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Photography Hannah Hillier

808INK are the duo making London rap a freer, better place

Ahead of the release of their new album When I’m About You’ll Know, Pt. 2, we head to 808INK’s Deptford studio

I clearly remember the first time I heard 808INK’s “Suede Jaw”, back in the winter of 2016. It’s a lilting, psychedelic hip-house banger that, to my ears, seems to owe more to Galcher Lustwerk’s Blowing Up The Workshop mix from a few years earlier, rather than Odd Future, who people seemed keen at the time to associate the rap duo with. Comparisons aside, “Suede Jaw” would remain a fixture in my headphones all the way up until summer, and then all the way through it. I was hooked on their world – ther flows, the production, the videos, everything. Later that year, the prolific south London rappers released Hungry, a fixture on the Dazed office stereo, and a body of work that marked them out as serious artists actively disinterested with chasing the dominant sounds of their home city, London. The strange thing about 808INK is that you can just as easily imagine them forging an underground career on a cult indie label like Anticon, as you can them winning a Grammy. They sound as huge as they do intimate.

808Charmer and Mumblez Black Ink are neighbours from Deptford, south east London, who met at a video shoot on the street in 2011. Their world is Charmer’s parents’ garage, a tiny red room where, upon stepping in, it’s hard to believe that they’ve made albums that sound that good. Their roles are clearly split – Charmer produces and Mumblez raps. In anticipation of their album When I’m About You’ll Know Pt.2, I stepped into their tiny universe to hear about their big ideas, the perils of social media, and their influences – which range from Timbaland through to Two Door Cinema Club and Tame Impala.

You don’t sound like anyone in London – where do you see yourself now, do you see yourself as belonging to a scene?

Charmer: I think the industry is in a transitional state because of streaming. A lot of scenes have come and gone – I think now with streaming it’s business-to-consumer, it’s you and your fans. I think the scene thing is slowly depleting. Our aim now is just to expand our fanbase across the world. With everything being algorithm-based now, it’s hard to say who our contemporaries are, bare blurred lines.

I saw you the other day on Twitter talking about people being scared to have opinions because there’s money on the line. Let’s talk about that.

Charmer: It’s a sad time we’re in. People’s opinions are on quiet ‘cause there’s money on the line. No-one’s saying what they truly feel – everyone’s scared of being cancelled. Even when something’s shit, people are saying it’s good ‘cause they don’t wanna piss off the guy that made it.

Mumblez: It’s not even that deep, ‘cause you’re cancelled, then you’re not cancelled no more. It’s all momentary.

Charmer: In a time that people care so much about mental health, people are very quick to throw stuff out. I can’t spend too much time on Twitter, people are all like “protect our artists”, then they say one little thing and they’re getting death threats.

“That’s the problem with the distance of social media. People can ‘tap tap tap’, then put their phone on their bed” – Mumblez

Mumblez: That’s the problem with the distance of social media. People can “tap tap tap”, then put their phone on their bed. If you had to say these things to someone’s face, people would watch what they say.

Your new record’s amazing, what’s it about?

Mumblez: Motivation to get your money. Enjoy yourself, because we’re young, we’re cool, and life is for livin’. Too many people have passed this year alone. I lost my neighbour at the beginning of this year.

You’ve always done everything in this room, do your mum and dad not care?

Charmer: Yeah we’ve had a couple of complaints, but then you pacify them with dividends innit, then they’re like, “OK, the noise and vibration is worth it”.

To me, you feel like a underground rap act that could be huge. I think if you were in America – because of your sound – it’d be easier.

Charmer: Yeah, facts. But I don’t see us as underground. We don’t go anywhere where people don’t know who we are, everyone knows who we are man. I see us getting bigger and culturally dictating the status quo. I have my version of what’s hot.

What do you think about what’s happening in London music right now?

Charmer: It’s a double-edged sword for me. It’s a great time in music financially – it could be better – but it’s a great time. But I'll say this with my full chest – there’s a lot of shit music. It’s frustrating, we’re trying to do a lot of hard stuff. There are artists that are in London that are cold, but it’s what’s being given the spotlight. Most of our biggest rappers can’t rap. If we had a UK vs US cypher we’d get eaten alive. Facts. People always say, “you should move out to America”, but it's not really that simple is it? We always get mad love out there.

What do you think of London as a city right now?

Mumblez: You know what’s mad for me personally? The lack of healthy socialising is really affecting everything in London. People ain’t really chattin’. You’re going out, but going out for what?

“There are artists that are in London that are cold, but it’s what’s being given the spotlight” – 808 Charmer

Does youth clubs shutting down have anything to do with that (lack of connection on the streets)?

Charmer: I know a lot of people attribute crime to youth clubs shutting but I’ve always had an issue with that. ’Cause people who are really from ends know that the crime started in the youth clubs. But London is still a great place to be.

Is London a good place to be creatively because of the fierce competition – there’s so much happening that you have to be good?

Mumblez: I don’t think you have to be good, you just have to be popular.... If you’ve got amazing stuff but you you don't like no one’s photos, you don’t check up on no one, you don’t go to no one’s birthday party...

Charmer: People accuse me of not using my social media enough. But what I will say is you can’t expect me to become a comedian because it worked for someone else. I’ll be real with you – there are a lot of mentally unstable artists online breaking the internet. I am not now going to emulate that behaviour. I say that with mad respect, but that’s not what I’m going to do.

You seem like people who just want to focus on making tunes...

Mumblez: I just wanna live!

808INK tour the UK this November

November 21 - Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s

November 22 - Leeds Headrow House

November 22 - Manchester Soup Kitchen

November 24 - Dublin Academy 2

November 26 - Bristol Exchange

November 27 - Brighton Sticky Mike’s

November 28 - London Jazz Cafe