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Bob Vylan: 'Is it OK for me to cry? As a man you can feel there's not space to be vulnerable'

The punk/hip-hop duo's new album is also about survival, about affirmation and positivity, and about hope despite the times

Bob Vylan

Bob Vylan. Image: Ki Price

Like their singer-songwriter near namesake, Bob Vylan combine music and politics. Their second LP, Humble as the Sun, sees the Mobo Award-winning duo, comprising Bobby Vylan (singer/guitarist) and Bobbie Vylan (drums) – not their real names, they’re keen to protect their identity – channel their fury about the cost of living crisis and the housing crisis into 12 vital songs that blend punk and hip-hop.  

Lyrics from Bob Vylan’s Reign hit hard: “Landlords are rinsing, we get freezing rentals to live in. Draught in the bedroom, mould in the kitchen. Leak in the bathroom, pipes need fixing.”  

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But as Bobby Vylan tells us, the new album is also about survival, about affirmation and positivity, and about hope  despite the times. 

“A lot of our lyrics are written from first-hand experience. It’s stuff I know or I’m going through. The classism I faced growing up and still grapple with; the racism I have faced and still face in this country; attempting to be a good role model and positive influence in my daughter’s life; trying to find a place
to live. 

“It’s important to have a place to channel my feelings. I’m not somebody that talks a lot about the way I feel. But I’ve seen the effect it has on men of previous generations and how dangerous that can be. So I’m getting better, slowly, but it can be hard.  

“As a man you can feel there’s not a space to be vulnerable or talk about my fears. Is it OK to be emotional? Is it OK for me to cry? Will this be weaponised against me later?  

“Music allows me a space to talk about things openly and honestly – and it allows me the cover of art to do that.  

“Even if nobody was listening I would still be writing, I would still be recording, I would still be making the music. Because I need ways to channel everything I’m going through on a day-to-day basis, which is a lot. 

“When my daughter’s mother was pregnant, and we were very young, trying to find somewhere to live was such an ordeal. Paying two or three months’ rent up front. We were kids with nothing on paper and a kid on the way. When we found a place, we were so happy to move in because we were a family,
all together.  

“Then you realise there is no double glazing. There is mould and damp. When my daughter was born, she came into that. Then the landlord installed an extractor. And it set the place on fire. It was filthy, full of smoke, and the landlord didn’t care or want to help. When I finally got it back in a liveable state for my family to move back in, they told me the contract would not be renewed. We got kicked out and lost our deposit.  

“It was as nightmare and seemed never ending. So I know what it is like at the moment. There are huge problems economically in this country. We are bombarded with the problem. But I also had to realise over time that I am more than the problems I face and the hardships I go through.  

“That’s why on this new record, one of the biggest issues we tackle is self-belief and self-empowerment. Because I see so many people going through the same issues.  

“I don’t want the things I can’t control to control every aspect of my life. So how do I find a way to be happy, even with everything I’m going through? 

“If I am on stage and say ‘fuck the Tory government’, people go crazy. There is a collective anger and that kind of slogan gives us a chance to feel collectively powerful. But what next? 

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“In order to change things, we have to believe in ourselves and take control of our lives to the best of our ability.  

“That is why songs like Hunger Games have these affirmations – ‘You’re more than your take home pay.’ ‘Be loud, be hopeful.’ Dream Big is another song which was something I needed to hear, my daughter needs to hear and other people need to hear. And we end the record with I’m Still Here and the idea that everything I’ve gone through has not beaten me. It has made me stronger and I’m still fighting every day.

“It’s important for me to hear that. I need to hear that. And if I need to hear it, then other people need to hear it too. I cannot be alone in this. 

“I suppose we are a punk band. Because punk implies a certain political and social awareness. But I’m also a rapper. That’s what I started off doing. It wasn’t about a riff or melody. It was about the lyric, what is the best way to say this thing? 

“If I can make it catchy or funny, even better. So we’re a punk band, but have a rap way of delivering lyrics. People need to put things in a box. And if they need to call it punk, I wouldn’t fight them
on that.” 

Humble as the Sun by Bob Vylan is out now on their own label, Ghost Theatre. Bob Vylan appear in new Disney+ documentary series Camden, starting on 29 May.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.


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