We have reached a point in 2012 when Liverpool has its own proper star; not created by reality shows, with no relation to those four lads from the 60s. A musician bringing A&Rs panting up the M6, waving cheques at anyone with a skinhead in a trackie. Someone with the charisma to take Liverpool hip hop off YouTube and into your Auntie’s living room. Brace for impact, because he’s here.
Elliott “Bang On!” Egerton is a busy man – caught in a whirlwind of promo for his debut album [sic], released 14th May on Ninja Tune offshoot Big Dada records. As we sit down to chat he’s got two Liverpool shows later tonight, including the Kazimier’s shindig with Cadence Weapon & Ghostpoet. Far from jaded, he’s more akin to a kid at Christmas: “I’m buzzing. I’ve been working up to this for so long, it’s mad that it’s finally here. I’m more than happy with the album, especially given the circumstances it was made in.”
Those circumstances involved perpetually bouncing between London, Aberdeen and back home to Walton. Tough for a young MC used to making tunes in his mate’s bedroom. The perks of sharing a label with Wiley & Diplo are that there’re plenty of options for the production chair, but Egerton was determined to use his mates, and go with what he knew. “There were discussions, but to do that [produce] I’d have to take a lot of direction, whereas this way I know exactly what I’m doing; I know the strengths and weaknesses of who I’m working with. When you’re certain of something, no one can change your mind”.
That the label didn’t try shows the confidence they have in this 21-year-old – with good cause. [sic] is a real statement of a debut, shot through with equally lethal doses of humour, insight and intelligence against a backdrop of abrasive beats embracing grime, dubstep, rock, even gabba. Diplo clearly wasn’t necessary. “I wanted to mix in all the music I grew up with, like Dizzee and Arctic Monkeys. In any group of mates there might be one who’s more into techno or drum’n’bass, and you take on a little from everyone. You’ve got to know how to balance it so it doesn’t sound ridiculous, but that’s the challenge.”
A challenge accepted with gusto. There’s a self belief and honesty here sorely missing in modern hip hop. Lyrics may be fired at relentless speed, but Bang On wants you to hear exactly what he’s saying – proved by printing his lyrics on the album inlay and his website. To listen, read and comprehend it all is a dizzying experience. There’s the staple candid tales on Drink’n’Drugs, Munnys and Huztlin’, but we also hear him talking about religion, Mikel Arteta, even poking fun at that great hip hop taboo: homosexuality. Far from hiding behind a persona, Bang On is 100% Elliott: “If something comes into my head that I wanna talk about, if I don’t put pen to paper, I feel like a coward. There’s stuff on this album that doesn’t show some friends in a good light, but I hope they understand, because it comes from an honest place.”
I suspect he won’t be answering any awkward questions for a while as Bang On is in big demand across Britain and beyond. He’s as bemused as me why a city with such a strong black influence hasn’t produced a hip hop star, but he’s equally convinced the time is right: “To me it’s blindingly obvious. A lot of people feel they don’t have a representative for what they’re saying and how they say it, not just in Liverpool but the whole of the north. I still worry that people won’t understand me, but I couldn’t understand southern hip hop the first time I heard it; even Bob Marley speaks in a thick patois, but you get it. It gives it a kind of mystique.”
As a DJ around Liverpool, I can confirm people are getting it. Singles Hands High & Got It ignite audiences often sceptical of the unknown. Malevolent new single Fars Yer Whop might be more suited to bedrooms and back seats, but [sic] is a snapshot of Liverpool with which we can all identify. Hip hop has always been popular here, but never before has anyone local connected with the students listening to Aesop Rock and the kids banging Skepta on the back of the 75. Bang On has cleared that height, and he’s ready to raise the bar.
Single Fars yer Whop and album [sic] are out now on Big Dada Records