“I feel like I’m just getting to that part of my career where I’m branching out and doing other stuff,” K-Trap tells NME on the eve of his debut album release. “People are finally starting to realise that, yeah, I’m more than just drill.” The South London rapper grew to prominence spitting sobering bars with an eerie candidness and his newly-released debut, ‘Street Side Effects’, epitomises this as he regularly cuts deep with brusque reflections recounting his rugged journey to fame: “One hit away to be a number one star / Or one brick away to be a number on a card,” he says more to himself than anyone else on the eponymous opening track.
Despite success from individual songs, like ‘David Blaine’, K-Trap has maintained a distance from the mainstream, slowly choosing to evolve on the fringes rather than going in guns-blazing. Although he’s spent the last few years skirting the edges of the UK music industry, the release of ‘Street Side Effects’ feels seismic: an important milestone showing his growth and general sonic improvement from someone still grappling with his past.
The album is a journey through K-Trap’s life as he recounts the successes on the block to the lows of prison to devastation and the loss of close ones. “I feel like a lot of artists only paint the good side of pictures,” he says. “If we’re out in the open, we may as well give people everything – let people know the reality.”
A part of this was a major decision he made last year in removing his bally. Since 2016, K-Trap had worn a balaclava (or “bally”) to cover his identity and it was only in 2019 that fans finally saw his face. K-Trap – who has yet to reveal his real name – has collaborated with big names like Krept & Konan, Headie One, M1llionz and Giggs, yet he remains a mysterious figure. As the enigma of K-Trap grew, he decided to remove it not only to elevate his career, but ensure that his story isn’t one that is repeated.
“What I started to notice is that our fans, especially the younger generation, they just take exactly what we say. If that’s what we’re saying, they think that’s exactly how things are, but it’s not all rosey. There’s a harsh reality, but it’s not our fault. I thought, ‘let me be open and give them both sides of the story’.”
He also wanted to correct perceptions others had of him. When drill began to emerge five years ago in the UK, artists in the genre became subject to police scrutiny and ballys allowed rappers to continue their anonymity away from not just police forces, but rival groups, family members and maintain a distance between their private and public lives.
Artists like SL had publications threatening to reveal his face before he was ready, while 67’s LD and AM continue to wear masks today. Others, however, including KO, C1 and members of the OFB crew wear ballys to protect themselves from being surveilled by the police. But in doing so, narratives around these artists developed without their control. For K-Trap, he wanted to wrestle back control of his own image.
“At first, I was letting people in,” he says. “They know my music, so they need to start knowing me as a person. They didn’t know anything because I was wearing a bally. They just made up their mind of how they thought of me.”
“Straying away from drill or being more soulful on this album wasn’t easy. It was definitely hard. But it’s good because I’m doing what I want to do”
The removal of the bally helped K-Trap’s star significantly, and the 25-year-old now joins an illustrious group of young UK artists signed to Black Butter Records. Like labelmates Pa Salieu, J Hus, Jae5, Young T and Bugsey, K-Trap finds himself in good company as an artist representing the present and future of Black British music, seamlessly flitting between genres. On ‘Street Side Effects’, he gleefully tackles drill, UK hip-hop, roadrap and R&B all while drawing elements from dancehall, Afrobeats and funk.
“Putting out the body of work I put out and giving it a push, I’m proud of it.” He takes a moment to reflect on the journey he’s had thus far: the high and the lows. ”I didn’t actually think I would be doing this right now,” he admits.
In the songs, pared-back instrumentation is slotted alongside melodic, soulful production and ice-cold drill beats encompassing a broad range of tastes, one that showcases the Lambeth-born artist’s unique ear for sound. Working with a wide range of producers helped, including stand-out production from the likes of HoneywoodSix and Jevon. “We built everything in the studio from scratch,” K Trap says. “Maybe two beats were sent to me, but the rest of them was built from scratch. I’m the kind of person who gets a producer in, we vibe, we go through a few sounds and then I write and they build.”
On the album, K-Trap’s flow is conversational, rolling off the tongue with authenticity. It lends weight to the track’s themes — criminality, the lure of infamy and hedonism, self-doubt, the changing tides of relationships, prison life, community — which K-Trap felt necessary to express in order to alleviate the pains of his past, but also as a cautionary tale for the younger generation.
“What I’ve learnt being an artist and having people come up behind me is to just be yourself,” he says. “Even me making this album, straying away from drill or being more soulful, it wasn’t easy. It was very hard. But it’s good because I’m doing what I want to do, not what people want me to do.”
K-Trap’s aspiration to reach the top is unmatched on the record. His sonic evolution and capabilities to flow between genres reiterate that notion. This debut album is a fine start; an important and significant marker that is sure to help him get to where he aims to be. But it’s clearly where K-Trap sees this story beginning. “I’m feeling confident, man,” he says. “I feel that this year has been one of the hardest years for me, but that didn’t stop me. This body of work? In this crazy year? Yeah, I’m ready for whatever and forever, man.”
K-Trap’s debut album ‘Street Side Effects’ is out now