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“C’mon, JP, you were one of the guys showing love to man’s ting when no one else was, so I have to show love back.” The rapper Squeeks is talking to me on the phone while out on the move with his manager, Weezy, who has been working with him since the very start of his career. He sounds alive and upbeat, happy to be free, as we reminisce on the time I interviewed him for my old job at MTV.

The year was 2011 and Squeeks was at the top of his game, one of the frontrunners in road rap who had a trajectory not too dissimilar from the artists we consider today as OGs in UK rap. Born and bred in Islington, North London, Squeeks’ gravel-voiced flow and expensive-sounding beats made him a promising act who had star potential beyond the confines of the hood. Classic SBTV freestyle? Check. Pain-fuelled Behind Barz sessions? Check. He was very much that guy. And lest we forget the iconic cuts he had with fellow North London vet Joe Black: few UK rap tracks—still, to this day—could stand up next to the swarve, laid-back era of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music than “Usual Suspects”. This was, of course, before Squeeks dropped his breakout track, “Big Squeeko”, a fly-boy flip of Nipsey Hussle’s “Rose Clique”, which had the streets on lock the whole of 2012. 

Squeeks would spend the next two years working to solidify his icon status in the scene—his debut project, Big Squeeko, was an instant classic—but then 2015 hit, and he found himself behind bars (for real) after being found guilty on conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

“Sometimes it’s just the wrong place at the wrong time,” he tells me. “You ain’t even gotta do nothing in my situation, conspiracy, and sometimes it’s even who you know. And let’s be honest: half of the people man knows, they get up to no good. Because I was hanging around with certain people—they had no evidence on me, but I felt like they thought: ‘Well, you must know and you must be involved so we’re going to charge you anyway.’ I wasn’t involved in no conspiracy to rob—they just slammed it on man.” Fortunately for Squeeks, he managed to record and stack a load of music on his laptop, which his manager had access to. While he was locked up, Squeeks and his team put out four solid projects with his day-one fans supporting him all the way.

After serving a total of five years in the penhouse, Squeeks returned home two months ago and got right back to what he was missing the most while on bang-up: creating and releasing music. First came THAT Daily Duppy freestyle, and then the singles “How Many Times” and “Jail House”, both of which are still doing the rounds. In what is his first interview since his comeback, allow us to reintroduce you to the one they call Squeeks. 

“I’m just glad to be back doing what I love… Imagine: You’ve had a long day at work, you get home and you wanna take your shoes off and listen to some soothing music—that’s what I’m trying to give the people.”

COMPLEX: It’s been a whole decade since I last interviewed you, on-camera for MTV. We were both on our rise back then, but a lot has changed since. You recently got home after doing five years—sent down for ten—for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. I want to know how we go from you being one of the most rated UK rappers on the rise to serving time behind bars?
Squeeks:
Keeping the wrong company, man, and being around—let’s just say—the wrong surroundings. Sometimes it’s just the wrong place at the wrong time. You ain’t even gotta do nothing in my situation, conspiracy, and sometimes it’s even who you know. And let’s be honest: half of the people man knows, they get up to no good. Because I was hanging around with certain people—they had no evidence on me, but I felt like they thought: “Well, you must know and you must be involved so we’re going to charge you anyway.” I wasn’t involved in no conspiracy to rob—they just slammed it on man. It was kinda peak! Fuckin’ hell, man’s on the rise and man’s doing good stuff, but obviously the company he keeps and the phone calls he’s been making, they’re making up their own stories. But that’s just how the game goes sometimes. You just have to hold the L and keep it moving.

At the time you got locked up, the UK music industry was in a transitional stage, where things were about to turn in grime and UK rap’s favour. But back in 2010, when your buzz was sky high—still, only a few guys were getting signed or receiving that major push from platforms. Do you think if you were in a label situation things would have been different?
Yeah, it probably would’ve kept me out of trouble knowing that this is what I’ve got to do and this is my job. Obviously, when I was independent, I was just freelancing. I could do what I want, wake up when I want, and do tunes when I want. There was no structure. So with being a signed artist, I don’t really know how it is to be a signed artist because I’ve never been signed, but I would say it would’ve had more of an impact on my life, definitely.

