WHY I RATE:
BERWYN

Selected by: James Keith

Name: BERWYN

Where He’s From: Trinidad-born, Romford-raised

When He Started: 2020

Genre: Soulful UK rap

File Next To: Scribz Riley, Oscar #Worldpeace, Obongjayar, Jeshi

Sounds Like: “Whatever my body and soul both feel like doing at the time.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “John Legend’s ‘Ordinary People’. I don’t know, just something about it got me hooked when I heard it one summer holiday on my aunt’s iPod Touch. I loved listening to it, loved singing it. It was the first song I learned on piano and definitely an important song to me, but I’d say after hearing Frank Ocean’s ‘Wiseman’ I knew I wanted to write my own stuff and I wanted it to have depth and soul because it’s the most fun thing in the world to do.”

Despite everything going on around us, BERWYN has had an astonishing year. With little in the way of a live music scene to reach audiences in a real-life setting, the young rapper-singer, whose style is often described as ‘confessional’ and ‘conscious’, has still managed to find a more than healthy audience in every other sense thanks to praise from some very high places.

XL Recordings boss Richard Russell declared himself an early fan of BERWY and wasted no time inviting him to appear on three of the tracks on his Everything Is Recorded project Friday Forever. Around the same time, he also made an equally attention-grabbing appearance on Headie One and Fred again..’s GANG mixtape. It’s worth pointing out those were both before Berwyn had any songs of his own on Spotify. Up until that point, the bulk of his recorded material boiled down to a handful of YouTube uploads, but that alone was enough to turn the collective head of an entire industry. The appearances on Friday Forever—“10:51 PM / The Night” (alongside Maria Somerville), “01:32 AM / Walk Alone” (alongside Infinite Coles), and “10:02 AM / Burnt Toast” (alongside AK Paul)—were huge for him, making him a recurring cast member on the project and cementing his position as someone to take seriously.

However, it was BERWYN’s own debut, “Glory”, that really counted, taking that early spark and using it to light a roaring fire. Opening with an unassuming shot of him at a piano, it starts with an almost hymnal performance that gradually expands with experimental flourishes and night vision footage of what appears to be his unravelling psyche. A solid, well-executed concept, it put BERWYN on the map and became the catalyst for everything that was to come. Column spaces were quickly filled with praise of his stunning talent and profoundly moving art, and then came a phone call inviting him to appear on Later… With Jools Holland. That was just last Friday, but that has already brought its own momentum. “After I did that extra verse on Jools Holland, a few teachers hit me up and said that they’d like copies of the lyrics to teach to their kids in GCSE English lessons in September. I was baffled, but I feel a sense of duty in it. It’s a trip either way.”

That hymnal quality, he tells us, comes from his parents. “When I was younger, it was a ritual to sit with my dad on the porch and listen to his radio,” he says. “He loved all the soul and Motown; anything that carried a good vibe and a smooth bass guitar. He hated all the sex and stuff that was in the current music. Even my mum, she used to love Amy Winehouse—I know every word to every song—Jackson 5, Whitney... She was even a huge fan of Mika. She didn’t really like all the bad vibes either, and I’m grateful for that. I got to absorb a lot of important music that only seemed to put positivity into the world.”

BERWYN’s long and winding story to where he is today is a remarkable one, especially considering the obstacles that have been put in his way. “Because of some complications with the Home Office,” he explains in his Spotify bio, “I came out of school with amazing grades, but no rights to use them.” However, he is nothing if not resourceful. In a highly prolific two-week period, the multi-instrumentalist (self-taught, by the way) wrote and recorded both his debut single and his latest, “Trap Phone”, with little more than an old laptop and some broken headphones in a Romford bedsit. In an even more amazing twist of fate, he’s since described these efforts as “the last throw of the dice” after several years of hardship and struggle. Fortunately for us, it paid off, and those two tracks will now be appearing on his upcoming mixtape, which is due to be released in August.

TRENCH Highlight...


Posted on July 16, 2020