Talking industry recognition and philanthropy with the producer helping define a UK sound.
East London UK rap producer and aficionado Steel Banglez is finally getting the recognition he’s been craving over the years. The Forest Gate native’s back catalogue demonstrates the work he’s put in as committed producer over the course of the past decade, cementing his place in the UK scene as a super-producer of sorts.
Most wouldn’t realise the full extent of his production history, as the iconic ‘Steel Banglez’ tag associated with his recent work only came about when he started working with popular Birmingham rapper, Mist. Now, everyone knows the name, but not everyone knows the legacy.
I sat down with Banglez in his Essex studio to discuss the journey that led him from bellicose Newham boy to the spiritual and strikingly thoughtful artist he is today.
You’re from Forest Gate and you’re 30 years old, so that would put you in the garage/grime crossover generation. You must’ve been banging N.A.S.T.Y. Crew back then, seeing as they’re local?
Yep, you’re perfectly right … N.A.S.T.Y. Crew 100%… Heartless Crew. I used to go record shopping at 10/11 years old. It was slowly moving into that ‘Sticky’ era. But yeah, I was into a lot of vocal garage and I’d just mix. Then I heard Eskimo for the first time on Rinse [FM] and that’s when I realised the game was gonna change; we can have our own industries and our own sound. That’s when I pursued producing.
So, was it grime that you were producing then?
Yeah, I was doing grime but I was always experimental. I never had an ear for just grime because I come from such a musical family. My Mum’s a music teacher, my Dad’s a poet. So that’s where my songwriting and my music comes from. Grime was too much for my head sometimes! [Laughs]. I had to hear melodies, I had to hear sweetness… I was doing grime, but also, because I’m Asian, I was using Bollywood samples, Chinese samples, some Jamaican dubs – making old dub basslines and mixing it up. I was always into Rap, though. No matter what, I always knew I wanted to do that tempo.
So you didn’t get swept up by the grime wave a teenager?
I always had the hip hop in me – the tempo relates to me more.
I was watching an old interview of yours from 2011 and I realised how overlooked you’ve really been.
Yeah, the majority of my success lies in the recent stuff.
Based on your back catalogue, what would you say were your five defining tracks for those who don’t know your extensive history in the scene?
My first one that broke me into the scene was a project, it wasn’t even a song. This was when Giggs was buzzing, it was called ‘A Fix of Meth’ with Fix Dot’M and Yung Meth – two popular rappers at the time. Fix was affiliated with Giggs, it was Wooly Road and Peckham. Buck was Giggs’ manager and you had Yung Meth, who I met in prison when I was incarcerated for a few years.
Do you think being incarcerated played a role in your hunger?
My hustle? Yeah, man.
So how did the ‘A Fix of Meth’ project come about?
Basically, I met Fix [Dot’M] and Yung [Meth] in jail, and when I came out of jail south London was the ting! Giggs was coming up, grime was doing its thing, then we started to have UK rap. We had a defining moment in tempo change. We had rap music, so I knew it was that time. I started to think, “yo, I need to be the first producer. I need to build this shit from now! I need to do it!” I had this idea in my head, I knew Fix Dot’M and heard Fix and Giggs on a tune and I was like, “Nahhh, I’m hollering at Fix, I need to get to Giggs!” Then I did a tune with Ghetts and Yung Meth called ‘Tidal Wave‘ on SBTV. That was a big tune.
That’s another defining one there.
Yeah, so that’s two. Then I had ‘Breakdown‘, which was the grime tune I did featuring Big H, P Money, Wiley and Ghetts. That’s a special song because Wiley and Big H had beef, and P and Ghetts had beef, and I had ‘em all on the same song – that was mental! My fourth defining track would be ‘Go Down South’ with Krept, Konan, Chip and Yungen, which I did while Chip and Yungen had a little tiff. And I guess the fifth has got to be ‘Karlas Back’ by Mist.
That was a nice overview of your history. A lot of people think Steel Banglez met up with Mist and that was the beginning of the story…
Yeah, everyone thinks I’m from Birmingham.
How did the tag team start, it seems like you and Mist come like Drake and 40. How did the partnership originate?
Basically, I just messaged him on Instagram. I’ll show you the messages so you can see the history for yourself [opens up Instagram]. The first message is from January 2016. “Fam I’m diggin’ your style. Let’s get in the studio. Imma make you a banger! Love g”. Mist replied with, “Yeah yeah bro, ASAP fam. When you’re ready”. And it goes onto what’s your number blah blah blah, and then Mist is hollering me, like “Yo g! I been looking for you for time man! Need to get involved in your riddims bruv. ASAP!” And that was the M.I.S. To The T EP.
That was it, Mist and Banglez had arrived! The ‘Karlas Back’ track has a distinct sound that’s growing legs at the moment. You have your own form of the sound – it’s very noticeable.
