Just wanting to put on for their city of Nottingham, underground greats-turned-budding popstars Young T & Bugsey have had a monstrous few years so far. You might know their name from their few hits like ‘Strike A Pose’ featuring Manchester spitter Aitch, ‘Don’t Rush’ featuring Tottenham honcho Headie One and more. The latter became a huge TikTok sound in the app’s early days, racking up over 89 million streams on Spotify, and entering the Billboard 100 and UK Top 20.
However, they have been releasing delightful rap tracks for a while, and with such confidence in their craft that they’ve never had to waiver what they do for the sake of a quick buck. Keeping true to themselves, they have ended up helping today’s UK rap scene by popularising elevated afroswing-grime sounds (often referred to as wave rap) while being outliers by – shock, horror – hailing from outside of the M25.
Their latest mixtape, ‘Truth Be Told’, solidifies their spot as one of UK heavyweights. NME chatted to them about the record, their future ventures, their distinctive sound and how they’ll set about becoming one of the all-time greats one day.
What do you want people to take from this mixtape?
Bugsey: “I think people are already taking what we want them to take from this mixtape. We want to give further insight into Young T & Bugsey and a better understanding of the vibes we can make. With the last tape [2020’s ‘Plead The 5th’], we had a bunch of stand-out hits, but I think people still didn’t know as much as they could, especially at the level we are [at] in our career. We felt the next thing would be to continue making great music but add an extra personal layer to it, and that’s why it’s called ‘Truth Be Told’.”
Is grime and trap a good way to describe you guys, and why have you never diverted from that?
Young T: “I’d say more so rap, hip-hop. No matter what we do, whether it’s a likkle trap or a likkle wave, we always come back to rap: that base of penmanship. Drill’s here right now –”
Bugsey: But that’s not our sound. That’s not what we’re trying to perfect. No matter what’s popular, when you make good music, your music will always be able to cut through. That’s what we pride ourselves on.
When you look back to [2016’s] ‘Glistenin’ and ‘No Mickey Mouse Ting’, you see that those songs pioneered today’s sound of UK music…
Bugsey: “I feel like that’s not spoken about enough. We got signed in 2015, but before that – when ‘Glistenin’ was blowing up in Nottingham – we were known for making a catchy hook. It could sound good in your headphones but also sound good in a rave. At that point, UK rappers weren’t making music like that – especially from Nottingham. I’ve talked to bare rappers and they acknowledge that we were the first guys for man to see do that type of music.
“Grime itself was still popular so we were standing out as it was around the time Stormzy was coming through. But we were the first of the sound you heard three years later like [Ibiza-inspired afroswing track by Hardy Caprio and One Acen] ‘Best Life’, [Not3s’] ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Addison Lee’. And we were a part of why that all became popular.”
You’ve dropped two mixtapes now. Is it time for an album yet?
Young T: “Right now, I feel like we’re still in that mixtape mode. We’ve still got those raw elements of us to give. An album is a lot cleaner and for the widespread public: you tell your full story.”
Young T, your delivery is often reminiscent of P. Diddy and other classic hip-hop stars. Bugsey, you always come in with very impactful melodies…
Young T: “People compare me to like Diddy, [fellow Bad Boy signee] Ma$e and their style of rap because of my voice, innit. I’m very laid-back when it comes to those types of songs. Current songs I can tap into that pocket straightaway. It’s really natural for me because of the music I grew up on. I grew up on a lot of those ‘90s stars, a lot of that my mum played. I grew up on that.”
Bugsey: “The contrast in our styles really works well. The core of us is, of course, rap, but we’re way more [than that]. And where it meshes is just sweet. We haven’t been put together [they met at age 15]. We’ve not been manufactured so the way that we bounce off each other has this natural cool ting about it. That’s why people say no matter who you are, you can cool to it and just vibe to man’s music. You don’t have to be the baddest of guys or the nicest of guys: girls, boys, everyone can vibes to our music.”
After meeting at 15, when did you two see yourselves taking the music game seriously?
Young T: “I’ve always chased music since I was in primary school, so my tunnel vision was always on music.”
Bugsey: “But one of the turning points for us, as a duo, is when we dropped a video to Drake’s song ‘0 to 100’ in Nottingham [in 2014], and people were coming up to us like, ‘I didn’t even know this was Drake’s ting! I thought your ting was the original’. And it was different because the music scene in Nottingham at the time was grime-heavy and we pioneered the ting where people started doing music videos. Freestyles were very big, cyphers and that, a one-take kinda thing. But [after their ‘0 to 100’ remix’] people started to adopt that formula of doing music videos.
“We don’t want to take credit for everything, but we definitely help push our city. The actions we took to get there helped pioneer the way. There just needs to be a better infrastructure for rappers up in Nottingham.
What is next on the cards for you guys?
Bugsey: “I’d love to start acting, that would be sick! Someone told me that they saw us acting in something like Top Boy, and it would be hard to have a role in something like that or something new. It would bring a different side of us on camera, and going into that realm might be a smart move for us, career-wise. Fashion would be good for us too! I can see us modelling. We could do it for a brand with abstract clothing. We’ve got a ying-yang togetherness about it; I’ve got dreads, T’s got hair; I’ve got all these tattoos, T’s got no tattoos. That is naturally us.”
Young T: “We just want to be known for good music, man. Solid guys who make solid music. There’s really something to our sound. We’re not out here doing gimmicks; it’s not a façade. It’s pure music, pure craft, pure penmanship. And we’re elite with it. When someone’s learning hw to do music, we want someone to say, ‘Check out Young T & Bugsey’. We sat down and studied the greats in this music thing, so we want people to study us.”
– ‘Truth Be Told’ is out now via Black Butter Limited