This article is an excerpt from the Avelino feature from Issue 01 of GAFFER: ‘England’s Finest’. Available from our online shop now.
If you follow Avelino on Instagram, you probably know he’s a serious baller. On all levels. He regularly gloats that he’s the G.O.A.T. on FIFA 19. In fact, it was just last month that he hung up his virtual boots to give other people a chance. He’s certified in real life, too. Featuring for his own team, So Fine FC, Avelino regularly shines on Instagram stories, putting fellow MCs on the block in 5-a-side meets across the capital. Nutmegs, there’s been a few. One-touch link up, we’ve seen a bit of that. The hold-up play is there as well. It may only be highlights but it does make you wonder just how good the “So Fine’” hitmaker was growing up.
“Like every other kid in the country, I wanted to be a footballer. I think I had the skill, for sure, I just didn’t have the ambition, drive or temperament to really make it there,” recalls Avelino. His football talent might have been tainted by a lack of direction, but his musical career certainly hasn’t. Avelino’s rise over the last couple of years has been calculated. Slow and steady, perhaps, but dignified and direct nevertheless.
We were first introduced to Avelino in 2015, when the Tottenham rapper released a collaborative mixtape, “Young Fire Old Flame”, with long-time mentor Wretch 32. The pair followed it up with arguably the greatest “Fire in the Booth” of all-time. Not for the usual slaughter and shrewdness that make so many other ‘Fire in the Booth’ skits so popular, but for its sentiment. It was in that set we first heard Avelino’s unwavering ambition when he dropped the line, “Every time I made you pay attention, it was worth a listen.” Besides trading bar for bar, both rappers working together symbolised something much greater: the older generation standing by the side of the new. It also proved that Avelino was not just a bright spark but a burning fire that had become too hard to contain.
His solo efforts since have continued to keep his considerable fire burning. “Up until now, every release, has given glimpses of my character here and there,” he tells GAFFER in his trademark gravelly tone. “FYO”, the follow up to “Young Fire Old Flame”, showed us not only the range of his subjects, but also the depth of what he’s talking about, mostly where he comes from. “U Can’t Stand Up” and “Origami’, which followed on his 2017 release ‘No Bullshit’, took that honesty to another level. He doesn’t talk much and isn’t one to do too many interviews, but he has an audience that is hung up on every word that he speaks, raps or spits. “I connect with the music,” he explains. “I let the music do the talking for me.”
His dedication to the dream of becoming “the biggest artist in the world” is evident to anyone who spends just a few minutes in his company. Whether he is speaking about the success he’s achieved in the music game, or the first time he really remembers writing bars, he’ll pause meaningfully. Then he’ll smile while passing through the rails of memories in his brain before announcing his well-considered thoughts. And you believe every word he says. So, when he empowers that “I want to be the biggest artist in the world”, you not only believe him but you believe in his ability to do it.
Was there ever anything else for you apart from music? What were your dreams as kid?
Being a footballer, of course, like every other boy in the country. I’ve got a passion for football for sure, but I don’t think I had the passion to make it. That’s the biggest step, the dedication and drive you need, and I don’t think I really had that.
So, when did you make the transition to focus on music?
About 14 or 15 years old is when I started to do music properly, but I still do music the same way as I started. It’s literally about going studio and sharing the music, really. I first did it because I loved it, and that hasn’t changed.
How long did it take you to get to that stage to get ideas down, to write, and then to spit in front of people you know then to audiences – was it a journey of confidence to get there?
Nah, I started to spit to people straight away. If you want to make it like your favourite rappers, you just got to do it. You see them spitting and then you go and do it straight away. You don’t sign up to be a rapper and be worried about spitting to people, otherwise you got to find another hobby.
How did you find the strength to move into that scene? What was your mindset back then?
I don’t think you really think like that at the time. You could say it’s courage, but I’ve never really thought of it like that. It’s a challenge to get into the scene but you’ve got to just share the music and get out there. You’ve got to work on your craft.
Did you ever feel like a bit of an alien at that point? Or were you always surrounded by people who were pushing the music scene too or pushing you in particular?
It’s funny. I had a friend in my art class who I used to spit my bars to, and he always said they were rubbish. So one way or another, he made me write better and better bars. That’s a funny little story, but my first bars were not great at all, and I don’t know if I agreed with him, but he made me better.
