YUNGUN'S RAP: I'm not from the ghetto, I'm from Highgate
PUBLISHED: 11:46 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010
Yungun is all about smashing stereotypes – which is unsurprising, since by day he s a top-flight Eton-educated lawyer, while at night he s a rapper, writes Miguel Cullen As I walk down Parkway in Camden Town on the way to meet rapper Yungun, a number
Yungun is all about smashing stereotypes - which is unsurprising, since by day he's a top-flight Eton-educated lawyer, while at night he's a rapper, writes Miguel Cullen
As I walk down Parkway in Camden Town on the way to meet rapper Yungun, a number of stereotypes cross my path.
There's the goth, leather overcoat trailing the pavement, bone-pale in the orange streetlight. There's the street dealer, hood drawn up, his "weed, coke, pills" drowned out by the Regent's Park-bound traffic.
I know everything I need about these preconceived people already.
Yungun defies stereotypes and, in so doing, tells us what's wrong with that mental shortcut.
He's a rapper who's collaborated with US giant Guru and the Wu Tang Clan, toured Australia with Kanye West and Cypress Hill, simultaneously works nine to five at a top law firm and went to - wait for it - Eton College.
"I used to break out of Eton aged 14 to test my skills at the open mic jams in some dodgy parts of town," remembers the 28-year-old, as he sits back on his sofa at home having changed out of his shirt into a T-shirt.
Yungun has become a byword within the UK hip-hop scene for intelligent, considered rap commentary, intermixed with rhymes in Spanish and mischievous raps about partying and the fairer sex.
Chuck D once famously defined hip-hop's purpose as the black CNN - reporting on inner-city deprivation suffered by the black man.
Growing up in Hampstead Lane, Highgate, Yungun's mission statement is dramatically different from many rappers.
"People assume that because I do rap I talk about ghetto life. I don't come from the ghetto, I come from Highgate - so I don't rap about that.
"In the modern world, a lot goes on that doesn't fit neatly into those categories.
"You might not see me walking down the street in the clothes I'm wearing now and think that I work at a top city law firm. That's a kind of prejudice.
"Sometimes people think that I'm out of place. But let's face it - if I said that I was a jazz saxophonist and I went to Eton, then they probably wouldn't be that surprised. They would think, he's intelligent, he's well educated and he's expressing himself creatively through music. I'm exactly the same.
"Logically, it's more or less the same assumption as saying, 'How come that guy who went to a state school, in a deprived area, can be a lawyer or a banker?"
One of Yungun's main attractions is how truly global his sound is. He raps in Spanish and has recently performed tracks about his mixed Nigerian and English heritage at the BBC's Maida Vale studios for its Africa season.
"On the track, which I called Rooted, I talk about loving ground rice and food that's made with dried fish, while also loving cups of tea and roast dinner," he laughs.
Such tracks and others feature in Yungun's album-in-waiting, the Middleman, the title of which reflects his position in between lifestyle genres.
Yungun has become a favourite with the old-school UK hip-hop DJs such as MK, who featured a track where he teaches us about the unsung history of the genre.
"There were particular hip-hop nights going on in Covent Garden with the break dancing which went on there as well," Yungun explains.
"There was also a crossover with the punk and eclectic scene. A lot of trendy people were into the music as well as it being a street thing. It's a fascinating history.
"In the mid-90s, there was a big hip-hop scene in Camden.
"I remember meeting a rapper called Skinnyman in Camden Lock [now a well-known figure], who back then was one of the first people in London who would actually rap. He released a famous underground record called Itchy Town, which was about Camden."
Yungun's impact on the scene has garnered praise from heavyweight figures such as Nas, perhaps the rap scene's most global star, who, when asked who he liked from Britain, highlighted the Camden star.
He also graced the mic at the Cannes Film Festival as master of ceremonies.
"At one point I had to introduce Pras from the Fugees to do a track in front of a pool - a totally different world from doing a show at a venue in the arse-end of Camden Town," he remembers, laughing.
Yungun, without a doubt, is a man on a mission. Indeed, hearing the story of his life reminds me of the Kris Kristofferson song The Pilgrim, which Betsy famously compares Travis Bickle to in Taxi Driver.
"He's a prophet and a pusher...partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction."
To many people, Yungun represents a conflict of interests too confused to surmount.
However, when I ask Yungun whether these contrasting influences make for an uncomfortable position, he says: "I will continue to operate outside my comfort zone because, when you're outside your comfort zone, your comfort zone expands to fit that place."
Throughout our chat, Yungun uses the words "weird" and "odd" often to describe his lifestyle. But then that's the price the unique pay to tear up the rulebook.
Yungun's album Grown Man Business is available on iTunes and in all good retailers.
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