From days with the StayFresh Collective to performing at SXSW, Safone is continuing to rep Birmingham in a big way. He’s one of the grime artists on everyone’s list when it comes to the best MCs outside of London, but he is one of the best MCs right now, full stop. We all took note when he released ‘She Wants a Man from Brum’ and maybe thought that he was right. In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about this West Midlands MC, and now we want more. With a new record set to release soon, we’re intrigued to hear what Safone has got for us, considering the deserved hype.
We had a chat with him at the Dub Academy studios in Austin on the day of his SXSW debut, waiting for a session to begin with Rude Kid and a few of the BBK family. We talked about everything from coming up in the Brum grime scene, who else is repping the UK regions and what it means to be an Aquarius.
UHH: Liking the outfit first off, coordinated Gucci – very slick.
Is this your first time in the US?
Safone: First time in America, ever. I was happy just to get through the airport.
How have you found Austin so far?
It’s sick, I’m def going to come back every year.
What have you been doing here, apart from appearing on stage for a track at Kano & Friends on Tuesday?
That was random, Frisco just threw me in the deep end, I was watching him then I was like, ‘wait, did he just tell me to come on stage? Is he crazy?’
We’ve been eating…
What’s the best thing you’ve had?
The best thing overall has been the Chick-fil-A. Philly steak, I don’t eat steak at home but the Philly steak was nice because it was just little bits. I didn’t like Wingstop…everyone gasses up Wingstop back home but I didn’t like it at all, nothing about it.
Have you had fried chicken and waffles..?
Yeah, we just had it today. When you come out of here, take a right, take a right again and take a left and there’s a little yellow bus – go on my Instagram, I took a picture of it.
Okay, we will check that out most definitely.
Tonight is your show, Grime State of Mind. How are you feeling?
How I do before every show, nervous. With this one it’s kind of different because as much as it’s a grime show, I told [Jamie] Dred, I think I might do a bit of hip hop too. I’m in America, I know there’s going to be Americans in the crowd who don’t know who the hell I am and are thinking, ‘forget this grime, I don’t want to hear you.’ So I might mix it up a little bit, so that’s the only thing I’m nervous about, what I’m going to do. But once I get up there it’s just normal.
How often do you perform in the UK?
Last year I done loads. Last year was the first year I took performing seriously. I’ve been with Jamie Dred and the whole StayFresh thing, so we used to perform the whole time anyway, but me as Safone myself I took it seriously. I started taking bookings in, I took it all over the UK and to Ayia Napa too, large up to DJ Rusky. I’ve been to loads of places man, I’m used to it now.
What’s the best venue you’ve performed at?
The Red Bull Culture Clash.
The one last year? Tell me about that!
Crazy, crazy, crazy. Large up Wiley and the Eskimo Dance. I didn’t know what I was going into when I came to that. I drove there myself and everything. I was doing all the bookings anyway so I was used to going to them, shutting it down and then driving back home. So I treated that the same. I got there late and they were all rushing and giving me bands, running me through, and I’m thinking, ‘why are they doing this?’ I realized I was late, I got there at Round 2 so I didn’t even know how much I missed. I had to just do my thing then watch it back, and when I watched it back I thought, ‘yeah man done alright you know’. That was the craziest one - 20,000 people.
They keep making it bigger every year.
You’re one of the MCs making it from outside of London – from Birmingham (Brum). How is it to be name-checked consistently as one of the artists doing well from out of the London scene?
It’s good man, I can’t complain at all, I’m just working though, trying to keep it going.
Pirate radio is part of the grime scene foundation in London, but how did you get started in Brum?
With me, I first joined StayFresh. That was the first major situation, me and Deadly was doing our thing before that anyway but we joined StayFresh and we started doing our thing, and it grew and grew.
For those reading who don’t know what StayFresh is about, can you give a little bit of background?
