Selected by: James Keith
Photography: Alice Backham

Name: KAM-BU

Where He’s From: South London

Genre: Alternative Rap

File Next To: Knucks, Lord Apex, Jeshi, Jords

When He Started: 2019

Sounds Like: “Experimental and genre-blending. It’s defined by how and what I’m feeling, what I’m interested in or going through at the time. I’ve been coined a ‘vybez merchant’—take from that what you will!”

First Music That Inspired Him: “Rakim’s The 18th Letter album. A lot of the early grime tapes and tracks flying around grew my interest in rhyming too. The flows and cadence of the early grime kids are still, in my opinion, some of the hardest flows ever, but it was The 18th Letter that inspired me to focus on lyricism. The fact that there’s no cursing, no degrading or offensive language was just wild to me. I loved offensive music, but this spun me and made me want to challenge myself. After taking that in, I really began to enjoy writing and exercising my brain to think of things that are cold but digestible.”

It’s warming that we’ve been able to say this every year for at least the last five years, but 2021 has been another exceptional year for Black British music and its ongoing domination of both the mainstream and the underground. It says a lot that in a year when heavyweights Dave, Headie One and Little Simz all released some of the finest music in their careers, newcomer KAM-BU was able to make himself heard when he released Black On Black, which as he puts it, was “an ode to the Windrush generation, its descendants, and all diaspora in foreign lands.”

But it’s more than just a celebration of stories passed through the generations—it’s a celebration of the way the stories are told. The powerful oratory delivery of “Black On Black”, a track he says was inspired by Fela Kuti, sits side-by-side with the moody electronics created by producer Leon Vynehall on “Are You On”, the sombre jazz interlude on “Grandad”, and the neo-soul balm of “Stuck” with Rachel Chinouriri. Although a keen student of Nas and Rakim, KAM-BU covers a lot of musical ground in just 10 tracks, the product of a childhood spent delving deep into music from all over, with little regard for genre boundaries. “I was a big fan of Gorillaz,” he tells TRENCH. He was also into “Jamaican music, indie, grime, rap—East and West Coast—R&B, and soul. I would constantly scroll through the music channels on TV and whatever stuck out, I’d try to embrace.”

Comparisons to the jazzy inclinations of Lord Apex or Knucks are never far away, and he’s worked with both (the former on last year’s “Different” and the latter on Black On Black closer “Call Me Different”), but KAM-BU is very much a singular talent. It’s telling that the Knucks feature was only one of two on the whole 10-track release, more so that both features were pushed right to the back of the release. KAM-BU is early in his career, but he’s got enough pulling power to have a whole release full of features, but these things have to be organic.

It’s the same for his career in general. Although he says he’s just proud to have his music on the radio and a diary full of live bookings, KAM-BU’s got big ambitions, including hitting the main stage at Glastonbury, as well as festival circuits abroad. After all, as he says while dismissing minimum wage life in the opening seconds of the EP’s title track, “I’m craving more.”

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on October 28, 2021