NME Radar: Breakout

SwitchOTR: Croydon rapper pushing drill into thrilling new directions

Combining party tunes with tales of real-life hardship, the teen is reimagining the genre with wit and energy

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

What started out as a simple Instagram caption grew into the biggest songs of 2021. “Shall I release this?”, teased SwitchOTR last October with a 45-second snippet of ‘Coming For You’ (featuring duo A1 x J1), an upbeat drill track built on a danceable chorus and a sample of Avicii’s ‘The Nights’. In just two months, the 19-year-old had gone from an underground rapper to a fast-rising phenomenon in the UK scene, as his playful and addictive song spread like wildfire on Instagram and TikTok, garnering new fans of his music. The traction he built would quickly become career-defining.

Three years ago, the London-born artist was still in college, and was focusing solely on his football ambitions. But his friends – who are currently main members of his crew, and also actively contribute to his writing process – encouraged him to start spitting bars on YouTube, the platform where he began his career. Fast forward to November 2021, and the NME 100 artist used that freestyling mindset from his youth to establish himself as an emerging star from the UK hip hop world, as ‘Coming For You’ swiftly climbed the UK charts and became a marker of the current, astronomical rise in the popularity of drill music. With the track, he cultivated his own unique sound – jumping between melodic choruses and powerful, direct verses – and redefined stereotypes around the ‘harshness’ of drill music, all while paying homage to a classic party track in the process.

SwitchOTR took his hit single to new levels with the recent release of the ‘Coming For You’ remix. This collaborative project saw him link up with some of the hottest names in drill – Bandokay, Izzpot and Lowski – to bring in their unique flows. The song touches on dreaming of  success, a recurring theme that appears across his verses, and connects deeply with his young audience: “And about time that I make some records / Show them why that I go universal / ‘Cause I can’t get stuck in the ends.

Like his contemporaries ArrDee and Central Cee, SwitchOTR represents a new class of young drill rappers successfully hooking onto TikTok’s ability to put their music on the map. The viral success of ‘Coming For You’ has seen him surpass 58 million streams on Spotify, making the song one of the most popular drill tracks of 2021. With such a rapid ascent to fame, his dreams of performing at festivals such as Wireless are surely on the horizon – he is on the path to making drill mainstream.

SwitchOTR’s next track, ‘Sound Fair?’, is set to drop on February 14. The song could continue his hit-making streak; it samples the massive chorus from ‘Without Me’, the 2018 rock-pop anthem from Halsey, the winner of the Innovation Award at the BandLab NME Awards 2022. Ahead of its release, he chats to NME about his dream collaborations, why he wants to uplift other young artists, and his big goals for the year ahead.

NME: Has music always been a big part of your life?

“In terms of listening [to music], yeah it has. I have a big connection to it. When radio was a big thing, I was always listening to Kiss FM and Capital Xtra. But writing? No. I was into football. Music wasn’t a talent I discovered I had until a few years ago. I started taking music seriously at 16, and it was more of a domino effect from then on.”

What is your writing process like?

“Before, I would practise at home, but right now I am just finding a beat in the studio and working on that straight off the speaker. I also like dark rooms with LEDs – that’s what makes me write. Not too dark, though, or that will make me fall asleep. There has to be a balance – and not too many random people in the room!”

‘Coming For You’ has soundtracked over 425,000 videos on TikTok.  What do you think about your viral success?

“I just have to thank the movement I guess; the community is finally getting tapped into it. I have appreciation for them because it was a story I had to tell. It shows a lot of people can relate [to the song].”

How do you feel about TikTok’s current role in music?

“Whether it is a deep message, a positive message or anything like that, TikTok is just the platform to use because it’s so hyped and fuelled for everything. You can do anything, whether it’s starting a business or making music. It’s the way to go. It’s the centre of the country right now.”

What did it mean to you for the single to chart in the Top 5?

“It was a good feeling and a great achievement. Knowing that a lot of artists have been in the industry for a while and haven’t hit that target makes it feel like quite a big thing. I didn’t expect the track to be as popular as this, though. I knew it would do numbers, but not this sort of numbers. There are levels to this, but I’m happy.”

switchOTR rapper
Credit: Press

Why do you think drill music is so popular at the moment?

“It is because there’s a twist to it now. It now has a positive light. Before, it was portrayed as a bad genre that was sending a bad message. It also intertwines with more melodic sounds and instrumentals. You can add mellow tones into it, like afro-swing. It is becoming multicultural.”

The ‘Coming For You’ remix features other upcoming drill artists such as Bandokay, Lowsky and Izzpot. Why was it important for you to work with these acts?

“I wanted to create a different song to the one with A1 x J1. But now, doing a song with Lowsky and Bandokay shows that I’m not actually just an upcoming artist. I’m actually someone that’s shown their potential, so it has kind of allowed me to be free instead of being classed as one specific artist or in a specific age bracket.

“It was also about chemistry. Execution is key for me. I mean it is easy to put someone on the track, but [collaboration] is all about who’s really interested in being genuine and who is willing to participate to their full potential. And with that, obviously, just hearing their sound made sense to have them on a song like this. They are just genuine guys.”

Who would you like to work with in the future?

“In the UK, Central Cee, 100%! I always say that. No matter what. I also want to collaborate with D-Block Europe, Drake, Lil Tjay and Lil Baby, because that would pop off.”

What’s on your bucket list for 2022?

“I want to perform at Wireless, fly out with the guys, and I am aiming for three Top 10 songs. I also want to stamp my name as a household name and break through on an international level. I want to be considered one of the most popping artists in the UK; I just want people to say, ‘That SwitchOTR guy? I’m into him!’”


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