“Our career so far has taught us to be patient,” says Doyin “Bugsey” Julius, the more talkative half of Nottingham’s foremost rap duo Young T & Bugsey. “Wait your turn. Don’t wait for ever – you still have to grab it – but our time will come.”
Signed to a major label record deal four years ago, 2020 finally looks like their breakthrough year, global apocalypse permitting. Earlier this month they were announced as “Radar” artists by Spotify, with the streaming service choosing one act from each of 20 different countries to give a range of extra support.
The title of the pair’s most recent hit, Don’t Rush, seems appropriate. It’s a laidback groove with a guest verse from drill star Headie One, its half-sung vocals putting them firmly into the more melodic side of the UK’s rap scene. It’s one of multiple stand-outs on their superb debut mixtape, Plead the 5th, which they’re going ahead with releasing today even though everything else in their lives is now on hold.
A UK tour including a London show, which would have taken place over the coming weeks, is now pencilled in for September. After Glastonbury’s cancellation this week, they can’t be sure whether their summer festival appearances will go ahead. “This virus is gonna affect our release parties, our tour, a lot of content we were gonna make with people in our scene. We had a lot of plans this week and next so we’d have loads of content to post, but we can’t record things in the flesh so it’s all messed up,” says Bugsey, but he’s stoic about the situation. “It’s like we’re in a movie right now. But you can’t really be mad. We’re all experiencing the same thing. There’s no one to point the finger at, it’s just happening. We’re not too annoyed about it.”
We were meant to meet in Ealing, at a recording studio where they ordinarily travel down to work, but that’s off. Instead, like the rest of the population this week, we’re on a conference call. They dial in from their respective homes close to each other in the Top Valley area north of Nottingham city centre. They’re both energetic, talking over the top of each other in their rush to explain their gradual rise, but they’re easy to tell apart on the phone. Ra’chard “Young T” Tucker, 22, has Jamaican roots but has lived in Nottingham all his life. He speaks with a typical East Midlands accent. Bugsey, 23, was born in Ibadan, 80 miles inland from Lagos in Nigeria, came to south London aged five and moved to Nottingham at 12 with his mother and two younger brothers. He sounds like more of a southerner.
Neither of them claim to have considered that a rap career might be a bit harder to come by in the Midlands. They don’t have accents on record and wouldn’t dream of referencing Robin Hood and Friar Tuck in song. Homegrown rap is booming in cities all over the country, not just London, right now. Aitch, from Manchester, has carved the clearest path for them to follow with his numerous recent hits. The three of them share Strike a Pose, which ignores Government advice on social distancing by being a song about persuading your girlfriend to let you take a dirty picture. It was big with the Love Island crowd, spent six weeks in the top 10 last autumn and earned them a platinum disc.
“For me, I never saw a line between London and outside of London,” says T. “I don’t know whether I was naïve or oblivious but I didn’t feel it was gonna be 10 times harder being from Nottingham. We never saw it as a problem.”
“We just lived in our bubble, trying to make it,” continues Bugsey. “At the end of the day, we’ve got the exact same tools that people in London have got. And we were never making grime anyway. We were more into American music growing up.”
They also looked up to older local rappers 2tone and Jah Digga, who never became commercially big but were well respected in their city. However it was a place, not a person, that helped them the most in the beginning. Meeting through mutual friends aged 15, they began to spend all their time at Community Recording Studios, a Nottingham charity that gives young people access to professional music equipment. “We would leave college, go straight there and be there til it closed,” says T.
“It’s a proper good place, man. Every single Nottingham artist has come from CRS,” claims Bugsey. “When you’re young, and I don’t want to use the word ‘misguided’, but maybe you’re around misguided stuff, and you might not go down the greatest path, they give you mentors – people who can sit you down from time to time and give you things to think about.”
Thanks to a local project called Full Effect, set up by Prince Harry’s Royal Foundation to give creative opportunities to Nottingham’s young people, as teenagers they went to London for three days to shadow the team behind Linkup TV. It’s a YouTube channel with 1.7 million subscribers that makes original videos for rap and R&B artists. They got to hang around Kaylum Dennis, who is now Stormzy’s full-time videographer, and a range of rappers.
“The most we done was hold up a light, but we were around all these people we’d seen on YouTube. We went back to Nottingham and people were like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you met them!’ It was like taking a kid who wants to be an astronaut to NASA and letting them meet Neil Armstrong,” says Bugsey. “It gave us this super drive: ‘We need to be like this. We need to get to where these guys are by any means possible.’”
Their friends who made music gradually dropped away for other interests, leaving just the two of them. Though there aren’t many duos in UK rap – Krept & Konan and D-Block Europe being the most popular examples right now – there was never any question of solo careers. “We lived close to each other, grew up together, were exposed to the same life experiences. It was always meant to be like this. It’s fate,” says Bugsey. “If there’s no Young T, I wouldn’t be what I am, and T wouldn’t be what he is if it wasn’t for what I contribute, you get me?”
So they’re very much in this together, social isolation notwithstanding. They’ve waited a long time to put out their first full collection, and are content that at least people will have plenty of time at home to listen to it. They’ve got enough big tunes to enliven any enforced lock-in and there’s much more to come, but like they said, there’s no rush.
“We’ve managed to accomplish so much with no album or body of work so far,” says Bugsey. “What level are we gonna be at when we do drop an album? I can’t even imagine right now.”
Plead the 5th is released today on Black Butter