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UK Garage, Diversity and More: GUAP In Conversation with Marcel Somerville [@marcel_rockyb]

This week GUAP caught up with BAFTA-winning musician, author, former Blazin’ Squad member and 2017 cast member of TV Show ‘Love Island’, Marcel Somerville. Following the release of his recent single ‘They Wanna Know’. In conversation with Guap Arts and Culture Contributor, Aji Ayorinde, Marcel spoke about his time in Blazin’ Squad, diversity within the creative industries and more.

Aji: Blazin’ Squad enjoyed some success back in the day – with several top 10 hits. What was it like being part of Blazin’ Squad at the time and what impact would you say that the music that you guys produced had on pop culture?

Marcel: Thinking back to like 2002-2003, we obviously grew up listening to the likes of So Solid Crew, Pay as You Go, all of those kinds of groups and we kinda wanted emulate them. However, there were a lot of areas around the UK that had never heard of So Solid or Pay As You Go – the areas where ‘urban music’, as it was called back in the day, wasn’t really as well spread as social media has allowed it to become. Because we had such a large  young audience, spanning the ages of 11 through to 18 or so, I feel that in some way we were able to translate some of what So Solid were doing and what we were influenced by to a new younger audience. Not to say that you could blame Blazin’ Squad for ‘chav’ culture, but you did see a lot of young people wearing those kinds of tracksuits and introducing that kind of style because us lot were doing it.

Crossroads, in particular, I think had a massive impact. If you listen to the lyrics of Crossroads now, in a way it reflects what is currently going on. The message that we’re trying to put across is that you haven’t always got to be the hardest or haven’t always got to prove yourself in respect of other things because life will always turn around in the end.

I do think there were a number of aspects that Blazin’ Squad brought to youth culture around that era but, music-wise, we were always trying to find the balance between rapping and having memorable hooks. When we did our second album, we were actually influenced by American culture as that is what was in at the time; in contrast, when we first came out, we were more influenced by the UK garage scene. All that changes the moment record labels get involved and they start wanting you to introduce more ‘pop’ into it which, in a way, I think, diluted what we were about. The first A&R we had wanted us to be fully garage, even getting Elephant Man to feature on one of our tunes – it was mad. However, once So Solid started getting banned from shows, our record label wanted us to start to cross over into the more commercial side of things which I think changed the tone of what we were originally trying to go for.

Aji: Mad. Have you always been musically inclined? Do you see a marked difference between the way you approached music in the peak of the Blazin’ Squad days and how you approach it now?

Marcel: I think I’ve always been musically inclined – like I even wrote my first song aged 5 years old. There was an advert for VO5 on the TV, and I kinda remixed it and used to sing it like every day to my Mum. But yeah, I’ve always loved music – even before Blazin’ Squad; I had this programme called Acid which I used to try and produce tunes on. They weren’t that good I must admit, haha, but this was when I was like 13 just trying to pursue my favourite pastime. I was heavily influenced by MC Hammer and Puffy and Mase. I remember my Dad asking me what I wanted to do when I’m older, I told him that I wanted to be a producer like Puff Daddy. I obviously later realised that Puff wasn’t the hands-on producer that I thought he was but I still wanted to emulate what he had done with and for all of the rappers around him.

When So Solid came around, it kinda changed my life as I started making garage beats and that’s when the squad kinda got formed as we was all into the same thing, all doing the same things on the playground and we all wanted to be the next Megaman or whatever. We were fully into that kind of scene. Next thing, we went to the studio, made a tune, and it all just kind of blew up. I don’t even know how it happened. There was a point where there were members in the squad who, if they had carried on, would be great rappers – I’m not saying I’d be one of those guys. I leaned more towards the hooks and to the producing side of things, so I can obviously make a tune from start to finish, and get the hooks in there and everything – like I’ve done with my new tune, which is very hooky. There were guys in the squad though who, despite being young, their bars were still levels.

The thing is – life then gets in the way, things change and people gain more and more responsibility, so you can’t always focus on your music… we’re all 32 now. I’d say that doing things the way I have – having my own home studio, producing, and rapping, has made me the kind of producer and musician that I am. My new single is me the whole way through – production, vocals, mixing. Over time, you kind of develop, but once you have that musical thing about you, you can always grow and continue to hone your skills. To sum up, now I know what I’m doing, whereas I feel like, in hindsight, I was still learning in the days of Blazin’ Squad.

Aji: You have a new single that has just dropped. Talk me through the process behind the writing and production of the single.

Marcel: I kind of produced the new track, “They Wanna Know”, off the back of writing the song. Obviously, I had just gotten out of a long term relationship. Whilst I was in the relationship I was trying to write songs, which all seemed like they were written to try and please certain people as opposed to being songs written about what I was really thinking or feeling. When ‘They Wanna Know’ came to mind, I decided to just go through some of the beats I had in my catalogue and write about what I was actually experiencing – like I had millions of people messaging me on Social Media asking me to do things for them, girls sending me mad messages and images and I just thought… this is mental. Obviously me doing the show changed things, but I still felt like the same brudda, so I decided to just put my experience into a song.

I went for a 100BPM tempo. As my favourite song last year was ‘Unforgettable’ by French Montana, I wanted to replicate that same kind of bounce, incorporating an afro-swing kind of vibe into it in the process, but also incorporating some dancehall elements. There is a definite focus on the vocal elements in it; you’ll hear a lot of voices coming through – I think voices are the best way to captivate people… the moment you hear a voice in a song you can try and emulate it. Creating hooks and producing is what I thrive at. Obviously I know that I can spit bars, but I’ve never really seen myself as a rapper – I just like to create.

Aji: Is there an album on the way too?

