My Uber drops me off in front of Chicken Hut in East Ham, it’s the ends characterised more as the birthplace of Grime, Kano, Newham Generals than any other scene. I’m about to go meet a group of men whose authenticity and squad goals are bringing more life and light to a rising new sound in London. Belly Squad’s sure fire rapid rise in 2016 has ensured they’re firmly positioned to stand out on the frontline in 2017.
First up, through the doors enters Ross, wrapped in a knee length bomber jacket, black Air Force Ones and a beanie. After we get through introductions, we sit and bond over hot chocolate while waiting for the other two. Ross is reserved, observant to the fact that he is the only one here; stepping outside to make a call he tells us that Ty and Young Max are 10 mins out. Meanwhile we sit back and watch Albanian rap music videos, debating whether we could get that channel on our TV screens. In mid laughter, enters Ty in aluminous grey jacket, white Air Max’s and a very slick fade. We go through introductions, again, pick a booth and then order four chicken wings and chips with the exception of Ty who orders a chicken burger.
Before I get a chance to set play on record, in come their friends, some of whom they went to school and they start exchanging jokes before Young Max turns around asking them to chill for a minute. One of his boys turns round laughing saying to Young Max “ah so mana doing two to interviews now yeah, say nuttin”. The room bursts with laughter and we keep going.
That’s the life on the come up in the manor for Belly Squad. When I ask Young Max what inspired the name, he tells me he came up with it at school; “It means like hungry for success, the term belly in the ends means you want to hit the belly, you’ve got some money, you wanna do your thing, that’s what everybody wants to do really in the ends, so we just ran with it”. Young Max now 18 years old and in college studying media, was once at Langdon, primary school, the same school attended by Kano and group member Ty.
Deep into the marrow of our chicken wings, I ask the guys why we’re here in a chicken shop for this interview, “Because it’s home, it’s where we made friends, it’s our social hangout back when we were in school, which is just round the corner from here.” Growing up in East London for Young Max and Ty, not surprisingly Grime was the main influence and inspiration behind their music. Young Max explains how Kano used to come by their school assembly and talk to them, which only inspired him even more. Although Ross grew up in South East London and went to school in Blackheath, he always found himself outside Chicken Hutt with Ty, also his cousin, and Young Max.
What we are trying to do, what we are saying in our message via our group name, is to chase your dreams and fill your belly no matter what capacity it may be in.
I got the sense that Belly Squad are tattooed to their community, every customer who enters the chicken shop is familiar with them. They’re polite, reminiscing and bussing a couple jokes all through the interview and when school is over, you can really see the effect they have within their community. They are hot in their ends, known and being recognised for them is an exceptional feeling, “What we are trying to do, what we are saying in our message via our group name is to chase your dreams and fill your belly no matter what capacity it may be in, as for us we are just trying to spread good vibes along the way.” Ross tells me about the need to encourage those kids that run up to them and it’s why they continue doing music. Ross who went to university for just under a year and saw his musical ambitions transpiring into something meaningful, wanted to pursue it more. Once he saw progression taking place he decided to take music seriously.
Coming from a musical home where music was almost the second language – Ty tells me “I was always in the school studio during lunch time and any other time I had spare time and at home, it was the same,” His cousin Ross whose father believed in him so much, built them a home studio, the same studio ‘Banana’ was recorded in. When I asked how his family felt about his decision to divert his journey he tells me that both him and Ty’s parents were supportive, even though Ty enrolled at university and finished college, music just drew him closer. “We all came together and we decided to make music ourselves and basically express what were doing on a day to day basis, there’s so many influences but I think like we influence ourselves, what we see around us.”
With the music scene as it is right now, creating new sounds, setting new trends and finally getting well deserved attention – Belly Squad tell me that they bring a different vibe. Despite being seen as similar to several artist who are also tipped to be great successes like Mo Stacks, Kojo Funds, and J Hus, their perspective is they make a global sound. They also rock any beat, whether it be straight Rap, Grime or Afro-Swing a term defined by Kojo Funds as the ability to cross genres in one song and Afrobeat is the foundation of that song.
Belly Squad first came on the scene with a video on Flawless Media called ‘Trustworthy’ after receiving much attention, they dropped their remix of Stormzy’s ‘Not That Deep’ on Linkup TV. This was when “things started to progress for us, then when we dropped ‘Deja Vu’ and when it got that reception we knew we were on the right track.”
What really got people talking was their ‘Banana’ remix feature Abra Cadbra, Bugsey, Timbo, Young T and the late Showkey. A sombre forcefield descends on us with the mention of Showkey “yeah that was mad still” as Max refers to Showkey’s untimely and tragic death. Depicting the story of how they first met, you can sense a real sadness from Ross –“RIP Showkey, we had a barbeque in the summer and he came down to support us so that was basically the first time we were all meeting. He told us that what we were doing was hard and that he liked the freestyles, when we met him. We’re the type that if we know someone is talented, we make sure we say it and give them a sort of boost. We told him at the barbeque that we liked what he was doing too, so after that literally we just did the remix. Hearing the news, I was on ends when I heard it with Max. Obviously those types of lifestyle some people are living it and it’s not because they’ve chosen to. It just so happens that’s what they were brought into due to the circumstances of what’s going on around them and some people fall into that lifestyle.” I asked them why they didn’t fall into that specific lifestyle, Ty tells me music got in the way. Fortunately for them it’s working out.
Still up in the ends to quote Section Boyz, Belly Squad are joined one by one with more friends, huddling besides them in the corner talking amongst themselves. A car drives past and the driver recognises them and we hear a female voice shout out from her car window in pure admiration for the boys whom they call auntie. She bursts out in stories about them in school and tells me in no uncertain terms that they’re set for something great.
A future producer, Ross admits that it’s one skill he wants to learn more about, “I spend a lot of time listening to beats so I want to learn to produce something one day. Currently I feel like I can see that I can achieve it because I am living it. Right now it transcends more than success for us, it’s encouraging young people to follow their dreams so I definitely want to learn to produce” As a group if they weren’t a group, Ross would be alongside his brother playing football, Ty would be working with computers and has a keen interests in technology but Max would be involved in music behind the scenes whilst finishing his studies.
For us the Rated Awards is where we are most appreciated and recognised, so for us that would be sick
Not giving anything away from their upcoming EP which comes out in February, Belly Squad have a very special 2017 planned. Its the perfect introduction to who they are and their new sound –“We have some interesting things lined up, you guys are going to hear some really good music, it’s going to be a good year of progression”. Ross intervenes, “A nomination for a MOBO or Rated Award would be sick, for us the Rated Awards is where we are most appreciated and recognised so for us that would be sick. We actually got the chance to sit down with Posty from GRM Daily, he’s been a great example for us, you know taking time to really sit down with us and educate us on some vital things, so yeah shout out Posty.”
My final question leads to who they are as a group, Ty shies away from saying who they are but quickly comes into his own and tells me that they have a secret language amongst themselves and their boys. They start schooling me on the word “fresh”, the different conations to it – so for example if you see something that’s wrong, then “that’s fresh,” if you see someone doing something dodgy “that’s fresh” also. The word “tarn”… taken from tarnish, meaning if someone were to spill something on you then that’s tarn.
As me for, the language to describe Belly Squad I’d use would be cheeky, philosophical, leaders with sniper like tendencies. They’ve taken the scene by storm and unknowingly so far they’re proving to be the true definition of DIY artists.