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Elf Kid
Elf KidPhotography Amy Gwatkin

Taking grime to Ethiopia

With the help of the ASOS Supports Talent initiative, rising grime star Elf Kid is taking the sound of South London from the ends to East Africa – here he discusses this project

South London grime MC, Elf Kid, has enjoyed a meteoric 12 months. From, as he puts it, being “just an average kid on the block” to a name on everyone’s lips – he was recently named one of 50 rising stars to look out for by The Guardian – Elf’s energy, excitable persona and humble outlook make him a compelling and likeable character.

Now aged 20, his come-up was defined by his time with The Square, the Lewisham-centric grime crew (which counts Novelist as a former member), for whom he remains a standard bearer and credits for much of his solo success. But speaking to him, he comes across as very much his own man. It was 2015’s “Golden Boy”, a single that he admits never saw blowing up like it did, that elevated his profile almost overnight. The song’s catchy vocal hooks, anthemic, looping beat (courtesy of The Square beatmaker, Lolingo) and killer, almost slapstick visuals – shot at his home estate in Deptford, South London – struck a chord with the wider music world.

Although yet to officially follow up “Golden Boy” since its release in 2015, Elf has enjoyed a hectic year of touring, both solo and with The Square, and now, in association with ongoing global initiative ASOS Supports Talent, will be travelling to Ethiopia to work with local musicians and shoot a specially commissioned video – “Reload That”, which he dropped yesterday. He’s not the only one to be benefiting from this scheme – ASOS are helping seven other youth creatives, such as Loyle Carner and Hollie McNish, realise their big ideas. Ahead of jetting off, we caught up with him to discuss his hopes for the project, tackling overnight success and the importance of education.

Can you tell us about this project and your involvement in the ASOS Supports Talent initiative?

Elf Kid: We wanted to do something in Africa. There were six spots out there that we wanted to go and visit, and we were keen to do stuff with the artists out there. ASOS came to us and said they could make the project happen – it kind of went from there.  

Are you looking forward to collaborating with Ethiopian musicians as part of the initiative?

Elf Kid: Yes, one hundred per cent, because I’m all about culture. I’m African myself and we’re going out there to collaborate with some sick local musicians... we’re (bringing) this thing from South London to Ethiopia. We want them to show us their culture and we want to show them grime.

What’s your personal hope for the project?

Elf Kid: We want to help out and work with musicians out there, first and foremost. We want to make a tune and a video for it too. We wanna get all the tribes in, all the local kids and just capture the vibe of Ethiopia. This is the first time I’m going to Africa as well, I’ve never been before, so it’s going to be a mad experience, man. 

“I’m African myself and we’re going out there to collaborate with some sick local musicians... we’re (bringing) this thing from South London to Ethiopia” – Elf Kid

What have the last 12 months been like for you?

Elf Kid: I’ve gone from Deptford, just an average kid on the block, to a kid that’s just literally toured from January right up until the summer. Touring, making music and doing what I love with all the people that I love doing it with. Life’s changed in a good way because I feel like I’m now in a place where I can represent. I can help the youngers from my area, the elders from my area and help them understand what’s really going on out here. As I’m going out to these places and I’m seeing everything, I’m bringing it back to my block. That’s what it’s about, helping people.

Did you anticipate the success of ‘Golden Boy’?

Elf Kid: No, not for a second and that’s why it’s sick. We didn’t expect anything. We just did it and worked hard, we made a video and we made a tune. It’s just one of the rhythms too, just one of a few of our tunes that were there, floating about. The hook was banging, people knew the hook before and we just put it out there to be honest, but it worked out. The video was shot in my hood, in my estate. Everything is local. Everything in that video is my life, really.

What is your vision for your own music?

Elf Kid: Going forward with this Ethiopia project through ASOS, I want people to know that I don’t want to just be in my own bubble. We’re going out to show people that we’re doing grime in Africa – man is pushing the limits. I’m trying to be anything and everything I want. I want to have the freedom to wake up one day and go to Ethiopia, but at the same time, I want to wake up on another day and work with people in the electronic world, DJs and producers. I want to do what I want as Elf Kid and have a good time while I’m doing it. I want to be known for that: pushing boundaries and pushing limits and doing things that no one’s done before, but still being the same Elf Kid from Deptford.  

How did your time as part of The Square benefit your solo work?

Elf Kid: It’s benefited everything. The energy that we all gave to each other and the vibes we caught. The way we came up was through pirate radio, don’t forget, and that came back just as we were coming into the game really. We were hopping barriers to go to Deja Vu, Mode FM and NTS as kids. I’m 20 now and we were doing that stuff when I was 17. The last few years have gone so quick – we’ve gone from that to the stage, but we’re still here in Lewisham and we’re still representing.

How much of a challenge do you find working solo in comparison to working as part of a crew?

Elf Kid: In the crew I’m Elf Kid, without the crew, I’m Elf Kid. It doesn’t change.

How do you think the DIY ethos of the current grime scene has benefited artists like yourself?

Elf Kid: It’s sick. Grime has been around for like 13 years and now it’s all over the place. I started listening to grime when I was in Year 7 and now it’s sick that everyone is doing well, especially people like Stormzy and Skepta. He just went gold with his album on Boy Better Know, which means that people like me can now make music and release on whatever label we want. It opens sick doors for everyone. We can now step out with no pressure from any labels and do what we want – and the nation is listening to us. It’s inspirational because we’re just youts from the ends and now we’ve got a big door that’s been bust open by all the olders, for us to walk through and push the boundaries even further.

“I want to be known for that: pushing boundaries and pushing limits and doing things that no one’s done before, but still being the same Elf Kid from Deptford” – Elf Kid

What did you make of Skepta winning the Mercury Prize for Konnichiwa?

Elf Kid: When I saw it, I got a little tingling feeling down my spine. I don’t know why, but that’s how you know it’s special. I saw his mum on stage with him and I got a tingling feeling. I don’t care if I didn’t do grime ever again, just to see that, man like Skepta on that stage winning a Mercury award and so many years after Dizzee won it, it just made me think that there’s no limits to this. We’re not here to play games.

If you hadn’t got to where you are and weren’t involved in music, what you do think you’d be doing?

Elf Kid: I think I’d be a preacher. Actually, either a footballer or preacher, but I was raised as a Christian by my mum and I talk so much and have so much to say. If I put my energies into something like that, I’d be sick at it. I’ve always wanted to do talking though, like, I was always good at talking in assembly. Sometimes when I say things, I’m shocked at what I’ve just said, because stuff just comes so naturally to me. That’s why music is good, because I can say everything on a track.

Looking ahead, what do you think the future holds for Elf Kid?

Elf Kid: As a musician, my next thing to do is release good music. I feel like my job now is to release music that the people need. I’ve listened to everything, I’ve heard everything. I know what the people need and I’m going to deliver that. As for the future, I want to get a degree, do the preacher ting, maybe start an organisation and do talks and one day, I’d like to be a businessman. I have no limits, but I know that, right now, music is what comes first. And I’m ready to deliver.

ASOS Supports Talent is a global initiative from online fashion destination ASOS, providing up-and-coming creative talent with funding, mentoring and support to realise personal passion projects. Find out more here.