Last month, we caught up with the 27-year-old rapper at a studio near his south London home, to talk crime, grime, opportunities and goals.
Buju Banton, Vybz Kartel and Busy Signal are currently in prison. Surely, having three of your most formidable competitors out of action makes your job easier?
I’m not happy about them being in jail and I wouldn’t mind if they came out because they keep me on my toes. When I hear a bad Busy Signal song it motivates me to write something better.
Their imprisonment makes my job harder because I love competition. People compare me to Gappy Ranks, just as they compare Vybz Kartel to Mavado. When Mavado is kicking; that’s when Kartel has to drop a big tune. It’s the same with me and Gappy. At one point he was leading and I just decided to take the baton.
Likewise, Konshens is doing well in Jamaica right now because he saw an opportunity and went hard; he’s targeting the girls now Kartel is not around.
An increasing number of dancehall and hip hop stars – on both sides of the Atlantic – appear to be unaware of the line that separates criminality and entertainment. What can be done to change this?
We can do positive songs all day, but you also need hardcore reality music because that perspective exists – even if it’s not yours – and that’s what keeps the dancehall going. If I was middle-class I’d sing about that lifestyle. Likewise, if I live a ghetto life I’m going to talk about what I’ve seen.
Music and violence don’t mix; Biggie and Tupac showed us how that situation ends up. 50 Cent used to sell drugs and bus’ guns on the road, but he’s turned his life around and is now a celebrity. If you look at him he’s always smiling. I’m not saying anyone should copy him; he’s lucky the US entertainment industry accepted him. But you almost forget he was a bad man who got shot nine times.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I would ban free downloads. If I could do that I’d be a rich man.
In 1992, your dad Jackie ‘Poison’ Chang recorded Press Up, a massive hit in the UK, which means you are part of an elite club of second-generation reggae stars such as Damian Marley, Stephen McGregor and Craig ‘Leftside’ Parkes. Is this legacy a benefit or a burden?
It makes me feel like I’ve got a lot of work to do. I have to make sure I maintain certain standards so when I have my son he has something to build upon. It makes me want to work harder because I have a mission to accomplish.
I remember booking you for your first big show (the Mayor of London’s Rise Festival in 2006) when you were the young apprentice in a collective of rappers which included Skibadee, Taz and Doctor. How has the industry changed since then?
My first hit, My Yout, was a grime track so people thought I was a grime artist. At that time, grime acts like Durrty Doogz, Crazy Titch, Wiley, Roll Deep and Lethal B were doing really well, but I just did that to kick down the door.
When I first started out, reggae didn’t get much support. But since then dancehall music has become more accepted in the UK. In 2012, white kids are singing the words to Call Mi A Yardie and Swagga Dem; it wasn’t like that six years ago.
Personally, I’m happy because it’s opening doors for me and I can be more experimental with my music and lyrics. Things are looking good.
The UK’s first youth music crew, Shaka Downbeat (the forerunner to Jah Shaka and Saxon), launched in 1969 a short walk from where you are based in Lewisham. Tell us about your music crew…
After I dropped My Yout, I started Warning Crew with my brother, Stamma Kid, Tall Up, Juvenile, Lisa Mercedes, Lady Danger, Maverick, Frost, Max and producer Smood Face; we’re like a family.
If I’m honest, it’s simply a duplication of So Solid. When I first came to England and saw Megaman and those guys on TV, I was like: ‘Wow, this is the future’.
Another south London-based artist, Future Kid, has released diss-tracks and videos targeting you. What’s the beef?
He was trying to be part of Warning, but wasn’t a confirmed member. He came in but the vibes didn’t work. I get on with a lot of people, but we had a disagreement and didn’t click. I just kept it moving.
What does the future hold for Stylo G?
More singles and I’m working on an album for next year. I’m aiming for a top 10 hit otherwise there’s no point in trying. I compare myself to Sean Paul, Shaggy and Beenie Man so I need to get that Zim Zimma money. I’m touring all over the world and really looking forward to going toKenya I have a massive fanbase in Nairobi.
What message do you have for young people who look up to you as a role model?
Don’t sit around smoking skunk wasting your time; there are opportunities in England. Educate yourself as much as possible because you can get anything you want in life. I came all the way from Jamaica, 5,000 miles away, and I’m here following my dream. If I have come from so far and am getting somewhere, you can too.
Stylo G performs alongside Serani and Stone Love at the Oceana in Cardiff on Thursday 23 August. More info
Top 5 Stylo G Songs
Call Me a Yardie
My Yout ft Sickman and Ice Kid
Azonto Remix ft Fuse ODG, Tiffany and Donae’o