Bebo, Giggs, Road Rap & Me…

Words: Yemi Abiade

Social media has undoubtedly altered the fabric of how we’re able to communicate with each other in the present day. In a world that is getting smaller, the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have constructed a bridge for vast communities to share, build and critique (particularly the latter), representing the latest stage of online dominance for the digital age.

Back in the day, though, before the proliferation of the modern Big Three, the streets were gripped in the craze of MSN Messenger in the mid-to-late 2000s, the after-school online milieu where youngers chatted, chirpsed and chilled for hours on end. As a youngster in secondary school, I never used MSN, and an acute sense of feeling left out among my group of friends shrouded over me most days. I was very much late to the social media train, but a reprieve was found, one day in Year 11, when a friend logged into his Bebo account and revealed a wild new world to me.

The oft-forgotten platform has seen a revival in relevance of late, years after its initial run from 2005-2013, as news of a revamp in 2021 hit the headlines in the beginning of this year. Such news made me nostalgic, for Bebo is partly responsible for triggering a significant period of my life in which music was becoming all-important. Back then, browsing through the site on my friend’s account, I was wowed by the interactive element of talking to others whilst also customising your profile page however you want and discovering and listening to new music (and slang) along the way. One look at someone’s page and you would get a feel of their personality, their tastes and whether or not to avoid them.

Eventually, we decided to be funny and make a brand-new account disguised as roadmen to draw out other road guys online (such were the levels of boredom among us). Inadvertently, we stumbled upon a grainy, low-quality music video with what felt like hundreds of Black boys clad mainly in black, behind a gangly, tall, charismatic leader spitting about a lot of things I had no clue about. Little did I know I was watching Giggs’ video for the national anthem, his game changer, “Talking Da Hardest”, and the rewind button could’ve been deemed out of order with the number of times we pressed it. We’d been used to seeing large crews in music videos; grime had got us accustomed to that. But this felt different, more real, as if Giggs and his cohorts were ready for war and “Talking Da Hardest” was their battle cry.

The raw, rough layout of Bebo served as a perfect platform for me to find an artist like Giggs and others like him—almost like a Reddit before Reddit—and with it, I discovered a rapper that would inform my knowledge of just where UK Black music was going at the time. By then, the music coming out of the UK had done little to excite me for a couple of years, having largely bypassed the first grime generation and being a passive music fan generally. But the pure spectacle of Hollowman’s music and visuals—from his cinematic drug raps to incendiary violent imagery, all wrapped together by his monotone, menacing vocals—had pulled me into his powers. Nothing at the time sounded like Giggs, and Giggs sounded like nothing at the time.

This was 2008, where an underground sound in London, known as road rap—presenting gritty, abrasive tales of hood activity over glossy instrumentals, often borrowed from the USA—was taking shape, giving grime a run for its money as the sound of the streets. Giggs was the genre’s breakout star, and I now had to know all about him and his music. Seminal mixtapes such as ‘Ard Bodied, Hollowman Meets Blade and Walk In The Park would keep me fed, while discovering he was from Peckham, via Bebo, added sentimental value. Having been raised in Camberwell and gone to school in Peckham myself, seeing Giggs pass spots in his videos that I was familiar with, like Peckham Library or the back roads of Nunhead, made him local, close and identifiable. The fact that I could be going home, turn a corner and potentially see Giggs shooting a video made my imagination run wild. It never happened, but it’s always good to dream.

Through Giggs, it was suddenly okay for me to rep South London, because we had a titan like Hollowman repping and, though I’ve never been anything remotely related to road, Giggs’ music served as a portal transporting me to that world, what normal life was for him. Of course, the portal before the portal was Bebo, the Narnia in which, upon entry, I could lose myself in hours of discovery—for music and for self. Whether it was talking to like-minded teens or searching for the most niche hood facts about my new favourite artist, that escapism, if only for a little while, was invigorating.

My relationship with Bebo was brief. By the time sixth form rolled around, maybe a month or so after discovering Giggs, I had graduated to Facebook—the prime destination for my new white friends—and I swiftly deleted my account. It’s a shame, really, because I’d give a lot to be able to go back to it now to see what was on 16-year-old me’s mind. Alas, Bebo would season my online activity, allowing me to visualise my own personality, what I liked and what I didn’t, in time for a new stage in my young life. I no longer felt left out or that I was missing out on post-school conversation and, along the way, Giggs became the centre of my ever-growing musical world.

Posted on March 12, 2021