The balance between assuredness and humility is naturally quite a difficult one to maintain, and Avelino’s rise over the past couple of years has been reflective of that struggle. Back in 2015, the Tottenham native released Young Fire, Old Flame, his collaborative mixtape with veteran rapper Wretch 32. It was somewhat of a message at the time – a signal that a bright spark was on the horizon.
Still only 28, there’s a level-headedness when we meet in East London that’s plain to see. There’s a composure that comes from spending time within the highest heights of the UK rap game – dreaming big but remaining realistic with his feet firmly on the ground. “I was chatting to my mate, who’s a producer and he’s been producing a long time. Obviously, we were just talking and he’s telling me he got his first proper cut – first song that’s gonna be used. And it was a mad hopeful conversation and obviously, man just made it clear to him, ‘you need to be ready for it to not go well’. Cos if it doesn’t go well, I still want you to be happy because this is what you signed up for. You signed up to be a pro – being in the business includes everything, not just the nice stuff”.
It appears as though this balance, the one between assuredness and humility, is one that’s played on Avelino’s mind before, and there’s an air of maturity when we speak about the current state of the music scene and his place within it. “Yeah it [the UK music scene] has changed a lot but I think what’s important is, to know your position within the scene and play it well, know what I mean? I don’t really like when I hear man make a certain type of music and then talk on other types like their ting is the only ting that is valid and can be good. It doesn’t make no sense. Imagine going shop and there’s one crep. It don’t make no sense. I got my role to play, I got my skillset and I’m here to do that, give that to world – cut out and leave a legacy”.
With Av’s consistent emphasis on wordplay, cadence, and other traditional rapping elements, it’d be easy for him to be sceptical of some of the music that’s currently gracing the scene. Instead, he’s refreshingly grateful of the part this music plays, in an ever-changing industry. “I think, the thing about every artist is, we all fill different spaces, you get me? We all fill different spaces man – as much as we need Kendrick, we need Future too, you get me? We need all these people, it’s all important. And listen, someone likes it! You know what I mean? It’s all valid, whether it’s made for TikTok or not, there’s people that enjoy it and that’s part of music, it’s adding to the world. I even think, whoever’s good at that stuff, keep doing it man, you’re giving people stuff to dance to and shit, that can’t be a bad thing!”.
Whilst the industry standard seems to always be shifting, Avelino’s work rate has stayed consistent, with the rapper having released project after project since that tape with Wretch seven years ago. Despite having released music prior to that, Young Fire, Old Flame, in some measure, was Av’s breakout moment. Before then, casual UK rap listeners would be forgiven for not having come across the then-21-year-old rapper from north London. But upon listening, his status was instantly elevated. The ability to spar back and forth with Wretch, an established and esteemed rapper within the scene, only cemented his place as a rising star within the UK rap scene. There’s a glint in his eye as we talk about whether or not he finds it difficult to consistently reach the bar he’s ultimately set for himself. “I’m not allowed to be average. I wouldn’t get away with half of the stuff that some of these people say in their songs… I just wouldn’t get away with it, especially lyrically, do you get what I’m trying to say? I think I’ve set the bar for myself. I was literally thinking this the other day like, do you know what’s mad? These man are living a good life where they can go studio and just say whatever! They’d tell me to leave the studio!”
The danger in recognising said bar is a potential limit in creativity – feeling like you’re unable to experiment and try new things, in fear of alienating fans. But Avelino assures us that’s not the case. “If anything, I can experiment more. Cos I’m capable, I can do more, do you know what I mean? I never feel limited – how can I feel limited when my job is literally to go studio and create something out of nothing? I always think about this you know – when you go studio, there’s just silence. There’s nothing. You’re literally making something out of nothing, it’s basically magic. To have that ability and feel limited, it kinda contradicts itself. I can do anything… I never feel limited man, and I love the thought of the challenge, creatively. And I get so inspired by other artists too, if they do something I’ve never thought of. There are no limits to my creativity man, I’ll never feel limited. AV da GOAT!”. The glint in his eye is the brightest it’s been when he says this, and again, he manages to toe the line between assuredness and humility with a refinement that only years of profound self-awareness can give you.
Walking around an estate in east London, there’s an ease about Avelino that’s evident. The high bar we speak of is acknowledged, but it’s also appreciated, and the calmness Av has about it is almost contagious. “With music, it’s what I’ve been put on this earth to do – whether I like it or not. It has nothing to do with money; I was making music consistently for nothing. It’s just who I am, do you get me?”. It’s natural for an excitedness to show its face when talking to a musician about music, and that’s met with Av’s naturally cool disposition. The result is a mostly chilled out conversation, with myself, Av and our photographer Jordan chopping it up about his new music and his journey within the industry. However, there’s a point in the conversation where the calm and collected Avelino becomes almost child-like, giddy with enthusiasm – and it’s when we speak about his first love: football. “I play football all the time – four times a week more time, in three different leagues. I need it. This week I’ve felt my body telling my slow down.” A rest period away from the sport is suggested as a temporary solution, but that’s quickly shut down. “Football is my first love man. Over anything, no debate – it’s not even close. The thing with music is, music is just who I am. There’s nothing much I can do about it”.
It doesn’t take long for the conversation to revert back to music however, and with that comes the subtle transition, from the childlike Avelino who realised a childhood dream by playing at Old Trafford in June for a charity game (“there was basically tears in my eyes”), to Av, the rapper who at the time of interview, was gearing up to release Ego Kills, his new EP. “I’m feeling good about it. It’s another chapter in my career, part of man’s journey. It’s good, it’s good. I’m doing what I’m here to do”.
The photoshoot and interview are conducted simultaneously, and there’s a comfort in Avelino’s approach to this. We speak about the whole process – from marketing to music production – and his thoughts and feelings towards the different stages. “I used to class this stuff as extra – the photoshoots and that. I used to feel like this stuff weren’t my thing. But it’s part of what you sign up for init? Like, don’t become professional then, if you’re not on it. It’s part of the job, part of what you do. People that support you, that like your music and that, they wanna see and hear you”.
It’s clear that not only is he familiar with the processes, he’s also appreciative of the people behind them, concurrently making clear reference to their expertise whilst also pointing out his pockets of knowledge. “I’m quite involved in the process. I used to make my own beats, so that’s helped my understanding of what the producer’s doing, and it helps my contributions. And it will never be by touching the buttons, cos that’s their talent. And I work with some really talented guys, that come with mad ideas that sometimes help guide the session, which I like. Sometimes they even make the beats around me, and as the beat’s being made, I’m coming up with lyrics and ideas. Cos at the end of the day, yeah I used to make beats but they’re the experts. You get me?… It’s like the other stuff [campaign roll-outs, videos, marketing]. I’m less involved in that. But less involved because I know who is involved and I trust them. Again, they’re the experts and you gotta know how and when to delegate. So I’m involved but I trust them man, they’re in charge, they’re the experts. The reason I stopped making beats is even cos I was surrounded by man that were better than me. I’m trying to be the best rapper in the world – so let me focus on that”.
Right at the end of the interview, as the cab is pulling up, Avelino, along with his manager, pulls out his phone hurriedly, in a bid to quickly show us a preview of his newest video, ‘Control’, featuring previous collaborator Not3s and South London’s Yungen. And it’s in that one moment that both the interview and the very nature of Avelino are summed up. A rapper, musically wise beyond his years, still showing an in-depth passion for the art that he’s been called to showcase.
Avelino’s Ego Kills is out now on all good digital vendors.