Exclusive Interview: Lotto Boyzz
Anyone that’s kept an eye on the likes of GRM Daily and Link Up TV in the last couple of years will have seen the rise in a sound led mostly by the young African diaspora of Britain. The melodic combination of rap, afrobeats and dancehall is fast becoming the dominant force in UK ‘urban’ music, and yet there’s still something that it lacks. A name.
The traditional music industry, ever on the pulse, has of course assumed J Hus, Afro B & co must just be grime, while a popular streaming platform coined ‘afro bashment’ for their playlist of the scene. The most commonly accepted term in use appears to be ‘afro-swing’, but Birmingham duo Lotto Boyzz have laid down a marker for another umbrella with their new EP title, Afrobbean: The Genre Definition.
Ash & Lucas were experimenting in the studio last year when they struck gold with the Afrobbean sound, and they have never looked back. A deal was signed earlier this year with Pitched Up, the Sony imprint headed up by Target & Danny Weed, while they have performed across the UK, at Notting Hill Carnival and in places as far as Rotterdam (“it felt like Brum!”) and Ayia Napa. With plenty of life still to go in their smash ‘No Don’, a remix with Not3s & Chip was unleashed last month ahead of their EP, in a summer that hads also included the ‘Birmingham Anthem’ a collaboration with Jaykae, who Lucas has known for years, that will be blasted in the 0121 (and beyond) for a long time yet.
While stopping by the label in London for a catch-up, Lotto Boyzz spoke to RWD as they reflected on their journey to finding their identity as an act, as well as some solid advice received from family members (and some not so good!) when the dream became real.
As a pair you appear to have found your sound in the last year or so, but started elsewhere individually. What drew you to your initial sounds as youngsters?
Ash: I think it was just what was popping then, because we’ve always been people that look at what’s popping now and kind of try to do our own thing with it. With the whole Afrobbean thing, that was us saying we need to go another way now, and find ourselves.
Lucas: It’s structure as well. I think when you start writing, you’d find a genre that suits you at the time and then you build around that to master that genre before you then plan to work on other things. He started on grime; I started with rap, and then from setting my foundation on rap I could move on to other flows and BPMs. It’s just a starting line.
Does having access to the right sort of producers play into that too?
Lucas: Back then it was just YouTube!
Speaking of, there are already videos titled “Lotto Boyz type beat” on YouTube. How does that make you feel?
Ash: I remember saying a few months ago that as soon as somebody makes a ‘Lotto Boyz type beat’ I know that I’m doing something right, and then there was one within like a week of that. I was like ‘that’s a bit early!’ It’s crazy.
What else did you look to as signs you were on the right track? Were there other artists in Brum that you looked to emulate? Did you feel where you lived affected your reach?
Ash: With the mindset I was growing up with, I wasn’t really looking at it like Brum was holding me back. Never should a city be a barrier, because realistically nobody needs to know you’re from there. We did the Birmingham tune a bit afterwards so there wasn’t really that. People I would look at would be American artists, people that have actually made it and they’re chilling now. Diddy’s story, people like that.
Lucas: At the same time, there’s no one way of making it these days. You can’t just look at what one person’s doing and think ‘when I’m doing something like that, that’s when I know I’m blowing in my ting’. A while back, somebody told me that good music always travels. Everything coming out of the camp right now is positive so it’s just gonna travel and get picked up by people. If you’re pushing something that’s homegrown and good, it’ll pick up. The sound will travel, definitely.
Ash, a certain Preditah is your cousin. Have you had any decent advice from him about music?
Ash: There’s one time I could never forget. It was on Facebook. I asked him for advice, and he asked what I was doing music for. At that time, I was 14 and didn’t know what the hell I was doing music for and why I liked it. I’d seen this person doing this and that person doing that, and I was like ‘I guess the money would help’, but I didn’t know how to answer the question because I hadn’t sat down and thought about it. I hadn’t even grown up to find out who I am as a person. He was like ‘it’s the wrong motive’, and that was kind of the last thing he said to me for a while, and it set me thinking. That conversation plays a big part right now.
Once you found your motives, was it easy to get family onside? How were they when you took on music full-time?
Lucas: Yooo the pressure was on! When I broke the news to my mum [late last year, post-‘Hitlist’], she was on a madness. These times we were doing shows but they weren’t as regular, and she just didn’t understand it. She was like ‘you haven’t even got a steady income!’ We just took the leap and put everything that we could into it. It was coming, slowly but surely.
Ash: My mum was from a Christian background, so she was more like ‘I know you got this’, and when you hear that from someone close to you it’s nice. Then you had the other side, where I’ve got the screenshots from a person telling me to forget music. I was distraught, because of how close they were to me. Hearing one person saying yes and one person saying no, it was definitely my choice from there and I just went for it.
What’s it like when labels begin to show interest?
Ash: We were getting offers from the end of November last year. It let me know that we were doing something right, and there were eyes on me. We were focused on building our sound, so all these things that happened around us just meant they like what we’re doing.
Lucas: At those early stages you don’t really know what you’re doing and it’s a lot to be getting involved in. Going from the basics of making music to being in these offices hearing some mad sentences and things that don’t even make sense sometimes. You hear figures being thrown out and everything sounds sweet, but it can be a madness. It’s a lot to take in.
This has all happened relatively fast too. Have you been able to take it all in?
Ash: When I’m looking back now at the timescale, it hasn’t been that long! It’s gone so so quick. We’ve had like eight days off, and we probably ended up doing something together [on those days] anyway.
Tell us about the new EP. It’s not filled up with features, like some of your contemporaries.
Lucas: The way we’ve looked at the game and tried to scope ourselves into it, we want to put a body of work that identifies us. We don’t really need the constant features, we’re trying to bring us to the table first before we work with other people so you know what Lotto Boyzz is.
How long has the music on this been in the can? Do you work quite far in advance?
Ash: Great music lasts forever so we do songs and we ask ourselves if in three months we’ll still like it. There’s some songs we would’ve put out five months ago that we just ain’t going to put out now. I think we’ve just grown past it.
Lucas: When we’ve finished a song, we’d be able to play the song and ask if it’s single, album or EP worthy. You judge it on that response. The maddest thing is when we planned on putting ‘No Don’ out…
Ash: It wasn’t the tune.
Lucas: We knew it was a banger, but we didn’t think it was gonna get the response it did!
Ash: A certain someone was talking about it being audio only…[Lucas pretends not to hear]
We’re glad it wasn’t! Thanks for your time.