WORDS: CASS NAVARRO
Central Cee is a name that holds significant weight in the UK rap landscape. The West Londoner has had one of the swiftest rises in recent years, steadily building his momentum across each viral release and capturing audiences around the world with his slick take on drill. In an era where artists seemingly burst from the shadows with minimal back-catalogues, Central Cee has been steadily honing his craft since writing his first bars around the age of 8. One of his earliest appearances dates back to 2015 where he appeared alongside London rap icon J Hus on the ‘Ain’t On Nuttin’ remix—Cench was just 17.
In June of 2020, Central Cee’s hard work began to pay off with the bubbling backdrop of the UK drill movement helping to cement his unmistakable style. The young rapper began a hot streak with his breakout track ‘A Day In The Life’, followed by ‘Molly’, ‘Pinging (Six Figures)’, and his first spot in the top 40 with ‘Loading’. By the time he released his debut mixtape Wild West in March 2021, Central Cee was well on his way to becoming one of the most talked-about artists in the UK. The project was met with critical praise and debuted at number one on the UK R&B Albums Chart.
Today, Central Cee boasts countless co-signs from superstars like Wizkid and Big Sean, he’s collaborated with some of the most sought-after streetwear brands in the world Corteiz, Hoodrich, Trapstar and Drake’s Nike-backed NOCTA. His 2021 release ‘Obsessed With You’ saw Cench sample breakout UK artist PinkPantheress’ massive hit ‘Just For Me’, propelling him into new territory and into the ears of American audiences in a big way.
Sitting atop the Empire he’s built over the last two years, Central Cee has returned with a new mixtape titled 23. The project builds on the groundwork laid down with Wild West, incorporating his signature punchy one-liners and charismatic delivery and shows Cench doubling down on his storytelling, which has evolved as his artistry has grown. Having established himself as one of the most important voices in UK rap, we caught up with Central Cee to discuss his career so far, his new mixtape and having his eyes set on Australia next.
Central Cee, how are you man?
I'm good, man. I'm chilling. How are you?
Congratulations on the new mixtape 23. How are you feeling with another one under your belt?
Thank you, bro. I'm looking forward to getting the feedback again and just hearing everybody's reactions to the tape. It feels like it’s been a minute since I dropped the last one. It's been almost a year.
Yeah, and you've done a lot in that time. Did you approach this one differently to Wild West and is there anything different in your mind about this group of songs compared to the ones on that tape?
Well like my creative process was exactly the same innit, intentionally. It's a mixtape again so I wanted to keep that same feel creatively, but with saying that obviously, I'm a human being and the way my style of rap is so real to me—things have changed in a year and I've changed to some extent so you can probably hear the changes in my life and what's going on kind of ting. So yeah, the topics in the raps have changed a bit, but the creative process was exactly the same.
I know you spent some time in the US last year. How do you like it over there? How's the reaction been to your music in the States?
I like it out there bro but we was just kind of on holiday, so we didn't really do much music. I feel like maybe people in America started taking more of a liking to me like after I left America. When we were there, obviously there was a little buzz. People knew me and I had certain connects but the connections have only grown since I've been back in the UK and dropped more music. But yeah, they take a liking to me though, it’s cool out there.
Obviously, COVID has made it harder to travel as much but I see you've been moving a bit anyway. What are some places that you've been to so far and some that you're wanting to visit that you haven't been able to yet?
Well first and foremost Australia is number one on my hit list, I'll be real. It's been way overdue. We've been to a bag of European places that were fun like Sweden, the Czech Republic and some random places that I probably never would have got to go outside of music, but being lucky enough to go there for music opened my eyes to nice little cities and places that you wouldn't usually go to. Paris is obviously one of my favourites, too.
Track one on the new mixtape is called Khabib. What made you want to name a track after one of the GOATS of MMA?
It’s just a reference I made to him in the chorus but I’ll let the music do the talking on that one. I'm not big on it [MMA] too much. But obviously, I'm well aware of Khabib. I definitely like what he stands for.
On some of the tracks on 23 you talk about times before you blew up, when you were feeling down bad or struggling with your mental health. I wanted to ask what kind of things kept you pushing during that time in your life.
Just having faith, honestly. These were times that my faith and my hope were running low but my overall mindset kept me going. There were certain times where I had nothing going on bro, there was nothing that could have uplifted me except my mental so I had to use my mind as a weapon and uplift myself one way or another.
You had been rapping for time before the Central Cee we all know blew up, way back in 2015 you were dropping music. I wonder if you had blown up back then instead of now how different things would have been. What do you think would have been different and are you grateful that it's happened now rather than back then?
100% I always think about that as well. I think I learned so much in those years, bro. Invaluable lessons. So it would have been a mess if I blew up back then, really and truly. I would have learned from a lot of my own mistakes, whereas in that time up until ‘A Day In The Life’, I was kinda learning from other people's mistakes.
