North London Rapper Avelino Kicks Rhymes From The Soul

Words: Jesse Benard
Photography: Bernice Mulenga

“It’s a body of work that showcases who I am as an artist and as a person,” Avelino says on “GR8ness Intro”, taken from his latest project No Bullshit. As you can imagine, the week leading up to the playlist’s release, finding a moment to chat with Avelino proved to be a hurdle you get used to after a while. He managed to spare a few minutes while driving down the M1, with hands-free of course, to discuss his most recent offering that has future classic written all over it.

Avelino’s rise over the past couple of years has been a slow and steady one. Back in late 2015, the Tottenham rapper released a collaborative mixtape, Young Fire Old Flame, with Wretch 32. Besides trading bar for bar akin The Lox’s Jadakiss and Styles P, both rappers working together symbolised something much greater: the older generations, signalling that there’s a bright spark on the horizon that’s soon to grow into a fire difficult to contain.

“Up until now, every release has given glimpses of my character here and there,” he tells me. If that’s the case, then FYO—the follow-up to Young Fire Old Flame as well as Avelino’s debut EPhas shown us not only the range of his subjects, but also the depth of what he’s talking about: mostly, where he comes from. “FYO was basically an introduction as to who I am, like me turning up to college on the first day of term,” he says, and that was the case. Despite coming to prominence following Young Fire Old Flame, Avelino raps as though he’s been alongside Wretch since The Movement crew days, and it’s almost scary when you acknowledge the former’s potential.

Up until this point, the 24-year-old North Londoner believes he hasn’t done enough to tell the story as to who he is. “I’m a soul musician,” he boasts. “I connect with the music. I’m not on social media that much, so No Bullshit does a lot of the talking for me and it’s through that you can learn more about me.”

Avelino was eighteen at the time of the London riots, which took place in his area in the summer of 2011. On No Bullshit, he doesn’t go into much detail regarding those events but it’s still worthy of mention when listening to any rapper from Tottenham, particularly those who found a name for themselves after the riots. But Avelino’s ‘no bullshit’ approach to music transfers over so subtly that you come to understand that someone’s environment can drastically impact the approach you take in life—particularly when some years before that involves your community rallying against the police.

“I’m a soul musician...”

On “Penitentiary Skit”, Avelino takes a retrospective approach, lamenting on friends lost to prison and violence as well as taking assurance in the decisions he made that have led him to this point. “The main difference in approach was the interview concept I used from top to bottom,” he said when speaking of the process behind the project. “I wanted the interviews to hold the playlist together so that you were able to get a little bit of me.” Avelino makes the point to mention again that he’s not all that vocal on social media, or publicly.

The age-old debate as to whether artists should speak on sociopolitical issues has become a moot point nowadays. In Avelino’s case, he doesn’t need to. Where he comes from and what he addresses on wax does the talking for him, focusing specifically on the world around him and the one he’s trying to get to. “I’m on telly, I just wish I could show my old man, but I show my mama / She don’t like my songs but I love her though,” he raps on “U Can Stand Up” featuring Dave. By way of allowing us into his life, this line doesn’t reveal much but it gives us a window into his relationship with his parents.

When Drake released Views in 2016, there was wide debate among fans and critics alike as to whether it was an album or playlist, due its agonisingly long running time. But it was also because the sequencing had been crafted to deliver a particular mood and feeling. Drake’s only let-down with Views was that he released it in spring, when the mood on the album was more solemn and pensive.

“In terms of the title, I wanted it to be easy to digest and it explains everything I’m trying to do on the project,” he adds. With No Bullshit, the wordsmith clearly sets the tone right for the very direct and high-energy feeling he conveys, which is also reinforced by the playlist’s title. It’s 2018 and grime culture—not the music itself—is in a healthy place, where sustainable careers are being made. Yet, despite all of that, Avelino’s not quite at the top of the pecking order despite his lyricism placing him firmly above the UK’s best.

He’s still only 24, not even at his peak in sports terms, and Avelino is yet to take all the spoils. No Bullshit demonstrates how it is possible to both create a playlist that reflects a particular mood or attitude, while also delivering a narrative that delves deeper within. “It tells you where I come from without me having to say too much or overdo it, and that was important to me.” There’s still a lot more we can learn from this lyrical don and with each release, he has an opportunity to allow us into his life and take us on the deepest of journeys.

Posted on January 12, 2018