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'Get rich or die trying is dumb'

HITS: Tinchy Stryder

RAP STAR Tinchy Stryder has had numerous hits since he burst onto the UK charts in 2008 with his single Take Me Back.

The Ghanaian-born rapper, who started his career as a grime underground artist, has collaborated with the likes of N-Dubz, Kano and newcomer K2World. The 25-year-old star featured on K2World’s track, Applaud my Swag, last year.

Janelle Oswald spoke to the east London-based artists about their music, youth frustration and overcoming challenges.

What were your thoughts on the riots last year?

Tinchy Stryder (TS): The burning, looting and destroying of property were wrong, but there were a lot of people who weren’t being heard before, and that was their way of getting attention.

People felt the police spoke to them in wrong ways, did so much wrong to them – this was their way back. This was how they were going to be heard. In interviews afterwards, you could really hear their anger and frustration. They try to get jobs, but get nothing, so what are they supposed to do?

K2: It was not good, people’s cars and innocent people and homes were getting attacked and this was not cool. I know everyone had their own reasons in that they were not getting any attention, and they were not getting any opportunities to do things.
What I will say is that the people you were trying to get back at – those in higher places – the riots did not really affect them. They stood in their big homes.

I hope it does not happen again, but in a way there were some good things out of it in that people got to hear the pain that the young people have gone through, and hopefully things will change from that. If not, there may not be riots as it were the other day again, but I definitely think that there is going to be gang violence.

Why do you think young people join gangs?

K2: “It’s all about belonging. Your family at home is your family at home, but the people who you mix with outside of the home – the people on the streets – we then think that if we get in problems they are there to protect you or help you, so people just end up sticking with them.

Have you ever been part of a gang, and if yes what made you join?

K2: “Yes. At first it never really started off as a gang, we were just really a group of friends who were all a bit wild. It looked like a gang to other people, and people used to come to our area because we had a little rep, and then I suppose it just ended up as a gang. But we were basically a group of friends.

TS: “No, but I have always hanged around a group of friends!”

What would you tell anyone who is considering joining a gang?

K2: “It’s just pointless. Seriously, you won’t like the end result. When one of your friends end up dead, or you end up dead or in prison because you killed someone, or were even just there when something happened – it’s just so pointless.”

TS: “Education and knowledge is power. Forget the streets! Stay at school. You need to know your maths and your English or learn a trade. The ‘get rich (or) die trying’ philosophy is for the dumb!”

K2, Tinchy calls you a British Nas, because of your lyrics. What does your name mean?

K2: “My name, K2 World, is the rebirth of who I am. I’m reformed; no longer on the streets making fast money but in the studios producing music.
I am now in control of my life, and I put my name in my hands, hence my album (It’s In My Hands). Beforehand, the way I saw it, my world was in the devil’s hands, because I was going down the wrong path. But now God has allowed me to bring my world back into my hands.

FOCUS: K2 World

Did music find you or did you find music?

K2: “A while ago I was a troubled youth, always getting into trouble. I went to prison for a while, came out, and obviously I just knew I had to make a change. If not, I would just be going back down the same road. So I found music, which saved my life.”

How long were you in prison?

K2: “I was sentenced to five years; I have completed two-and-a-half years in prison and I am now out on licence finishing the other two-and-a-half. I started off in Chelmsford, Pentonvile and then Blundeston prison.”

What did prison teach you?

K2: “Prison taught me how to focus my life. Before going into prison I was so troubled, I could not focus. If there was something and I needed, I would just go off and do it with no real thought about it. But since I have come out I just want to do music. Prison definitely makes you focus because you are forced to sit and wait. However, not everybody is ready to learn. But I was. I was ready to learn from my mistakes.

What words of advice would you tell young men who don’t realise what prison is about?

K2: “It may sound funny me saying this now, but you have really got to know what you are doing in life, because there’s always an end. And you have to know what you want in life. So if you want to go to prison then stay on the streets. If you want something better in life, you have to try and do something else, because it’s only a matter of time before your time runs out and you end up in prison, or worse dead.”

You are both 25, why do you think so many young people of your age feel so disconnected from society?

TS: “People don’t get an opportunity to work now. The majority of people I speak to, the youth and unemployed, they’re not happy because they don’t feel there are opportunities for them. A lot of people go to uni, they pay so much to study and come out with a degree, and they still can’t get a job. They think, ‘What was the point?’

“If people feel there’s no one out there looking out for them, they feel it’s hopeless. All the time we’re hearing that the country’s broke, and yet bankers are still handed huge bonuses, tens of millions are won on the lottery, and footballers get paid up to 250 grand a week. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

K2: “It’s the way we were taught by the Government, and even our parents as well, because with an African household, when you come to this country, we tend to conform to what’s going on in the country. Then as children do, we often become rebellious and go against our parents, the police, and the establishment. When we go against these things we then sit down and think nothing is going well for us. When we are in that mode we can’t actually see there is better in life.”

If you could use your music as a tool to educate youths what would you like to teach?

K2: “First, I would start with the street folks. I would like to teach them that there are better things in life - if someone like me could do it, then anyone can do it! You must have a drive and a goal. You must have ambition and develop the self-belief that whatever you want – it does not have to be music – you can achieve. You don’t have to settle for what you think the Government has put on you because you can be your own boss.”

TS: “That people can turn their life round. I am normal – I came from where you did. We all have different struggles and stresses, our own story. What I want to give my listeners is the motivation.”

What are your words of wisdom for youths?

TS: “I know it’s easier said than done, but stay focused. When I sometimes speak to the youth they often tell me ‘you don’t know because you haven’t experienced anything’. But I grew up in places where we did not have much; I didn’t grow up in a rich family. We all did things when we were younger and it was all for the moment. But there is no longevity, no future!

“Some people do have to learn the hard way, like K2. Being locked up opens your eyes and you will then realise that there is more to life. But if you take good advice in life and listen to wise counsel, then you don’t have to learn the hard way! Take it from us, that road always ends up the same – prison or dead! Be smart and stay alive. Live your life and remember that you are number one!”

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