Heard of Skepta? Then you should have heard of Frisco. Boy Better Know formed in 2005 and Frisco is one of the original members, along with Skepta, Maximum, JME, Jammer and Wiley. He’s one of the fiercest lyricists in the game and most recently dropped System Killer, his most successful record to date with heavy tunes like Different Kind and Them Man There. Although he’s part of the behemoth that is BBK, Frisco has also made a name for himself outside of making music. He recently presented a documentary for Channel 4 (UK), Pirate Mentality, taking viewers back to the origins of grime – pirate radio. He also launched and runs The Den, a monthly grime event with consistently strong line-ups of upcoming artists taking the mic (and sometimes a few established MCs too). Running such a successful event for two years in the notoriously fickle London scene is no small feat – he knows what the people want.
Unlike most of the other British artists we spoke to at SXSW, this was not Frisco’s first time to the States. However, it was his first time to Austin, and we were lucky enough to catch him before a studio session at Dub Academy with DJ Maximum, Safone, Rude Kid and Buggsy, before his headline show later that night (we caught the show and the crowd were live – definitely a good way to go out). We spoke about why everyone (including me) should stop trying to understand Drake and BBK’s relationship, Skepta’s homecoming night at Ally Pally, and why he doesn’t mess with people jumping on the grime bandwagon.
UHH: Is this your first time performing in the US?
Frisco: Not in the US, first time at SXSW though.
When and where were the previous US performances, when Skepta came over in 2014?
Yeah for the Shutdown tour, so it was a few different cities.
So how are you finding SXSW so far?
It’s interesting, it’s different. It’s just a lot to take in, I’m enjoying it definitely. I had a show on Tuesday - that was good.
Yes we were there, it was sick. How did you find the crowd, quite a bit different from the UK?
Obviously it’s not like if it was back home, and I didn’t expect that to be totally honest. But they were receptive, there were people that actually knew the music as well, which was a good thing. It was a tougher crowd naturally because you’re in different settings and not everyone has come directly to see you, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s just work innit.
And you have another event tonight with all of these guys!
Frisco & DJ Maximum performing at Kano & Friends, SXSW
What are your plans for the studio session today?
Since we’ve been here we ain’t done any studio. Usually when I go places, if I’ve got enough time I like to go and let my creative side manifest and usually it comes out in the studio. So today is studio day.
At the show there were two guys from American Grime, a US-based grime label. Do you think grime can come from other countries, or is it just a British thing?
Big up MC Jumanji, he’s from Miami and they’re representing the grime ting hard. Do I think you can make grime outside of the UK? Yeah definitely.
What is it that makes something grime as opposed to rapping?
Just the way that the beat sounds and the way that you MC over the beats, because sometimes there’s pop songs that are over grime beats but because they’re singing, they wouldn’t call it a grime song, but really we know that it’s a grime song that they’ve used. Really it’s just how you approach the song itself. The attitude, if you’re spitting a certain way and saying certain things that we would say, then it’s grime - and obviously the beat has to be at a certain tempo, I’m not saying it has to be dead on 140, but roundabouts.
Let’s take a step back and look at BBK as the family that it is. Skepta has had a massive couple of years but it feels like although it’s his success, it’s just as much all of yours.
Definitely. But not just Boy Better Know, Skepta’s success should be looked on as everyone’s success, not just us. Everyone should be celebrating. Kano as well, people like that should be celebrated, that’s just the facts. Wiley should be celebrated, which he is being, which is a good thing. That’s what he deserved and other people of that stature deserve that kind of recognition and other people celebrating them, because that’s what we lack here. Wiley has done so much that you can’t even put into words, so all the accolades he’s getting now is just what he deserves. Skepta as well man, what Skepta has done – the Mercury, the album. People need to recognize that it’s greatness man, when we’re saying that it’s not just a word, it’s a lifestyle. It’s actually an emotion, it’s real. Man wake up and say ‘greatness’ bruv, it’s not a joke.
