Frisco is one of the rare London MCs who have stood the test of time from the birth of the Grime scene onward. A long-standing member of Boy Better Know, and a consistent lyricist, performer and producer in his own right, Fris has been a deeply influential mainstay within the grime community, and has at this point, he sustained a long and successful musical career in the underground Grime Scene.
Frisco grew-up in Tottenham, North London. “My mum would play reggae in the house, which had a big influence on me, but it was when I’d ride around in my dad’s car and he’d play jungle that I became fascinated with MCing” he says. “These were people putting a UK-twist on what the dancehall MCs were doing. Jungle gave me access to MCing because I didn’t have to put on a Jamaican accent. I could be British.”
By the turn of the millennium, UK garage had taken over. “But those of us who wanted to spit over garage, and talk about what was going on in the ends in our lyrics, weren’t being let in. That’s when new producers like Wookie started popping out of the woodwork, adding darker synths and basslines. When grime started to take form, nobody was making it apart from So Solid or Heartless Crew” he says, noting that the latter collective were a few years ahead of him at school. “They were like gods: the first people to show us people like us could make it. That was when pirate radio was the main thing that brought people together and allowed you to get noticed.”
As grime started to take-off as its own subculture, having been dabbling in music whilst remaining heavily in the streets, Frisco was shot at the end of 2005. “After that happened, I watched what JME and Skepta were doing” he says, which inspired him to focus more on music. They asked him to become an official member of Boy Better Know, alongside DJ Maximum and Wiley. The move gave Frisco purpose. “When you’re with a top boy like Wiley, and your bars are standing up…it motivates you. Everything was BBK — in fact, it still is — but then it was radio, lyrics, clashes, cutting dubs, going to this studio, that studio, every single day.” In 2006 Frisco released Back To Da Lab Volume 1, which featured street classic “Fully Grown” with Skepta, alongside a host of classic early grime tracks with guest verses from his independent label-mates, sparking the beginning of what has gone on to become an iconic mixtape series.
Around the same time, rival grime crew The Movement — including Ghetto, Scorcher, and Wretch 32 — were looking to compete with BBK to be the best collective in the scene. “Scorcher sent for us, I replied, and I think that’s when people realized I was a beast in this war ting! That time was exciting” Frisco says nostalgically. “Back then there was no Instagram or Twitter, so if you said something about a man on radio, nine times out of ten he’s gonna pop up. Sometimes that turned into violence, but often it just made the music better because it made people compete and garnered more attention for the culture. I’m a battle MC, so if it comes to clashing, I’ll be the one who has bars. I remember one time, I went on my own and clashed Ghetts on stage at his own album launch party” he says. “That period gave me the drive to make Back To Da Lab Volume 2. It’s my favourite of all the mixtapes because it brings back so many memories.”
With grime garnering more of a mainstream sound and audience in 2008 and 2009, Frisco started to travel all over the UK to perform and fly out to places like Ayia Napa and Malia where the genre was thriving in the clubs. “Those party islands could make or break tunes” he says. At the same time, he began working with rising young grime stars like Chipmunk, Maxta and Double S, helping to give them a platform. His mentor role led, in turn, to Chip getting noticed by Wiley. “I was trying to bring people through with me” he says. In 2009, Back To Da Lab Volume 3 came out, and Boy Better Know released “Too Many Man”, featuring a memorable verse from Frisco alongside fellow members of his collective. It was song that would quickly become a club anthem and classic of the hybrid, grime-funky phase that temporarily dominated British music culture.
In 2010 Frisco released his debut album Fully Grown, embracing the popular aesthetic that grime was now becoming married to, far from the old pirate radio days of his younger years.“By then I was fully into the swing of compiling music. Personally, I probably wasn’t ready to put an album out at that time, even though it seemed like an obvious thing to do after three mixtapes. I think I had a lot more to do, a lot more life to live. There are a lot of things and views I had on that album that I don’t have now, and I know that’s just growth — it’s supposed to happen — but creatively I’d do things differently if I could go back.”
