AT the end of this week, Glasgow-based rapper Bemz (born Jubemi Ikiyu) will take to the stage at SWG3 for his biggest headline show to date. It’s set to mark another milestone in what has been a life-changing couple of years – from being nominated in DJ Mag’s Best of British Breakthrough MC/Vocalist category, to bagging BBC Scotland’s Scottish Act of the Year crown in 2022, dropping award-nominated releases, joining indie heroes The Snuts on a UK-wide tour, taking part in the BBC Radio 1xtra Introducing Rap Cypher and selling out Glasgow’s King Tuts.
And the rapper’s unassailable momentum shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. His recent EP ‘Nova’s Dad’ is another triumph and a perfect snapshot of the sound Bemz has spent years carefully crafting – deeply personal, full of honesty and with a tender balance of ambition and vulnerability. It’s also testament to the years of hard work and dedication that have taken him from freestyle rapping in Stranraer as a young 15-year-old to the forefront of Scottish hip hop – it’s the sound of an artist who has boldly forged his own path and truly starting to reap the benefits.
Friday night at SWG3 therefore offers plenty to look forward to. Not only is it a chance to see one of the most exciting talents in the country before he inevitably hits the bigger stages, but it’s also an opportunity to see material from ‘Nova’s Dad’ in the flesh, in front of a hometown crowd – and with a few surprises in store, too.
So, ahead of the big night, we caught up with Bemz to hear about his plans for the gig, the recent EP and his ambitions for the year ahead.
“I am very nervous for this gig. It’s my biggest headline show to date. Especially in Glasgow. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous but that’s all part of it. I am looking forward to being on stage again though in front of a Glasgow crowd and feeding off the mad energy they bring to shows.”
He adds: “You can expect something special. I’ve spent time working on the live aspect and being able to incorporate a live band into this show is something I’m proud of. I’m grateful for the boys coming on and joining me.
Taking place in the aftermath of his first UK headline tour – which has so far featured dates in Manchester, Leeds and London – the Glasgow gig comes in support of his recent EP ‘Nova’s Dad’. Already receiving widespread acclaim, he notes: “I’ve found the reception of the project to be overall good. I think there’s something there for everyone you know. Like some tracks might not resonate to some but do to others and I guess that’s the brilliance of music. Overall, I think people received it well.”
Framed around his relationship to his young daughter while offering meditations on the importance of family, home and self-acceptance, the eight-track EP gives us a generous insight into his world – whether it’s jostling with the concepts of power and success on the Washington-assisted ‘Snowfall’, the balance of ambition and reflection on the poignant ‘We Move’, the vulnerable honesty about a lost relationship on ‘Sweetest Girl’ or the bouncy, summer-ready ‘Zidane’. Undoubtedly his most ambitious and complete piece of work to date, it’s a definitive point of growth, both personally and artistically.
Speaking of his inspiration, he says: “My main inspiration and probably the biggest would have to be my daughter, Nova. Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons and for me I’ve grown the most since becoming a father. My thought process and what I wanted to say was all based around the concept of her.”
His lyrics on the EP are poetry, and they are elevated even further by the smooth, carefully layered production. Of the recording process, he adds: “There was a lot of chopping and changing during the recording process, but my peoples Axor & Steven Simpson were with me throughout the whole process. It was laid down with them as well as my brother FEMI who joined at the end. Having been working on the project for a while, it only really began to take shape towards summer last year and also when the name was confirmed.”
Bemz’ work has always been defined by its honesty and vulnerability but ‘Nova’s Dad’ reaches new emotional heights. What inspired this shift? He reveals: “Life really. The more madness happened, the more I realised I had a very special story that needed to be told. Music and lyrics are basically my therapy so it helps me be vulnerable because it really is how I’m feeling.”
Born in Nigeria, Bemz moved to south London with his parents and six siblings when he was just four. Ten years later, his father decided he should “escape the madness of London at the time” and move to live with his aunt in Stranraer. From there, he moved to Ayr to study sound production at college, developing a broader understanding of music and performing gigs in and around Ayr and Glasgow – albeit without much traction at the time. All of these experiences have influenced the artist he is today – and since those formative gigs ten years ago, he’s formed a sound that is distinctly his own, emerging from the studio each time with a renewed sense of focus and even clearer vision.
Speaking about this evolution, he says: “I mean I think I have lived a lot and seen a lot, so my music somewhat tries to reflect that. My sound has grown but if anything has become very clear and distinctive.”
And while his singular talent has helped him pave the way, there’s also been help from those around him. Over the years, the journey has seen has team up with a number of familiar faces – the likes of Kobi Onyame, Testpress, Chef The Rapper, Washington and Sean Focus have all featured on stand-out tracks. However, who is still on the dream collab list though? “This one here is tricky, young Bemz would love a Tinie Tempah feature just cuz. I would love to work with some Scottish powerhouses like Joesef for example but overall. I guess I’d love a Loyle Carner/ Dave / Knucks or something.” Watch this space.
The last couple of years have certainly been busy for the now Glasgow-based rapper and they’ve thrown up many milestones. However, on reflection of his achievements thus far, he says: “I guess my biggest achievement firstly has been to make it this far. Secondly, I guess winning the BBC Scottish Act of the Year. This was a special moment for me and my team.”
A sign that things were really starting to move in the right direction for Bemz, the BBC award gave the rapper just a small dose of the mainstream recognition he deserved – and it also held him aloft as a beacon of inspiration to the many other emerging artists starting to follow in his footsteps.
But there’s plenty more to come. For 2023, he says the aim is to “play as many shows and festivals as possible work on some new music and survive.”
As for long term plans though, he doesn’t skip a beat: “Leave a legacy that shows its possible and also become financially free.”
Get your tickets for the SWG3 gig here.
Check out our TTV session with Bemz and Rory James.