Put your ear to the ground in London at the minute and you’ll hear something along the lines of Belly Squad. The rising trio are one of a current crop of trailblazers, along with the likes of J Hus, Yxng Bane and Kojo Funds, blending jubilant Afrobeats with grime, road rap and dancehall to produce what will undoubtedly be pouring from soundsystems at this year’s Carnival. Better get familiar with their tag ‘B-E- double-L-Y’, because you’ll soon be hearing it everywhere.
It’s the height of Storm Doris when we meet the group, and we’re hiding from the gale force winds in West London’s Metropolis Studios, where Ty Jombla, Ross Jombla, and Yung Max (real name Remmi Maxwell) are lounging in one of the plush recording rooms. They’re here as part of Ellesse’s new music initiative, ‘Make It Music’, which is giving a platform to the next wave of popular music.
The threesome aren’t from these ends, but instead East and South. Ty and Max, both 18, went to school together, while Ross, 20, is Ty’s cousin. “Me and him are African, we come from an African home,” explains Ty on their musical upbringing that featured artists like P-Square, D’Banj and Wizkid. “We used to go to family parties and we’d hear Afrobeats.” Max, on the other hand, had an early dancehall infatuation, as his dad was in roots reggae band Revolutionary Dub Warriors and would spin Barrington Levy on the regular.
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“Every now and then he used to pop in and everyone’d be like, ‘Rah, Kano's here!’”
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But like most boys their age, they grew up mainly on a diet of grime; Skepta and Chip. They explain how Kano’s mum was a PE teacher’s assistant at their school. “Every now and then he used to pop in and everyone’d be like, ‘Rah, Kano's here!’” Ty recalls.
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Belly Squad, by Adama Jalloh
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Yet these days they’re getting props from the grime set, rather than asking them for photos. Both Chip and Stormzy recently reached out to them. “We grew up looking at these people from young, and now they’re bigging us up. It’s a sick feeling. Hard work pays off!” exclaims Ty.
“[Stormzy] gave us a few words of advice,” Ross adds, “like, keep doing what you’re doing, don’t watch what anyone else is doing, and just focus on the positive. Make sure the people around you are positive as well.”
Ross’s dad was one of those positive forces, building a studio in his spare bedroom for the boys to record and produce. Meanwhile, Max would to spend his school lunchtimes holed up in the studio facilities there, crafting tracks. The ‘Belly’ part of their moniker points to their hunger for success, and it helps that the trio have this fiercely DIY spirit; the video for ‘Trustworthy’, their first-ever track, was shot on a shoestring. “That cost like £60!” laughs Ty. “I shot that on my birthday actually — my 16th. And then I shot ‘Banana’ on my 17th birthday.” That one had a slightly bigger budget, but only of £500.
The EP that the fruit-themed track appears on drops tomorrow. “We’re excited to release it because it’s our first official project,” says Ty.
“Proper ting,” Ross interjects.
The title cut is a colourful, shameless ode to getting between the sheets, which blew up after a Vine of Ty singing the chorus did the rounds on their mates’ phones in Newham. Since then, they’ve collaborated with Abra Cadabra, Young T and Donae’o, and jumped on edits of Thugger & Travis Scott’s ‘Pick Up The Phone’ and Desiigner’s ‘Panda’. “A lot of American artists are cosigning UK artists at the moment — it’s sick to see people around the world appreciating our music,” nods Ross. “Especially what we’re doing — it’s a new sound that everyone’s embracing so it’s proper sick.”
Who would be their blue sky collaborations, then? “Migos,” they all chime in together. “Jhene Aiko too, she’s cool,” adds Max.
Belly Squad’s versatility — that ability to churn out sugary sweet hooks and explosive flows, all packaged up with a cheeky wink — is what marks them out as the next aux cord obsession. “We like how far we’ve come but I’d say one of our goals is to get a MOBO. Until we reach that — and then we’ll have another goal,” Ty promises.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photography: Adama Jalloh
The group wear Ellesse clothing throughout.
Belly Squad are playing alongside Faze Miyake and Tom Lea at one of our Clash x Burst takeovers at KOKO next Friday (May 5th). Head HERE for tickets.
This article originally appeared in Clash issue 103. To buy a copy of the issue click HERE.
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