Success is a funny word; how do you view success now to when you first started out?
It’s all stages. Success is what you set out to achieve, and if you achieve it, then that’s success. For me, I want to be the biggest artist on the planet. Simple.
Do you give yourself time to reflect on the success you’ve had so far, is this how you always viewed your journey?
Yeah, I’ve always said “attitude and gratitude determines your latitude”. So you’ve always got to be grateful and you’ve always got to take in the moment because that’s what we do it for, we do it for these moments. There’s this problem of always looking ahead but you’ve got to take in the here and today. I always look around and count my blessings.
You’re one of many of represent this DIY culture in the UK and your lyrics are profound and popular for that reason – you understand people. That said, there are a lot of kids out there now that feel they’re not being heard or have a place, how do you advise people to steer themselves through that?
Everyone is powerful man, I try to put messages in my music to show people that. You’ve got the obvious ones like “U Can’t Stand Up” or something that is living in the clubs like “So Fine” and “Boasy”. You know, the lyrics are always aspirational. They always give you something to take away. I’m just trying to play my part, but hopefully people are looking at what I’m doing and hopefully that inspires them to get up and show their greatness in whatever field they want to work in.
There’s no doubt that the UK scene is popping right now, not just in music but in football, art and the wider culture. Why do you think that this crop in particular is breaking that ceiling?
We have benefits of social media. That’s the main thing that I’d say. I can only really talk in the sense of the music scene, and I think the biggest thing has been social media, for sure. We have access to the public that we serve, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Thinking back to a few years ago when this journey really began for you, what has changed most for you – good or bad – in that time?
I feel like luxury has changed. What I deemed to be luxury or luxurious has literally reversed. What I mean by that is cars, a nice place and jewels used to be a luxury to me. But now that I have a bit of that, luxury to me is family time.
In football the old adage is that you’re only as good as your last game, in the growing sphere of UK music do you believe that analogy to be true? For example, is it always good to look as yourself as new and with something to prove in order to get the best from your work?
It depends on the artist. It depends on what you set out to do. Because you can’t tell that to Lauren Hill, for example. You can’t say that. She gave us “Miseducation”, and that’s incredible. Sometimes you might the best in the world at something and feel so powerful and you’ve done something that will never be forgotten. Again, like Nas, you can’t tell that to him because he gave us “Illmatic”. But then someone like Drake, I can see he maybe adopts that mentality because he keeps returning with the goods. It all depends on the person.
Do you believe lyricists and musicians like yourself can ever retire? Not in terms of touring and dropping EPs but do you ever see yourself stopping writing or making music on some level?
Possibly. I think so. I don’t know when. It will be a late, late,late stage, probably over 50 or something but I think that day will come for sure. You then become the coach or the sporting director. You level up.
The enthusiasm for those in music and football has grown even closer, grown into actual collaborations, project, friendships etc. What’s brought these two world’s closer together?
Sports and music work hand in hand. It’s entertainment. And, you know, over here in the UK, rappers want be footballers and footballers want to be rappers. It’s a simple as that.
We see you online as a potent FIFA player, what’s your secret?
Do you know what’s funny? I’m the best in the country, first of all. It took me a while to get there. Year after year it’s a commitment to the craft, but through the years I always stayed loyal to FIFA when other football games came out and people went elsewhere. But, now I can say I’ve officially retired at the end of 2018. There might be a comeback but I can’t see it just yet. I wasn’t tired of winning, because winning is always beautiful, but I’d say that it was time for others to have their time as I was getting too dominant.
On the topic of giving others a chance, is there any advice you would give to the next generation who are looking to break into the industry?
Love what you do and be grateful for whatever you have whenever you get it. Just know what you want. If you want to be the best, get ready to train like the best. Train like Bruce Lee, Floyd Mayweather and Cristiano Ronaldo and brave the pain of life. If you’re from a similar background as me, the working class, then embrace the work, embrace the pain and embrace the not knowing if anything is going to happen to you. You’ve got to embrace all that and turn that into your dream. Not everyone can do that. You’ve got to be cut from a certain cloth, but you’ve got to test yourself to see if you are.