31 Dec Interview: Margs explains Mashtown’s name brand impact and why you shouldn’t sleep on his comeback
Streaming services are great at what they do; keeping you looped in with the latest music in the most convenient and cost-effective manner. For all their brilliance, they fail to account for the treasure trove worth of earlier UK rap that existed only CDs, DVDs, memory cards that fit into Sony Ericsson’s and later, YouTube.
You know, timeless classics that have no business leaving your iTunes library now, or in any year. If services like Spotify and Apple Music were as prominent as they are now, 10 years ago, Margs would be one of the names you see popping up in all the playlists.
A member of East London rap collective, Mashtown, Margs, is rapper whose music has an energetic, punchy and raw edge to it. Bars that make you scrunch up your face and make silly noises to yourself after listening. A delivery that’s is littered with a sense of realness that packs a mean punch. Put simply, Margs can really rap, and has already earnt his stripes.
But that was in a different era, an era where word of mouth promotion trumped the internet. YouTube comments weren’t the go-to place for rap commentary, real life was. When it came to street rap, name brands meant far more. Technically speaking, nowadays, you could fabricate any image online and if it sounds good, there’s a chance it sticks. Back then, if you made claims in your music that weren’t true, you’d quickly be pulled up on it. Mashtown didn’t seem to have that problem:
“You couldn’t fake it until you make it. You say something and people will interrogate you. If you’re saying certain things and making certain claims, people wanna see these things, they wanna be able to prove it, they wanna check your rap sheet. They wanna know. You can’t just be anybody and come out. For me personally, it depends on what the person is talking about. If someone is talking crud and bare greaze but they’re not about that life, I wouldn’t want to listen to it, because music can be very powerful. If they’re not going through stuff I’m going through, I’m not gonna relate to them.
“With us lot, it might seem like we’re glorying certain things, and obviously rap’s about that, the bravado and what not, but we’re not glorying anything, I’m telling you how we live. If I didn’t live it and didn’t go through it, I wouldn’t be able to say this stuff. It depends on what the message is. People chat shit about Rick Ross for being a prison officer and how he doesn’t represent anything we stand for, but at the end of the day, this guys got bangers on bangers on bangers. Even the ones that don’t rate Rick Ross, if you’re in the club and you’re drinking and the right Rick Ross song comes on, it’s over. So does it really matter? Everyone likes to have an opinion but no-one don’t stand for nothing nowadays.”
Rap groups like SN1, PDC and Mashtown, besides boasting talented lyricists, carried that name brand punch. Growing up, you knew they were about what they rapped, and as such, people warmed to their music more. As such, Mashtown established themselves as one of the UK’s first big rap collectives pushing street music through a mix of good music and minimal fabrication:
“Flippin hell, man. Mashtown was a movement. It was legendary. Back in the day, man from the road weren’t really rapping. There was only a few people doing it. The ones that were doing it were people like Rodney P, Skinnyman, Roots Manuva, those kinda guys. Man that were in the streets, weren’t really doing it like that. The world was a different place then. There wasn’t no internet or any of that, we were like the first generation.
“We didn’t copy no one. We came up with our own style and own way to rap. We didn’t want to sound American. So when we done that and it hit the streets, everyone just received it and liked it. It was dope. I don’t know how much people knew me in South or West or North, but in East London, we were massive. There’s bare people that grew up listening to man. It was big though man, it was different. We were just moving CDs, buzzing on radio, it was all before the internet and all that. it was mad, man.”
Urban music in the UK is now at a point where new releases are consistently racking up crazy numbers online, being added to streaming playlists and demanding write-ups from many publications. But how do you build your buzz as a UK rapper, once viewed as a niche genre with a low ceiling, without that online-driven infrastructure in place? Because when Margs said “right now I’m so major/ they bump me up and down the country/ with no major” in ‘I’m Ready’, he wasn’t lying, and that was 2010:
“You see with us, we never had a process. Nobody showed us how to do it. There wasn’t an industry. Now, there’s an industry and a formula to follow but with us, we never had that. We went to the studio, made our CDs, they probably weren’t even mixed down, but we put them out on the streets and people just supported them. We’d buy the CDs, print them out then man from the hood what could, take 20, take 30, buy them and sell them to their people, put them in record shops, sell them out of cars boots. Just literally word of mouth. Nobody had done it before.
“There were a few rap crews that get an honourable mention, like PDC in south, us man over here, some of them North yutes were doing their ting. But we [Mashtown] are among the first road man to do this ting. So guys that were actually in the estates, on the road, they’d look at us and say ‘that’s him, that’s that person, we know these guys’. It was just organic. People were just talking about us and it was spreading and spreading.”
Mashtown have definitely played their part in growing UK rap. Growing up, the likes of Margs and Joe Black put in countless hours during an era where said music may not have got the full respect it deserves. Creators of this music often feel their work is overlooked and forgotten about it, as if the scene just grew by itself with no important contributions from earlier members. With that in mind, I asked Margs to explain who he feels are the pioneers of UK rap.
