Send Them to Coventry: "It's an insight of where I'm coming from."instagram/pa_salieu

“I  never show my power, but I still remain calculated”: compelling words uttered by one of the most dynamic talents on the UK scene today. Skyrocketing into high esteem this year for his potent lyricism and striking visuals, Pa Salieu offers a unique vision on oft-maligned experiences lived in many parts of this country. On the release day of his debut mixtape, Send Them to Coventry, the star spoke to Varsity about family, upliftment and elevation.

In terms of his artistry, a forthright and consistent approach is key. “I come with the same message – I hope it comes easy for you.” The gravitas in his speaking voice is markedly different from the cadence in his music, where Salieu is equally commanding, slapping down each syllable so you don’t miss a word. Creativity was something of a lifeline for the 23-year-old MC, who credits music for saving his life. “It started off as a stress relief,” he starts. There is a conviction in his voice, his answers delivered almost like a stream of consciousness, but more grounded. “When I was in certain situations, when I was banged in cells, everything started coming out: emotions, feelings, everything. I came across the studio and I thought, ‘This is really helping me.’ I was going through a madness at the time, but the music was calming me down, every time I record or write. My best friend AP that died, he was there pushing me. He had a clothing brand called Money Moves and when he died that’s when I took it serious.”

Salieu behind the scenes of his 'Block Boy' videoTwitter/king_salieu

The ineffable nature of his expression isn’t lost on Salieu. “It was spiritual. It came out of nowhere,” he admits. Having looked up to his aunty, who travels the word as a folk singer, he also believes there is a subconscious element to his attraction to music. Other influences include dancehall legend Vybz Kartel (“I fuck with his music differently”) and 2Pac. Drawing from broad influence in his own work, on wax he slips between a light Midlands lilt, his Gambian swing and a Caribbean-inflected cadence.

After a few years of garnering attention for his visuals and freestyles, his latest offering is his eagerly awaited mixtape, Send Them to Coventry, Salieu’s manifesto of sorts, with guest appearances from M1llionz, Mahalia and Trinidad’s Boy Boy, among others. “It’s an insight of where I’m coming from. There’s no specific beat, no consistent flow with me, so don’t expect anything. It’s similar messaging, very open. It’s all growing with me. The music speaks a different language.” When it comes to his creative process, the Coventry artist doesn’t put limits on his expression. “I believe in no rules: just the vibes, the energy. There’s no process, it’s just natural.” The tracks blur genre, with the chameleonic artist crooning and rapping over churning bass lines and frenetic hi-hats, straddling sounds from the Islands and Africa with homegrown drill and road rap influences folded in. As its title suggests, the work is informed by the rapper’s hometown (“COV, hashtag city of violence”, as he dubs it on ‘Informa’), which was at times turbulent. “It speaks for itself. I don’t use no punchlines, it’s just what I’ve gone through in Coventry, in Hillfields. This is all me. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“I’m taking this thing serious. We got building to do.”

Whether introspective, threatening or inspirational, each word on the 15-song project drips with sincerity: every word is a promise to himself and to his family, a word he extends to include his supporters, to convey a truth he shares with countless others. “Unapologetically, if you get it, you get it. My parents came here for a reason: to build. Nothing was promised to my mother: me getting shot, police running through my yard, none of that was promised. “It’s hard what I go through. I’m from the hood. There’s yutes dying every single day: it’s a madness, people getting shot for no reason. Most of my friends turned crackhead, dead, or they’re doing life.” He continues, quoting ‘Block Boy’ the opening track on Send Them to Coventry: “That’s why I tell my sister, ‘Eyes on the bigger picture’. I wasn’t a bad yute: I’m not coming from a bad family, but the trap is the trap. They call it the trap, but I’m not trapping myself,” a promise he made to himself which is rapidly becoming reality.

Salieu in the 'Frontline' video, shot in Hillfields, CoventryYouTube/Mixtape Madness

His meteoric rise this year was kicked off with the release of ’Frontline’ in January, with Salieu relating life on the block over a sparse, off-kilter beat. The track instantly resonated, drawing attention to his distinct charisma and going on to become BBC Radio 1Xtra’s most played track of 2020. Written and recorded some two years ago, I asked him whether he sensed ‘Frontline’ would resonate with so many people, especially considering it was one of the first songs he wrote. “I’m speaking relatable shit,” he affirms. “I know how many people go through what I go through.”

“I’m not coming from a bad family, but the trap is the trap. They call it the trap, but I’m not trapping myself.”

Another highlight of the tape is ’My Family’ alongside Tottenham’s BackRoad Gee: a fiery track over a monster instrumental which sees the two MCs trade verses to conjure fear in their adversaries and pledge allegiance to their own. There’s a sense that the common experiences the rappers discuss on record (“ghetto baby, grew up ’round them killers”, Salieu spits) forge the kind of bonds that little else can. “Family’s not just blood,” he underscores. “Family’s loyalty, it’s vibes. Family is more than important to me. They’re the ones that got you when everyone leaves. When I got shot in the head, they were nearly going crazy. I always advise my siblings, I tell them that nothing’s more important than family.”

The visual for 'B***K' sees a cast of iconic Black images.YouTube/Pa Salieu

Released this autumn during Black History Month, ’B***K’ is more laid back, with a sample of a flute fluttering above the track’s intricate but bare percussion. The title, the artist’s YouTube page explains, is censored ‘to highlight how throughout history parts of society have portrayed black people and culture almost like a swear word.’ “I have more than pride when it comes to my people,” he gushes. “I’m a king, I got a golden history. Everyone has to claim to be royalty, no matter where you come from. You can’t fucks with the energy if you don’t believe you’re royalty.” The track’s music video sees different Black archetypes honoured, a Zulu warrior and a Black Panther among them. He explains his reasoning behind these visuals to accompany the song: “We don’t believe ourselves higher than what we are. We’ve been shown we’re low.” While 2020 in particular has been a year where Black people the world over have often been in mourning, Salieu is quick to dismiss the idea that the song took advantage of the zeitgeist. “This is my vibe. It could’ve been next year, last year… this always needs to be acknowledged, so expect that in my future music.”


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After a triumphant year, the rapper’s future is a point of interest. “I’d like to have a hand in uplifting Africa,” he professes. “Right now, I’m taking this thing serious,” he adds, referring to his music. “We got building to do. I came here with no Plan B, but I’m making it. Watch how this transcends.” Despite his satisfaction in crafting Send Them to Coventry, his main goal going forward is to reach new altitudes. “This mixtape is simply for my growth. It’s the first body of work, so I wanna see what I can take from it.” In short? “I’m tryna grow, man. I’m tryna grow, trust me. Just growth.”