When you’re preparing to speak to a highly skilled rapper, known for mind-blowing wordplay, you know that you’re in for a good conversation. As soon as I speak my first words with Avelino he is the same charismatic, laid-back, and intelligent person as he is in his lyrics.
A prominent name in UK Rap after co-signs from BBC Radio 1 DJ Semtex, Tinie Tempah, and one of the kings of lyricism himself; Wretch 32, Avelino has spent three years of releasing mixtapes’ from ‘Underdog Music’ to ‘Iconic Ambition’ and the recent joint mixtape with Wretch himself ‘Young Fire Old Flame’. He has recently taken his unorthodox approach to music one step further with the release of his debut EP ‘FYO’ which was executive produced by Odd Child’s Raf Riley.
“It’s mood driven,” he says of his unique style. “I go by how I feel at the time and I hope that reflects in the music. Very experimental, without deviating from myself. Original, I like to be the best version of me at that time.” Perhaps this is because he spent his time in the studio, refining his skills, or due to the fact he is respectful of other artists taking time to analyse them, “I watch the behavior of people I look up to. The one mistake people might make is thinking you know it all, we don’t, you can always feed off others. Pick up things, learn things, add something to your game.“
Beginning his career with a slew of freestyles, he dropped his second mixtape ‘Iconic Ambition’ in 2013. “It was a humble mixtape. We did it on minimal resources, me and my mates,” he says. “Still, with the title and with what we tried to do with the songs kind of indicated what we were reaching for.” His ‘Young Fire Old Flame,’ mixtape with Wretch 32, released at the end of last year, was a definite step forward. “It was a mixtape with one of the icons,” he reflects. “One of the people I look up to and idolize, and we actually worked together to make a mixtape which was almost like completing part of the checklist and an amazing feat for me personally.”
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The pair dropped a now legendary freestyle on Charlie Sloth’s ‘Fire In The Booth’ which demonstrates Avelino keeping up with his idol, both artists complimenting each other in an effortlessly natural way.
“When you hear someone speak with as much excellence as Wretch 32, you know whatever you record has to be your best moment at that time, because if not it’s going to be evident,” admits Avelino. “I don’t feel there were challenges. Now that’s not saying it was easy to work with Wretch 32, because he’s maybe the greatest lyricist we’ve ever had in the country.” Avelino definitely held his own and in the words of Stormzy “Can we take a minute to pay homage to Avelino for lyrically keeping up with Wretch 32.”
He has become known as a master of lyricism, especially with regards to his wordplay. It can be quite intense, but he has crafted his lyrics with such finesse that you can only admire the end result. “There can never be too much focus on wordplay and lyricism because that is what rap is all about,” he says. “Rap is an art form where you are directly speaking to someone. You want them to replay the tune, to listen to something that they didn’t catch. For me it adds to the excitement and the enjoyment and the appreciation. It’s why I take care of every single line that I think of.” This is apparent when listening to his music, the complexity of his lyrics demand rewinds and repetition to absorb, and yet his flow and production choices keep this from ever becoming a chore.
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Keep striving, keep working, keep trying to get better...
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From his work with Wretch, to signing with MMR (More Money Records), working closely with Labrinth and his Odd Child label, it’s clear that Avelino has nestled himself with like-minded artists, feeling at home with them, “They are creative people and I always try and take away as much as I can from them. Labrinth is one of the greatest musicians I’ve seen with my own two eyes, he’s phenomenal. He’ll go through like five songs in an hour and slap out numerous ideas, leaving you trying to keep up with him. You don’t know how to tell him slow down, because I’m not keeping up with that. You always try and incorporate certain things you’ve heard from him, or certain things he’s tried, certain principles he has, certain techniques he might use.“
For his debut EP ‘FYO (Fuck Your Opinion)’ it is really a time for the Young Fire to shine, “It’s my moment to really introduce myself, and to impose myself into the area that I’m going to be in for as long as possible which is rap,” he states. He delivers his easily recognisable laid-back flow with quick clever bars in a style that has become highly definitive. When asked about his approach to his signature style he offers, “The only thought process I had before making it was consciously choosing to work so closely with Raf Riley on it. I knew he was quite left and I was quite maybe in a different place but we met in the beautiful middle and the product was almost like a hybrid alternative but still hip-hop, it was still me.”
As grime continues to thrive, not only in the UK but extending worldwide, it can sometimes feel like UK rap doesn’t get the credit it deserves in the shadow of it’s 140bpm brother, yet this isn’t something that phases the young North Londoner. “They are two different art forms and we shouldn’t be competing with grime. Let them win. Rap can win as well. I don’t want to do that whole, is that getting more recognition and how does that make rap feel, let them win and we can win as well, everyone can eat. There is enough for everyone. As long as we never get ahead of ourselves and know that there is more to be done. Keep striving, keep working, keep trying to get better, keep trying to expand and we’ll be cool. We’ll be massive, UK will get more and more love.“
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Words: Shireen Fenner