From Leeds to Verona: Rapper Blackson fuses Italian and UK grime in his high-energy album Outsider
Italian-born rapper Blackson has burst onto the Leeds music scene with his energetic flow and catchy anthems.
His experimental music fuses grime, drill and trap with influences from his Ghanaian heritage and he's been flagged as one to watch by BBC's 1Xtra.
Blackson has been in the business for more than a decade, establishing a stellar reputation as one of Italy's top freestyle rappers before he made the move to the UK in 2015.
His latest album, Outsider, weaves together the soundscape of both Italy and the UK and he switches between Italian and English throughout the project.
It's a culmination of the eclectic styles which surrounded him growing up in Verona, mixed with the grime and drill sounds that are bubbling away in Leeds' underground music scene.
Blackson told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "There was a lot of music in my household growing up and I was around Jamaican, African and Western influences - from country to afrobeats and trap.
“My inspirations come from a lot of different places, from hip-hop like Busta Rhymes, old school grime like Wiley and Afro-rap like Sarkodie.”
Blackson moved to London with his father six years ago but struggled with the lifestyle of the capital.
After a frightening incident, where Blackson was attacked in a case of mistaken identity, he moved to Leeds where he was welcomed with open arms by the city's music scene.
"It really changed my mind about London," the 34-year-old said.
“They mistook me for someone involved in gang activity and I’ve never been a part of that life.
"I felt I was safer up north and it was the wake-up call I needed to concentrate on my music."
Blackson's career has taken off since moving to Leeds; his single Never Back Down was aired on BBC 1Xtra's Bradford takeover last year, followed by the melodic DNA which has been streamed more than 100,000 times on Spotify.
His latest project, the 13-track album Outsider, is aptly named to represent his experiences growing up in Italy.
The album's title track explores Blackson's sense of not belonging to Italy, or his homeland of Ghana, and his journey trying to establish himself in the Italian music scene.
"In Italy, the scene is dominated by white artists," Blackson added.
"I was one of the only Black Afro-Italian rappers who was taking music seriously and it was a challenge. I was an outsider.
"In the UK, I felt welcomed and part of the scene.
"There's a lot going on in the North's underground music scene, I've got lots of connections with artists from Leeds, Manchester and Bradford - all trying to make a living.
"I knew I was in the right place when I came here."
Blackson describes Outsider as an "urban journey", documenting how he discovered different sounds, from the hip-hop and rap that he grew up with to drill and grime he hears blaring out of cars in Leeds.
He added: "I came from the boombox era of hip-hop and rap, but I tried to experiment more into the trap sound, the drill sound and the grime sound - to show my journey here in the UK.
“It gives the listeners a feel of how I create my music."
Blackson switches his lyrics between Italian and English and his latest single, Leeds to Verona, pays homage to his roots.
"Rap is a form of expression, you have to stay true to yourself and do it in your own way," he said.
“I could switch straight to English, but I’ll never forget my origins and my roots. It’s something I have to stick with.
“There’s also a huge community of Italians living in the UK and they need to be represented by someone."
Blackson has juggled his burgeoning music career with studying Entertainment Management at Leeds Beckett University but paused his degree this year after he became a father to his nine-month old son.
He's in Leeds to stay and has high hopes for the city's underground music scene; he praised the success of Leeds rapper Graft who won BBC's Rap Game UK last year.
"Leeds is about to be on the map, there’s a lot of potential," Blackson added.
“There’s a vibrant underground scene of musicians here, I love it. You can spot artists everywhere.
"Graft winning [Rap Game UK], I feel like that's a chance for Leeds to get recognition.
"There’s a lot of London rappers that come to perform in Leeds, they know there’s a community of people here who love their music.
"It’s about getting that artist who can represent Leeds, so that other artists can come up little by little.
Blackson got to tour across the country pre-pandemic, joining grime legends President T, Sox and Flirta D on stage, and hosted his own shows at local pubs and clubs in Leeds.
His next step is the festival circuit; he hopes to bring his energetic sound to thousands of new fans when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Blackson said: “My dream is to perform in festivals, that will give me the feedback that I need - the self confidence in what I’m doing, seeing people enjoying my music.
“My music has a lot of energy, so festivals would be the best way to let that energy out.
“There’s more shows, music production and loads of new stuff on the way. So stay tuned.”
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