs were on the radio and lighting up streaming platforms. He was famous. Many were labelling him the great hope of the genre, and his life was changing quicker than any British rapper’s life had before him.
But he was still visiting his brothers in prison, making music so that they could hear him, so that he could motivate them. They heard him on the radio first, and were now watching him on TV. Recently, he had gone into a prison to give a presentation and have a discussion with some prisoners, speaking on how a negative situation could be turned into a positive.
“There are a lot of people in prison who are misunderstood,” he told me. “And people overlook them and forget about them because they don’t understand. It’s good to go out and let people know that I understand, I’m coming from a place where the same things were around me.”
He was still topping up his Oyster card at the train station in Streatham. He was still with the same boys from South who he grew up with, and who first appeared in his early music videos. He still worked through the nights and slept through the afternoons, like many teenagers do. He still loved anime. He hadn’t put an album out yet. He was on the edge of two converging realities, fame and a music career pulling him away from what he had known. He was barely an adult. He was still only eighteen. He was still Streatham. He was still South London.
Dave’s presence and rise were a signal of something shifting in the earth, a forecasting that UK rap and grime surfacing in mainstream Britain was not a peaking of a genre, but instead a beginning.
As the year turned into 2017, more applause began to arrive as word of a rare gem out of Streatham Vale began to spread. He released his second EP Game Over and charted at 13 in the UK Albums Chart. He made an appearance on BBC One, performing on Later … with Jools Holland, was nominated for the BBC Sound of 2017 list and was the subject of a bidding war between Britain’s major labels. He rejected their advances and decided to plough the independent route, following a path set by Stormzy and Skepta before him. He was nominated for the GRM Daily Rated Awards, and won Best Newcomer at the 2017 MOBO Awards, following a long line of rappers and MCs from out of South London.
Rappers are not vessels or voices for communities by default. These are titles earned by trust and faith, by those who reckon with the weight of their responsibility and use their expanded platform to bring the frustrations their people have held within, the injustices their communities have faced, to the public ear. Every era has a handful of these people, young men and women whose vocalisations of their life experiences, whose heritage and perspective strike a note with the masses raised in the communities they come from. Dave was among these anointed, an eighteen-year-old boy out of Streatham Vale, shouldering the weight of his home.
In 2017, he released the seven-minute-long song Question Time. It was released in a defining and harrowing crisis point in the history of contemporary Britain. A year before, the country had voted to pull out of the European Union. A reported quarter of a million NHS workers marched on Westminster, protesting an underfunded NHS and further proposed cuts to the health service. Throughout the track, he speaks of how his mum had been a nurse for decades, how she even took cleaning jobs in the evening and still found it difficult to get by. The National Health Service, the heart of the nation, was coming to its knees, he said, with workers underpaid and overworked, local services understaffed, and its running overseen by upper-class senior politicians.
The fourth verse tilts towards West London, addressing the Grenfell Tower fire, a high-rise council block in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that caught fire in the dead of night. The tower block burned for sixty hours. Seventy-two people died. Many of the deceased were immigrants and working-class people who were failed by the Conservative-led local council who had prioritised costs over the safety of the residents’ and the building.
In the verse he speaks of the horrors he had heard, about families who choked on smoke, about those panicking at the wail of the sirens and the cracking and popping of a burning building, about the muffled screams and the fear of a man who died after jumping from the sixteenth floor to escape.
Across the country, Black, immigrant, minority and working-class communities were in mourning and anger, grief and shock. As Dave’s star was rising, he absorbed these frustrations, barking questions at the incumbent Conservative government, more specifically the Prime Minister, who had reigned over the chaos.
Question Time was followed the year after by his single Funky Friday, with West London rapper Fredo. It was an example of the balance Dave was attempting to strike, offsetting deeply personal and political songs with anthems that can live on in raves and dances and radio. It debuted at number 1 on the UK Singles Chart, and was what many considered to be the first authentic number 1 record of the genre, going on to sell over 1.2 million records. A moment for British rap, and an indication of the rare air Dave had walked into, becoming one of the most popular musicians in the country in the space of a few years.