I was just kicking back, living my own life and taking my own L’s outside of music. But being a fan of the industry I was watching all these other artists come and go, and the industry was building as well. Back then the industry was tiny compared to how it is now. The reach was tiny and everything was so much different, the deal structures were crazy. Like yeah, God forbid I would have blown up back then.
On ‘Bunda’ you say that you know you're moving up in the world when you're sitting in the same room as Puff. Was that a real moment for you and can you tell us what that was like?
Well, we was in LA I think it was on July the 4th or whatever, and we went out and ended up in one of P Diddy's cribs. He just has these parties—anyone who goes to LA will know—well it's probably quite common in the industry anyway that you can just end up in a P Diddy party, to be fair. [Laughs] But we were lucky to meet him and have a brief convo with him and whatnot. It was quite surreal though, Drake was there, Chris Brown was there. It just felt a bit funny, but it was cool.
‘Eurovision’ is another track that stuck out to me from 23. It’s always sick to hear rappers from different places doing their own thing with drill. Who are the artists on that track and what made you want to do a song like that?
These are all artists that have already got relationships with from travelling. I've worked with all of them. So we've got A2Anti. We’ve got Rondodasosa on there and another artist from his city (Milan) called Baby Gang. Then we got Morad (Spain) and another artist from his block called Beny Jr. Then we got Freeze Corleone (France) and another artist from around his area called Ashe22.
Obviously, I made a song with Freeze that's on YouTube, I've made a good couple songs of Morad that haven't been released yet and I've made a song with Rondo. I don't do features bro, obviously Wild West had no features. This mixtape has got very minimal features, but these are all just real relationships and I'm a genuine fan of their movement. I just thought it was important to bring us all together. I feel like the whole European link-up ting is kind of slept on but now since I started doing it, everyone's trying to do it—but they're not doing it properly. It is what it is.
We have a pretty solid drill scene here in Australia these days, too. I’ve heard you mention that you've been chatting to J Emz from One Four so naturally, we’re curious to know if that link-up might happen?
Yeah it will definitely happen and we still chat briefly. I don't force nothing but that’s what I kind of liked about him—we haven't really spoken about music as such. We've just expressed that we both are fans of each other and we fuck with each other's music but we're not trying to force a feature or anything. When I get out there I'm sure it will happen.
Speaking of Australian artists, there’s some footage in your new video for ‘Cold Shoulder’ where we see you meeting The Kid Laroi. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah I fuck with Laroi. The clip in the video is the first time I met him. I met him that day because there was a festival that was going on in London where he was on the main stage and I was performing on the smaller stage but he invited me to come out on stage during his set on both days. So yeah, that kind of says a lot about him, he's tapped in and he was willing to give me that platform as well, so that was sick to come out on the big stage. He's proper cool. I fuck with Laroi heavy. He’s a crazy performer too. Seeing his performance made me respect his artistry a lot more too.
One of the tracks on the tape that really popped off is ‘Obsessed With You’ with the PinkPantheress sample. It's a vibe that people weren't expecting but it works so well. Have you had a chance to link with PinkPantheress in person and is that someone you'd like to collaborate with in the studio in future?
I think me and Pinkpantheress are mad similar. Same as most of the artists that I've happened to collaborate with—I just gravitate towards people that are quite like me. We're just quite anti. We don’t go to no events, we just have our ordinary lives. Man lives a simple life you know, I'm not a typical industry person and neither is she. We haven’t actually got to link outside of music, I met her at a festival and we do speak but we haven’t had a chance to link since. I got her some I got some cool presidents for letting us do that song because I really appreciate it.
I know you're a big sneaker guy and I read that you even use the flip sneakers at one point?
I never used to flip sneakers. I don't know why they say that!
No really? That info seems to be out there a lot.
Yeah I’ve seen it a couple of times too bro but it’s false news. I probably have sold a shoe or two but not like that. [laughs]
Damn man, you’ve got this reputation as a big sneaker reseller. [laughs]
Yeah I know, but never never never! I never had any sort of like resale business other than fucking… narcotics. No garments. But a sneaker I wear all the time is the Air Force One, they're just my everyday shoe. I got close to 200 pairs of shoes but I always find myself wearing Air Forces.
Lastly, have you started working on the album yet? Any clues as to what we can expect to hear from the debut Central Cee album?
Well, I even have some songs ready. I had some songs that I couldn't put on Wild West because I thought that they were for the album. So I've got some songs aside, god knows if they will make it to the album but what you're gonna hear is a more musical side to me. That's what I'll say.
Looking forward to it. Appreciate your time, man.
Thank you, likewise bro. Love.