Kam-Bu: “‘Black on Black’ has negative connotations – I want to turn that on its head”

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. This week, Kam-Bu reflects on his work with Leon Vynehall and writing a "revolutionary" song inspired by Fela Kuti

Most days, Kam-Bu can be found in the studio, earnestly discussing sustainability. A bright and emerging rap talent, Kam-Bu also has one eye firmly on the future, and using his platform to discuss the future of the planet where he can enjoy his planned successes. “I want to grow sustainably, have a nice house and eat good food,” he tells NME from his home in south London. “I want to be putting good things into my body and having a fun time.”

What the South London MC is currently doing is putting good music into listeners’ ears: his malleable flow skates along varying production with aplomb. Kam-Bu marries incisive conscious lyrics with anthemic hooks and off-kilter, infectious production. At first listen, it’s his wordplay that stands out; “I don’t have to flex / I do this with gang, I speak with my chest, I have to finesse / Now they look stressed” he raps on recent single ‘Are You On’, a collaboration with famed British electronic producer Leon Vynehall. Based on his current work, Kam-Bu’s ceiling is nowhere in sight.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the right words,” he says about his music. “There’s a singularity, that relationship with myself and the instrumental. A lot of these [songs] had about four or five different versions. It comes down to: if I’m not vibing with a song, I’m not going to do it.”

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For the 24-year-old, it’s not just the track, but the person he’s collaborating with as well, and like the food Kam-Bu eats, the collaborations need to be organic too. His first single, ‘Different’ featured fellow South London artist Lord Apex: over an upbeat, jazzy instrumental, Kam-Bu and Lord Apex trade verses explaining what separates them from everyone else. “We knew each other from the SoundCloud days,” explains Kam-Bu. “It was just one of those ones that we should probably get into a studio and chop it up. And then we finally did, and we made that song in five minutes.”

The track garnered him enough recognition and momentum, being played out on NTS regularly where Vynehall heard him and the two linked up. “We went to Hyde Park a couple of times for some walks,” he says. “I got to know him organically before we played the music, so it was nice to build that bond up before we got into the studio. The first track that we touched together ended up being the first single [‘Are You On’] I released this year, so I’m sure there’s gonna be some madness to come from that link.”

Over a year, Kam-Bu has come a long way. But it’s a journey that started long before that when he was spitting bars at a youth centre in south London at the age of 13. The youngest child in the house, Kam-Bu grew up in a musical family. “My dad played percussion in a band,” he says. “I was exposed to music from my mom’s side like Anita Baker, Jill Scott.” His older siblings turned him onto UK rap like Jehst, Dizzee Rascal and Klashnekoff and he kept an ear out for lyrical American rappers like Eminem and Rakim.

“All of it plays a part in what I’m making,” Kam-Bu says. “The melody may be influenced by something grime-y, and then some of the slow ones might be a bit more soulful than the others. When it comes to lyrics, I get inspiration from a lot of reggae.”

The conscious weight found within his lyrics can also be attributed to the home he grew up in. “My dad being a Rasta and him just not dealing with fuckery,” he says. “Moving out of the hood [Brixton to Southwest London] was definitely tough. Being one of the only Black families and trying to get a job at fourteen was damn near impossible.”

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For Kam-Bu, that feeling of oppression and realising how so many other kids like him felt made him channel his rage into rhymes. It’s also what he explores in his latest single, ‘Black on Black’. “It’s an exploration of not having enough role models,” says Kam-Bu. “This song is exploring Black on Black, which often has a negative connotation. I’m trying to turn it on its head and talk about Black on Black community, financial literacy, money passing between our hands. It’s a marching, revolutionary song inspired by Fela Kuti.”

A call-and-response where the hook builds to an unknown place, the track is a further extension of a burgeoning artist’s career where he’s sure to grow and only get better. With a forthcoming as-yet-untitled EP, Kam-Bu’s trajectory is already exciting. As he prepares himself for the impending release, he’ll be donating to food banks, volunteering locally and ensuring that he can do what he can for a brighter, better future. And it starts with the EP release: “In my opinion, it’s definitely a classic,” Kam-Bu says with a smile.

Kam-Bu’s new single ‘Black On Black’ is out now

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