It feels quite symbolic that BackRoad Gee should bookend 2020, a year defined by two very different parts, with a pair of massive – but starkly contrasting – tracks.
The first, ‘Party Popper’, dropped on exactly January 1, in that short hinterland at the start of the year before the pandemic changed the world beyond recognition. The London MC’s breakthrough hit announced him onto the scene – a bassy drill-grime hybrid banger led by BRG’s hypnotic flow and a chorus that refused to get unstuck from your head. Now, his latest single ‘Take Time’, lifted from his upcoming debut mixtape, shows a thoroughly different side to the rising star.
Raised in London to Congolese parents, and still just 23, it’s been a pivotal year for BackRoad Gee (whose real name is still a mystery). But he says that his quickfire start of the year almost never happened.
“I actually didn’t want ‘Party Popper’ to come out,” he admits to NME over a Zoom call. “I was fighting for another song… [but] my manager was saying, ‘Bro, trust me. This one’s got something about it.’ So yeah, put faith in fadda – and we made it happen.”
His faith was repaid, as ‘Party Popper’ has been one of those tracks to steadily bubble under the surface this year, resulting in an all-star remix with Ambush & Pa Salieu that’s so far racked up over 1.5 million plays on YouTube alone. Since then, he’s released a striking seven-track EP (‘Mukta vs Mukta’), delivered a standout performance on Pa’s ‘My Family’ and, in November, linked up with JME and Lethal Bizzle (‘Enough Is Enough’).
But while 2020 has been hard for emerging acts to break out in the traditional sense amid the pandemic, BRG says he’s been focusing all his energy on music: “I’m still working, making things happen. We’re not sleeping.”
When his EP dropped back in July, it was plain to all to hear how the tracks – all spitfire bars, dizzying rhythms and bone-crunching bass – would go off in a live setting. This is one part of the pre-COVID-19 landscape that BackRoad says he’s missed.
“Show-wise, the pandemic is just smashing up things,” he says. Asked whether he misses the opportunity to play live, he replies unequivocally: “100 percent. That’s a big part of the thing.” But, on a positive note, he adds: “We have a new ‘tape coming early next year, so as soon as things are back on, you should be seeing me on a stage near you.”
Ahead of the mixtape release, ‘Take Time’ may feel like a surprising change of pace. Gone is the unbridled energy of the EP tracks and, instead, we’re treated to something close to a slow jam love ballad. “To other people it might look like a big shift,” BRG says. “But this is the music I do, innit… I have very different sounds. You can expect everything on the mixtape.”
BRG himself has been praised for “bridging the gap between UK drill and grime”, and he says taking his own path is just part of who he is. “I’m just a complicated guy,” he explains. “I don’t like doing the ordinary. Whatever is the normal way of doing things, I’ll find my own way of doing it. That’s the beauty of it. You don’t want to hear just one thing.”
It comes just as the UK scene’s leading figures are similarly experimenting and expanding their sounds – Pa Salieu incorporating Afroswing, Headie One sampling Red Hot Chili Peppers (via Crazy Town). But BRG says he’s ready to make his mark on things, regardless of what his peers are up to. “I don’t want to be like nobody else, so if I can find any way to separate myself and not fall into a category, I’ll do that.”
After teasing more collabs to come with Pa (“I was with him two days ago… me and him actually have a lot of music together”), BRG lights up when he discusses one collab this year that really took him aback.
“Bro, it’s crazy. It’s unexplainable,” he says of working with Burna Boy for a refix of Nigerian mega-star’s WizKid collab ‘Ginger’. Burna is someone who BRG had picked out as a “dream collaborator” just months before and, as it turns out, they were mutual fans of each other. “I thought he was flipping lying to me, man. I couldn’t believe it. Burna Boy listens to me?! And he was spraying my bars!”
With that bucket-list collab now ticked off, BRG has a firm idea of who he’d like to work with next. “Adele! I want to work with Adele, bro. We need to make that happen, jeez. Oh Adele, I love that woman.”
But first, all things are building towards BRG’s debut mixtape, ‘Summer Ina Da Winter’. While his previous EP was based around the concept of the artist fighting with himself, and the tracks fighting against each other, this one is pretty self-explanatory. “Basically it’s about summertime in the winter,” he says. “Real life music, but you can still dance to it.”
That’s definitely something that’s especially needed right now given how gruelling this winter could end up being. BRG agrees: “Everyone needs to dance and loosen up a little bit. We need to enjoy something. Life’s about enjoyment.”
Looking ahead, he’s got plenty of big ideas. “2021, I just want to grow as a person and with my music, and just conquer the world… The sky’s the limit,” he says, while adding that a show in Congo would be a “big dream”. And that Adele collab? “Oh yes, trust me – that’s the top of the list.”