The Ally Pally show was huge, very poignant and emotional. Not only was it an impressively large live crowd, but it was also streamed around the world on Apple Music. The live show was actually produced by my cousin David Davies!
Ah Dave, big up Dave!
You sold out the entire venue of 10,000 people - and in North London, the home of BBK. How did it feel to be on that stage?
It was sick, man. From everything, just seeing the crowd to the stage production to watching Skep do his ting, to coming out doing my ting, it was sick. Those ones there it’s mad to speak about it because me speaking about it isn’t doing it justice; I can’t put you there, it was so sick.
Have you watched it back? It looked amazing.
Frisco: I can’t watch it back.
DJ Maximum: I watched it back. I was DJing so it was different for me because I didn’t see how people inside saw it. So when I went home and watched it back I was like ‘wow’.
Frisco: Listen, Maximum had the most responsibility out of everyone, other than Skep obviously.
DJ Maximum: I had two buttons that played the whole show and stopped the show, and if anything went wrong it was because of me. It was on me, it was madness.
You also had so many guests come on stage outside of BBK. I guess you don’t manage that many appearances and non-BBK live tracks usually?
DJ Maximum: It was weird because like I said, it wasn’t just a normal DJ set. I had a CDJ but the way it was set out, there’s no pitch control, you press play and the screen plays. So if you reload the song, you have to press some button to stop it and if I don’t push it from the start again, the screen will go off and it won’t come back on, then the whole show would be a shambles. That’s why I had to keep reloads to a minimum, but there wasn’t too many reloads thank God, and everything went smoothly. But if I had done one thing wrong, it would have been a mess and I probably would have hoped to disappear on the spot.
The DJ booth looked sick as well. When shows are streamed live, sometimes it doesn’t translate but they did a really good job.
I have to talk about Drake because I don’t fully understand the BBK affiliation. I know he has a tattoo…obviously he loves you guys, he’s bringing Giggs and Skepta out on his tour and you’re wearing OVO right now. Can you explain that situation – is he an affiliate?
He just represents the ting. Boy Better Know, the original members when it comes to the music ting are myself, Skepta, Maximum, JME, Jammer and Wiley. But Boy Better Know is not just us, it’s a movement and a label. He’s just part of that movement and stands for what we stand for, represents the ting. Obviously he loves the music, he’s got a sick relationship with Skep. That’s just what that is, it’s just something that’s organic. It’s something you can’t really put a title over, I don’t even like speaking of it like that because it’s nuts, but it just is what it is. It’s very real, it’s very authentic and people need to stop trying to understand it and roll with it.
Okay, I’m going to stop trying to understand it. Drake done.
You released System Killer last year, that’s your biggest record to date. How did it feel putting out something that got so big?
It was good man, it was sick. The process to making it was good as well. I got to go through a lot of stuff, show wise, music wise. I was doing a lot of shows at the time; the tour with Skep, my own solo tour in the summer last year, so I had a lot of stuff to speak about and put into music so that was cool. My music is always better when I’ve got stuff to talk about that I’ve gone through, rather than just writing bars, which I can do because I come from a radio era where I used to write bars just for the sake of writing bars, never used to mean nothing. I can do that but I prefer to write stuff that means something that I’ve gone through and experienced. That was a good attribute of why System Killer sounded like it did. Some of it I recorded when I was in Jamaica, some of it in Sweden, some of it I was just in the ends obviously, Amsterdam as well. I was just about taking in a lot of different vibes.
How do you think about who you want to work with for production and features, and so on?
At this point now, I just holla at producers because I have a relationship with most of them. If it’s someone I don’t have a relationship with, I will either get Sam to reach out or make the link happen. It’s just straight forward man, ‘what’s going on, do you want to work?’ and that’s it really.
Are there any go-to producers in particular?
