Once the home of poets and painters, Toxteth L8 is now the habitat of Scouse rap collective GRIME OF THE EARTH (GOTE), attempting to carry a proletarian sense of Liverpool’s working-class pride through a continuation of the oral tradition. Street ballads now take the form of grime tracks, a new style of poetry which, arguably, can provide a creative perspective on real life in one of Liverpool’s most notorious communities. Straight from the inner city to represent is CEO of Grime Of The Earth network, RUGZ DELETE. We sit down with Rugz to recount the waves made over 10 years ago by the original collective he played a part in, Toxteth Yutez.
Rugz started music from a young age, alongside artists like Whispa B, Ragz and Reckless, who were then between the ages of 11 and 15. “Toxteth Yutez was made up of two original collectives called YGF and Grime Fam,” says Rugz, as he recalls fond memories of his origins. “We were all just kids, meeting up in our local youth club. It was here we were introduced to our first studio recording,” at the Liverpool South Methodist Circuit centre just off Princes Road, in the heart of Granby’s community.
“Coming from London originally myself, I grew up with grime, it was everywhere,” Rugz continues, reflecting on a time when he knew little of Liverpool’s growing grime scene. “When I came to Liverpool I remember thinking I was going to be the only one who’d heard of it. How wrong I was.” Along with the impact of popular London collectives (Boy Better Know, Roll Deep and Nasty Crew) Rugz recalls how, as young developing artists, they had to look no further than their own communities for influence. “The music we connected to was being made by collectives like MOB and YOC. They had the real impact because they were who everyone wanted to be, but also who we could relate to because they were from round here.”
Life in Liverpool and involvement in the whole community has given Rugz insight into the parallels between London and Liverpool’s grime scenes. “There’s always been a scene. In 2003, grime was at its height – I was in London when it started but it had crews popping here, too. Thing is, back then it was all about CDs and tapes, but now music has exploded through the internet and there’s potential for coverage and documentary. That’s why I do music, because they might look back in 100 years at your lyrics. Imagine, it might be your lyrics that they read in schools.”
The release of their most memorable track Boy Better Know Bout Toxteth Yutez generated a wild response in the school playgrounds across Liverpool. Thinking back, Rugz describes the innocence of creativity in the creation of their local success. We didn’t think nothing of it, to us it was just a quick tune. No thought processes. Chaos – who’s now the Boxer Marcel Braithwaite – came with the hook. Next minute, everyone in school had Bluetoothed it on to their phones.”
Before they knew it, this school yard fandom was turning into bigger activity for Toxteth Yutez. Soon, they were merking live sets in the city (“It started with Grime Fam and YGF, they’d perform one or two tracks then just put beats on”); Rugz speaks openly and with passion as he paints the picture of some of his best memories. “That’s when I enjoy music, because you’re not trying to please everyone. If you’re just doing it to please yourself, it means you’re having fun.”
“We felt like superstars…” – Rugz is suddenly interrupted by the phone ringing. In the middle of recalling his most memorable moment he answers it to hear the voice of ILLICIT; the loudspeaker button opens the interview up to another one of GOTE’s active members. “Hold tight, Kofi… [Rugz says into the phone] The most memorable moment must be performing at the Philharmonic, it was the feeling I got on the bus. We felt like superstars!” Rugz explains how they got to the semi-finals of a competition organised by cousins Yaw and Kofi Owusu, and landed them live in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. “It was people sat all round like an opera. The energy was live.”
Kofi Owusu, more widely known by his stage name Kof, is now the founder of Liverpool’s GoPlay Studio which offers the services and platforms to create and self-distribute urban music. Illicit recalls how “once Kofi got a studio and we got a bit of direction, that’s when it was on. From then it was all milestones. I think it’s because we’ve never forced anything, it’s kind of like how the best nights out are the ones that aren’t planned”.
“It was all about the moment we realised we could turn a hobby into something real,” Illicit explains. “We just represent us and [aim] to show a new side to the North West. People look down on it until something happens and we just need conversations with the right people, like, we need the key to the door. We wanna meet the pacemakers and rub shoulders with people who share our unique, organic energy.”
From Yutez to Youngers: in 2013, the self-evolving G-Fam morphed in GOTE, a collaboration with other artists to create a network which is locally known today as Grime Of The Earth, consisting of members GULLYMAN DREAD, RONNIE BIGGZ, WAVEY JOE, BIG-O and JEPORDY, alongside Rugz and Illicit. Rugz describes how the relationships formed naturally, some with roots in childhood friendship. “When we met we all had similar interests, we were likeminded and some of us grew up together, so in a way we’ve always known each other. So, we just said, ‘Let’s do this music’. It just happened.”
Five years is a long time in this world, so much so that GOTE are now seen as veterans of the scene. Rugz looks back on the collective’s history, and how far they’ve come, with a sense of pride – but he knows that their work is far from finished. “Our first show was in The Zanzibar and it was hosted by Innuendo. Since then we’ve done loads of events, headlining a Hushushmedia event [MerseyGrime 2, at North Shore Troubadour], LIMF and we’ve put on our own events at Kitchen Street. We’re actually playing at LIMF again this year!”
As with all other artists in this world, live shows as a whole crew are rare. Though it is of the streets and forged in communities, grime music is the preserve of the internet – and GOTE are no different. Their music exists as net videos on YouTube, both on their own channel and on those of LabTV and online UK urban network P110 (see Boxes by Rugz and Ronnie Biggz). GOTE are just about to embark on an expansion of their online network, too, with the release of further tracks on SoundCloud and the launch of their own website as a home for all the collective’s work. There’s also a buzz for the new range of the crew’s signature T-shirts, which have even become popular outside of the grime community.
With one eye on the future, Rugz notes that the next generation are coming through quick and fast, keeping them on their toes. “[They’re] uploading their music: bang, bang, bang! Look out for the youngers, artists like C-Two, Shaff and Wavey Joe. For them now, it’s all about momentum and steady pace, it’s like my bar: ‘You got talent but where you gonna take it’. You need people to help you out, media like Bido Lito!, but more need to help out.” When asked who he would like to collaborate with, he replies, “With Liverpool artists. I don’t do enough with Liverpool artists and I think we should start at home and build from there, but there’s so many out there right now that I’d struggle to pick one out.”
Having been in this game for a decade, he feels as though he’s still got plenty more to give, even with the next batch of Toxteth youths hot on his heels. For Rugz, giving up grime isn’t an option. “For me it’s about therapy. I mean, there have been times in my life when I’ve done it to please people, but ideally, I try to stay to pleasing myself. Even though sometimes grime is bad, I’d rather be rapping about it than doing it. It keeps me focused.”