Like with all my genres.
I’d personally put that song and sound in the same group as Kojo Funds, MoStack, J Hus and those guys because of the groove. It’s got that bashment groove and rhythm.
That came from me working with MoStack. That pattern came from me not wanting to do the normal hip hop shit. So I was like, “give ’em the snare early and add a different style”.
So your experience working with MoStack played a role in inspiring that direction?
Yeah, the sound popped off! I was in Miami at the time. So I gotta give a big shout out to Sevaqk, a producer I brought through – he’s been about and he’s proper dedicated. While I was in Miami he did me proud, still. He was like, “I’ve mixed a song. I’ve had Mist lay the second verse.” Because I’m busy trying to do stuff in America, trying to get some recognition, my brain is fried at this point. I’ve done Wiley, Krept, Konan, MoStack, Mist tracks and I’ve not got a pound, fam!. I’m going bananas. I’m seeing Krept & Konan in chains and cars. Cashtastic’s just dipped and Wiley’s got a number one, what about me?! [Laughs]. But, Sevaqk came through and ‘Karlas Back’ came out while I was in Miami. Boom! It went off, fam.
Big up Sevaqk! You mentioned MoStack, and I mentioned grouping those sounds – the J Hus, MoStack, Belly Squad sound, but how do you feel about the notion of this ‘Afro-Bashment’ sound, as some are calling it?
It’s the skip, it’s the drums, init. The chords and that. It’s a new thing for the new generation. We had grime, then we had the Giggs era and now we’ve got this new generation. Obviously, we live in a world full of categories to make sense of everything, but in reality, Timbaland and Dr Dre are from distant worlds in production and we call them rap or hip hop producers. I don’t see it that way. I see it as GA who produced [the Kojo Funds and Abra Cadabra track] ‘Dun Talkin’, that’s his genre, or his version of that genre. So it should really be “GA’s Afro-Bashment beat”, or the Steel Banglez version. I think I’ve got my own sound…
All the producers are distinct, but because there’s that groove in there…
Yeah, the drums…
Because of the drums, there’s a tendency to put you all in the same category, like the term “Afro-Bashment” popularised by a Spotify playlist of the same name.
I wouldn’t call it Afro-Bashment, though.
That name isn’t getting the best reception but it’s what people – or Spotify, at least – are running with for now.
We’re just calling it UK rap. The reason why it’s not Afro-Bashment is because it’s still got strong elements of Rap. It’s still gutter. It’s not, “have a party all the time”. We’re still rapping. Afrobeats and bashment are very ‘sing-y’.
True, though you could argue people like Vybz Kartel talk a whole heap of greaze and it’s still considered bashment. Same with Kojo Funds, in fact. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I hear you, I hear you… It’s a tricky one. I don’t know if it’s “Afro-Bashment” though. Thing is, Mist’s ‘Aint The Same’, that’s garage to me. You can hear that Banglez is influenced by garage.
You are refusing to be put in a box!
Nah, nah… I can’t, man! It’s not fair. I’ve been here for 10 years. I want my respect! [Laughs]. It’s hard to have gone through what I’ve gone through, bro – I’m tellin’ you. I’ve made a lot of riddims over the years, and I’m very humble. You can see on my Instagram. I don’t gas, I don’t show off, you never see me spend my money crazy. I really love music. I just feel like I don’t get the respect. The money and the fame I don’t give a fuck about! A real artist craves the respect.
You’ve been majorly overlooked, but I’m sure that’s all about to change. What’s your label situation now?
I got a publishing deal at Warner. I signed with Amber Davis who signed Stormzy, Skepta, Swifta Beater… and me.
Okay, Hot Property – pun intended![Laughs] Yes! Since the success of ‘Money’, I’m getting my own imprint on the label I’ve called Spiritual Music Records. When you research the word ‘Spiritual’, it’s not to do with anything materialistic. It’s to touch people in a different way, that’s the word and that’s what music does; it’s spiritual. I’m gonna be looking at artists who don’t get the chance.This is now where I head to philanthropist level. I don’t wanna give an example of how everyone in this rap game gets money and they just go and materialistically show off. Fuck that, bro!
Building studios in poorer communities and things like that?
Yes, bro! Building water wells in India and Africa! I got a company called Wishing Well and we’re gonna be naming them after the people who sponsor us to build em. It costs £10,000 to build a well. I got bare football friends, that’s nothing for them. I got loads of basketball friends in America. I’m gonna do stuff that’s gonna make a difference in this world!
Steel Banglez – ‘Money’ ft. MoStack, Mist, Haile & Abra Cadabra is out now. Stream and download it here.
Words: Timi Ben-Edigbe
Studio images: Timi Ben-Edigbe