On grime, Nottingham, hustle, confidence, Lord Of The Mics, ‘Tyrone’, artist vs MC, moments vs process, working with Grandmixxer and coming into his own on new EP, ‘One Uncle’.
“I could kinda complain a little bit but complaining ain’t really gonna get me anywhere”, says Mez nonchalantly as we begin our conversation late on Sunday morning, the sound of the rain outside muffling our early exchanges. “That’s not to say that I’m a super spiritual person or anything, but at the moment, I haven’t really got anything to complain about if I’m honest. I’ve just done my release, I’m working on a couple of new things … life’s just moving as it’s supposed to be moving innit.” These are strong, focused words — words that set the tone for a chat with one of the most focused, driven young grime artists I’ve ever spoken to.
Born and raised in Nottingham, there’s been a lot made of Mez’s flow, lyrical style and energy — he’s forever unfazed and a ferocious MC on mic — but his biggest calling card might just be his rationale. “A lot of my friends were ringing me up when the COVID stuff was initially happening last year and asking me questions that they obviously knew the answers to”, he says as we start to reflect on 2020. “They’d ring me and be like ‘yo, you haven’t got any shows now have you?’ and I’d be like, ‘well obviously not, you’re not going to work so why would I be going to work?’. I was speaking to Travis T about this but I was kinda having a debate with myself about everything at first … should I carry on releasing music, should I wait, should I just keep building it. Travis just said, ‘bro, time waits for no man’. I took that advice and ran with it. I might not have been able to do many shows or perform any tracks from ‘Tyrone 3’ but it certainly didn’t feel like my world was ending. The show must go on, innit.”
Mez recounts growing up like ‘every other kid’ in Nottingham — “we’d just do stuff normal things, roll around the ends, link up with the mandem … I was no different to anyone else really” — but also recalls one moment that could have halted his music career before it’d even started. “When I got to about 15”, he says sheepishly, tone suddenly lower and more serious, “something happened at my house innit. My mum was strict, like not super strict but if you did certain things you’d get punished. There was a time I was a part of this clash ting with a guy from another school and obviously I had my bars written in a notepad at home. One day, I must have left it somewhere in my room and my mum found it. When you read back through what I was saying about this guy in my bars, like, they’re obviously not things you’d say to your mum, innit. She’s thinking ‘nah, this the end of the world, what’s happened to my son? Why’s he saying these things about another individual?’ kinda thing. She phoned my uncle and everything! He’s come round to my yard and was like, ‘rah’ and started greazing me up yeah … and then he’s read my notepad. Once he’d read the bars he was like, ‘nahhh this kid’s hard, look how he’s going in … if he’s gonna do anything, it’s gonna be this music ting’. From there, once she’d heard it from my uncle, my mum gave me a little bit more freedom. Even then, I remember telling my mum I was off to 1Xtra one day and she’d set up a job interview for me the next morning. Obviously I was never gonna wake up in time and I could see it was all stressing her world … like, ‘why can’t my son just do normal things that a normal child would do?’.
“There was a time I was a part of this clash ting with a guy from another school and obviously I had my bars written in a notepad at home. One day, I must have left it somewhere in my room and my mum found it. When you read back through what I was saying about this guy in my bars, like, they’re obviously not things you’d say to your mum, innit. She’s thinking ‘nah, this the end of the world, what’s happened to my son? Why’s he saying these things about another individual?’”
“It’s funny though because music was always on at home”, Mez continues. “My mum would play 50 Cent’s album, then So Solid’s album … and then like, Elephant Man or something … but then I’d go to my uncles and he’d be playing Dipset, Cam’Ron and Cassidy and all that. My other uncle was even more old school, he’d be playing flippin’ DOOM and these old hip-hop man and then my grandma would play more church music. Anywhere I went, I was getting some type of vibe basically.”