For the people that don’t know Squeeks, never heard of you—which they should do by now if they’re a fan of UK rap—give them a bit of a breakdown as to who you are and how your music journey began.
Alright, so... fuckin’ hell! How did it begin? Man’s always loved music, from the get-go. I’m talking young, young, young. My nan sings and shit, my cousin used to make beats in the house, and that’s how man really and truly started to love music. Skip forward, I’m in school and start I doing a bit of grime. Everyone was on grime; D Double E was big, N.A.S.T.Y Crew and all that...

—reloads!
[Laughs] You know! Then I met my manager, Weezy. He was in a grime crew himself at the time. Weezy’s always been there, and from when I started fuckin’ with him, I started taking music more seriously. After I met him, it’s just been up. He used to have a studio in his bedroom, and you know how Risky Roadz and those guys had their little set-ups at home? That was Weezy’s ting. Man had one room, a dusty mic...

—real DIY stuff.
Bro! Man was using a mic that you use on stage! I swear to you. It wasn’t even a recording mic [laughs]. But time went on and we started patterning up, and it’s just been good ever since. Features, flying up and down the country... I’ve been dropping bare bangers and mixtapes: Welcome To The Neighbourhood, The White House, Totally Presidential, Presidential Music, No Sleep—there’s too many. If you don’t know Squeeks...

Get to know!
[Laughs] Trust me, J.

Who would you say inspired you to put pen to pad?
You know what? I can’t lie to you. Growing up listening to Nas, DMX, Lil Wayne, Eminem, these guys were the honchos in my time. Obviously, I was listening to the Styles Ps and the x, y, zs as well, but DMX and Nas, those guys were up there. UK-wise, I would say it was more like grime artists, D Double E, Stormin, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, but mainly Giggs and Joe Black as well on the rap side. I grew up on that type of stuff. When I went through my grime phase, that’s what was in for the UK. Obviously, as I got older, I felt like: “Nah, this is a bit too fast for me. It’s a bit too childish.” But then it kinda switched; I felt like I should be able to jump on anything. I’m versatile. Even when I dropped Call Me Squeeko, I jumped on all American beats, just showing man’s versatility.

“The thing that killed me the most about jail was not being able to go studio and let man’s ting out, and listen back to man’s shit.”

squeeks
Image via Publicist

Our old MTV interview isn’t online anymore, but I vividly remember us talking about the Shyne comparison that was being thrown around at the time. To this day, Shyne was/is one of most unique-sounding spitters to touch the mic, and the same goes for you. Do you still feel like you have a lot to offer the rap scene, just based on the way you rhyme alone?
Swear down they were comparing me to Shyne! It was a long time ago, but that’s big—he’s a dope rapper. But yeah, I’m backing myself in this thing, 100%. All odds on me! I’m putting all the chips on myself. You’ve got to have faith in yourself, man. This music ting is a passion for me. I’m not just trying to be a rapper. Geezers are tryna turn bad and do up rapper in 2021 [laughs]. It don’t make no sense to me. I’ve always been this person. Even if, for example, things wasn’t to work out, I’d still have my hands in music because I love it. It runs through man’s veins, for real.

While you were away, you still managed to release a handful of solid mixtapes. How did you go about that?
I’m one of those guys who, when I go studio, I just record, record, record. I knew I was going to jail. Even though I had a trial, it was like, “Let me just be prepared because you never know and the fans might still want to hear certain tings.” The laptop... I still need to find that laptop because there’s probably still tunes on there. When I was sitting down, the mandem was saying, “The fans want some shit.” So I’m saying, “There’s tunes there, on the lappy, so just wrap them up.” If there were any features on there, obviously, they were done while I was away.

I think your music will be more widely received now that people know you’re out. It’s something I’ve picked up over the years with artists going to prison; it’s not taken in the same way as fans knowing that you’re out and about, in the field. Have you noticed that since you got out?
Yeah, kinda. You’ve gotta be more interactive and shit. But I’ll be real: I’m just one of them—well, I’m legit now, but I used to be on of them street niggas, so this is all new to me. When I see guys doing the Instagram Lives, this is all weird to me. I’d probably feel weird holding the phone up to my face and doing all the extra shit, but I know it comes with the job. Man just has to adapt. Man can adapt to anything, so I just get on with it. But I feel like it is a bit weird, still.

