From running rampant in the early 2000s as a young grime MC, to making a stake as a rapper in the wider canon of hip-hop from the Isle of Dogs, Baba Crunch is a young OG with an extensive relationship with music. His brand of music narrows the proximity between hip-hop and R&B music, boasting classic samples cultivated by a rich palette of genres, nostalgia and motion pictures. His contribution to the music game doesn’t end there as Crunch returns with a newfound resolve. We go down memory lane and discuss his transition and reflect on his transition as a solo artist.
“I said I wasn’t riding but came along for the ride, the thought never crossed my mind that they was trying to take his life”, Crunch raps on ‘Lucky Life’. The atmosphere is dry and grey clouds cast a gloomy spell on an estate in Isle of Dogs, where Crunch and I are sat. The place in which he was raised nearly swallowed him whole in a series of unfortunate events. Japanese folklore states that all humans have three faces – the face we show to the world; the face we show our kin; the face which we hide from everyone. The latter is our supposedly our most authentic self, so that prompts the question, who is Baba Crunch? “It takes a while for me to open up. Baba Crunch is the gateway, he’s the intermediary between the audience and rapper.” The Isle of Dogs was once his home, and he credits the area for playing an important role in shaping his identity. His first coming in the music industry was as a member of Bomb Squad where he made grime music during the Channel U era. ‘B.O.M.B’ is a statement song and visual by the E14 faction which features a young Crunch defying gravity with his baseball cap. His coming-of-age found him partner with Skeps Swarve to establish PBGR — Play Broke Get Rich —which served as their group name and ethos. This time around, Crunch returns to the music as a solo artist with VOLTS (Vibes of Life Through Sound), his debut project.
No group backing. No creative partnership. It’s strictly Baba Crunch, his pen, and the melodies responsible for the seven tracks you’ll hear on his project. Each song slots into a rolodex revealing the many layers of his sound. On some tracks (‘Fuck Up the Block’) listeners are introduced to a rapper whose ego is bigger than a rapper’s diamond encrusted chain. His words flare out like bullets out of a semi-automatic gun, and, on other songs, he compiles gripping hooks which offer a glimpse into his lover-boy persona (‘Half-Stepping’). We reconvene in the middle of the estate after the photoshoot with photographer Kobby. Baba Crunch dons an autumnal fit, stone-coloured Jordans that match the renaissance style painting stitched into the fabrics of his sweater. I can’t pin the material (possibly cashmere?) but it surely looks like a one-of-one piece. We naturally discuss music where Crunch reveals his current rotation features the likes of Nas and Cormega. “I like lyrics so naturally hip-hop is my main thing,” he says, slipping into a brief monologue. “What are you actually saying? How do you deliver it? Will this make me stop and think?” Having listened to Crunch’s music it’s clear to see there’s a clear standard which he extends to himself. “It’s very hard to let go and just vibe because of the kind of artist that I am. It is an expectation that I’ve put on myself, at the same time, people have these expectations of me.”
“What are you actually saying? How do you deliver it? Will this make me stop and think?”
Crunch knows what he offers as a music artist, however, he admits that he’s yet to find his sound. PBGR went on a steady run with three back-to-back projects in their stable, Black Market being their defining project. The album enthralled listeners with their variation of hip-hop where they merge street raps with sultry R&B tropes inspired by their affinity to the 90’s era. It has been four years since their last release, and in that period Crunch has picked up from where he left with PBGR. The music business wreaks havoc on music groups, to name a few — New Edition, Lucy Pearl, and even the brotherly bond of Oasis. The cause of separation: death, jealousy or creative differences. Crunch maintains that his relationship with Skeps is in a good place, and whether they’ll reconnect is up in the air. “I think my main goal was to showcase that I am capable of doing this alone” he says, speaking earnestly of his intention with VOLTS. In person he emits a smooth, quiet confidence which could be mistaken for being blasé. He continues, “when you’ve been in a group that’s all people can see, they can’t see past it.” The side effects of going solo meant that the safety net was no longer there for him. Crunch is finally behind the driving seat and as one would expect it’s a whole new experience.
I recollect reading an old Miles Davis quote which was circled in a book which states: Man, sometimes it take you a long time to sound like yourself. The bane of human existence is the endless pursuit for knowledge of self. Every day we stumble upon new knowledge that contradicts our belief, and the process continues. “[Music] is a gift and curse,” he states. “It’s that friend you give so much to but you don’t receive anything back.” Crunch takes a break between his answer and it seems like my question has dug up some old memories. He continues, “I get those feelings sometimes, but I love it though. I can’t stop going back.” The Isle of Dogs is a u-shaped island located in the borough of Tower Hamlets, its existence is an oxymoron. The term ‘missing middle’ describes the borough’s low proportion of median earners which pales in comparison to the rest of London. Excessive riches and disproportionate levels of poverty means that living in the Isle of Dogs feels like the midpoint between heaven and hell. On the right are the piercing towers where million pound deals are closed, and, on the left, the stained slabs of concrete that house working-class locals. Quite the contrast.
The allure of living beside Canary Wharf wore off immediately once Crunch discovered that it was all smoke and mirrors. He recalls hearing excitement in the voices of friends enamoured by his proximity to the central business district. “The Isle of Dogs taught me about classism early on in my life. You see a million pound house in Canary Wharf but when you look deeper you’ll see council flats in the same space. Everything isn’t what it seems.” However, Crunch’s eyes opened once he saw the same olders from his community move on to become homeowners in Canary Wharf. This offered up a new possibility and hope that thawed despair imposed by inequality. Growing up in the Isle of Dogs came with its own set of challenges and pressures fuelled by money, violence and instant gratification. The way rappers speak about their hood is eloquent, but blackness isn’t monolithic. It doesn’t take a keen ear to draw parallels between the narratives spewed on rap songs which happens to be a reality for many youth. “You don’t come to the [Isle of] Dogs unless you’ve got family or some sort of business here,” says Crunch. Linking up with Bomb Squad alumni Hak Baker, Crunch takes up the mantle of a storyteller in ‘Lucky Life’. The duo reminisce on growing up on the island and surviving the horrors witnessed in their neighbourhood. “It’s crazy because some of our friends are in jail and others are dead.”
‘Lucky Life’ evokes a similar feeling echoed on C.L Smooth and Pete Rock’s hip-hop classic ‘They Reminisce Over You’, but the texture is much darker. Elongated keys subdue the production with a sullen melody as Crunch spits harsh truths. “They say our pride will kill us quicker than our rivals,” Crunch states on his track. He alludes to a moment in time where could have lost it all. “I said I wasn’t riding but came along for the ride, the thought never crossed my mind they was trying to take his…” His words are censored before he can go any further. A tight-lipped Crunch offers a reserved response when I probe him further on that particular line. “I’m going on a glide and, I end up seeing someone near enough dead. I’m thinking, ‘fucking hell. How the hell did I get here?’”
Hindsight is potent because everything is viewed from a vantage point far away from the issue. There is an element of survivor’s guilt in his story because unlike his peers Crunch was given the luxury of another chance. It is probably the fuel behind his newfound resolve. I’m talking to a much older and wiser Baba Crunch and we gaze into the future. It’s impossible to know what has been preordained but ever Crunch’s new lease of life is limitless. The future for Crunch includes releasing more singles and remaining focussed on his goal as a music artist. “I want to break all social barriers [with] my music and use it to bring all sorts of people together. I’m starting to make the music that can do that. It’s a goal I’m going to achieve very soon.”
Baba Crunch follows up VOLTS with a brand new project, Eminence EP available for streaming on multiple streaming platforms.