Clapton Icon Rimzee Is Ready To Reclaim His Spot

Words + Photography: Jesse Bernard

Second chances can be hard to come by for those committed to the road life. It can be a lonely existence, often caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to find some semblance of light in a lifestyle that only leaves room for darkness. Still, after events that many believe should have negated Rimzee’s future, he’s emerged from the other side eager to grab this second chance with his inked hands and hold on tight to it. “Everything happens for a reason because I could’ve been doing life or lost my life completely,” he tells me when I meet him at his studio in West London, before the second UK lockdown. “I was supposed to slow down. I was moving too fast, too young... It had to happen.”

It’s been more than a year since Rimzee was released from prison, after serving six and a half years of a thirteen-year sentence for shooting at an unmarked police car in 2012. Fresh home, the Hackney native spends most of his time in the studio, working to get back to some sense of normality and to where he first started. His demeanour is relaxed, often pausing before speaking as though the words are there but wanting to make sure he is heard. After releasing his debut mixtape, The Upper Clapton Dream, in 2012, he’s become a local cult figure, an anti-hero of sorts, with younger artists from the ends like SD Muni looking to Rimzee for influence.

While hustling and tussling on the streets isn’t desirable, those younger than Rimzee may feel he’s not only earned his stripes but also shown them that there is a way out. Many are fortunate not to end up in his position. “A lot of these guys are still yutes,” he says. “When I was on road, they were babies, so where they’re popping, I’ve got to play catch-up in a way. I’ve got to get there myself in my own way.” However, equally, he’s cognizant of the mistakes he’s made in the past and feels as though he’s making up for lost time, rather than sitting in deep regret.

Rimzee turns 30 next year, a time where many feel as though true adulthood really begins and one has a better sense of themselves. “I lost out on mad years,” he explains. “I went in when I was 21, came back when I was 27 and been out a year, and I’m 30 next year.” He spent the majority of his hype twenties in prison, going in just before the release of Meridian Dan’s “German Whip” in 2013 and the explosion of Black British music in the mainstream. Nowadays, he’s more patient with himself and the world around him. “I was living wild!” He shakes his head. “I didn’t even know what was gonna happen the next day, but now I can make plans for tomorrow and the year ahead. In prison, you’re just living day to day.”

Rimzee’s music has touched lives, that much he knows: “I made this mixtape in 2012 and it still sounds current, which is what has kept me relevant until today. 8 years ago? I said I wasn’t going to rap again but a lot of people around me were telling me to start again and I’ve come back off of the strength of that.” With the follow-up to his debut on its way, Upper Clapton Dream 2 sees Rimzee approach his writing from a different angle as opposed to eight years ago when the first was released.

“I understand it in ways where a lot of people don’t,” he says, “where I’ve done it, did it and have suffered the consequences from it and now I’m back from it. A lot of people have seen stuff but nothing mad has happened to them yet, so it’s all good until the catastrophe. I’ve seen both ends of the gun.”

Since his release, Rimzee has released a slew of singles but few of them were able to dramatically portray his side of the story. Of course, the media, police and public will have their own ideas as to what happened but so often where the state often seeks to criminalise young Black people, he raises concerns over the ways in which this manifests.

“I can only focus on what I’m doing now and I don’t think I’m where I need to be yet, but I can’t risk what I have now.”

On his track “Down Below”, released in October 2019, Rimzee rhymes earnestly and candidly about the events that led to his arrest but also highlighting the many ways in which the state has failed: “We love the roads and they don’t love us back / And Kev got a twelve for the Mark Duggan mash / Ah, proof and use, got IPP / And Dennis is doing nineteen,” he spits.

The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (Criminal Justice Act 2003) could be given to people convicted of certain violent and sexual crimes, if they are deemed to be a considerable threat to public safety. It was abolished in 2012, but 2,223 people are still in prison serving the sentence, with many of them past their tariff dates. Without stories from people like Rimzee, we’re not able to hear from the people affected by a policy brought in by the previous Labour government. His approach hasn’t changed much over the years: Rimzee is much more precise with what he wants to say, rarely jumping in the studio unless there’s a story worth telling. He credits much of this development to his interactions with older prisoners, which is ironic and also indicative of the failure of the state if Rimzee feels he learned more about the way the world works in prison, rather than outside of it.

“I was in jail for time so I was detached from everything,” he explains. “I like being around older people so I can learn some game and that’s who I was around mostly when I was inside. One guy had a business and was handling it while inside, and because my things were booky, nothing was happening while I was in jail so it made me realise I needed to be doing something different.”

Rimzee does feel different about the shooting that went down in 2012 and he hasn’t shied away from addressing the incident on wax. Looking back, he ponders on the tumultuous years young Black men endure from adolescence until 25. Rimzee calls them “the worst years” for himself and those whose only real opportunity to earn an income comes from the streets, in a lifestyle that sells the illusion of success.

“When you’re younger,” he says, “any little thing and you want to bark off. But now, it’s just a waste of time and energy. You can’t kill the whole world so there’s no point trying to. I can only focus on what I’m doing now and I don’t think I’m where I need to be yet, but I can’t risk what I have now.”

“I feel like I’m making up for lost time a bit, but I’m not using that as an excuse. I know now that I have to go harder.”

Since leaving prison, Rimzee has achieved many of the things he set out for himself while he was planning his future. Those conversations with other prisoners gave him hope and a window into a life where he was able to imagine. “I wanted to have my own label, which I have now with two artists,” he says. “I wanted my own studio, which I have. I wanted my own property, which I have as well. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I always wanted to be independent and I can confidently say that.”

For Rimzee, these are the things he’s acquired and there’s a sense of learned wisdom from being around older people who have inspired him to want more for himself. Coming from the streets, it can be a dark experience. Even if the ‘lucky’ few manage to rise to the top, that doesn’t come without its own sets of challenges. Success now looks like: “Health, family, a strong team around me and I’ve still got my hairline [laughs].”

Time isn’t running out for Rimzee. He radiates an energy that suggests he feels very much at peace with where he is in life at the moment. He offers hope, and after spending most of his life coming from a place of lack, he’s paid his dues and wants more from life and for himself. “I feel like I’m making up for lost time a bit, but I’m not using that as an excuse. I know now that I have to go harder.”

Posted on November 20, 2020