A psychodrama is a course of therapy that sees patients dig into past events and memories, bringing the forming moments and traumas of their lives into light, and by doing so, hoping to heal and make sense of them. Dave’s brother Chris underwent a course in prison. The course shaped the making of Dave’s debut album, a concept piece titled after the therapy course. Healing and trauma were the template for his first real offering.
Psychodrama the album is autobiographical, taking his new listeners back to his beginnings. It is deeply local, deeply South London, deeply Streatham. There are sly references to the 118 bus that cuts down the high road from Brixton, and to Mitcham Lane that connects Streatham and Tooting. After, he takes listeners behind the frontline, into a place where teenagers are on stolen peds, where teenagers are growing up in poverty, where teenagers are selling cannabis and then cocaine, teenagers with an urge to kill other teenagers, teenagers who, among it all, still have to be indoors by curfew. Deep in his diaries he hints at how life in South London scarred him, depressive episodes that bordered on suicidal thoughts. They were broke growing up, but went to school with the rich, he tells us, and how among these polar extremes a tension was fostered, unhinging them, daring young boys to gamble their freedoms for a wealth they could see waiting on the other side of the fence.
On release, Psychodrama debuted at number 1 on the UK Albums Chart in March 2019, and a new prince of the genre was crowned. It was labelled as the defining British rap album of its time, political and personal, bringing the wider country closer to the social issues and environments some Black and working-class kids were springing from. A nationwide tour accompanied its release, and he stopped in Dublin and Glasgow and Nottingham and Leeds and Liverpool and Sheffield and Manchester and Birmingham and Leicester and Norwich and Bristol and Bournemouth, before ending with two nights in Brixton, just two months after he had appeared at the same venue to celebrate the life of Cadet.
After came a North American and a European and an Australian tour as the world opened up to his and their sound. He took South London on the road, to Germany, Copenhagen, New York, Toronto, Chicago and Sydney, touching venues in far continents.
By early 2020, he was back on home soil, South London, for the fortieth BRIT Awards. The O2 Arena was sold out, and over three million people were tuning in from home. Dave had been nominated for four awards: Best New Artist, British Male Solo Artist, Song of the Year for Location and Album of the Year.
American vocalist Billie Eilish was presenting the award for Album of the Year. Among the nominees were Stormzy, from nearby Norbury, soul singer Michael Kiwanuka and pop artists Harry Styles and Lewis Capaldi. When Eilish held the microphone in one palm and looked down at her placard, the arena fell silent, tense.
“And the winner is,” she said, before pausing again, “Dave, Psychodrama.”
The dam on the silence broke and the O2 filled with cheers and screams. Streatham began to play out from the big speakers, honouring the winner. On the floor, Dave’s managers and his friends shook him with excitement as a dazed smile crossed his face. Then his mum stood from her seat and wrapped her arms around her son, hugging him with a deep joy.
He walked to the stage in a blue tracksuit and white trainers, looking almost shaky on his legs, trying to take in what had happened. The bass of Streatham crowned his arrival. He gripped the microphone in one hand. He thanked God and his mum and his family and his team, then stuttered slightly, trying to gather himself, the moment almost overwhelming him. After a few moments, he steadied, and spoke clearly. He gave a nod to the incarcerated: “I want to say everyone that I know that’s inside doing their time, hold it down, I love you guys.”
And he had a message, too, for everyone coming from where he comes from, for “young kings and queens” growing up in South and North London, West and East London, Birmingham and Manchester, trying to chase their dreams. His life was a testimony. He was just like them he said, a boy born of the ends. And like him, they could do anything with their lives.
As his speech closed, he raised the award to the sky.
“Thank you so much,” he said, “Streatham Vale to the world.”
Where We Come From: Rap, Home and Hope in Modern Britain is out now. Click here to buy