Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Quann

Less than a month into 2018, did anyone really expect a viral rap smash to be in contention to become the number one song in the country? To be going up against the legendary Eminem for that coveted spot with their first major hit right out the gate? No doubt, the young man known as Ramz has infiltrated our collective psyches like a whirlwind, and his track “Barking”, at the time of writing, has notched up almost 16 million streams on Spotify and the same in views on YouTube—all for a song about linking a girl in her neck of the woods. Simple concept, but it has caught our imagination like wildfire. Ramz has been in the game for less than a year, with only three other tracks circulating the internet, but his overnight success can be viewed as a win for a scene that broke down barriers in 2017; to sit next to Stormzy’s chart-topping debut album, J Hus’ Mercury-nominated debut opus and the ascents of Dave, Stefflon Don and more.

Fans and followers, supposedly, would rally behind him as a result, and make his success our success. But we can never have things the easy way. Like countless artists before him, Ramz finds himself the subject of scrutiny among a number of Twitter tough-guys and ignoble Instagrammers criticising the nature of his triumph and the contents of the track that took him there. “He can’t sing,” they say, or the old chestnut that “the song doesn’t even bang!” Hardly surprising when this happens, but it still remains a mystery when we start bashing our own for simply being successful.

Ramz is an up-and-coming artist who, while his achievements shouldn’t be viewed as accidental, should be seen as an amazing accomplishment. With a viral hit, a spot at this year’s Wireless Festival and the attention of the nation, he has achieved in a short time what a lot of UK artists, frankly, never will, and for a subsection of fans to decry him simply for blowing up is played out at this point. Looking at his situation, you think, what are the real reasons people are upset? Is it a perceived lack of organic development? Because he hasn’t been slewing radio sets or dropping freestyles in a park with the mandem in the build up to success? Well, everyone’s come-up is different, and Ramz cut out the middleman and resultingly prospered—much like Not3s, Kojo Funds, et al—so could it be fans’ jealousy that’s manifesting into hate?

It seems to be easy for anyone to drop a hit these days, so maybe his success doesn’t bode well with those who haven’t seen but want to reach that level? It might be easy for some to criticise his singing and songwriting abilities, but they forget that he isn’t even a year deep in the game; his talent will no doubt grow over time, and this success sets him up nicely for that development.

We can look at countless examples of young black artists reaching a pinnacle only to be brought down by the vitriol of fans. Chip, arguably, is still on the road to redemption after spreading his pop wings in 2011 and being branded a sell-out when, before the fame, we were all behind ‘The Grime Scene Saviour’. Dizzee has never been able to regain our trust and I’m not ashamed to say I was one of those who spewed hate at him simply for wanting to take a different direction with his music. The same way I tuned Skepta out during his Doin’ It Again phase (circa 2011) because it didn’t sit well with me.

We begin to place artists on a creative pedestal that they then cannot climb off, otherwise the doubts will creep in and take hold of the wheel. Not only does this stunt creative growth, it also doesn’t please fans in the end who will then decry a lack of change or development in the music. When you think about it, do we really want UK drillers 67, K-Trap or Headie One to keep talking about drilling for the remainder of their careers? Or do we want them to experience life and manifest that in the music? I know which I’d prefer.

With that said, is there a more hypocritical fanbase than grime and rap fans? Does any other genre have as many microaggressions within when it comes to backing new artists? Why are we so hard to please? Ramz is the perfect underdog story we have grown accustomed to engaging with—temporarily jobless but with a passion for music, he relied on his family for financial support until “Barking” spun everyone’s headtops. He might not be ‘road’, but he is incredibly sincere and humble—I see a lot of Stormzy’s qualities in him, personally—and while out of the blue, his reaction to success has showcased his personality on a wide scale.

Some people can’t handle it, but he will definitely keep it moving while some of the dregs of social media continue to have their day. But it’s not all bad: others have come out in droves to defend him, preferring to see his wins as collective ones—that he is another young black man doing well. Ultimately, we should be more invested in this idea than constantly tearing each other down and revel in this historical moment because, for the good of this scene we love, Ramz deserves it.

Posted on January 25, 2018