Grime legend Mercston: “I wanted to get girls listening to grime”

The suavest guy in grime talks about his love for Mike Skinner, staying consistent and being one of the foundations of UK rap

With a career spanning well over 15 years, it seems strange that Mercston is only just releasing his debut album. But the Bow emcee, known for his quick-witted rhymes and slick flows, has chosen to “start the decade off afresh” and remind new UK rap fans why he’s still relevant with ‘Top Tier’.

Alongside Ghetts, Scorcher, Devlin and Wretch 32 he made up The Movement in the early 2000s, and with his debut album he’s bought his former collaborators back together as well as Giggs, Blade Brown and Louis Rei. Mercston talked to NME about the impact of The Movement, the new album, and his Mike Skinner fandom.

Why is now the right time to release your debut album?

“Firstly, it’s taken a while for me to get to the standard that I’m at now. If it came out before this, it wouldn’t have the same impact as ‘Top Tier’ has now. Everything I did beforehand was training and I’d like to show how I’ve taken [my music] to another level.”

‘Top Tier’ is a record of two sounds – why?

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“My goal was to take the listener to east London, then fly to Jamaica, do a detour in Barbados, and come back with no turbulence. My family are from Jamaica and I grew up very close to my dad. He was DJ-ing around the house, so there was lots of genres been played in my house. Plus, I’m from east London and obviously that’s where grime was called grime. I have that East End culture too. I had to show them all the sides to me.”

‘Mercs Skinner’ is a standout track…

“And I wanted to clear it up that although you said I had a “dodgy Brum accent” [in our four-star review], I wasn’t trying to do one! It was just me showing them my culture and I’ve grown up with a lot of cockney geezers. [The beat] has that The Streets vibe and when I played it to Reggie Yates – who’s a big fan of The Streets and a big fan of myself – he said it sounds like I’m tryna take the piss. But I felt like I just woke up and morphed into Mike Skinner that day. ‘Mercs Skinner’ is the most artistic piece on the album. I’m really just playing homage to someone I grew up listening to.”

How has Mike Skinner inspired your music?

“I’ve been a fan of him since 2001. The sound he was dropping was so left to what was out there at the time. He was very creative and everything The Streets dropped had mad visuals. ‘Weak Become Heroes’ has always been one of my favourite The Streets tunes.”

How was it like collaborating with your fellow The Movement members on the album?

“Pressure. It’s always pressure because everyone always wants the best verse. It’s always a special occasion though because we don’t collab as much as others would like us too, or ourselves would like really. Everyone’s doing their own solo stuff so, when we do come together, it’s always a special moment. Even the weakest verse is still cold. Everyone makes sure they’re on their A-game.”

What do you think The Movement’s impact has been on the grime and underground scene?

“We came about at a time when not many people knew what sound they were going with. There was us – The Movement – and then there was Boy Better Know. We were kinda experimenting with different genres from the jump and not respected for it. Fast-forward to now, everyone’s doing that. I think everyone in The Movement was ahead of their time.”

What was your role in the grime scene?

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“I brought that sweeter side to grime. That side where you can rap bars and not have to think about violence. Obviously, violence gives you an instant reaction: ‘Woah! Did you hear what he said?’. It worked for others, but going against the grain worked for me. I’m not trying to stand on stage or be on the mic, pretending to be someone I’m not. I wanted to get girls listening to grime. Grime – at one point – was targeted at young people, often males. I wanted to bring that edge so ladies can enjoy grime too.”

 

How did Risky Roadz’ DVDs  and BBK’s Jammer’s Lord of The Mics help build the grime scene?

“Nowadays we have GRM Daily and Link Up TV, and people are uploading their songs onto YouTube. Our videos were just raw freestyles, all in one take – you had to get it right. You only got one shot. I don’t know how it would be today without [Risky Roadz and Lord of the Mics]. It was instrumental in showing our fans us.”

How do you plan on staying relevant to the younger generations of music fans?

“Longevity is something every artist wants. So, you need to always reinvent your image without straying away from yourself. I won’t get that instant buzz like most teenagers have today; you can go viral off a freestyle today that was 30 seconds. Before, you can hear someone and never know their face. It’s a different day and age and knowing how to adapt between generations will keep you going.”

What are your future plans?

“We’re going to put on a UK tour. I’m going to work on more music and do some key features. Consistency is key. After seeing how the album’s being received, I’ve got to keep on.”

What’s your advice to budding rappers?

“My advice to them would be to perfect their craft. Also, they shouldn’t be scared when the wave changes. The newest wave could die. Then you’ll want to return to your original style and people are like ‘Nah, we don’t accept it’ and lose that part that made you unique. If you’re cold, and perfecting your craft, the wave’ll spin back and you’ll get your time again.”

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