On Friday, Sheffield MC Coco released his new single Ingredients, produced by Toddla T. That evening, the two performed at a surprise gig at Sheffield University. On Sunday, he opened up with a performance at the Snooker World Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield.
But only a few years ago, the grime artist from Gleadless struggled to get gigs at nightclubs like Plug. Now, after over ten years in the game, Coco will spend his summer performing at festivals such as Outlook, Bestival and Parklife.
The artists’ Fire in the Booth link performance in 2015 was a huge moment for Coco’s career, showcasing his talent to a wide audience of hardcore grime and hip-hop fans. But it all started back when he was a pupil at Hinde House secondary school.
“When I started, I was a bit shy. One day, I thought I’d go to the studio with my friends because they always went after school. So I did, and saw how everything worked, how they put the lyrics together, and because everyone was doing it I just automatically fell in love with it.”
Although, he believes he wasn’t initially good at it, Coco says he stuck at it because he enjoyed it.
“I wasn’t the best at the start. But I think it was a sense of belonging to something and it’s fun, it’s creative.”
In 2007, Coco’s friend and fellow MC Jonathan Matondo was shot in Burngreave, Sheffield. Known to many by his MC name Venomous, Jonathan was just 16 when he was murdered. The following year, another close friend of Coco’s, 17-year-old Tarek Chaiboub, or GT, was shot dead while having his hair cut at a barber’s shop.
Coco describes GT as “the main guy that got me into music”. He explained how he used his music to grieve for the friends he lost when he was growing up.
“To me, music is an emotion and an expression, and some people won’t get that unless you understand music to that degree.
“During the times when we were grieving either Venomous or GT, I just used to put it all down on paper. Not in a forced way… but I’m the sort of person who might bottle things up, or put on a brave face, so I thought music was the best way to let people know how I’m feeling.”
Typically, the grime scene is dominated by artists in London, and regional accents are still a rarity within the genre. Coco is undoubtedly flying the flag for the Sheffield grime scene, but also part of a bigger movement of artists breaking down stereotypes and regional barriers.
Although, he says, he’s adapted his rapping style slightly, he still stays true to his South Yorkshire accent.
“I guess when I listened to my old stuff, I’ve learnt how to project my accent in a way where not just people from Sheffield can understand me, and learnt how to articulate, without losing the essence of where I come from.
“I think it’s important – whether you’re from London, Sheffield, Derby, Ireland – just to represent where you come from. You shouldn’t have to change anything for anyone.”
But it’s not common for Sheffield MCs to make it big in the grime scene as Coco has. So why did he stick with music, when so many others didn’t?
“I think some people just might not have that tunnel vision. Sometimes your dream doesn’t pay the bills, and in real life you need to be making money.
“I think some people thought ‘yeah… I’m good at this, but it’s not realistic for my life.’ Even at one point I thought that, but I just could not stop because I feel like that’s all I knew, and I sacrificed so much to get to where I am now.”
Now, he lives in London, the city where grime was born, and he’s taken his career to the next level. But Coco says performing in Sheffield will always be special to him – especially at pop-up gigs announced the morning he performs.
“I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t know [the pop-up gig] was gonna be like that. I always kind of doubt myself but every time I go to Sheffield it’s always love. When it’s something like that, when we announce it on the morning and there was such a good turnout, I was shocked.
“It just made me feel so happy knowing that I’m in my home town and I’ve got that support from people. It’s mad.”
This summer, the 26-year-old is performing at festivals all over the world, but explains how much hard work was put in to get to this point in his career.
“Ten years ago we would have struggled to get anywhere. People tell me to look at my transition and I shrug it off, but then I think how far I’ve come.
“We were performing at shoddy places, somewhere in the ends, just trying to make something out of anything. Trying to get to perform at Plug at one point was hard, and then we slowly progressed.
“I never thought I’d be performing in the same places as people I looked up to, and it’s sick just knowing that I’ve worked to get there.”
But despite the hard work and persistence, what advice does Coco have for young teens in Sheffield who want to get involved in grime music?
“If you can, try and study the game and as many aspects of music as you can.
“But most importantly, be original and be yourself. We’ve already got enough people that wanna copy others and there’s no point in doing that. Make sure you’re bringing something new to the table.
“The ability to create and do your own thing is so unique. I think what’s sick about being an artist is that I’ve got my own characteristics and people can identify me for what I do.”
Coco’s new single Ingredients is out now on iTunes.