M Huncho’s In It For The Long Haul

Words: Ciaran Thapar
Photography: Tristan Bejawn

Whilst London’s musical revolution has taken place over the last few years, with domestic genres like drill and Afroswing thriving in the slipstream left by grime’s mainstream-piercing resurgence, only a few artists have managed to carve out a separate lane of their own. One of them is M Huncho. The elusive, masked vocalist, who deals in sweetly-sung, melodic punchlines—often Auto-Tuned, laid over thumping, futuristic trap beats—about the harsh realities of life on the fringes of society, has built a strong following since his Mad About Bars dropped in April 2017.

In just two years, Huncho has managed to authoritatively borrow and repurpose the Atlanta trap tradition from across the pond to evolve into one of the most exciting acts in the UK underground scene. His 48 Hours EP last year featured eight songs recorded in one studio session, lasting as many hours as its name suggests. It included uplifting anthem “Elevation” and an ethereal ode to the lifestyle that the singer left behind to pursue music, “Council Flat”, and achieved the rare modern feat of standing the test of time as a project that is listenable all the way through.

Now, having spent a year working behind the scenes on his sound, collaborating in brief but iconic moments with the diverse likes of ATL drip king Gunna, drill pioneer Headie One, and voice-of-the-streets Kenny Allstar, Huncho’s new mixtape Utopia features the characteristically catchy singles “Birds” and “Ocho Cinco”, and looks to demonstrate more creative growth and experiment with newer forms of addictive, vibe-setting London trap.

How have the last two years been for you?

I’ve tried to make timeless music. I’m looking at the bigger picture. Some people might call me a rapper, but I like being called an artist because there’s a big difference. It’s come down to perseverance, getting my head down and not being distracted by anything happening in the industry. We all know the industry sucks up a lot of people. Like, we’re sitting down here today, but Nipsey Hussle died yesterday, bro. That’s someone I grew up listening to, you get it? It shows that no matter how well you’re trying to do, anything can happen. That was someone who was nominated for a Grammy; he was giving back to his own community.

Is that something you’re interested in doing?

I’m interested in giving back to communities, not one particular community. Because the way I see it, lots of communities in London are going through the same thing; the usual social problems, drug misuse, knife crime, shootings. It’s always been bad, but people aren’t using their knife to butter anymore.

Your music is unique because you’re singing but you’re talking about issues that are often associated with rapping. Plus, presumably because you wear a mask, it’s meant that a lot of people call you a drill artist, even though you don’t make drill. How do you feel about that?

Drill and the sound I make are completely different. I don’t even really listen to drill music like that. When people say I make good drill music, I don’t like it. When producers send me drill beats, I never open them or respond. Don’t send me beats if you don’t listen to my music properly and expect me not to ban you from my mailing list! Don’t get me wrong, I respect drill; I fuck with drill artists here and there, but it’s not my style.

So why did you start making music?

Because I like music. The first time I saw a studio was two and a half years ago. I wanted to do everything: the engineering, the recording, the producing. I believe that’s the best way you can go about this—being in control of the whole creative process.

Why then, though?

In my life, I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs; emotionally, psychologically. I was at a low point and I had a lot of time on my hands during that time. Bear in mind I was juggling music with what I’m doing on the streets. I saw some other people recording and I wanted to do it, so I wrote some lyrics for the first time.

Did you make music with your style of singing from the start?

I was always doing the melodic thing but, at first, I didn’t wanna bring it out. Maybe it was because of the people around me, I didn’t wanna look bad or something. But that was some childish way of thinking. So I had to build my craft, and upgrade. You have to grow when you’re making music. And now, if you listen to the music I made back then compared to the music I’m making now, sonically, you’ll hear the difference. I’m about growth, and being multi-genre. I wouldn’t do Afroswing because it’s so common now.

So, initially you weren’t intending to pursue a music career?

No, it was a passion. But soon I had so much music that I could make an EP. So when the Mad About Bars dropped, I had already made loads of music. The platform I was working with at the time weren’t promoting my stuff properly on social media, but then certain individuals from Mixtape Madness backed me, and boom!

What are your musical influences?

I listen to a lot of Future. I’m influenced by a lot of ATL stuff and then real rap like Meek Mill, Nipsey, Jay, Nas, Biggie, Pac...

The Atlanta trap influence on your music is very clear to hear.

Yeah, I’ve always been listening to Atlanta music. Same with Toronto, same with Chicago. Like, I’ll still play Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy because it’s timeless music. Not many people make that anymore, where people really remember it years later. And I try to make timeless music because it should be something you can always go back to and listen to. People still listen to The Beatles because it’s timeless, you get me? And you have to be smart to make timeless music. Nowadays, it might mean portraying it a certain way visually, in a video. Or maybe you market it a certain way on social media.

“My voice is unique, so if you hear me on the speaker you already know who it is.”

Your videos have been very visual and well put-together. Is there a strategy behind them?

I usually send my ideas to some directors, they write a treatment, and I’ll choose my favourite. But now I’ve got more time—like with this tape, I want to be directing all of my videos. I’ve had input into two new videos I’ve recorded, and it’s similar with beats I’m using now, too. I feel like it’s that time I take everything to the next level.

