UK Rapper KAM-BU Stays True to Himself and His Ancestral Inspiration on His EP “BLACK ON BLACK”
Photography by Dan Wilton
What’s the secret to keeping the massive production vibes of your EP from over- whelming the rawness vibes of your EP? “Cadence and delivery,” says one of the UKs hottest rappers, KAM-BU. ”These are important pieces to the puzzle when work- ing with elaborate production.” And he’d know. His EP BLACK ON BLACK retains blistering delivery across ten tracks while not losing an inch of ground to the expansive, almost cinematic production, put together by Leon Vynehall and also includes school pal PULLEN and his monster bass-heavy beats.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards for some time now,” he says of the EP. “So when it came to this project it was more about really honing the topic, mood and feel of BLACK ON BLACK, making timeless music and memorable imagery while staying true to who I am.”
The record certainly features the memorable imagery he’s looking to express. We see Kam-Bu painted in all black, eyes scratched out and hand-drawn horns added. “The inspiration for the artwork was Jab Jab,” he says, referring to the Caribbean masquerade event that re-enacts slave retaliation against their captors. “It’s painting oneself all black to represent the dark forces that once plagued the Caribbean and as a reminder that we shall always rebel and remember,” he explains.
The artwork is powerful. Using satirical representations of evil inflicted by white colonialists on slaves, Kam-Bu seeks to create an ode to the descendants and diaspora of the “Windrush generation.” A term describing people who arrived in the UK roughly between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries. “It’s a ‘thank you’ for the risk they took and the culture they brought, which we proudly celebrate and continue to expand and evolve.” The scratching of the eyes represents themes of empowerment and anonymity.
Born in England’s industrial city of Nottingham, Kam-Bu grew up in a Jamaican household blasting all kinds of musical influences from grime to Afrobeat and on. But it was Rakim’s The18th Letter, a record salvaged from his dad’s toss pile, that particularly inspired him to become a rapper. The young Kam-Bu and his family moved to the melting pot of Brixton in the south of London and eventually out to West London where he still lives. He departs from most rap conventions with his less-cussed rhymes and erudite verse on social issues. Before the pandemic changed schedules around the world, Kam-Bu was an active volunteer while also working on dreams of sustainable living. “Well, Covid put a halt on a lot of the volunteering opportunities I was once involved in. But as we’re on the way out, I have started making plans to set up my own events around sustainable and eco-friendly living. The changes I and the others around me feel is this sense of fulfilment.”
The summer of 2021 didn’t just see the release of his EP, it saw the release of an energy. Legions of cooped-up fans were finally able to see him play live as he criss- crossed the UK festival circuit.
The summer festivals were sick. It was amazing to see people outdoors again enjoying live music with friends and family. The crowds were on point with their energy. It felt good to be on stage again. The highlight of the festivals was seeing people at the front singing the words back to me. That’s crazy, knowing people on the other side of the country are genuine fans of mine.
But as the music world loves him, the fashion world comes calling. The artist has collaborated with the likes of Gucci x FARFETCH on the Imagined Futures campaign, as well as with Idris and Sabrina Elba on their Walk a Mile in My Shoes capsule collection for Christian Louboutin.
He’s also been shot twice by legendary photographer Ewen Spencer, walked the catwalk for Martine Rose and appeared in a Bianca Saunders campaign. “I’ve always been into style and clothes. Even different eras of time and how people dressed then,” he keenly explains.
“My wardrobe has had many shifts over the years. I like limited edition pieces and some are even made to order, which is probably better for the planet and that’s important to me. But I also enjoy thrifting. You can find ‘one-off’ pieces there too. I like having things not many people have,” he laughs.