Bemz is a Nigerian-born Ayrshire artist who recently broke into the forefront of Scotland’s rap scene. His EP Saint of Lost Causes has recently been longlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award, he has released new EP M4, and he’s just played a sold-out headline show at Glasgow’s Poetry Club.
SNACK caught up with Bemz to discuss the Scottish hip hop scene, his career, the trials and tribulations of bringing up a child as a full-time musician, and more.
Bemz, you have recently come into the spotlight as one of the most exciting names in Scottish hip hop. Why do you think people resonate with you so much?
Bro, God’s honest truth…I don’t know. I did what I had to do, focused on my music, had a daughter, set a goal for myself and did it. You barely even see me in social settings: it’s all thanks to God, because there’s no answer that I could give to explain that.
Can you tell me more about your religious side?
I’m a Christian; it’s a very big part of my life. I grew up very religious, but I fell away from religion for a while. From when I moved out of my auntie’s house at 18 until I was about 24 – that’s when I found God again. A lot of it was through the help of my older sister. I don’t believe in churches, I don’t go to church, but I pray to God and stuff like that. Ever since I started leaving everything to God’s hands, everything just started falling into place.
You’ve been making and releasing music for a long time now. What are your first memories of picking up the mic?
Rapping – I always did that with my older brother Jerry, may he rest in peace. It was just for banter back then, dropping stupid bars, having a laugh.
When and why did you start taking rapping seriously?
From when I was 16 I knew I wanted to do music. The only Higher I got in school was music, so I always knew I wanted to do something creative. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out exactly what I wanted. The one moment that made me fully commit to music was when I found out I was gonna be a dad.
What were your first impressions of the Scottish rap scene upon entering it and getting to know people?
That’s a funny question. I don’t think people will like my answer, but you know what, I don’t care. The first people I knew rapping in Scotland were your old school donnies, Madhat McGore, Loki, etc. For me, rapping in Scotland seemed like a white man’s game. I grew up in Stranraer, predominantly white; I moved to Ayr, predominantly white. The first Black person I knew about doing music was Kobi Onyame.
To be honest, my first introduction to the scene was not nice. I was sending out tunes and people were leaving me on read. Prior to me releasing a track with [Glasgow-based rapper] Paque, no one supported me. People were surprised when they first heard of me: they were like, ‘people in Ayr make music?!’ I was like, ‘yeah!’ Coming out from Ayr into Glasgow, I felt like the scene was washed. I was like ‘fuck the scene’.
When I came to Glasgow, I worked hard to get to this point… and I felt like there’s f*ck all here. I’m watching people beef each other saying ‘I’m the king of this, king of that’. Bro, king of what? I’m not part of the Glasgow scene, I’m an Ayrshire rapper based in Glasgow.
How do you view the future of the scene?
The scene is still in its infancy, and people need to realise that. We need people who have integrity and want to leave a legacy. People need to work together if this is ever going to work.
Your new EP, M4. How does this compare stylistically to Saint of Lost Causes?
I feel more confident this time round. I believe in myself as an artist more. This translates into the sound.
You’ve been put on the longlist for the Scottish Album of the Year Awards. How did this make you feel?
See when the email came through, that out of 327 albums I had got to the last 20, my first thought was ‘it’s only the last 20, I ain’t done shit yet.’ My team had to convince me of the magnitude of this, and now I’m starting to feel happy.
You supported indie band The Snuts in a sold-out Barrowlands gig. Do you see more crossovers happening between hip hop and other genres in Scotland?
Why not? People need to get out of their comfort zone. I did the song ‘26’; it’s a bit of a housey tune. Tenement TV paired up artists of different genres to make songs. My guy made electronic and house music, we put our skills together and made a banger. Supporting The Snuts is performing in front of 800 indie kids who could potentially boo me off as I’m coming from a completely different genre. But I’m ready for it and I want to grab the opportunity.
You also host a show on Radio Buena Vida – is this something you want to do more?
Hell yeah. I’m not even a DJ really, bro. It’s just so fun, now that rapping has become more of a job. Radio DJing has become like a fun hobby. I love it.
What do you think you’d be doing in life had you not chosen music?
I’d be an English teacher.
How do you manage bringing up a daughter while embarking on a music career?
Every single bit of money I spend on music takes away from my daughter’s mouth. Do you know how hard a conflict that is? Do I continue making music, or give my daughter everything that I have? I have to make this worth it. I want to get to a point where I can give her everything. I want to say to her, ‘Look, I accomplished this’. But it’s hard; I suffer with anxiety, I suffer with depression, but it doesn’t matter. Shit still needs to get done.
How do you make a living outside of music?
I work full time in Size, selling trainers.
Your work rate seems very fast. How do you manage to stay creative, and what are you doing when you write at your best?
It comes randomly. A lot of my lyrics come when I’m in the shower, actually. I never force creativity. A couple weeks ago I was self-isolating for 20 days. Two of those days I wrote 6 songs, the other 18 I did fuck all. It just happens when it happens.
What are your goals and aspirations going forward?
With music, I just want to keep pushing the boundaries, see how far I can take it.
Personally, I’m just trying to make it out the hood. I’m just trying to make sure my daughter doesn’t have to worry about nothing. My long-term goal is to bring something to Scotland that benefits everybody. It’s all in God’s hands.