‘We’re the explicit Vengaboys’: meet Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Bradford's bassline stars

Their songs of ‘bikes, jewellery and JD Sports’ have made the West Yorkshire rappers an underground hit. Now they’re aiming for the mainstream

It is a sweltering afternoon in Minsk, Belarus, yet Bad Boy Chiller Crew are looking decidedly, well, chilled. Already an underground sensation in West Yorkshire, the Bradford bassline rappers have escaped the British lockdown to plan the next phase of their ascent. They have come to Belarus on “medical tourism and business” grounds, says rapper GK, who has undergone a chest reduction procedure after years of struggling with his body image. He has documented the process in a series of affectingly candid before-and-after Instagram posts complete with supportive comments underneath from his friends. Speaking over Zoom, he shrugs it off with a humour that encapsulates the BBCC ethos: “It’s 2020! Why hide? I don’t give a fuck.”

A year ago the MC trio of GK, Kane and Clive – AKA Gareth, 25, and Kane and Sam, both 23 – were getting by driving an ice-cream van, DJing at the weekend and packing boxes in a warehouse, but have since become one of most hyped new acts of 2020. BBCC’s first official outing, in May 2019, was a song-advert for a local pizzeria, with the lads donning aprons and serving up dishes from the menu. Its follow-up, Pablo, took a classic old-school garage tune, DBX’s 2 People, and ramped it up into a modern bassline-rap banger; its video – them doing donuts in a field in a Vauxhall Corsa, dancing with a particularly well-endowed horse – is about to hit a million views. By the end of the year, the Guardian had named them one of its “50 New Artists for 2020”, and they were approached about filming a documentary with Vice, which drops in July.

The trio all grew up in Bradford, with GK contacting Sam and Kane after enjoying their drunken comedy videos on YouTube. When they started putting out music as BBCC, interest grew with each video, with comments ranging from derision to adoration; many couldn’t tell to what degree they were tongue-in-cheek. After a while, GK says: “All the comments were like: ‘I think these guys are serious; there is the comedy aspect, but they’re actually doing good stuff and making bangers.’”

Once the views started flooding in, things started getting more serious. The group began commissioning bespoke productions, moving from recording in a friend’s attic to a local studio, and honing their unmistakable hi-energy Yorkshire rapping style. A typical MC Kane verse, from Bradford Crew, goes: “Hugo Boss and that new Lacoste, I’m in a big 4X4 coming through your block, Few shots at the bar of that Blue Ciroc, Might take off your door for that jewellery box.”

The trio were taken under the wing of their Bradford-based manager Dr Google, AKA Darren Booth, and signed a record deal with London’s House Anxiety. Their official debut single, 450, is a dirt bike anthem showcasing everything fans love about the group: bouncing kick drums, fairground organ melodies, helium vocal loops and a shout-along chorus. The trio are still trying to wrap their heads round their growing notoriety. “It’s mad really,” says GK, “very few people from Bradford have touched the mainstream, which is where this is heading. It’s just, like, three idiots coming out of nowhere!”

Although it might feel like “nowhere”, BBCC fit into a particular bassline lineage tracing back to the early days of 2-step and speed garage in renowned venues such as Bradford’s Pennington’s and Niche in Sheffield. They are celebratory about that turn-of-the-millennium sound: many of their early backing tracks were “old party tunes that our mums and dads were listening to back in the day”, says GK. BBCC’s fanbase spans the 30-year history of the scene, with younger fans discovering classics through their remixes. “Even the 13-year-old kids today still bounce to it,” he says.

Rappers were a constant but undervalued part of the scene over the years, with Bradford MCs like Betker, Chippy and Dorzi taking on a semi-mythical status through live spots and mix CDs. By the mid 00s a new generation had sculpted the sound into the harder edged 4x4 bassline, with anthems like TS7 and T Dot’s Raise Your Glasses incorporating rap beyond the live hype-man. BBCC draw on all this, along with the humour and hyper-locality of Yorkshire’s battle rap and grime scenes, distilling the various elements into an outward-looking, polished whole.

“There was a big grime scene in Bradford, but they wouldn’t get many views,” explains Kane. Although he says he got bored of the genre his MCing seems propelled by an awareness of grime’s flows and flair, and it’s his style that gets particular kudos from YouTube commentators. BBCC’s lyrics and videos chronicle partying, cars, food, evading the cops, and a general celebration of the “charva” lifestyle: GK describes this as “estate life: bikes, jewellery, JD Sports, horses, fields, birds”, with the word being both a term of endearment and teasing critique.

“It’s like you are one of the boys but you’re also a toerag!” adds Clive, otherwise quiet under his trademark mullet. It is here that BBCC’s appeal beyond Bradford is clear, resonating with communities around the country who relate to their humour, but also to their reclamation of demonising tabloid narratives and militant hedonism. The group are happy to admit their mainstream ambitions, too. “We’re like the explicit Vengaboys!” says GK at one point, to roars of laughter.

Bass street boys ... Bad Boy Chiller Crew.
Men with ven ... Bad Boy Chiller Crew. Photograph: Mia Clark/The Guardian

Although the bassline scene has always had a problem with venues being shut down, its strong DIY network of producers, promoters and distributors has persisted across the north of England, allowing new acts to gather dedicated local followings without much mediation. Go into a corner shop in Bradford and you can often find bassline mix CDs with names like Gangster Girl Edition and Prison Locked Up Rammer Edition for £1 a pop. BBCC offered a hand-delivery option for their first DIY CD, Git Up Mush, and sold thousands of copies of early tunes over the counter at a local vape shop. Such networks form the backbone of an expanding contemporary Bradford scene including MCs like Blazer Boccle, MC Frazz and Molegrip, spanning realist grime and more overt comedic rap. Local YouTube channels like KODH TVB and BFD TV provide a platform for MCs to record and distribute their videos, also creating space for younger MCs and Muslim rappers to whom traditional nightclub outlets were not always accessible. The scene brings people from all over the city’s multiracial working class, which can be a shock to those stuck on tired narratives about divided northern cities.

“It’s so multicultural here that everyone just chills with everyone, it’s just a normal thing,” says Kane. Regular BBCC collaborator S Dog, AKA Shamy Khan, is another leading light of the scene, rapping about supporting his young family, being “mixed-race but big-hearted”, and getting targeted by cops. S Dog appears on several tunes on BBCC’s upcoming debut mixtape, which sees the group strip away some of the humour and pop-rave samples to craft a harder, 11-song joyride. Car metaphors abound, with vehicles central to the BBCC musical project: venue, intended outlet and sometime studio. The music speaks to parts of the country where the closure of arts spaces, youth centres and nightclubs goes far deeper than a pandemic, but the scene persists. In this sense, BBCC are weirdly fitting for a nation slowly coming out of lockdown: these are tunes to be blasted from cars, at all-night kitchen sessions, in parks on distorted Bluetooth speakers.

The coronavirus clearly hasn’t stopped the Bad Boy Chiller Crew. “It’s given us more time for the music to progress,” GK smiles. “We’ve found where we are at now.” Now the trio are ready to leave Minsk and start being taken seriously, though that doesn’t mean giving up on having a laugh.

As Kane puts it: “If we can take the piss out of ourselves, we aren’t bothered about someone else. They don’t know us. We don’t give a fuck!”

BBCC’s single 450 is out now; their mixtape Full Wack No Breaks is released in September

Joel White

The GuardianTramp

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