In 2011 the London riots shook the capital city to its foundations, after Mark Duggan — Frisco’s friend from years spent growing up in Tottenham — was shot dead by police. “That was hard. At the time I was working on Back To Da Lab Volume 4, which came out in 2012, but Mark was with me in the studio for many of those sessions. So, the music that was on Volume 4was made before the riots, when I was in a different mindset, but it came out after them.
After a year of introspection, Frisco returned with his second studio album, British Nights, which reflected on Duggan’s tragic passing and the struggles he went through in coming to terms with what had happened. This included the release of saxophone-laced anthem “Are You?” featuring Chip, which has been watched on YouTube over 3 million times. “I had a lot to speak about: Mark, police, and I was going through a lot of stuff myself. It was a personal project. Before that I’d never really been an open book. I’m usually a private person, but that album changed things” he observes.
Going into 2015, Frisco wanted to invest in a new direction in his career, and at the same time bring back “the old school essence of live MCing, when the rave is crammed with people” he says. “We’d been doing big festivals in different countries to huge crowds, tens of thousands of people, and other things like Culture Clash at Earl’s Court.” Striving to embrace the feel of a smaller venue — the type that he would have performed at in earlier days — as well as showcasing old and new talent in one place, Frisco launched club night The Den at Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, in January 2015, with help from a Boy Better Know performance. The night would be perfectly timed to help nurture grime’s authentic resurgence over subsequent months and years. “Fans were coming and seeing artists for the first time alongside artists who were already established. Stefflon Don, Ms Banks, Ambush…they all came through The Den” Frisco says. The night continued to grow in reputation throughout 2016 and beyond: it is now every few months, and has been taken internationally across Europe, and most recently to SXSW in Texas, US.
In 2016, Frisco’s album System Killer came out, featuring popular single “Different Kind”. “It was the first project where some of the songs were recorded outside the UK. I recorded some in Jamaica, some in New York, some in Amsterdam. I was playing shows all around the world and it was the first time I could be free with my music-making. It’s all in the name: it was rebellious, experimental, and not conforming to what people expected of me.” The album was his most successful project in terms of downloads and streams, featuring popular songs “Different Kind”, “Raving Tonight”, and “Them Man There.” The decision to avoid label support for the album’s distribution, and instead follow grime’s DIY, independent ethos, paid off.
As Frisco goes into 2020, after the release of Back To Da Lab Volume 5, and the catchy first single off his upcoming album, “Imagine”, he is looking forward to returning to the essence of grime with his sound. “I never want to be too busy to do a radio set. If someone’s got a camera, I’m ready to film a street cypher. I’ll never be too big for that. I want to keep sharp, that’s so important to me. These days you can’t take time out. Music has changed, and you have to keep in touch with what’s going on” he says.
The past few years has seen an enormous switch in the focus of the UK music industry. Following a pivotal moment where Skepta and JME’s That’s Not Me kicked the industry doors wide open, an enormous gateway opened and a whole universe of what was previously under the radar British music (UK Rap, Drill, Afrobeat etc.) stepped through into the mainstream. For a while all this variation sat uncomfortably under the moniker “Grime” but once again the ubiquitous term “Urban” opened up like an umbrella as focus turned towards American beats under the jurisdiction of major labels, A&Rs and algorithmic tastes.
Not so with Grime, and not so Frisco. With its strident DIY culture, discombobulated rhythms, and punk sonics, the underground just carries on as before, owning a very specific space and an equally specific culture: an unadulterated, unbending sonic universe that authentically reflects the reality of London environment and culture. For Frisco, as he heads into 2019 and beyond, with a new album on the horizon, this isn’t anything new. This is what it’s always been and where he’s always stood, mic in palm, shoulder to shoulder with his peers, only this time, he’s ready to turn the volume way up and make some noise about “the essence” of what Grime is all about.