“This Is Not The Same Blanco Of Old” – An MM Exclusive With Blanco

Joe Simpson

By Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson

25 Aug 2023

Blanco has been an originator of one of the more unique sounds in UK Rap, blending traditional influences with Brazilian inspired instrumentals, as well as harnessing an instantly recognisable flow. Coming up as part of the legendary Drill group Harlem Spartans, Blanco showcased his prodigious talents from early on in his career, playing key roles on tracks like ‘Kennington Where It Started’ and ‘Call Me A Spartan’. Since then, the artist has moved away from the Drill sound and created his own style, blending influences from across the globe whilst maintaining an assured presence behind the microphone.

I sat down with Blanco to discuss his first movements in music, his time with the Harlem Spartans, the state of the Drill genre, and his new project, ‘ReBourne’:

How did you first get into music?

I was always into music from an early age. There was a difference for me between getting into music and having a love for music. I felt that I had a big passion for music but I wasn’t getting into it. I didn’t sing any songs. I didn’t play any instruments. I just had a passion.

How did that passion establish itself?

I grew up listening to a lot of US Rap. Lil Wayne, TI, 50 Cent, Eminem and Jay Z as well. Then I also listened to some mainstream UK stuff. N Dubz, Tinchy, Skepta, Wiley. That’s what I kind of grew up on. I think there’s a stage for everyone when you reach secondary school and your music starts to get a bit more underground. I was listening to Section Boyz, Potter Payper, Rimzee, Joe Black, Benny Banks, all that stuff. It was good stuff, man.

Out of that interest in music you found yourself in Harlem Spartans. How did that come about?

With Harlem Spartans, every member was my friend before we made music. We had a community centre where you could go and record your songs. Every Friday, we’ll go there and experiment. At first I used to watch and then I started recording myself. That’s how it first started to come about, at the community centre. We started putting our songs on Soundcloud and then it just started the whole thing.

What were your expectations at that point? Did you think that this could be the first step in your career?

No, we just did it for fun, man. I don’t know what we expected. We just wanted a bit of acknowledgement but I don’t think any of us saw it as a career. It was more of a hobby for us. That’s how fun it was. Even though we knew there was a possibility we could make money from it we didn’t really see it as a career.

What do you think about the influence that Harlem Spartans have had on UK Rap music to this day?

It influenced a lot of people, like I can hear it. It changed the culture completely. The things that people rap about and the way they say things? We started this and you can still hear it in the culture to this day. The influence has been mad.  It’s been so big, because when I came out of prison, I thought to myself that everyone sounds so similar to how we sounded. 

The next phase of your career saw you progress as a solo artist. What were those next steps like?

I wouldn’t call the Harlem Spartans a natural breakup. Everyone just went to prison. I obviously had no choice but to start a solo career when everyone was incarcerated. It’s just the life that we were living at the time. I think there’s a yin and yang to things. Obviously, the success for us came quick not just because of the music, it was also everything the music represented in real life. We were still living that stuff. 

What we spoke about in our music, nine times out of ten we did it. It only made sense that we got arrested.  It brings more heat. The police don’t like it, they target you more because you’re seen as a bigger presence. So yeah, they want to make an example out of you.

We’re kind of seeing the same conversations with Drill recently as we’ve been seeing with Grime over the last few years. People are ready to call Drill music dead or at least ask that question. What are your thoughts?

Grime is different to Drill. Drill was much bigger and has way more sub-genres within it. Grime doesn’t really have sub-genres but there are so many offshoots of Drill that some wouldn’t be considered it. When people are asking “Is Drill dead?”, I think that it’s more kind of evolved. The original Drill sound is probably dying, but the sub-genres are a bit different. I feel like there’s still life in the sub-genres, and I think it’s going to continue to evolve. 

Obviously in your solo work you have quite a unique sound compared to a lot of your peers. Was that a conscious decision coming out of Harlem Spartans to go in your own direction?

No, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It just happened, innit. I didn’t really want to go down the Drill route again, so I just started doing whatever I liked and what I liked ended up being my own sound. Obviously I like to be different as well so I tried out some different things. I guess I created my own sound but it wasn’t on purpose. 

In that sound you’ve got that Brazilian influence which runs through a lot of your music. Where does that come from?

I grew up listening to Brazilian music, Portuguese music, Brazilian music – listening in my household obviously. I’ve got one or two Brazilian family friends, Portuguese cousins. I speak Portuguese and my family speak Portuguese as well. Brazilian music is present and was present in my upbringing. There’s another artist called Jevon who has been pointed out to me since I’ve started making this kind of music. He’s sick, man. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times as well.

You’ve got a new tape out as well, ‘ReBourne’. What does that title mean to you?

I’ll be real – that title is serious. It means a lot, man. This is a new me. I’m reborn again, innit? This is not the same Blanco of old. I’m a new man. Obviously the sounds are a bit different and the tape is a bit different so that’s what it means. This is a new Blanco.

On the tape you tap into a lot of different sounds. What was the process like for you?

The process was a bit different on this one. Before on my first project I was more relaxed and I was more willing to make changes. I made it a bit differently, but I was more

straight minded about the tape this time round. I wouldn’t say I was more focussed, but I kept the same songs that I wanted on the tape at first. I didn’t really make any changes to it. 

You’ve also tapped into a lot of football and anime bars across your career. How do your lyrics shape your music?

Ooh, good question (laughs). It’s more of the things I do, the things I’ve seen, the things I get up to, the things I want to do. That’s what kind of shapes my lyrics. The football bars and anime bars are present because I watch them a lot of the time. I don’t do it on purpose, it just randomly pops up. I normally like to keep the first thing I’ve written down which explains the football and anime references because that’s normally what is fresh in my head, but in this tape there’s less of that. 

I’m a Man City fan and they played one of my songs in the stadium before a game, which was sick. None of the players have reached out to me yet though – I’m giving them a time limit man, they’re taking long!

You’ve got some features on this project and you’ve previously worked with the likes of K-Trap and Central Cee. Who has been a highlight to work with and do you enjoy the process of collaborating?

One of my highlights to work with has to definitely be NSG. They’re just vibesy, man, so vibesy. I love the way they move and what they do, it’s fucking lit. They’re very talented. 

I like working with other people, man – anyway I can. Obviously I like doing solo stuff because you can always keep changing. You have more control and you can go a bit more in depth. More time, when you do collaborations it’s got to be more broad because they might not share your pain or your views, but I like doing them because it’s easier and you can bounce off each other. 

What would you say has been a career highlight for you so far?

Travelling abroad to do music and shows. It’s lit! I never thought I’d be in a position to do that through music. I’ve been to Cyprus, I went to Ghana for a video shoot. I’ve been about, man!

Just finally, it feels as if UK Rap is in a good space right now. Where do you think your place is within the genre and what are your goals for the future?

I want to be big. I want to be well known and I want to elevate. I want to have that status – that Dave status. It’s taking longer than expected but that’s definitely where I see myself. I’ve got another couple things lined up and I want to get to that status in the next two years.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you, man.

Blanco’s latest project, ‘ReBourne’ is available now across digital streaming platforms.