“The original ones, that really helped it grew are obviously us lot, Mashtown, then the PDC boys, even SN1 and Giggs n that. For me I learnt about them later, it was a later era. I was doing my ting before I heard about them, but the graft that they put in, and if you talk to guys from South, they were doing their thing around that time. Maybe I just wasn’t aware of it. So them lot, Yung Meth, [Youngs] Teflon, Blade Brown, there was a few of us that’s always been there from the beginning, from jump street, the core, original man. Them Northstar yutes n that, Joe Black, he’s from Mashtown. That’s my brother, I went school with him n all that, so big up him. Joe Black is definitely one of the founding fathers.
“Tempman, all that lot, Jaja Soze, Cerose. There’s a few of them. Anybody I’ve forgot, I’m sorry. It’s weird because some guys came around a bit later, but even though they came around a bit later, their impact was still big. Like Koke, bare others that came later but with a massive impact. But when we were first doing our thing, I can’t think of anyone that was worth mentioning. Some of them North yutes that man had issues with were doing their thing, the PDC yutes and us lot. That’s it. Then everyone else came after. Maybe they were doing their thing, but not everybody was aware of them. The people I mentioned had big buzzes.”
Street rappers are often caught in two world’s. There’s the music and then there’s everything else, and all that other stuff can often cause artists to take breaks in their music. After creating a big buzz for himself, Margs somewhat disappeared for a few years. Why was that?
“The break in the music was due to all kinds of stuff. You know us man are known on the roads. Mashtown has got a bad stigma. Just been getting held back, nuff. We’re not the only ones that have been getting held back, but for some reason, they always want to treat our ting differently. They wanna move like it’s more real or more raw than everybody else. We don’t get treated the same way.”
I asked Margs who he is referring to when he says Mashtown get treated differently. Who treats them differently, and why?
“Police, industry heads, my peers, these other rappers. It’s the same shit. We’re all from the roads, we all do the same thing, but I don’t get invited to these places, or spoke about in the same light as these people. They move like man don’t exist. If you ask who do you think’s hot, they’re not gonna say us, but they know they grew up to us. Everybody knows us, but if you ask someone in the public eye who did you listen to growing up, you think they’re gonna say my name? People don’t understand, I got strong ties with most of the industry.
“I know all of them. If you see me out with these people, you’d think they love me, but in pubic, they’re not speaking about me. It was politics, and even for me, going through certain things on the road n that derailed man and slowed man down. Getting shot and what not, life is dangerous. Obviously, I’m getting bate, I’m in the public eye, but if the juice aint worth the squeeze, then sometimes it’s long. So maybe I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel at a point, and man fell back. One thing lead to another and before I knew it, I hadn’t released music for like 3 or 4 years.”
Margs’ return has seen him grace a few festival stages and put out a fair few solo releases. So does this mean he’s back now?
“I’m back like I never left. I feel like I’ve got a point to prove. Like I said, man love moving like I don’t exist. People try to call me lazy or inconsistent, but I don’t think I’m inconsistent. Man’s one of the founding fathers of the ting, so when it mattered and when it was the time to do my ting, I was putting shit out, I was a mainstay. At one point, I was number one or two in the country. If it weren’t me it was Giggs. I’ve put my work in, done features, put out tapes, bare freestyles. Everybody knows what I’m capable of, I just haven’t had that opportunity to go to the next level. I’ve seen other people do exactly the same things I’ve done, and get deals and stuff, so I don’t know. But at the same time, I got nobody else to blame other than myself. If I didn’t stop, I would definitely be bigger than I am now. You can’t cry over spilt milk, you just gotta keep going.”
Margs is frank in his description of how himself and his rap peers are viewed, but it’s not all doom and gloom, with support coming from one of the most influential acts to rap at any tempo in UK history, Wiley.
The grime legend has helped so many careers, that if you removed all his music releases from the equation, he’d still have a stacked music resume. He could probably walk into most labels and secure a top A&R job, and one of such recognition of talent came when Eskiboy opted to make Margs his first signing to his label, CTA Records.
“Wiley’s my brudda. Me and Wiley have been working together since back in day, like 08 or 09 times, and he had the A-List collective, I was making music with them and that. Since we hooked up, musically, obviously he’s from East London as well, so I grew up listening to him and he’s one of my favourite MCs. Even from when I wasn’t making music, I’ve always kept in touch with him. He’s my bredrin, we got a good relationship. You know what he’s like, he’s basically an A&R. Look at how many guys he’s helped. I was away on holiday with him in Greece at the time, and he broke it down to me that he’s gonna start his label soon.
