Selected by: Robert Kazandjian

Name: KwolleM

Where He’s From: Newham/Essex

Genre: Mellow Grime

File Next To: Cookin’ Soul, Knucks, WIZE

When He Started: “I’m pretty sure it was 2014, when I started uni and got my first laptop.”

Sounds Like: “It’s literally Mellow Grime.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “My childhood started off with the trinity of Box, Kiss and Smash Hits TV; I vividly remember seeing Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child and Enrique Iglesias. Then I discovered MTV Base and BET and got into hip-hop acts like 50 Cent and Nelly. The most important step, though, was finding Channel U, which introduced me to British stuff. This is significant because I’ve kept the loyalty to homegrown music ever since.”

Before enigmatic producer KwolleM emerged on the scene half a decade ago as a pioneer of the Mellow Grime sound, he was cooking up vibes of a different flavour. “My first alias was Skin Noir,” he tells TRENCH, “which was a random Meechy Darko lyric that I liked. I started off making deep house because I had no idea how to sample music yet. I was trying to be the next XXYYXX.”

KwolleM’s 2015 debut EP, Mellow, juxtaposed sampled vocals from both grime scene heavyweights (Dizzee, Skepta and Tempz) and then-rising shellers (AJ Tracey, Jevon and Rayf) with warm, soul-laden soundscapes. If you grew up when grime blew up, this fusion of sounds adds a new layer of nostalgic, emotional depth to the genre. Making serious waves on SoundCloud and BandCamp early on, the project is a certified underground classic.

In its wake, KwolleM quietly drifted off the grid. During that time, he completed his degree, worked with fashion brands A-COLD-WALL* and Polythene Optics, and became a DJ with Plus Sounds. “I’d say I was just living,” he says of his time out the producer spotlight. “I’ve never prioritised making music over my career, nor would I want music to be my career purely because of the risk that the passion would go.” He was still producing, though, and dropped a handful of remixes on his SoundCloud. KwolleM’s buttery-smooth reimagining of A$AP Rocky and Skepta’s “Praise The Lord” is a real standout, pairing the original verses with dreamy synths, soulful vocal loops and a tenor sax. It’s golden hour music, for those intimate summertime drink-ups that stretch from sunset until sunrise.

In September 2020, KwolleM released his sophomore project, c2c. Essex rapper and friend Joe James features heavily, alongside East London grime legends Crazy Titch, Devlin and Roachee. The eight-track EP takes its name from the train line which runs from Southend to London. Each cut represents a stop on the line and is sonically distinct from the next, yet the overarching aura of mellowness makes the journey from the coast to the city a smooth one. Of his sound’s development between the two projects, KwolleM has simply deepened his craft and his musical knowledge, and like the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Honestly, I’d say the formula is essentially the same,” he says. “All that’s developed is my technical abilities, which is to be expected. I would say that I’ve moved away from making remixes of old grime songs and now I’m trying to focus on original music.”

KwolleM’s skills on the buttons have landed him on the cover of Spotify’s Grime Shutdown playlist—a career highlight so far—and for someone who essentially does music for the love of it, he’s found himself performing in some lavish spaces. “I had a gig one time at Cambridge University with Rayf, Lancey Foux and Rico Mars, which was an absolute movie,” he says. “We had drinks with some International Arms Dealer, skanked in a silent disco and spent hours looking for my drunk manager, who we eventually found up on the shoulders of a partying student, fist-pumping to some house music.”

In between softening grime’s hard edge, KwolleM’s also reworked drill cuts by the likes of 67, K-Trap and Harlem Spartans (hearing the late Bis, Blanco and MizOrMac spray their bars over luxuriously textured grooves elevates “No Hook” to previously unimagined heights). It makes sense that a Mellow Drill project is next in line for KwolleM, and given the fact that the sound has blossomed into an all-conquering global one, his unique take could blast his career into the stratosphere.

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on January 12, 2021