Sixteen With 16s: The Next Generation Of North East Hip-Hop

The North East of England is a hidden gem within UK hip-hop. Whether you prefer Rick Fury’s storytelling, BEN’s no-nonsense approach or the more melodic vibes of Sagaboi; there’s something for everyone. Whilst there are some relative success stories, whenever you mention rappers from the North East, most people will turn around and joke about PJ & Duncan or Gazza. It’s a shame too, because there is genuinely a wealth of talent in the region.

To those already aware of the North East rap scene, the fact that there is talent in the region isn’t a surprise. It’s been known for generations. Some, however, may not be aware of just how talented the new generation is.

Since its inception, hip-hop has been branded as a young man’s game. Do we truly appreciate that Nas was only twenty when he made ‘Illmatic’? What about Dizzee Rascal being just eighteen when he released grime’s magnum opus ‘Boy In Da Corner’? In the North East of England there are several teenagers making waves, but only time will tell if they’ll release a classic album. Fortunately, time is something they have in abundance.

The current frontrunners of youngsters creating hip-hop in the North East are Eum and Big Fletch. Most of the other teenage rappers are being developed by Rex Regis and Chat Trust, who I’ve already written about in great length. Eum and Fletch however, are a different breed. For the most part, they’re completely independent and self-taught.

Although help and advice has been given to them now. Their respective introductions to the scene, and initial involvement as artists came simply from the influence of those they had grew up listening to. Big Fletch was first to splash onto the scene.

With a hard-hitting style, Big Fletch initially made his name on the battle rap scene. Fletch recalls his first battle when he was fifteen years old: “I showed up with a couple of friends after being let down by the majority of them, not knowing my opponent had a crowd with him. Knowing that the battle was based on crowd reaction, I was sat thinking “It’s over.””

Fletch ended up winning the battle, gaining respect from MC’s from around the UK. In his second battle, Fletch was invited to Glasgow: “Me and my friend were the only Geordies in a room filled with rowdy Weegies. It was nerve racking. I gave one of my best performances I’ve done. I lost the battle on crowd reaction. That didn’t bother me. Knowing that you’ve gave it your best shot, that’s the main thing.”

It’s interesting that Fletch wasn’t deterred by losing. Most teenagers only sustain interest in hobbies, when they’re going well. I know that throughout my adolescence I dabbled in skateboarding (before falling down an escalator), football (before I became way more interested in takeaways and alcohol) although music was one that stuck albeit in different forms. I still remember paying a lot of money for guitar lessons only to give up after two sessions.

Fletch isn’t just a battle rapper though. He’s released music too – and that is where his talent truly shines. Fletch says he’s “been writing since the start of middle school” and “started taking it more serious as he got older.” Fletch tells TheRootMusic, “I put a video on Facebook when I was younger of me spitting bars over some dodgy beat, the video ended up getting 5k view, I started putting more videos on Facebook to try and get noticed. I’m recording tracks from my bedroom at the moment, I’m always writing.”

The perseverance of Big Fletch is admirable. Particularly because of his age – but is that becoming a backhanded compliment? Is ‘good for his age’ just like when people would comment on Leddie or Kay Greyson like ‘they’re good for women?’ In a sense it helps, it’s a unique selling point, but it could also be condescending. Luckily neither Big Fletch or Eum are just ‘good for their age.’ They’re already good enough to share stages with veterans, and have the potential to surpass their elder peers.

Fletch agrees that “the North East is riddled with sick MCs” and says he’s “just glad to be part of it from such a young age” but the young rapper “didn’t know there were active MCs my age in the North East until recently.”

It’s likely monthly open mic night ObSceNE introduced Fletch to MCs of his age. At the first ObSceNE, AnthNE and SD who were at the time both a part of Chat Trust at the time impressed. In the more recent incarnations of the open mic night held in Gateshead’s Arch Sixteen Cafe, Eum has become a regular highlight, alongside Fletch.

Eum and Fletch may have outgrown just being the sixteen year old rappers, having established themselves as two of North East hip-hop’s best, regardless of age. They are still however compared to one another, somewhat naturally given both their youth and that they’re breaking through at the same time. The friendly competition looks to be taken up a level as the pair have agreed to battle one another at a future DubScandal event.

Although Maverick revealed on the Monthly Mumble podcast that Eum and Fletch would be battling at Bartlepool 2, Eum has since clarified this won’t be the case. According to Eum, also known as Jack Musson, the card was already too full. Hopefully it can be rescheduled, as if approach right by the duo, could prove a launchpad to bigger and better things for them both.

The conversation can no longer be limited to sixteen year old’s however. Eum celebrated his seventeenth birthday recently, to great inconvenience for the headline of this feature. He acknowledges the advantages of being young: “If I was older, between twenty to twenty-eight, I think I would just be treated as “pretty good MC” like every other person.”

Eum has been regarded as way more than a ‘pretty good MC.’ Since the release of his breakthrough EP ‘Macabre.Blossoms’, Eum has been pinpointed as not only a future star, but somebody who is shining already. He admits “it used to make mainly think a bit egotistical of how I reached a standard of having the ability to be versatile but I never thought about my age being something to be impressed with. I just thought I’ll be treat “quite normally” like every other acquaintance in the scene, but I just got more respect from it and it’s been positive and uplifting.”

It’ll be interesting to see how not only Eum and Big Fletch, but the entire crop of teenagers breaking through, develop and grow into their twenties. It’ll be interesting to see if either of them realise their phenomenal potential and dispel the ‘PJ & Duncan / Gazza’ jokes once and for all. Stylistically, neither of them appear likely to break the mainstream mould, but could very easily develop a cult following with the right support. The talent is undeniable, with hard work and a little bit of luck, between Big Fletch, Eum and Chat Trust, the future looks bright for North East hip-hop.

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