Marcel: There’s going to be an EP dropping next year, called ‘Circles’. In life, there are a bunch of different circles you come across – friendship circles; relationships can evolve in circles – from good to bad to good again; in life you can be up and then down and then up again – it’s a continuous circle. I was famous when I was 15/16 years old, then I wasn’t famous, now I’m famous again – it all kinda ties into it. All the songs on the EP are about the different kinds of circles in life and that’s where the energy for it came from.

Aji: You must have seen this coming – what led you to go on Love Island?

Marcel: My management have actually put me forward for Love Island three times. The first time they did, at the time I had a girlfriend so it wasn’t really appropriate; the second time they wanted me to come in and join the show towards the end. Really and truthfully I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to go on there and try and steal people’s girlfriends. I was thinking that I would be the Black guy coming in and trying to take people’s girlfriends and I didn’t really want to be portrayed or come across like that so I declined. Third time round, I had my interviews mad early and found out I was going to be one of the originals.

At the time, the company that I was working for was actually about to merge with another company so I was actually wondering what I was going to do the following year. I could either move to Leicester with my current company or look for a new job. When the Love Island opportunity came up, I thought to myself, ‘life throws things at you in many different forms, sometimes you just have to go for the adventure’ – that’s exactly what I did, and it’s changed my life. I always say to myself that even the worst things in life happen for a reason and Love Island happened for a reason. It picked me up out of a sinking ship, so I’ve got to love it.

Aji: We saw that the way in which Samira was treated in Love Island this year was very different to your treatment and reception when you were on the show the previous year – is this merely bringing to light a double standard in the way in which Western society views Black women (from a dating perspective) and how it views Black men that we have known about within our communities for some time?

Marcel: Samira and I are tight but I watched Samira’s season and was just thinking about how mad everything was. Obviously, with regards to the show, you expect them to put on people who have a certain type, because even from my year, I managed to survive to the final after finding a girl that I bonded with. Before that though, in the first week I felt the exact same way that Samira did – I was the first boy down there but none of the girls had fallen for me.

Like, I was thinking, rah – I get girls on the outside, I don’t know what’s happening or what’s going on? I think, me being me, thought, ‘fuck it, if I leave this week, I leave this week’ and I just relaxed and everyone just ended up being my mate. I think at one point I was the most loved in the villa. I think it was a similar thing for Samira. When you’re an original, you get that kind of bond with everyone else, but I do think that there were elements when they weren’t shining the best light on her. She’s an amazing person and I do think it does kind of emulate society. I know that Black women have it a lot harder than any other group in the UK, but I would say that every year Love Island try to bring on a more ethnic crowd.

I think I was the first full Black guy to be on the show and I think that as time goes on they’re going to continue to learn and to realise. They try to put in that crowd but then at the same time, they don’t put in anyone for whom you’re their type. This year’s show they didn’t put in anyone who actually liked Black girls.

“If you’re going to throw a Black woman into the mix to add to ethnicity, you need to throw in the admirers as well.”

If I was on the show, I would have 100% gone for Samira because, obviously, she’s beautiful innit. On my show they didn’t really give me that many options to have the kind of girl I would usually go for.

At the end of the day, it is what it is, to some extent. Hopefully next year they’ll have sorted it all out because of the backlash – it was blatantly obvious that they weren’t putting in anyone for Samira and were just expecting people to just couple up even though that’s not how it works in the real world. It is a bit of a mad situation though, still, in relation to the dating scene for Black women in the UK.

Aji: I met you at the government ‘Investing in Ethnicity Awards’ – is diversity within the creative industries and professional workplaces something you are passionate about?

Marcel: It should be a massive thing. Just comparing things to back in the day in Blazin’ Squad, me and Melo used to always be at the back of the pictures and all that kind of stuff – it was because we were the tall ones but people always used to ask questions still. In everyone else’s mind it meant something else.

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I’ve seen the development from inside and outside the industries. Skepta and all those kinds of guys have stormed their way through and created what they have because they are madly talented. It’s important to invest into the youngsters and the people who are playing a part in developing all these different industries. It’s amazing that there are rewards and awards for people doing such a good job at trailblazing. I think it’s a massive thing for the UK and for all people of an ethnic background.

Aji: Are awards ceremonies enough?

Marcel: I think it’s a start. It was the first year of the awards ceremony and it will only continue to grow. I think they’ll definitely broadcast it more next year though and it will only develop from there.

Aji: Wild card – what’s your favourite film and why?

Marcel: So I’m a bit of a film buff, but one of my favourite films is definitely The Dark Knight – the second in the Batman / Dark Knight Trilogy… the one with The Joker. That’s one film that I could watch from start to finish – I could probably watch it every day. I’m a big Batman fan and it’s got all my favourite characters in it. The Joker is sick in it. The storyline is sick. Christopher Nolan is an amazing director.

At the same time, I’m known as ‘Marcel Rocky B’ for a reason. Rocky used to be one of my favourite films because it’s one of the films where it had one of those guys that had all the potential to do something and wasn’t achieving it. Then he gets a chance to become one of the best in the world and just takes it and he runs with it. That kind of inspired me as a kid growing up and it’s why I called myself Rocky B, as I always knew that I was going to do more with my life than certain people expected of me.

Aji: What’s next for you?

Marcel: I’ve just got my new studio in Soho. I’ve had a home studio for a long time, but it’s been nice having my own space. I’ve been working with a few artists: Donae’o, Scrapz and them lot. It’s been a busy few weeks in the studio but, yeah man, it’s all good, it’s all good.

Aji: Where can we hear the single?

Marcel: My single is available on all major digital platforms. ‘They Wanna Know’ by Marcel Somerville – it’s a big tune. Check it out.

The full video for ‘They Wanna Know’ is out now on GRM Daily.

~ @ajiayorinde