Written for Parlophone, May 2015.
Rat Boy’s homegrown raps paint a lyrical dissertation of suburban Britain. It’s a place in which stepping onto public transport is akin to entering a battlefield: a land of wannabe gangsters, muggings and sportswear casualties.
The Chelmsford resident observes the society around him and encapsulates his environment in songs which flow with wit and caustic disparagement. He’s firmly within the storytelling lineage of Britain’s great lyricists who represent some of his greatest influences: Ian Dury, The Clash, Squeeze, Blur and The Streets.
Rat Boy (real name Jordan Cardy) is a product of his background. “I hated school, it bored me. I wanted to do something creative, so instead of going in, I made music and art and just hung around,” he says. As someone who can pepper his conversation with references to everything from his opposition to UKIP to youth culture’s continuing love of Fred Perry and the crimes of Crazy Titch, he clearly possesses an intelligence and inquisitiveness that the education system failed to nurture.
Life after school offered little: a succession of rejections from retail work which finally culminated in him landing a job in Wetherspoons. “I was in the kitchen – they didn’t let me out the front because I was too weird,” he recalls. “I wrote a lot of lyrics in Wetherspoons, just sitting at table writing about people in there. Afterwards, I’d ride my bike home at night, and stop to record drunk people’s conversations. Eventually I got fired because I gave someone a raw burger and they ate it.”
Rat Boy found solace in music. If he wasn’t hanging around the skate park, he’d be found trying to teach himself Logic on his mum’s computer, and gradually evolved his skills from that of an absolute beginner to become someone who could bring his flood of ideas to life. He had little other choice. “Every week I tried to start a new band but I couldn’t get people to rehearse. So I did everything myself.”
The result was The Mixtape, which distilled his small-town tales into three minute mash-ups of hip-hop and indie topped with his half-rapped, half-hollered Essex vocal tones. Rat Boy performs almost everything – vocals, bass, keys and production – throughout its five riotous tracks. “I can’t play drums, though. Just strings and fingers.”
Its songs reflect reality: “blokes getting woman pregnant and then not bothering about the kid” (Sportswear) and the fear of doing the same dead end job for his whole life (Carry On). Inspiration strikes randomly, so Rat Boy carries a notebook (“it’s kind of embarrassing”) and will often interrupt conversations to “write some shit down on my phone.”
His tracks are often intercut with samples from films such as Withnail and I, Scum and Made in Britain. Those films are favourites of his father and, he notes, are well suited to his music. That quotes from these long passed visions of British society can fit seamlessly into the modern day is a damning indictment of where we’re at in 2015.
“I’ve always been interested in history and shit,” he adds. “I listen to a lot of old music and watch old films. I’m interested in skinhead culture, mods, Quadrophenia and stuff like that. Shane Meadows is sick too.”
After sending his mixtape out to any blog he could find, he suddenly received a deluge of “weird e-mails from record company scouts.” Amidst them all, however, he found a notable fan in the shape of Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell. “I didn’t know what was going on, but he set me up talking to managers. I didn’t even know what a manager was. He lent money to come to meetings in London after I lost my job. He’s really helped me out.”
The stakes are higher, but he’s sticking with his singular style. Gorillaz producer James Dring has provided some recording expertise for the first single Sign On, but longer term Rat Boy wants to keep it real – he plans to produce everything else himself; he feels that co-writes would dilute his style; plans to continue to create all artwork himself (inspirations include skateboarding artist Mark Gonzales and Snoop Dogg associate Darryl “Joe Cool” Daniels) as well as the accompanying music videos; and he has formed a band in which he’s joined by three friends.
“We always get kicked out of everywhere,” he laughs. “If there’s four of you, you can be more of a dick.”
New songs carry on where The Mixtape left off. Sign On – which will be released on Hometown Records (Rhodes, Speelburg) – tackles the insecurity of being unemployed and hoping that his music career takes off, while Money address the anxiety of potentially being mugged – a scenario that’s all too close to home after the death of a friend who was stabbed.
But fresh opportunities are on the horizon for a young man who hasn’t prviously left the country. “It was crazy to meet Mike Skinner – when I was six-years-old I knew all of the words to Original Pirate Material and used to rap along to it. He told me that me that once you go abroad, you realise what the UK is really like. If I get to see different cultures, I’m hoping that when I come back I’ll see stuff that I’ve never noticed before.”