Making Moves: Bemz and Kobi Onyame in conversation
As Bemz releases his The Saint of Lost Causes EP, Kobi Onyame chats to the Glasgow-based rapper about his life and musical journey up until now
"I want you to stand on my shoulders and just do a lot more than I ever did.”
Even before their chat properly gets underway, when speaking via Google Meets to Jubemi Iyuku, who performs as Bemz, Kobi Onyame imparts the warmth of an older brother who just wants the very best for his younger sibling. But the pair aren't related. They met on the Glasgow gig circuit a couple of years ago, and have recently recorded a track together (Suddenly) as part of Bemz's new EP, The Saint of Lost Causes. At the start of October, Onyame introduced us to Bemz via email and we loved what we heard, but it feels only right that we let Onyame do the honours and take the driving seat on this one.
Kobi Onyame: Tell us about yourself.
Jubemi Iyuku: I'm a 26 year old Nigerian boy based in sunny Glasgow. My story starts in Nigeria where I was born and raised until I was about three, then I moved to London where I [lived] until I was about 14. Then I moved to Stranraer.
KO: That's where the ferry goes from across to Ireland? I once got a ferry from there to Belfast, it was quite a dodgy experience.
JI: Yeah [laughing], I spent four years there, and then I moved to Ayr. I done a lot of my growing up there. I stayed for six/seven years and then moved to Glasgow.
KO: You opened up for me at Stereo about two years ago. Tell us a bit about your journey as a musician.
JI: Prior to [that] show, I’d released Black Kid, White City, which is interesting because I was actually staying in a place in Ayr called White City. I was the only Black person there. So I used that to tell my story [...] Then I was getting ready to drop a three-track EP called Life [...] I was gaining a bit of buzz. And then the email came through, 'Yo, do you want to open up for Kobi Onyame?', and I was so gassed! For me that was an honour.
Within those next two years, everything just kind of took a downer [...] My mental health took a bit of a dive, so that had an effect on my music [...] I got caught in a trap of kidding myself on that I was a perfectionist... I just wasn't confident. I didn't believe in my music. I was hiding my insecurities as being a perfectionist.
KO: Life was the first release I heard… In Glasgow that EP sounded very fresh for me. It sounded like a real artist, a real person who was making music... it sounded like I heard Jubemi.
JI: I don't shy away from my mental health issues, and I use my music as therapy [...] To hear you say that is a big compliment and I'm happy that what I was trying to portray, people could see it.
KO: It was a very honest project and that's what drew me to [you]. Let's talk about the new EP, The Saint of Lost Causes. What inspired the title?
JI: I've got a Nigerian name, Jubemi, and I've got an English name, Jude. And that was the name I used a lot when I first moved to Scotland [...] A lot of people, I don't know if it was lack of trying or ignorance or whatever, struggled to pronounce my name. It wasn't until I came to Glasgow that I was like, 'Look, I'm starting anew and I'm being Jubemi full-time.'
But Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and despair [...] When I found out I was like, 'Oh my fucking god', I'm so sorry for my language, but [it was] the most fitting thing for me and for the way I was feeling [...] Being able to write six tracks that explained the struggles I've been through… Making a conscious choice to remove myself from the negative things that I was doing and focusing on my music. I knew I had to make a decision – either I was caught up in this lifestyle that was gonna end bad for me or I put all that energy [into] music.
KO: A lost cause is defined as a person or thing that can no longer hope to succeed, or be changed for the better. Have you had any times that you've experienced a loss of hope, or anything in particular and how did you overcome that?
JI: I’m not going to say that I’ve overcome the things that made me feel like a lost cause. I lost my mother when I was three, I lost my gran, who became my mother; and my brother, he got stabbed and killed. All this happened before I was 16, so these are a lot of issues that now affect me. But I was brought up by a very strict Nigerian dad, and he always said: ‘If something doesn't physically hurt you, there's no need for you to cry.’ I remember when I found out my brother got killed, I cried three times, and that was it, and I was like, you know what, we move.
All these issues are things that I've been facing my whole life. But it wasn't until lockdown that I decided to do something about it, and that was seeking out therapy. But to relate that back to being a lost cause, mentally, I feel like no matter what happens, all these things, these past traumas, will still be part of me.
KO: Essentially you’re saying that... it is the ammunition you use to push yourself forward into the thing that you're doing now, the EP, the music, to say 'Look, this is why I‘m here, this is what I need to do and let's just get on with it.'
JI: One hundred percent.
KO: It’s very refreshing to hear an honest rap artist spit what he’s living, because that’s what I'm all about […] So the EP is fantastic, the EP is great, I love it. Talk to us about the creative process, the people you worked with, your favourite track for example.
JI: The thing I feel I've done well, even though I’m an up and coming artist, [was to] get a lot of features from [other] up and coming artists that I rate [...] I believe in Scotland there's a lot of brilliant musicians that unfortunately will probably never see the light of day, because the opportunity isn't there for them, and I said that to Mark [Oyakhire, who features on What It Seems].
I was like, ‘If you being on my song gets you one new listener, I’ll take that as a victory’. And that was the whole mentality that I went into it with, and obviously I ended up on a track with you (Suddenly) [...] [which is] my favourite. The other songs on that tape, they all hold a place in my heart, especially the last song, Quarantine Freestyle.
I spent the last two years watching what everybody was doing in the scene, people beefing each other, calling themselves the king of Glasgow, the king of this, the king of that [...] I had all this rage and anger for the Scottish scene. Rather than building something everyone was here just trying to pull down each other. So [Quarantine Freestyle] is one of my favourites because it was just raw emotion and just me, it’s my statement piece to Glasgow.
I feel like as a collective in Glasgow, we all need to do better. And shouting that you’re the king, and this and that on social media, is not doing better. Let people call you the king. Do things, make moves and do things that are king-worthy, build a scene, do that, and let people call you a king.
KO: I heard it all on that track, man. So I guess, to round it all up, 2020, obviously it's been interesting... It’s brought its challenges for everyone, but I know you've got some good news.
JI: I’m gonna be a dad! [...] 2020 outside of music, it's been a roller coaster… I spent a lot of time in lockdown doing a lot of self-reflecting... I've lost some close people, I’ve gained some close people. Trying to describe the feeling of 2020 is very very hard. All I can say is if I see 2021, I’m grateful for that. I'm still here, I’m still alive and I'm still breathing.
2020 made me realise that there were stupid things that I was stressing about as a young adult, that don’t really deserve a second of my time. Having that lockdown period was great because I was able to channel all this emotion that I was feeling into subjects that actually matter to me, like my mental health, racism and injustice. I was able to focus and be more in tune and more at peace with myself, and be more sure. So when I say something now, I say it with my chest [...] I know 2020 was hard for everyone, but I've just got to take all the wins that came with it.
The Saint of Lost Causes is out now
In honour of Jubemi Iyuku's friend Cleo Smillie, who sadly passed away this year, proceeds will be donated to both Diabetes Scotland and Minds Over Matter, a mental health charity based in Ayrshire