Can he recall any specific tracks he was into, I ask? “I’m 24 yeah and I hear a lot of people my age talk about N.A.S.T.Y Crew or Mak 10 or Marcus Nasty and I’m always like, ‘I was 6 years old, bro’”, he says chuckling. “There were obviously tunes I would have heard on the telly … I mean I remember that SLK tune, ‘Hype Hype’. Hearing little tunes like that, I’d then make connections. A lot of music I listened to, I had to grow into liking if that makes sense.”
“Lots of music back then was shared on Bluetooth at school as well”, he continues. “Like, anything underground from Nottingham, if you weren’t getting it on Bluetooth you’d be ripping audio on YouTube. I found out a lot about music that way at school. Even then though, everyone just listened to everything. Like, certain youts would listen to grime but then certain youts would just listen to Lil Wayne.”
Despite the frictions at home, by the time he was 17, Mez — then known as Young Mez — was already established as one of Nottingham’s best next-gen MCs. He was a mainstay in a local crew called NSB and had already linked up with fellow breakthrough names from the city like JDot, Snowy and BeatGeeks. But still, the questions continued. “I remember like, even from when I was about 10 years old until I was about 17, you get all your family members asking that question … what do you wanna do? What do you wanna be?’”, says Mez, audibly frustrated. “I swear on my life yeah, I got to about 15 and I thought, ‘why do I keep giving everyone different answers?’. One day I’d wanna be a maths teacher, the next day I’d wanna be a pilot ‘coz my grandma’s asking me and then the day after that, I wanted to be a scientist. Really, I was just going through life not really knowing. It was only when people started paying me to perform or do shows .. and I was young, probably 16 … that I realised I could really do music. Even getting like, £75 … if I’m 16 and getting £75 for 30 minutes work, the maths are crazy, like … it was smoking any other type of thing I’d done before so I knew I had to put my focus on music. I didn’t wanna sit in no office.”
“One day I’d wanna be a maths teacher, the next day I’d wanna be a pilot ‘coz my grandma’s asking me and then the day after that, I wanted to be a scientist. Really, I was just going through life not really knowing.”
“I did have one one job, you know”, he continues. “Nottingham City Council, apprenticeship ting. My mum got me the job and I was there for a month. They sacked me a the end of that month, but the person who was dealing with me told me, ‘I’m not properly sacking you, but I’m gonna have to let you go because you’re too passionate about music’. You know when she said that to me yeah? I was wilin’. In my head I was thinking, ‘how am I gonna tell my mum?’ … she’s gonna look at me like an eediyat, this is a recipe for some punishment. But obviously everything worked out, nature took its course and I’ve ended up here, man.”
“All the things I learned from people around me back then thought, like, I’ve carried with me”, Mez continues. “It’s not like it was even a telling off ting but more just about being correct. The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to people … all of that stuff will help you be yourself in the world you wanna live in.”
“The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to people … all of that stuff will help you be yourself in the world you wanna live in.”
Rather than particular breakout moments — Mez cut his teeth before viral culture had fully dropped anchor in music — he credits the process of both practising and working consistently with helping build his name outside of Nottingham. Unshakeably self-assured — “I always knew I had it … and you either have it or you don’t” — he’s also not been afraid to listen to and learn from those around him. Deemed ‘quiet’ by many — “I’ve been going to Spyro’s yard recently and he’s always saying I need to speak more” — Mez’s music has mostly done all the talking. “I’ve always believed in my mind that the people next to me are gonna respect me”, he says firmly. “Whether it’s going to a new studio, clashing someone in a different city, jumping on stage, no matter what it is, I’m gonna leave with a certain level of respect. I’ve always felt like that. This is gonna sound mad, but as a yout, I’d be in my bedroom watching Ghetts or listening to Logan and I’m trying to MC over the next MC to see if I can smoke them. Obviously, I wasn’t smoking Ghetts spitting bars in my bedroom, but I was trying to get in that mindset like, ‘yeah, I’m here with you man’. By the time I actually met them properly, it felt like I’d already been clashing them for time in my bedroom. They just didn’t know.”
