Nigerian-born Glasgow-based rapper Bemz has just completed his first day in a new job, working in a social enterprise clothes shop where the profits go to the homeless community who supply all the designs. Bemz – born Jubemi Iyiku – is big on community ethos and giving credit where it is due, whether working as a community engagement officer for creative platform We Are Here Scotland, running his own clothing brand and events company M4, promoting Afro house nights – “just trying to push some new sounds into Scotland” – or advocating for a homegrown hip-hop scene he reckons is “still in its infancy.”
His Scotsman Sessions track His Story, filmed at Fusion Studios on the Clydeside, is “a statement piece” from his latest M4 EP on the challenges he has faced. Bemz has lived in Scotland for over a decade now. Growing up he aspired to be an English teacher but gradually the “rap banter” he shared with his older brother has developed into a determination to establish himself as a creative contender.
“As a young man living in Scotland, we have this expectation of living a fantastic lifestyle but due to circumstances that’s not always possible,” he says. “But I try not to give up hope. I think it’s heading in the right direction but at a very slow pace. I think it will soon come to a point where there will be a proper Scottish hip-hop scene that includes everyone in Scotland who’s making music not just one specific group of people.”
He hopes one such beneficiary will be ID, his co-conspirator on His Story. “I’d always liked his gritty style of writing and his honesty,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I moved to Glasgow that I got an opportunity to bond. Now whenever I perform, he’s my right-hand man. We’re like brothers now.”
His own profile is on the rise, boosted recently by his inclusion on the Scottish Album of the Year Award Longlist for his 2020 EP Saint of Lost Causes. “The SAY Award was something that I never thought was within my reach,” he says, “and when I applied I thought ‘what are the chances?’” Sadly Bemz didn’t make the next cut to the Shortlist but he remains philosophical.
“It’s obviously tough when you are coming up against Biffy Clyro and The Snuts,” he says. “When I got the email saying I wasn’t through, I thought this is always the case in everything that I do in Scotland with my music – you’re good but you’re never good enough. But at the same time I’m headstrong in my work so I’m using that as motivation to go back to the drawing board and create something for next year that they can’t deny.”
Extra impetus comes from becoming a father during lockdown. “I now have to create music that I know will last the test of time and make an impact. My daughter is my inspiration and made me realise I need to work a bit smarter as well as harder.”
The M4 EP is out now. Bemz plays King Tut’s, Glasgow, on 13 January.
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