StayFresh was a collective, it was a couple of people from Wolverhampton (about 20 minutes away from Birmingham) so we both got together a made a little collective. Just like when Frisco was talking about that stage when grime kind of died [in our UHH interview] it was around then. We were the ones pushing grime in the West Midlands, until it got up here and because the door was open it was like, ‘who are these guys?’
Who else from Brum do you work with these days?
I haven’t worked with a load of people from Brum, I talk to everyone from Brum (well not everyone) but I haven’t worked with a lot. There are a lot of people doing their thing though, large up Jaykae, obviously large up Deadly, large up Mayhem. Do you know about Invasion? You know how you get two sides doing their thing? It wasn’t real beef but it was music beef so that kind of gassed it up too, so large up the whole Invasion squad. Lady Leshurr – massive. There’s a guy called Mist from Birmingham too, he’s going to be massive doing his thing.
What about the other regional grime artists? You’ve got Bugzy Malone from Manchester…
You’ve got A Star from Liverpool, Kdot – Sheffield, Coco – Sheffield, Buggsy from Bristol, he’s here too. There’s loads of people.
You said it was great coming through when the London scene was at a low, but do you feel like because there weren’t as many artists around, it was harder to perfect your skill?
When it comes to that question, I was doing this for fun, I just liked it. I didn’t understand the business side of it, I didn’t know what I didn’t have and what I could have had and used. If I put out a video and everyone likes it, I’m thinking ‘great’. Of course I knew there was radio but I didn’t look into it that far, I thought let me just do this and get to there. But now I’ve realized it was hard for us. But I wasn’t thinking at the time, ‘this is hard, I hate being from Brum’. Looking back we didn’t have no radio shows in Birmingham, we didn’t even have no channels like that. It all kind of got built from scratch, large up P110, GrimeBlog, JDZ – these are all YouTube channels in the West Midlands but they got built from scratch, just from people that love the music and think it has to be recorded, and it turns into a channel.
What about SBTV?
SBTV was one the first London channels that came down and messed with us. The first time I ever met him [Jamaal Edwards] was through S-X, a producer, you know Woo Rhythm *sings the instrumental*? That was a worldwide one, when you hear it you’ll know. He was in StayFresh too, he produces for Young Money and Lil Wayne and all these people now, he’s doing his thing, large up producer S-X. All them little things just helped it for us. But to answer your question, at the time it wasn’t a struggle but looking back at it, it was.
In terms of your tracks, obviously there’s ‘She Wants a Man from Brum’. Did you think it would get as big as it has?
As I didn’t know the business, I’m just making it up. When we all made the song, we all made it from scratch with Preditah, large up Preditah too; when we listened back we knew it was going to be a hit or a miss. It was either going to be, ‘what are these guys doing?’ or ‘this is crazy’, because we all stepped out our comfort zone. That taught me too that it’s best to cover subjects like that. When I say stepped out our comfort zone, our comfort zone is sticking to the image that grime’s got. But with She Wants a Man from Brum, we’ve totally stepped out of that – forget all that, we’re doing this for ladies now who want to come see us in Brum. It worked, so I learnt off that.
I’m sure every man from Brum is thankful!
I get DMs all the time, it’s powerful. That’s never going to stop, as long as Birmingham’s still there, it’s never going to die.
Another big tune is Not That Deep, remixing Stormzy’s track…
That was when Stormzy was first kicking off. I met Stormzy at the Fire in the Booth cypher, check it out if you haven’t already [below]. I saw one video of him before that, I didn’t know him too well but he hit me up like, ‘Yo Saf, would you remix Not That Deep?’ and I was like, ‘Cooourse’, remixed it, and that ended up being a mad thing too.
You seem to work with a lot of producers: Preditah, Heavy Trackerz…
Yeah, Preditah, Heavy Trackerz, Swifta, Papez, Angry, loads of people.
Is there someone you really gel with and there’s always a good musical connection?