“Whether it’s going to a new studio, clashing someone in a different city, jumping on stage, no matter what it is, I’m gonna leave with a certain level of respect. I’ve always felt like that.”
These bedroom freestyles were soon transported to YouTube once Mez started linking with various cameramen and videographers (most notably JDZmedia) — “it was literally just a trail of ‘keep doing the work and the next thing will happen for you’ kinda thing” — and before long, London came calling. He won 1Xtra’s #NextInGrime competition in 2015 as a 17 year-old, which inadvertently won him a slot on tour with Kano, and he also clashed Trappy on Lord Of The Mics VII later that year; breakthrough moments that saw his stock rise exponentially almost overnight. “If you don’t work, people aren’t gonna look for you bro”, he says assuredly. “I can be honest though yeah, at the time, my younger mentality thought I was too big for the moment with Lord of the Mics”, he continues. “The guy I clashed (Trappy), I’d clashed twice in Birmingham already, so I knew there was nothing he could do or say to me, it’d had already been proven. He got smoked. Even before the clash started, I could see man was all dazed up thinking he was gonna get me this time where as I’ve just gone in there on some ‘there’s no chance, you are my child’ ting. I could see that Lord Of The Mics had a certain level of PR around it though, the type of things you see artists do now, they were already doing back then and I didn’t really know about any of that stuff. That was the first time I ever did stuff like interview workshops, which made me realise there was more to music than just being a musician. I think that’s what I took away most from Lord Of The Mics, how to move and how to behave when you’re in a certain spotlight.”
With the grime scene’s gaze temporarily fixed on Nottingham and the Midlands, Mez also released debut single ‘Sike’ in 2015 — a breathless track that opened the floodgates for a slew of early Mez music, including collaborations with producers like Trends (‘SLO’s’), DJ Cable (‘One Line Flows’) and fellow Nottingham beat-makers, BeatGeeks, who released his first ever EP proper, ’28’, in the same year. Under the tutelage of then manager and Nottingham-based DJ, Blenda, and producer Kidda Beats, he quickly learned to get his business in order, too. “I had no idea bout things like PRS back then”, he says openly, “but those guys helped me understand what I needed to do, and made sacrifices for me. They’d bring me into play shows and just do lots of little things to help man, and over time, that influenced me in terms of presenting myself in the right way, rather just looking like someone who was trying a ting. I think perception was a big part of it as well. Like, man going to Birmingham and being on a radio show with Big Mikee made people think ‘yo, how’s he done that?’ at that time. I was taking the right steps. I guess all of that was a big part of me becoming an actual artist, rather than just a name with bars.”
This path to true artistry felt first trodden on ’Tyrone’ — the first in a trio of mixtape-length EPs that lifted the lid on the real Mez for the first time. Released in 2018, it was raw and unabashed, and while the flows were familiar, the depth and nuance of his lyricism superseded the reload-friendly, all-guns-blazing rave MC persona that had come to characterise his output. It all coincided with finding a London studio (and engineer/producer) that he felt comfortable with, too. “It was just before ’Tyrone’ that I first linked with Diamondz”, Mez explains. “Before, when I was younger, I’d record in whatever studio I could but working with Diamondz in his studio, it was sick. Everything just sounded better than everything I’d done before, so every time I’d come down to London, I’d just go there and record. ’Tyrone’ was my first project where all the music was recorded in one place and you can hear it in the tunes. Me having one spot to be in to record made that difference I think and the way Diamondz works was a perfect fit for me. If I go and link him now, it’s second nature. We’ve got the process down.”