“At the time, I wasn’t making music, I almost nearly knocked it on the head to retire. Even though I hadn’t made much music, if you check, you’d find on people’s mixtapes. If the right person called me, I’ll give them a verse. Or every so often, I might drop something then disappear. I didn’t openly say that I don’t make music anymore. So that’s probably why people call me lazy, but I didn’t plan to make anymore music. So Wil explained his plan and said he wants to sign me and have a go. He said you go too much talent to quit, so let’s make a go of it. From that perspective, that’s something I’ve always wanted to see him do, have his own label, and from his view, he’s always wanted to see me do well with my music, so he reached out to me and yeah, it just made sense.”
Since signing the deal, one of Margs’ strongest releases is ‘Pen Game’, which is forthright warning that the Mashtown rapper is officially back, displaying a tidy range of slick wordplay that still has that still packs an energetic punch. In the hook, Margs says ‘I’m tired of man thinking I’m lazy’, so I asked him where that bar comes from.
“Because I haven’t given them enough music. Everybody wants more music. But it’s different for me, I’ve been doing this my whole life. Like I said, I’m a founding father, I’m one of the pioneers in this ting. At one point, in Hackney, I felt like I was Jay Z. everybody knew me and they loved me. I been getting adulations and praise and YouTube views and all this. I’ve been buzzing. Whoever it may be coming through, Giggs, or the Sneakbo’s or the J Hus’, I’ve been the J Hus of my day. I’ve been popping, everybody was on me. All this gas and hype, I don’t need it. If you want me to make music, you lot gotta support me so I can take this to the promised land and get that round corner, or it’s long. What do you want me to do? Make YouTube videos so you can say ‘Margs is hard man, Margs is dope’.
“Like I said, I didn’t feel like the juice was worth the squeeze before, I didn’t’ feel like I was getting what I wanted to get out of this, so I was like fuck this shit, what am I making music for? Me sitting back and seeing what’s going on, now, there is an industry, there’s a UK scene. When I was making music, there wasn’t. it was a bunch of guys rapping, paving the way. You see now, if you got a fan base and you’re doing your thing, you can do it all yourself without major support. Put on your own shows, put your tunes on iTunes, sell your merchandise. It’s different now, so when I looked at it I thought, whatever I put in, I will get out. So it makes sense for me to throw my hat back in the ring.”
With Margs committing wholeheartedly to music once again, the first thing that springs to mind is if he can hit the heights he did with Mashtown. His buzz was real, but they say it’s harder to make the second million than it is the first, so can that buzz be found again?
“Who knows? That’s the challenge. I’ve still got the same faith in my ability that I had before and still got the same skill level. But that’s the challenge. You don’t know. When I played ‘Pen Game’ to the mandem, man were saying they don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing. They said, when I listen to ‘Pen Game’, it sounds like I never stopped rapping. I think it’s a good thing then, that’s what you lot like, I’ve still got it. The only reason you lot aint heard nothing like that in a while, because I haven’t been rapping. There’s a lot of man doing stuff that don’t know me, so why are they gonna care?
“I’m up for the challenge though. I’m made of sterner stuff, I can swallow my pride. It’s all about humility n that. I was setting trends with views and stuff before. I was a trailblazer. No one weren’t getting views, or followers like me before. Now, in comparison, I’m not doing nothing compared to the guys that are hot. I’m the one who kick-started that whole thing off. If I’m as good as I think I am, eventually, I’ll get back to where I need to be, it’s all about timing. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. Like I said, I’ve been there before and it’s harder to come back.”
Margs is someone who’s put in considerable work before, took a break, and is now back with a vengeance. The UK scene has changed massively, but the need for good music will remain forever.
‘I’ll run up in your mumsies and dump the steel/ leave her yard smoked out like she burned the grill/ with a big 4 5 you should’ve heard the shots/ I’ll turn his white top read like Berbatov’ is a legendary bar from Mashtown’s Westwood freestyle in 2009. It’s not just the lyricism. It’s the delivery too. Margs is bouncy and full of rage, as if he’s dying to get what he’s saying off his chest. And what he says is a vibe.
Fast-forward a few to the 2017 release of ‘Pen Game’, and that bouncy rage is still there for all to see: ‘I know hustle, I know joy, I know struggle/ I know gang, and you man got no muscle. I know swag, know wave and know sauce/ I know whips and you man got no horse’.
It should be clear by now that if you’re a fan of UK rap, Margs’ comeback isn’t something to sleep on. So what’s in store in 2018 and beyond?
“Bars on top of bars on top of bars. Since I come back, my attitude stinks. I’m moving ferocious. My flow is ferocious. My attitude, my energy, it’s vicious. I’m tryna put the whole rap game on notice. It’s nothing personal to no one. A lot of you lot are my friends but fuck all of you man, I want everybody to know that I’m on it. I’m back, if you don’t believe me, link me, let’s sort this out. Let’s do features, you lot got my number. But just know, in 2018, I’m coming for mans neck. Listen to me when I rap, listen to my lyrics, watch my energy and how I’m moving, just know I’m not doing it for fun. I’m back.”