Brixton Made Me: Sneakbo’s Living Out His Hood Kid Dreams

Words: Hamda Issa-Salwe
Photography: Hyperfrank

When you think of Brixton, some recall market stalls filled with Caribbean aunties selling bamboo earrings and string vests, or greengrocers hawking fresh fish and yams up along Electric Avenue. Others might imagine the trendy new eateries, coffee shops and brunch spots serving drinks in mason jars, blown in by a gust of gentrifying wind. But for UK rap and drill fans, an entirely different world comes to mind, and one of the names that is almost synonymous with the South London neighbourhood is British-Nigerian artist Sneakbo. The rapper’s breakout bashment-meets-road-rap anthem, 2011’s “Touch Ah Button”, was like nuclear fission. A catalyst moment that was arguably the inception of Afrobashment, or ‘Afroswing’—whatever you want to call it, this diasporic subgenre has since stormed the charts and given us critically-acclaimed LPs such as J Hus’ Common Sense and the brilliant High Street Kid by MoStack. Almost a decade on from his breakout year, having now mastered his craft, Sneak-to-da-bo has only just blessed us with his debut album, the aptly-titled Brixton. TRENCH spent some time with the rap star to talk us through the new set, his penchant for Afrobeats and bashment, bizarre rumours, and growing up in his beloved hometown.

Tell me about your new—debut!—album, Brixton. It’s been a long time coming.

I know, I know... I named the album Brixton because that’s where I was raised; when I first started rapping, it all began for me in Brixton. All the faces on my album cover are my bredrins that I grew up with: some of them are in jail, some have passed away, and some are still here but we’re not as close as we used to be. Growing up and going through the things we went through, these people made me who I am so that’s why I had to get them on the cover. On the music side, the music I’m making right now brings me back to where I started years ago, with the Afrobeats and bashment riddims.

Where did the Afrobeats and dancehall influences first come from?

My love of Afrobeats comes from me being African—the afrobeat is already in me—and the love for dancehall came from me growing up in Brixton; I grew up around a lot of Jamaicans, a lot of Caribbean people. All the local shops were ran by Jamaicans so, wherever I went, I was always hearing the music.

A lot of people don’t realise you were one of the first artists to fuse UK rap with dancehall like you did on “Touch Ah Button”. How does it feel to see the style popularised years later?

It’s a good thing to see, and I’m really happy with it. I feel like I had a part in creating that and everyone’s running with it now, so that’s something to be proud of—definitely.

Let’s talk about “Touch Ah Button” for a minutewhat inspired you to jump on the instrumental in the first place?

Like I said, growing up in Brixton, all we listened to was bashment and, at that time, Vybz Kartel was one of the biggest artists out of Jamaica. When he dropped “Touch A Button Nuh”, you’d hear it in the raves and it was mad! I thought to myself, “I seriously need to jump on this one.” So I did: me, JJ, Political Peak, and we kept Vybz Kartel’s hook. Even up to today, that’s still one of my biggest tracks.

How has your sound has evolved since then?

I’ve still got the same sort of sound, but things are just better now. I’ve improved. The beats are better and my lyrics are better. Everything has progressed, and is ten times better.

Out of all the music you’ve made over the years, is there a single song you’ve been most proud of?

It’s gotta be “Hurt Nobody”, with Sona. I love that song because everything about it feels positive—the message, and what I’m talking about. At that time, there were a lot of bad things happening in my life, so I made “Hurt Nobody” because I needed to put out a positive message for me and everyone else.

If you weren’t able to express yourself through music, what would be the next best thing for you?

Probably acting. If I was cast in a film, I’d wanna be in something like Boyz N The Hood or Top Boy. A really good hood film relatable to my life and where I’m from.

Who alive or dead has had the most influence on your music or life as a whole, and why?

I’d say Tupac. We’re not from the same place or time, but our lives are so similar. Both coming from the hood, both getting out of trouble, both raised by a single mother and used rap to get away from the hood. It’s hard to choose a favourite track from him; there’s been loads like “Changes”, “Unborn Child”, and “Dear Mama”.

Did you always want to get into music? 

Nah. When I started, I was just doing it for fun; I was just in the hood and never used to leave Brixton [laughs]. Those days we didn’t have Instagram—I didn’t know about social media, or none of that. I was just making my music, putting it out there and getting on with my everyday life in Brixton. I didn’t even know people were listening to my music until one day, one of my boys said told me: “Bro! There’s girls going crazy for you and people are asking me if I know some guy called Sneakbo from Brixton.” Before that, I never knew I had fans.

What’s been the most bizarre rumour that you’ve ever heard about yourself?

That I turned into a cat. I don’t even know how the story started out; it’s like I woke up one day and everyone started saying, “I heard you turned into a cat!” Then I start hearing it from people around me and I was laughing to myself like, “This rumour’s so dumb.”

Then you flipped the rumour on its head with the video for “Right Now”.

This was years after the rumour started. At first it was annoying, but with fame, you get used to these things. People will say anything about you, so I just made fun of it. Either block it out or laugh about it because, every day, someone somewhere is saying something about you.

What’s one thing that people who don’t know you always misperceive about you?

People think I’m this super-unfriendly, angry person, but when they meet me in real life they always say: “You’re actually really nice. I didn’t expect it.” Everyone thinks they can’t approach me, talk to me, or ask for pictures—but, really, I’m the nicest of guys.

Posted on March 12, 2018