Blanco on his funky solo career and life in drill collective Harlem Spartans: “I want a Top 10 album”

Blanco on his funky solo career and life in drill collective Harlem Spartans: “I want a Top 10 album”

He hails from one of the most notorious drill groups in the UK, Harlem Spartans, and south London’s Blanco is now churning out drill and afroswing-y club tracks without his boys behind him. Breathing life into quite a repetitive drill scene, the 22-year-old stands out for his worldly sound and versatility.

What makes him stand out from the crowd is his love for the popular Brazilian party sound known as baile funk. Incorporating the choppy, ricocheting percussion of the South American sound with his brilliant clarity as a rapper – which has been perfected with his stint in the drill world – Blanco has become a rising British star. Listen to his 2019 EP ‘English Dubbed’ and you’ll known he’s ready to be another great UK rap export.

Here, the Kennington star tells NME about his debut mixtape ‘City of God’ – which is due out on August 13th – what life as part of Harlem Spartans is like and what he has planned next.

Hi Blanco! So, you seem to have a bit of a buzz about you at the moment…

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“I haven’t done those types of songs in a minute so I’ll obviously be getting back to that. I’ve been doing different styles and types of songs — like my newest single with [east London afroswing collective] NSG, that’s kinda afroswing. I’ve been doing drill songs; ‘Magneto’ is more of a typical rap one – they’re all different styles. I don’t really call myself drill anymore. Probably in 2018, I kinda pushed… I didn’t make a big decision but the way my life was at the time, I just moved on from it. I grew out of it. It wasn’t for me.”

What’s it been like, watching all your Harlem Spartan peers become underground rap stars?  

“It’s great to see my peers – Loski, MizorMac – doing good. They’re doing their thing and Bis was doing good [before his tragic killing in 2019]. Me and Bis, in the beginning, were making a couple tunes, and then the circle formed around us. Many close friends we didn’t even know rapped joined in – they surprised us. We weren’t really doing it for anything. We didn’t see a future in drill. We kinda saw getting to the top as a long shot – that’s what makes our success even better. We didn’t like aiming for no goals or charts or anything. When we did ‘Kennington is Where It Started’, that was the moment for me. I didn’t really see it as big numbers at the time but at the time, I thought I could make it.”

Does it feel strange to rap solo after being part of a big group like Harlem Spartans?

“I’m not going to lie: it’s a lot of hard work. But making a song alone is better because you can talk about a wider range of topics, and because it’s just you, you can kind of put out whatever you want. When I’m with some of the other people, I might not get to say what I want to say because people might have different experiences than you have, or you can’t really make it as good as you want it to be. Once you start working by yourself, you can kind of express yourself.”

‘Money On The Road’, your 2017 song with fellow Spartan TG Millian and Nigerian singer Naira Marley, is a pioneering afroswing track with more than eight million YouTube views to date. Did you think it’d be such a hit? 

“No. It was great. It’s still a great song. I didn’t know that it was going to be that big M, but it was a great song. It was fun doing that as well. It’s funny filming, because obviously [in the party themed music video] times are good. I mean, I feel like that was the peak years. 2016 was one of the elite years. The songs that came out were just perfect; Drake’s ‘One Dance’. It was just good tunes, good vibes.”

Do you think you get enough respect in the UK scene?

“I don’t really think of myself like that because I don’t seek it. I don’t do social media so that also plays a big part. I love to be a part of the start of something. Like being a pioneer of something. I’ve done it twice.”

What are you saying to the world with ‘City of God’?

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“I want everyone to listen to the music and have an opinion on it. I just want to show off what I could do because I’ve never done a project like this before. ‘English Dubbed’ was obviously an EP and I did that before the pandemic. It was definitely a test because I didn’t know what my sound was and I just put out a bunch of songs. My favourite song off the [new] mixtape is ‘TSG’. I had fun making it and usually when I have fun, the songs come out great. ‘Pain’ is a good one too. Rapping about Skatoony [a now-cancelled Cartoon Network gameshow in the ‘00s]… it just comes to my head when I’m rapping.”

In your music, you seem to be in love with Brazilian funk – how’d you find the songs to sample?

“When I make those songs, it just kinda flows. Songs like ‘Pull Up’ [from English Dubbed’] are actually baile funk, not afroswing, and people really liked that. And it was natural. I came across that sound on YouTube one day looking for something, and when I came across this, I was like, “This sounds good, so I used it. I didn’t actively look for it but this is the sound.”

In UK mainstream rap at the moment, you can’t really escape drill music…

“Obviously. That’s the problem with the UK – that one sound is kind of taken over. There are other styles but they don’t get as much attention. Whereas in the US, drill is popping, but so is this sound and this sound. So yes, drill’s big here and once was getting shut down, but the other sounds need to come through. That’s the UK’s problem; we need some different sounds. Even back in 2018, 2017, everyone had this afroswing-y vibe, now it’s drill.”

Tell us about your own musical influences, then… 

“Drake, NBA Youngboy, J Hus, Dave… a couple!”

Some people say Drake is a ‘culture vulture’, picking cynically borrowing other people’s styles to his own ends…

“I don’t think Drake is a vulture because I feel like he genuinely enjoys our music and he doesn’t need to be a vulture and take from us. It does help him, but it helps whoever he’s putting on way more.”

And finally: what’s next for Blanco?

“After this mixtape is out I’m going to focus on the album straight away. That’s what to expect, to be honest. I’m going with the flow but I have been thinking here and there about what could be on the album but I haven’t really started. I want a top 10 out of my career but other than that… I want the achievements to show people what I can do but other than that, I just want to make music.”

– Blanco’s ‘City of God’ is out on August 13 via Universal Music

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