Uncovering the obscure and trivial about the Australian singer
There’s a group of independent creators turning heads in Amsterdam: SMIB Worldwide, made up of KC, GRGY, Ray Fuego, GHQST, Tads Thots, Dess Finesse, Yung Nnelg, Myrto, and Larry Appiah. They’re an industrious collective dropping EPs, mixtapes, merchandise and clothing lines – all without breaking a sweat. They riled up devoted crowds at Appelsap festival and have become an act you can’t miss live or online – check out their beats on SoundCloud, Squad TV on YouTube, style on Tumblr – plus they’ve been known to venture into the local art scene. We had a lot to catch up on so we invited GRGY and KC, both representing SMIB on the music front, to spend a sunny afternoon at the funfair, ’cause really, what better way is there to get to know somebody?
Sunday midday: We meet in the bright daylight in Westerpark. There’s a buzz in the air, the first signs of summer. That, and the classic cocktail of sounds that belong at a carnival – yelling children, electronic bing sounds and bad covers of yesteryear’s hits. GRGY is gleaming, there’s a glimmer in his eye. The kind of sparkle that gets people going. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that he’s unofficially crowned ‘the creative mind’ behind SMIB. He walks ahead of us, ready to take on some rides and get this day rolling. KC is on a different wavelength. He squints suspiciously at the crowds and the machines people are paying to get into. We walk past a ride that takes you way up, spins you around and gives you killer views of the city. KC turns his gaze downwards with sadness and shakes his head: ‘A friend of mine lost one of his sneakers in one of those.’
GRGY and KC, matched with iconic rapper Ray Fuego, produce and drop tracks under the yet-to-be-signed moniker Bummy Boys. Their signature sound blends dark beats, straight-up rhymes and Amsterdam street slang. Live they’re known to deliver amped-up hip hop with a rowdy punk sentiment. But just when you think you know them, you don’t. SMIB has pretty much become synonymous with genre defiance and enterprise.
GRGY was a misfit growing up. ‘I have the feeling that I was an internet kid without the internet. I always liked anime, crazy clothing, fashion and cool music. I was just being myself.’ ‘He was always like this,’ KC confirms calmly, ‘and Ray was always the same too, everyone knew him for it.’ We wind back time, start from the beginning.
GRGY got into making music at 14 with childhood friend Larry Appiah, now acting as their manager, who downloaded FruityLoops on to his computer. By the time they were 17 they had grown confident, but GRGY never shared anything online back then because, ‘E-v-ery-one in Bijlmer was a rapper. So I just didn’t want anyone to find out I make beats, because otherwise they’d all ask me for beats. I just wanted to do my own thing.’ The collective started out small – a duo; just GRGY and Larry. ‘We started spelling words backwards, like a sort of slang. That’s when Larry came up with SMIB, that’s “bims” backwards, it stands for Bijlmer. Where we’re from.’
I have the feeling that I was an internet kid without the internet
It was right around the same time that The New Originals (TNO) started out and Yung Nnelg got into rapping. The two collectives put their names aside and decided to record together. Then Eben Badu’s sweet-talking came into the mix. ‘He can just get things done by talking,’ GRGY grins. ‘He’ll tell you he has some crazy business he doesn’t. He got us into loads of studios and stuff, got us to hang out with De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig, shit like that. And then he got himself booked for Appelsap. He couldn’t even DJ, didn’t have songs, didn’t have nothing. So he was like, “Let’s make a few songs and just see what happens.”’ The New Originals were booked as DJs, but GRGY jumped the fence and climbed on to the stage and the world witnessed his rap debut at Amsterdam’s biggest hip hop festival, Appelsap .
Ray Feugo was in that crowd. After the show, Ray came up to GRGY to say he wanted to work together, gave him his number and told him, ‘I’m the best rapper from Holland.’ KC echoes, ‘No lie!’ and chuckles. ‘At first I was, like, “Okay, whatever,” but then two weeks later we meet up and he just freestyles all day and I’m like, “Damn! This kid is actually the best rapper I’ve ever heard!”’ And so their collaboration was born. ‘We made three songs when we first met up. One of them was ‘Beer&Pi$$a’, we put it up and within a few days we had over 1,000 plays. That’s when we all went to KC’s studio.’