What do you call the music you make?

It’s trap. I feel like the melodies I’ve got, and the way I hit melodies… My voice is unique, so if you hear me on the speaker you already know who it is. That’s my first aim. That’s the most important thing in music. If a song is coming on and you can’t say who it is, then there is an issue.

How did the Gunna collaboration come about?

I did it for The Plug. These Americans come over here expecting to get paid but I’m not that guy. Some people just need to put respect on the UK’s name. We had Roddy Rich, who came into the country, and his manager asked me for dough for a feature. I said, “Big man. You’re coming to the UK and you’re asking a UK artist to pay you for a feature!? You’re in man’s country!” These lot think they can come here, secure a bag and just cut. Anyway, The Plug said he had a vision to put an American artist and a UK artist together, and he approached a bunch of prominent artists who didn’t believe him. I’m the only artist who did. So I sent him a few tracks, he got inspired and said: “Let’s do it.”

That must have been a good move for you, to get exposure in America.

Americans don’t really promote their features like that but yeah, it was a beneficial thing to do. I was in New York, Gunna came to the studio, we did a video shoot there, one or two scenes. Obviously, I’ve listened to Gunna since Drip Or Drown Volume 1, so that was cool.

On Utopia, the new mixtape, you can hear the progress you’re making in developing your sound.

Yeah, I’m a lover of heavy drums and 808s. But, at the same time, I like mellow music. You wouldn’t expect it but I listen to people like Daniel Caesar and Jhene Aiko. I listen to these people—people who make different types of music—mainly because, as an artist, you need to get inspired by things.

Why do you wear a mask?

It’s just privacy. I don’t wanna be stopped walking down the road and being asked for a picture.

Would you have your mask on if the camera wasn’t in here?

Nah, I wouldn’t.

[Photographer leaves, M Huncho takes his mask off].

After 48 hours dropped, I was listening to it on loop for a long time. I know lots of others were, too. Why do you think it elevated you to a new level in your career?

Because it’s timeless! Think about it: I haven’t released a body of work since then—for a whole year, other than a few features—and my fanbase is still growing. Now, with Utopia, people are really going to get into my sound. But this is me going into third gear and there are about fifteen gears I need to get into. There’s still a long way to go.

Why is it called Utopia?

Because I’m just making everyone come into my perfect world. The first track is called “Check In” and the last song is called “Check Out”. It’s like you’re taking a quick flight: you’re there with me in my world, and then you leave.

What can we expect from the mixtape?

I’ve got loads of different producers on there to give it a new feel. I’ve got a couple of producers from ATL because I was there for a bit. I was going from studio to studio; some producers there really fuck with my sound.

That must have been cool going to Atlanta if the place is a big influence on you?

Yeah, but I wasn’t there for long enough! I want to go there for one or two months.

Your ascent has taken place alongside London’s musical explosion over the last two years. What do you think about the state of the UK scene right now?

It’s like hip-hop was in the 1980s in America. I feel like we’re going to take over the charts, but only if we stick together and we promote each others’ shit. Our charts are still full of acts from America. If Future releases something, everyone else from ATL is promoting that shit because that’s what you do for people from your city. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know each other, it’s just thinking about the greater good. This year, if people keep pushing each other to get into the charts, we will dominate the scene. The momentum starts there, and we can keep going until everyone’s listening to our shit. The newer generation that’s coming out… People need to think about the next gen. What are our next steps going to be? There are new artists coming out every day. But who is going to be here for a long time? A lot of people are here to enjoy themselves but they can’t last. Me, I’m a workaholic. Not many people know this about me but I’m a Muslim; I don’t drink, I don’t know what alcohol tastes like. When my show is done, I’m off! I ain’t partying, I’m going back to my house, my safe zone.

I feel like this needs addressing: people have taken issue with your use of the N-word in your music. What’s your response to this?

That was a long time ago. I was ignorant to the fact that it was going to be an issue. It might be cool me saying it with friends so I didn’t deem it as that deep. But when I think about the bigger picture, I don’t want people to be using that word. You won’t hear it on Utopia, and on 48 Hours you only hear it once. But the way I see it, the black community should refrain from using it too. I come from an area where we’re all minorities; there are blacks, Arabs, but we’re all like family. And there are different cultures embedded in where my family’s from, too, whether that’s North African culture or Middle Eastern culture. Anyway, people are moving a bit irrational because at, say, a Future concert, you’ve got a million white people singing along to the word in the crowd. And if this was me on a regular day, and I wasn’t a rapper, and I said it on the roads, nobody would say anything to my face. It’s just social media. Everyone likes to find a flaw in someone, but people make mistakes and they learn from their mistakes. It’s a learning curve. I realise that there are a lot of kids who listen to this music and you don’t want random kids walking around saying it, whether they’re black, white, or brown.

So it’s been about learning how powerful music can be?

Yeah. Like, there are mothers who message me saying their kids love me. I’ve been sent videos of their kids crying, then when my music plays they stop! And I feel like that’s good because the way I make my music, it’s positive. I want everyone to be able to listen to it.

Posted on April 15, 2019