Photos by Ashley Verse.
“To be honest, I’ve tried to write things down on paper before but it feels like I’m snitching on myself,” South-London’s Suspect explains. The up and coming MC is currently on tour supporting UK rap giant Giggs, and over the phone, breaks down his approach to writing. “I don’t need a pen. I don’t write anything down. I get in there with Flyo (Suspect’s dedicated producer), he’ll start making a beat, I’ll get inspired by that beat, and we make a banger from nothing… “
It’s this method that means Suspect ends up committing all of his rhymes to memory so that he can play them live rather than write anything down on paper. “The first time I’ll see my lyrics written down is when a fan has them online… Bare times they get it wrong but still, it’s cool.”
Though most MCs can make rhymes up on the spot, their spontaneous verses don’t usually result in hooky singles that mean guys like Frank Ocean stop and take notice. Last year, Ocean chose Suspect’s slow, low-end banger ‘FBG’ to be on his Grand Theft Auto radio station playlist, which was somewhat of a dream come true for Suspect, as he explains, “To say I was surprised is an understatement. Frank Ocean doing that is obviously crazy. And GTA is a huge part of my childhood, my cousin used to copy the games for me on CD.”
“The party gives me life man, and you know when you’re making music it’s a party anyway”
Suspect’s off-the-cuff approach to writing seems to be working across the board. Over the past year his notoriety has grown tenfold, both due to him dropping his heavy debut mixtape Loading as well as releasing several singles, with features from the likes of Skepta and Giggs. His output shows no signs of stopping either, with a second full-length mixtape Still Loading dropping later this month.
A non-stop attitude is part of the environment Suspect finds himself working in, as he elaborates: “I’m around people like Giggs that work crazy. I’d be stupid not to be absorbing what I see and learn from it.” It’s a lesson he seems to be putting into practice almost immediately as even the day before we speak he had laid down a new verse in a studio in Germany, which he later released as the heavy track ‘Tour Bus’.
This is fairly impressive given that the single and video were written and completed in just under two days but this sort of output seems to come almost as second nature to Suspect. “Rapping is something that everyone always knew I could do, I can’t even say that there was a starting point, I was just known for it.”
UK rap and UK drill are genres that have been thrust into the mainstream over the last few years due to artists like Giggs, Section Boyz, 67 and more recently Harlem Spartans (who also feature on Suspect’s Loading mixtape). With this increase in interest has also come an increase in concern for the ultra-violent lyrical content of the genres, in which, some claim, murder and gang violence are glorified. Articles have been published in numbers claiming that in fact the rise in popularity of these genres, are what’s behind the latest surge in London murders this year. Suspect’s take on it is somewhat more considered however: “Groups like Harlem Spartans, it’s a culture they’re reporting on, not starting. And in my lyrics I wouldn’t say I’m promoting it, but I’ve come from a certain background.”
He agrees that the problem is a systematic failing rather than the result of youths spontaneously deciding to act out lyrics, but adds that he doesn’t think it is the task of the MC to tell anyone what to do: “If you’re in an environment where you are being hunted, how can I tell you to put down your weapon? I just can’t do that.”
Though Suspect is from the kind of environment that is often the subject matter in UK rap, he says that it’s a life that is firmly in the past: “It’s where I come from so I have to keep it real but I have people that look up to me now, I’m in a new space.”
For now, he is looking forward to playing more shows with his producer Flyo. “He’s taking DJ lessons at the moment, so I think he’ll come on tour with me next time.” Being on tour with Giggs is something that seems to have been quite a learning curve for Suspect. “Just seeing a whole room of people sing back your songs, and English isn’t even their first language, it’s crazy.” This, plus the perks of the lifestyle from having ‘loads of liquor’ on the rider to the catering on Gigg’s tour bus (See Giggs’ Instagram post on chicken stew and dumplings as an example).
Given the often hectic lifestyle of being on tour, does Suspect not worry the party might get in the way of his hunger for productivity? He demurs: “The party gives me life man, and you know when you’re making music it’s a party anyway. I get the thrill of seeing people react to what I’ve done.” Given his current rate of getting things done, Suspect can expect to see a lot more reactions this year.