I don’t want to dwell on the prison thing, but while you were away, was there a particular year or moment in the scene that you wish you’d been a part of? Like when Stormzy was reading out all the names of artists at Glastonbury, your name should’ve been in there.
Bro! When I heard that—when I was sitting in the cell and I’m hearing bare names ring off—I’m smoking my ting and I’m thinking, “Rah! There’s no Squeeks in there?!” But it’s all love, though. At the same time, you’re on stage, you’re ringing off names, he even said: “If there’s any names I’ve forgotten...” And I’m definitely one of them niggas [laughs]. But big up Stormzy every time. I’ve got a couple of tunes with him on my mixtapes, so it’s all love. 

You and Joe Black have a load of street classics together, too. Are you still in contact with him? Can we get a “Usual Suspects 2” anytime soon?
I need to get him in the booth! Blacks moves like Drake sometimes [laughs]. He’s hard to get ahold of, but he’s my guy, man. Obviously, when it’s the right time to hit the booth, we’ll do that. Man’s in Izzy so he’s not too far; man can link up any time. I think that’s what makes it take so long: that he’s around the corner! I ain’t seen Blacks since I came out, but we’ve definitely spoken.

You guys’ era of road rap set the levels for a lot of what’s going on today—from Fredo and Dave through to the UK drill acts. Do you feel like you get the respect for what you did for the UK rap landscape ten years ago?
Erm, I’d say so say, yeah. I think we do. A lot of the artists pay homage. They’ve supported man’s shit. I wouldn’t say they fully endorse it, but they’re not like, “Bun that.” But you’re right: there wouldn’t be a lot of geezers doing what they’re doing today if it wasn’t for us laying some foundations. Also, a lot of man wouldn’t be allowed to get away with the music they’re getting away with making now. I’m just glad to be back doing what I love, bro. Imagine: You’ve had a long day at work, you get home and you wanna take your shoes off and listen to some soothing music—that’s what I’m trying to give the people.

Who are you personally rating right now? Anyone you want to collaborate with?
Anyone, really. The UK! But Giggs is up there. I wanna collab with Giggs because he’s a super honcho in this ting. He’s definitely one of the guys that man grew up on. All now I’ve never met him, but he’s a guy that I need to do a tune with. 

I think you two would complement each other well on a track, with the right production.
100%. 

The people really lapped up your comeback Daily Duppy freestyle. How did it feel to see all the love online?
Big smiles! Proper big smiles. I wasn’t counting myself out—and even before I dropped the Daily Duppy, people have been telling me I’m one of the hardest—I believe in myself, but where the music’s so different nowadays, it’s like: are they gonna to appreciate my shit? So when I saw them appreciating my shit, it was overwhelming. I’m happy with how it’s going, man.

Just from speaking to you now, you seem to be genuinely excited about life. 
I’m telling you, man: being behind that door is somewhere you don’t want to be. Being free to do whatever you wanna do—go get a Nando’s, jump in a car and skrrt off—I don’t take it for granted now. But the thing that killed me the most about jail was not being able to go studio and let man’s ting out, listen back to man’s shit. It’s a new day, though. I’m out here!

I wasn’t going to ask you this question, because you seem so positive and happy and stuff, but we’re living in this anything-for-clout generation, and I’ve seen you’ve recently experienced that with some up-and-coming rapper from Manchester—whose name I won’t mention—calling out your name online. What are your thoughts on people doing anything for clout these days?
First of all, it doesn’t happen overnight. So no matter what you’re doing, don’t be thinking you can try and do or say something scandalous to get your name poppin’ for people to listen to your music. This isn’t some Bugzy Malone vs Chipmunk clash ting. It’s not that situation. For me, I’m not a guy to be speaking on the Internet. I don’t be doing all that. That’s why I don’t even reply to things. If it’s not positive information, I don’t entertain it. So to the clout chasers: you won’t be getting any reactions out of me. The Internet’s the Internet, man. It’s made up! Come on, man. We’re outside!

So, what’s next for Big Squeeko?
Right now, I’m just working and patterning up 2-2 things. I’m banging out the singles at the moment, and I’ve got some big collaborations coming soon. Hopefully, there’s shows and more music to come. I’ll probably drop the new project early next year, but from now until then, we’re on go! I’m about. Tell a friend to tell a friend.