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Meet the artist taking UK dancehall worldwide

BIG TALENT: Big Zeeks has been DJing since he was 13 years old

THERE have always been musical hotspots for the next artist coming through. London’s Harlesden, NW10 is one of those places, and that’s the fountain that Big Zeeks heralds from.

The NW10 all-star list is a very long one, so Zeeks has some very big shoes to fill. I’ve known Zeeks for nearly 20 years now. He’s always been an energetic, loud and forthright character, which suits his current position as the next big thing in UK dancehall.

But my journey with him didn’t start as an artist/radio DJ arrangement – he was actually a competitor as a soundman alongside his partner Big Strike.

CRATES

“I started DJ-ing at 13 and called myself ‘Little Zeeks’; I joined up with Strike in 2006,” he tells me, with his usual enthusiasm and energy. “My dad had Sufferah sound in south London – the legendary Vego Wells from Beat FM in London gave me a show – I had to stand on milk crates to do the show!”

His love of music is obvious to see and hear – the music he makes clearly has a host of influences and it seems this has always been the case. “I did all kinds of genres – dancehall, reggae, R’n’B and hip hop. I was even in a garage crew,” he says.

“I held my first rave at 15 – at a place called Dreams in the local area. It was one of the first real under-18 dances and I got a lot of support from the elders because they could see that I was trying to be progressive with my movements. I became known a lot more locally and people connected with me.”

But he says his hometown is important to him: “We’ve had many big artists from here, including Tubby T – RIP – and Gappy Ranks. It went quiet for a while because everyone wanted to rap, not just do dancehall and reggae.

“Gappy was a big inspiration because he always seems to do projects, not just throwing singles out. Plus his thing was international, not just local.”

When you think about NW10, it is a staple for the reggae scene in the UK, even with bonafide record shops known worldwide like Hawkeye Records. The importance of his work isn’t lost on him, either.

“People message me all the time telling me that I am making them proud – the area alone has always supported me,” says Zeeks. “I did a track in 2009, which took me to some places around the world to work, but I didn’t pattern myself properly at that time.

“When we made Yo (with E.Mak) people embraced it and it gave me extra motivation and we got love from all over. I’m trying to make the ends proud – I’m not changing – I’m just being myself.”

I can testify to that. He is a very likeable character, and what you see is what you get. He has a tight knit team who work together very well.

“I‘m a very loyal person – I keep it real. E. Mak is actually my official engineer, I manage Tinez who sings the hook on It’s A Lot Of Money, and Diggy Ustle is my road manager. If I eat, then the team has to eat, too. All for one and one for all,” he explains.

He has many fingers in many pies, including his own sound – Triple S Audio with Big Strike and Steely – who have a pitch at Notting Hill Carnival, but his main focus is the making of music now. He is definitely not afraid of doing the hard work.

“I always feel like I deserve better. Whatever I do I want it to be better, there is always better out there. I always try to make myself happy,” Zeeks says.

It’s easy to perceive him as an off the cuff, footloose character, but nothing could be further from the truth. Family is very important to him – he is a father of one with another son on the way, and he has been married for five years.

“My son changed my mentality. He made me realise what was important and I strive to be a role model and bring forward a positive image. Not only at home, but also in my music. I got married at 25 and it was one of the best things I ever did – when I see what other people go through in their relationships I think, That can’t be me any more’,” he says.

”I feel like I bring something different to the game – you don’t have to sell an image for music – just be yourself. Be a leader, not a follower – always be that one who brings something different to the table.”

REFRESHING

That positioning is very important to him and it is remarkably refreshing to hear a young artist speak so passionately about their role to the next generation. I understand my social responsibility.

"The kid in the It’s A Lot Of Money video is 11 years old and is my friend’s son – he always sends me messages and lets me know that he likes what we are doing, so I wanted to give him the chance to experience being part of it and inspire him to grow up and make his own moves. I want to inspire people,” he says frankly.

“I used to do youth work in areas that had negative reputations and used to teach people how to DJ – we are badly miss- ing the youth clubs for young people. We need them back.”

So, we move on to his latest single, It’s A Lot Of Money, featuring E.Mak, Diggy Ustle and Tinez. He explained how it came about. “Tinez is someone I looked up to for a long time. He was a grime MC, and It’s A Lot Of Money is a quote he used to say on the road. I thought I would turn it into a track. I got him to sing the hook over and over, around 30 times until we got the one we needed!” Zeeks enthuses.

“The riddim was made by Sunny Kale (the man who made Yo and the whole process took three months to complete. I leaked it in January 2017 and it just grew and grew from there.”

It certainly has, and continues to grow now. With the video now in circulation and playlists from across the UK on board, look out for even bigger things to come.

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