Together with Ottis Remix, KC built his own studio at home and took measures to get things going. As if it were fate, he had already been working with both GRGY and Ray separately before they met. It felt like it was all coming together. ‘That’s how Bummy Boys started,’ KC concludes. ‘After that we were just always in the studio making shit. We made a mixtape and that’s it! We started to do shows and now we’re here. It’s crazy!’
GRGY managed to get Bummy Boys booked at Appelsap 2014, and after winning over the crowds, things took off from there. ‘I knew all these people, because of Eben – people you’d never meet otherwise.’ Once he started making music with Ray and KC, he had this network ready to go. ‘I emailed everyone, “I make music now,” and because we believed in it so much and we got all these young friends who just rock with it, it just kind of got a buzz.’ KC shakes his head in disbelief: ‘I never thought it would go so fast.’
It’s meant to be like a label, not like a boy band.
The crew we now know as SMIB Worldwide followed swiftly after that. It was a strategic move, KC explains, because ‘it’s easier to bring attention to what you’re doing that way’. I’ve been thinking of them as a collective, a syndicate of musicians, but it’s more than that. ‘It’s meant to be like a label, not like a boy band,’ GRGY tells me. SMIB Worldwide exists to promote the individuals involved and all of their widespread creative efforts.
SMIB is their gateway – the stepping-stone for this group of musicians and creators to do what they want to do. They’re not waiting for things to happen, they’re making them happen, using everything they’ve got. ‘I believe that if you want to do something, you should just go ahead and do it.’ GRGY couldn’t have typified himself and SMIB better. Everything they’ve got to show for themselves has been the result of exactly that – just doing. Like the shirts and jackets sporting the brand ‘SMIB’, which started out as a gamble. ‘I used the last money I had, from working shitty jobs, and got jackets made, hand painted by Wessel Rossen. I didn’t care if no one bought them; failure wasn’t really in my mind, I was just, like, “People are gonna buy these.”’ GRGY called out that he was selling them after the show at Appelsap and sold them by meeting up face-to-face with whoever dropped him a message on Facebook, Instagram, email or came up to him at a show.
When they sold out and he realised he could make money doing what he loved and make people happy, he decided: ‘I just want to live like this for ever. I want to keep pushing it to the next level every time.’ His drive is unrelenting and infectious. True to his word, GRGY was up late last night launching his webshop (www.smib.jp) to do just that. And to cater to the blown-up demand. ‘We have, like, a cult following. You can’t really see it, but it’s there.’
They’re on point and driven in everything they do. In setting up this interview, they were very determined about not wanting to meet in the Bijlmer. I want to find out why. ‘Every single interviewer or photographer wants to go the Bijlmer, because they think it’s “edgy” or “ghetto”,’ GRGY speaks sternly, as KC listens attentively. ‘But it’s not “edgy” or “ghetto”; it’s just where we’re from.’ Turns out, the guys are all too aware of the narrative media outlets have dealt them, but they’re not interested in contributing to that stereotype. ‘We’re musicians, making music, and we want to talk about that,’ KC shoots straight. Truly a man of few words, KC only speaks when he’s got something to say.
‘I don’t want it to be about where we’re from,’ GRGY continues, ‘I want it to be about what we’re representing.’ Hence the title and their vision for the collective: SMIB Worldwide. ‘It’s not just the Bijlmer. Everyone who rocks with it, is with it. So if you’re in Tokyo or anywhere in the world and you like it, then you’re part of it.’
I just want to live like this forever. I want to keep pushing it to the next level every time.
As the sun is setting and the temperature drops dramatically, I start to get a feel for their ambitions. It’s not fame or a lot of money, or even to establish something specific. It’s the way they want to live. ‘We want to do what we want, the way we want, and that’s not even hard to do!’ GRGY glistens. They want to create and produce, keep pushing themselves to the next level, support their friends and escape the humdrum of the 9-to-5. Through all of this, they want to create the feeling that ‘if we can do it, you can too, ’cause we’re all just people. We just did it, and people kind of liked it.’ GRGY beams as KC nods in agreement to everything he’s saying. ‘We want to bring everything that’s in our minds to life and in doing that, travel the world,’ GRGY muses. Industrious and inspired, armed with a seemingly limitless capacity for upping the game, I’d say they got this. Keep your eye out for these game-changers.