By contrast, latest 10-track EP, ‘One Uncle’ — an ode to a nickname he was given for sorting out his friends at his local shop (‘Don’t worry lickle man, you can have a juice, Uncz has got you!’) — was written entirely in his bedroom during lockdown. Unable to move freely during the pandemic, Mez asked Diamondz for list of equipment he’d need to mirror his studio and got to work. “When I got everything mixed, it all sounded like it would do at Diamondz’s studio”, he says proudly. Featuring a slew of his own productions and guest verses from some of grime’s biggest hitters — D Double E, Discarda, Wiley, Flirta D, Jammer and more all contribute — it’s a record that reaffirms his position as one of the genre’s most precocious outlier talents. “I’ve got this 50/50 thing with my beats”, Mez says, pausing to think about what he looks for in his own music. “Like, it’s not the first thing I do … I didn’t wake up as a producer one day … but it’s something else that I like to do. My whole thing at the start was like, I know how I want my beats to sound but why vocal them if I know I can ask Spyro to make them and they’ll sound 50x better? On the other hand, I’d have people around me … the Travis T’s, the Grandmixxer’s … they’d hear stuff I was making and be like ‘rah!’. I’ve always just made things for vibes, I’ve never been on this top producer thing so like for me, when I’m making a tune, the first thing I wanna think about is if I can vibe to it, if I can jump up to it. If the rhythm of it ain’t on a vibes ting, to me there’s no point. I’m not here trying to make the orchestral magic, I don’t even know how to write music … if you put a keyboard in front of me I’d just hit some keys and if it sounds good, that’s it innit. But the mandem made me believe.”
“A good example is ‘Bumbaclart Riddim’ with P Money”, he continues. “I was playing Xbox with P one day and I had my computer downstairs yeah and certain days, I’m just gassed to show man whatever I’m making. I played it to him and carried on playing it for time whenever the mandem came over and everyone was asking, ‘why are you playing this tune all the time, bro?’. I’d just be gassed and tell everyone it was a banger. I ended up spitting over it quickly in my yard, P Money heard it and commented like ‘yo this is the ting from earlier, I didn’t realise!’ kinda thing. Knowing that he liked the beat and wanted to vocal it after that was like, ‘yeah, this is good’. That was actually the first instrumental tune I ever had released, and it was quite natural really. You could task any producer with making that beat and they’d know how to do it, like ‘he did this, he did this and then he did that’ kinda thing but when you hear it, it’s me innit. Man don’t wanna be Beethoven, I’m an MC bro … you’re just gonna get straight crud!”
“Man don’t wanna be Beethoven, I’m an MC bro”
Alongside a stellar run of releases since 2018, Mez’s development has also been aided by his work with previous Polymer interviewee, Grandmixxer — a DJ behemoth behind the decks but more importantly, a grounding force both in-and-away-from of music. “You see Grandmixxer?”, Mez asks, “I know that whenever I’m with him, I’m gonna be working on music and that’s it. There’s nothing else I’m gonna do. Sometimes you work with someone and it just works and that’s the case with him, so why stop, do you know what I mean? Me and him will make the rawest music but there’s another side that we’ve both got as well … we’re tapped, we’re tapped. It’s good to have that expressive side that I don’t have to show to everyone else though. We’ve got a tune called ‘Cannabis Psychosis’ yeah and I remember he was telling me, ‘yo Mez I’m gonna flames you up today, this one’s gonna be for your head-back’ and I was like nah ‘cannabis psychosis, man’s been smoking too much weed’. So I wrote the tune like that, literally about smoking too much weed. I showed some of my other fiends and they were like ‘nah, this is disgusting music’ but to me and him, it’s jokes, that’s what it’s about sometimes. It’s of the moment.”
While sometimes of the moment, Mez is always of the future. As someone who ‘can’t help’ being an artist — “I feel like I’ll always make music” — he also recognises the importance of the balance between personal development and musical development as he moves forward through life; “I can see where I wanna be as a person away from music and I think that’ll help me make better music, so both sides feed into each other if the makes sense”, he says quizzically. “Within everyone’s life, there’s always gotta be a next step. I’m not out here saying I’m gonna make music and live in a mansion … what happens before you get to live in a mansion? That’s what I’m all about.”
‘One Uncle’ is out now – grab it HERE.