Yeah course there is. When it comes to Preditah, I know Preditah differently, we know each other from years ago. When I said I was first doing music with Deadly and stuff, before even then I had a bredrin called KB, he hooked me up with Preditah and me and Preditah have been tight since then. When it comes to me and Preditah, it’s a friendship thing anyway, so I’m not even going to put him in that category. I brought up someone called Angry, now I hope Angry listens to this because it’s serious. He doesn’t take himself seriously and he doesn’t understand that he’s a genius. I hope one day that he’s the biggest thing and this interview’s here. I’ve got a new CD coming, most of the tracks are done by him but he just disappears and that, man. He doesn’t realize that you can be here off of that stuff. There’s Angry, there’s Papez – the last single that I released was me and Papez, we’re both Aquarius so we just chill in my house and it’s just normal. Everyone I work with I get on with, I don’t really work with people if I don’t really know them like that.
Are you into star signs then…?
I’m into the spooky stuff basically. If it says something and I can relate to it, all that energy stuff I’m into it.
Okay tell me about Aquarius people then, I’m intrigued.
We’re loyal, forgiving, crazy at the same time. There’s loads of things but yeah, I’m all of it.
I was talking to Frisco about OVO and BBK and the co-signs, as well as American hip hop DJs who have been playing grime for a while like Virgil Abloh and Cipha Sounds. Do you feel like grime is getting heard over here, beyond Skepta and Stormzy?
At that Kano show, when I went outside after I performed, the amount of people that came up to me, I was like ‘you know who I am?!’ People were telling me my history and that and I’m like ‘woah, where are you from?’ and they’re saying Austin, they’re saying Dallas. I met some people, American Grime, them two guys. The Jumanji guy, he knows everything, he knows the culture like what we wear, how we talk, the slang that we were using. All that stuff made me think, ‘damn, I didn’t know the reach was so far.’ So now that there’s people like Skepta and Stormzy who have proved that it sells, the door’s gone, it’s open now. Everyone’s a human being and music’s music, and you can’t stop someone from going on the internet and saying, ‘I like that song.’
MATT UHH: I thought the production from grime is better than the underground US scene, that really lacks. It’s not as quick as grime, the beats really hit. I think the hardest thing for US people to get over is the accent.
Yeah, I clocked that. In the UK, we watch Americans and we can put on every American accent too. We’re all human, people ain’t dumb. Of course there are Americans that know how to understand us. It’s not going to be long man, it’s open.
MATT UHH: It’s a big deal that DJs like Cipha Sounds are playing grime and I think a lot of people will follow his footsteps and get into it.
You mentioned a new CD, what do you have coming out this year?
My first CD that I released was way back in 2013 on March 3rd so it’s been 4 years since I released a CD. It was called ‘Saf Done Dis’ so I’m releasing ‘Saf Done Dis 2’. So I’m just getting all that ready and I’m going to be firing off.
Who do you think we should be looking out for in the UK in terms of smaller grime artists – who are you listening to?
I don’t really listen to anyone but I know about everyone. Make sure you look out for Mayhem, make sure you look out for Deadly, Tornado, Trilla, Jaykae, Sox, obviously you already know about Lady Leshurr, you’re going to know about Mist. The best way to do it, look on the YouTube channels, so let me big them up too: P110 Media, JDZ Media, and GrimeBlog. If you just take a scan through there, you’re going to see everyone who’s taking music serious in the West Midlands. That’s just a big up for everyone.
Do you listen to any American artists in particular?
Yeah course. Right now – do you know who Mozzy is, from Sacramento? Do you know about Philthy Rich? It’s more West Coast underground stuff, but the same thing what’s happening with their scene is happening with our scene, it’s getting mainstream now. You’re going to be seeing people getting freshmen covers and all these kind of things.
So you’re releasing your record, and what are your plans for the rest of 2017?
I don’t plan too much, I’m just trying to stay focused. Every move you do opens another door, so you can’t really plan too much. Just planning to stay focused, get the music out and keep going.
Find Safone and his music here: