The future of grime belongs to Uncle Mez

Mez speaks like he raps; a million miles an hour and about a million things at once. Since winning 1Xtra’s #NextInGrime competition in 2015, Mez has built up the closest thing you can get to a cult following in grime with his unique flow and hyperactive persona.

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The day we meet he has a cold, so he’s a little more subdued than the Mez you might be used to bounding around in his freestyles and music videos, but nonetheless, his enthusiasm is infectious, and before the interview has even begun we’re both trying to hold in our laughter.

Mez got his start at secondary school, shadowing an older, different, Mez a couple of years above him. Back then he was Little Mez, a Year 7 kid with aspirations of making it as an MC, fresh faced and sans the Uncle nickname that follows him now. Scroll far enough through the YouTube results, and you’ll find videos of him as a teenager, doing freestyles for the likes of JDZmedia and 1Xtra. Now he’s Uncle; an older, wiser Mez, whose youthful energy has been honed into a flow that rivals the likes of Wiley for speed and aggression. The nickname comes from his tendency to treat his mates to drinks from the corner shop, like a benevolent uncle, however his manager Chantelle Fiddy, a veteran in her own right, had a different take: “I thought it was something completely different, when I met him, he was young, he was 19, but he’s like an old Jamaican man, so I thought it was an ironic thing. Like here comes uncle, with the knowledge.”

Mez’s come-up started the old fashioned way. Where many of the new gen of MCs blew up straight from YouTube or SoundCloud, Mez spent his early years trying out as many different forms of rap as he could. Radio, rap battles, youth club shows, you name it, Mez was on it from an early age. It’s been a steady graft, and it’s far from over, yet throughout it all Mez has stood out from the crowd. The exact reason is hard to pin down; it may be his slightly warped flow that sets him apart or equally his oddly humorous bars. However, we’re willing to guess a decent part of it is his moves.

When Mez raps, he does it with it his whole body, arms flail and point, his head bobs and weaves and his torso sways. While a lot of MCs get physical behind the mic, few do it as enthusiastically as Mez. “That’s just me as a person when I grab the mic I can’t stand still,” he explains. “If I do stand still it’s for a certain scenery innit. I can’t help myself.” It’s an aspect of his performance that he’s fully embraced, recognising that it suits his style of rap uncannily well. “It’s better than standing still or pretending you’re that guy when you’re not that guy and it just looks mad awkward.”

Despite his relative youth, both in age and in the scene proper, Mez clearly recognises that he’s got something unique going on. He’s not trying to be another MC talking the hardest or front about success he’s yet to achieve. “I’m not writing bars to say that I’m the hardest. I’m writing them so that when I say them to PK, he’s gonna laugh his head off,” he explains nonchalantly. He started off spitting in the playground with his friends, and it’s an approach that continues to this day. His bars are full of in-jokes and idiosyncrasies that crop up throughout both his freestyles and professionally recorded songs.

Case and point is ‘Normal Shoe,’ his break-out single and his most ‘Mez’ song to date. It’s an ode to the kind of shoes you wear every day, an anti-Balenciaga anthem for a generation used to MCs flaunting in designer brands; the logical conclusion to Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’ tracksuit revolution. I press Mez on the elephant in the room, what exactly counts as a normal shoe? “It’s just an everyday shoe, [the kind] you wear for an everyday occasion, [like a] likkle plimsoll (sic). They’re not flashy or anything, just a nice pair of normal shoes,” he explains. We go around the room. My Adidas Hamburgs? Normal shoe. Limited edition Nike TNs? Still normal. How about his manager’s Doc Martens? Silence, Mez looks down, unsure. It’s tense. I break the tension by asking Mez how normal a normal shoe can be before it’s too far. “Obviously, we have to cut the line between normal shoes and busted ones.” He says, and I swear he glances back down at those DMs.

Before ‘Normal Shoe,’ Mez’s first major break came in the form of a support slot on tour with Kano, although his appearance on the tour was never part of the original plan. He explains, “I did a thing called ‘Next in Grime.’ Everyone in it was supposed to have a mentor, they had Big H, Big Narstie, a bunch of others, it comes to the day of setting up the ting, and every man gets their mentor, and obviously, there’s one missing, and it’s obviously Mez’s.” He sighs, dropping into  third person as he tends to do. “So, they just told me to pattern up. [I] still won innit,” he shrugs. “[Anyway] after the ting his manager called me and was like ‘we couldn’t do the thing because it wasn’t right but jump on the tour.’ So I did.” Not many MCs get the chance to support a legend like Kano on tour before they’re 18 but to Mez, it was no big deal. “I was 16 or 17. If I could do that again I’d be able to do better; I feel like I did it too young but I learnt a lot. Even now just from watching my man before. Watching his set after mine and comparing them made me realise where I needed to be improving. To me, it felt normal; I didn’t feel out of place, I felt like I was going about my daily business.”

That unfazed approach to his career is largely responsible for Mez’ success so far. Unperturbed by the underground’s move toward grittier road rap and the actions of MCs around him, he’s been free to build a brand as himself, embracing his idiosyncrasies and making them a part of his music. As the survivors of grime’s ‘new generation’ establish themselves as heavyweights, space is opening up for a new wave, and you can bet that Mez will be part of it, mic in his hand and normal shoes on his feet.

Mez’s next single ‘Magnum’ is due for release on August 25th via Last Gang.
Follow Uncle Mez on Twitter and Instagram

Photography Elliot Kennedy
Styling Kiera Liberati
Grooming Georgina Murtagh @ Carol Hayes
All looks No Fear X Skepta exclusively available at Sports Direct

Follow Mike Vinti on Twitter

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