Skep. Not just saying that, it’s not a biased ting. Rapid, Rude Kid. Swindle made like four tunes on my album and our music relationship is fairly new because before System Killer we’d done a few little things here and there but we hadn’t really worked together like that, so I’ve got a good chemistry with him in the studio, and our music’s always made on the spot. I don’t mind producers sending me beats and writing to the beats, but every tune I’ve made with him, Them Man There, 123, What’s Man Saying, My Ting. He’s done four tunes and all of those tunes we made from scratch, we made the beat there together and wrote the bars. Not every producer I can do that with, some producers are just better at making the beat and sending it to me.
Do you prefer working on a song from scratch?
It depends really. Sometimes I’ve got an idea for a song so in that case you can just send me shit, but sometimes I want to do it from scratch and build a vibe.
The Den event has done so well, I went to one last summer but I see the line-ups every month, and it’s grown to a new venue now. Did you expect it to take-off so quickly?
It’s been two years now you know. No, I didn’t really. It was just an idea I wanted to do, use my platform to make a platform, so to speak. I didn’t really think it would be something like that, I just thought ‘yeah I’m going to do this.’ I’ve got a good relationship with Vice who own the venue, so that’s all it was really about. Most grime MCs are proper fans of the music, so if you’re a grime MC, not matter how big you get, if you get to the point where man put’s a camera on and you can’t spit a freestyle, then something’s wrong because of the cloth that we come from, and that goes for pirate radio and the rest of it. I wanted to put something on that we could go to and MC at that’s basically not a big rave. Obviously we do shows of every type of size; we do festivals of 60,000 - 80,000 people and then we might have done an area show, we’ve done club shows. But sometimes we just want to do intimate settings where there might be 100 people and just merk, and I wanted to do that for my peers and then for the ones coming up. It wasn’t really about thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and it’s going to be a big thing’, I didn’t think anything like that. It was just something for the mandem to do because man was bored and no one else was doing that really.
It’s totally unique still, I don’t think anyone has even tried to copy it?
Yeah because what people fail to understand is, the reason it works is because it’s put on by the people; it’s for the people, by the people. That’s why it works. It’s not a promoter coming in trying to eat food off the mandem, because if it was a promoter trying to do this, man’s going to charge you mad pea and you’re not going to be able to pay it – argument done. Whereas mandem know I’m not trying to make money out of this, you get what I’m saying? You can see the size of the venue. I just want to make sure everyone can come through. That’s it, that’s all that the Den’s about really, it’s about a platform that people are attracted to and pay attention to. It’s just a platform for people to do their ting.
I saw you did a few grime documentaries recently, like Pirate Mentality; there’s been a lot of documentaries and books in the past few years on grime. How important do you think it is to have more mainstream grime ‘education’ now that the genre itself is more mainstream?
I think it’s good but there’s a thin line between people milking it and a good documentary, or something being documented properly. I’ve been approached to do so many documentaries and things about grime, especially when it has the name ‘grime’ in the title, it’s just cringey to me, it doesn’t have to have grime in it. If I even sense that you’re trying it because grime’s the hot thing right now, and most times that’s what it is, people are just jumping on the band wagon because most people are wagonists, and I’m not about that. The pirate radio documentary that I did, that needed to be told and it was an interesting, true, authentic story. That’s why I was about that. If it’s stuff like that then yeah, and if you can see it’s genuine then yeah, I’m about it. But if you can see it’s just some network trying to get views off of the hard work that the mandem have been putting in now, then I’m not about that. Don’t ring me to try and get a feature, I don’t want to speak to no one. If it’s by the people, then they want the same thing as you want. I’m not saying I’m not going to do nothing that’s not done by the people, but it just has to have the right energy, the right message, and you’ve got to be credible.
What is success for you personally?
Just health and more greatness because that’s all I can really ask for. Doing what I love doing and being able to feed my family, that’s it man. Help my people around me and create opportunities for other people to help other people, and bring other people in. That’s all I want to do really.
Find more on Frisco and his music, and take a look at his fresh single "Serrvice"
Some more photos of Frisco at Kano & Friends: