We both thought: ‘Sheffield man are here now, so let’s do something to represent.’
2016 has been another exciting year for Sheffield music, but one artist in particular has been making big movements on the UK scene. MC Coco, a veteran of Steel City grime, moved to the capital in 2015 and since hooking up with fellow native Toddla T has rarely been away BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra playlists. With a back-catalogue of impressive genre-crossing tracks earmarking the artist as one to look out for next year, Exposed caught up with him to reflect on his journey so far.
First of all, congrats on what’s been a huge 12 months for you. What moments stand out?
It’s been mad, bro, and there have been so many! Things have happened in such a short space of time that it becomes really hard to comprehend. Obviously, doing stuff like the BBC proms was mad for me and going to Jamaica to do music – those sorts of things, for an artist like myself, are massive.
When did things start to take off? Was there a specific moment which sparked things?
I guess it all started when I moved to London. It wasn’t just for music, more a general change of life. My girlfriend lives here and I decided to go for it. Andy Nicholson [Sticky Blood] introduced me to Toddla when he was performing at XOYO, and I ended up going to his studio and laying down a few riddims. We both thought: ‘Sheffield man are here now, so let’s do something to represent.’
The grime scene has historically been dominated, in a commercial sense anyway, by London-based artists. Do you think your broad Sheffield vocals have helped or hindered you?
A bit of both really. I think sometimes when people hear something different, they don’t always take to it straight away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been shown loads of love up here too – but, with the standard of grime music in London at the minute, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride for me. I just thought to myself: do your thing and go harder than anyone else.
How did growing up in Sheffield shape you? Did you always want to do music?
Honestly, I used to love football! I played for a team called Pro Socker Pumas and was a decent player to be fair! So, yeah, I suppose it was football as a real young’un before it became more about music in secondary school. I went to Hinde House and there was a gang of kids there who’d MC and do music, so I got involved with them.
Did you start as many kids did back then, rapping over bassline from phones?
Pretty much, yeah. And, you know what it’s like in Sheffield, word spreads quickly and there was me and a collective of MCs from the city all doing our thing for a while.
Obviously niche and bassline were both huge on the Sheffield scene back then. Were they a big part of your early music influences?
Nah, I’m going to be honest and say I wasn’t really into it. Obviously, a lot of people from the city dabbled in it and some good tracks came out – but I fell in love with grime straightaway.
But your releases over the last year or so have crossed genres. There are the high-tempo grime tracks like ‘Target Practice’, the more hip-hop influenced stuff like ‘Big Bou Yah’ and ‘My G’, and your latest track with Shola Ama and Deep Green is a laid-back RnB song. Do you have a preference of genre to spit on?
If you asked me two or three years ago, I would have said grime straightaway. I’ve opened my eyes a bit since though; I just love music and will try anything that feels good.
It’s good to show you’ve got more than one style in your locker, too.
Definitely, man. I’m not really your standard sort of angry grime MC. Obviously, artists express themselves however they want, but I’m more about enjoying it. You get me? That’s always the end goal in music: have fun and enjoy it. Why do it otherwise?
The northern grime scene is really hotting up at the moment. Is there anyone from Sheff we should be keeping an eye on in 2017?
Plenty! Deep Green for a start. Kannan is another sick MC – that guy’s really got something. And also L-Dizz, because that guy’s fire! I keep telling those guys to do their thing and it’ll eventually come to them.
Do you reckon there could be any scope for a northern version of Roll Deep at some point?
A northern Roll Deep? Who knows, man! You can never say. However, from a personal perspective, I reckon the time has probably passed for my generation of northern MCs… maybe. Plus, having a crew behind you doesn’t always have to be a group of MCs. I’ve got a crew of people behind me, working hard behind the scenes, wanting the best for me and pushing in the right direction together. That’s the most valuable type of crew to an artist.
On another note, your ‘Save Sheffield Trees’ track with Toddla went viral earlier this year. How do you feel now that they’ve started chopping down the trees along Rustlings Road?
I know. It’s bad, innit? It was a bit of fun, but obviously it struck a chord with Sheff people – we ended up in The Star, so it must have meant something!
Maybe you should write a new diss track in light of recent events?
I know! They’re doing this protest event soon and I really want to perform and play that tune. It would go off.
As well as new music, you’re working on a theatre project on the moment as well?
Yeah, with a brilliant lady called Emma Hill, who I worked with previously on a play she wrote called ChipShop the Musical. She’s working on something called the Shakespeare Project, retelling the plays through grime and hip-hop. I thought it sounded interesting and wanted to give it a go. I’ve been writing tunes and performing, which is really interesting, man – something a bit different.
What have you learnt from 2016 and what are the plans for 2017?
I’ve always stuck by my main lesson in life – be humble. I’ve also learnt to be original with what you do, and don’t spend time looking around at what others are doing. The main aim is always to get the most out of each single and make sure they’re as good as they can be. But I don’t stress too much, man. I’m just gonna keep doing what I’ve been doing, as it’s got me this far already
Coco’s latest single ‘Water’s Run Deep’ featuring Shola Ama and Deep Green is out now. www.thecoco.uk.com