Pin It
Photography YOUT

Get to know KAM-BU, the rebel rapper championing migrant stories

The southwest Londoner talks about the Jamaican household that empowered his community and sustainability-led ethos, paying tribute to Windrush on ‘Black on Black’, and flying the flag for UK rap

Sitting across from me on Zoom, KAM-BU wears an oversized black hoodie and an infectious smile – both of these being neat physical emblems of the young artist. His hoodie, designed by Idris Elba for Brixton Soup Kitchen, reflects his ardent sense of community, ever-present in a unique style of conscious rap, where weighty, contemplative bars glide over fast-paced, bass-leaden production. And as for his grin? It’s understandable. His recent release, “Are You On”, is a Leon Vynhall produced spellbinder, with its chilly, phantom-like ambient instrumental, and an accompanying eerie, Lynchian-esque visual that’s already garnered thousands of views.

It’s quite an achievement for a newcomer with a handful of releases under his belt, the first major record only last year. With collaborations including Louis Culture and Lord Apex, KAM-BU is embedding himself in an introspective subculture of rap that’s stirring up the London scene. His music traverses the ferocious, high energy bangers that would blow up a gig in non-pandemic times, as well as the more introspective anthems for soundtracking a rainy trip on a nightbus home – the themes hopscotch community, Black culture, the environment, and urgent political issues from Grenfell to institutional racism. There’s inflections of London’s drill and grime sensibilities, and the staying power of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. As well as making waves in music, KAM-BU’s artistry has stretched to other disciplines. Hoodies are not where his fashion expertise ends – the southwest Londoner, who was raised in Brixton, has already featured in a Bianca Saunders campaign and walked for Martine Rose. Having studied in Brighton, the 23-year-old is at present back in his home city, focusing on what he loves most: music.

His newest track “Black On Black”, stands as a tribute to the often forgotten Windrush generation and generational migrant stories, and draws inspiration from musical pioneer, Fela Kuti. Thoughtful, opinionated, and full of integrity, Dazed sat down with this one to watch.

How’s your past year been? Or rather, how has your year in lockdown been?

KAM-BU: Well this year started off with a bang. I released ‘Are You On’ two weeks ago. The response has been crazy and I’m pretty gassed right now considering everything that’s going on. Being in a lockdown and still having success with the thing that I love is just a great feeling, isn't it?

You must be really happy with the response.

KAM-BU: Yeah, it’s always surprising. You never know when you’re working on something but then you throw it out there and give it to the world and people have reacted well.

How would you describe your music in three words?

KAM-BU: Honest, smooth and… I want to think of the right word. Let’s carry on and I’ll have a think.

Yeah, let’s let that one simmer. How would you say you want people to feel listening to your music? 

KAM-BU: I want people to feel empowered. I use my platform to say something. I’ve referenced Justice For Grenfell quite a bit in my music. I’m close to West London so it’s close to home. It’s always sat with me in a bad way. I’ve been to the marches, I’ve been to the silent marches. I’ve been out there engaging with the community, so I feel like I owe it to them to use my platform to say something.

I wanted to ask you about community as it seems really central to your music. Would you say you felt a real sense of community growing up?

KAM-BU: Not really. Growing up, we lived in Brixton. That was cool, there was a lot of music. But, we lived on an estate where there was a lot of crime and  my dad managed to acquire a flat in Richmond through his job. But when we first moved here, we weren’t really accepted because we were one of the few Black families.

You must’ve seen such a polar difference moving from Brixton to Richmond. It sounds like it wasn’t as welcoming.

KAM-BU: As it is everywhere, there’s social housing so you find your peers eventually but there were parts of it that I did enjoy. But, I wonder how I would have felt if I stayed in Brixton.

“I want people to feel empowered. I’ve referenced Justice For Grenfell quite a bit in my music... I’ve been to the marches, I’ve been out there engaging with the community... I feel like I owe it to them to use my platform to say something” – KAM-BU

So do you think community is something you’re trying to evoke within your music because it’s something you didn’t have in Richmond?

KAM-BU: Yeah, I think so subconsciously. It’s affected me to the point where I want to have a sense of unity. You can see how powerful it can be at times in history. 

And in terms of community, you’re also active in sustainability.

KAM-BU: The things I’ve grown to care about over time have changed. When you come from a place where everyone around you is rich, you want to attain those things. So when I was growing up broke it used to bother me a lot, but then I got money, and I still wasn’t happy. And that's when I started caring more – what I really care about is the planet, how we’re going to survive. And I think that is rooted in community and unity. 

Have you always cared about the planet?

KAM-BU: As a child I felt I was wise for my age. Some people need to be doctors, some people need to be politicians, but for me, it was eating good food and protecting the planet. And I think that stems from coming from a Jamaican household. My dad was a Rasta. He didn’t eat chicken, you’d have fish every now and then. I wasn’t allowed to have sweets – it was peanuts and raisins! That’s all played a part in influencing me to want to go into agriculture, sustainability, and just looking after your body.

Your dad sounds like a great influence. Talking of influences, who would your dream collaboration be?

KAM-BU: Probably Kano. UK music is definitely where my heart is. I love Americans too, they’re great. But the UK is flying the flag for the country and that’s most important. 

It’s interesting that you mentioned Kano because your Spotify description talks about wanting to emcee from a young age. You seem to love performing live. I saw a Boiler Room set where you said ‘Everyone! Come in. Come in closer’. You seem like you thrive off the energy in the room.

KAM-BU: Yes, that’s so important. I love that, it’s the greatest part!

Do you ever get nervous?

KAM-BU: I did the first time. It was the youth club talent show and I was 13 or 14 years old. My heart was in my chest. I could feel my heart beating in my mouth! But then it went fine.

And that was it! The nerves went from then on!

KAM-BU: Now I’ve made a little mantra... a kind of ritual that I do before show days. It’s just wake up, make sure you eat, meditate, maybe do some exercise, and then just chill for a bit and try not to overthink it. 

Oh, and I thought of the answer to your earlier question: dynamic. My music is smooth, honest and dynamic.

KAM-BU’s Black On Black is out now via Atlas Artists/Parlophone