Q&A with Aniefiok Ekpoudom

Storyteller Aniefiok Ekpoudom speaks to Sludge Mag about Where We Come From. The critically acclaimed sold out book documenting the origins and ascent of grime and U.K. rap 

The list of artists Aniefiok Ekpoudom has profiled throughout his illustrious writing career reads as a who's who of Black British music. Bashy, Chip, Dave, D Double E,  Dizzee Rascal, Ghetts, Headie One, J Hus, Kano, Little Simz, Skepta, Stormzy are amongst but a few of the artists who have had their story told in his humanising and familial style. By the time many of us see our favourite musicians they have already ascended to stardom. Neef has solidified himself as British music's favourite storyteller because he makes artists feels comfortable enough to guide us through the journeys that preceded magazine covers and award shows. From the roads to the red carpet, his writing tells the tales of the council estates, community centres and migration patterns that are the foundation of the music that is the soundtracks to our lives. In his groundbreaking debut book Where We Come From: Rap, Hope & Home in Modern Britain he travels to South Wales, Birmingham and across London to get first hand accounts from the multigenerational pioneers that cultivated community through music in their respective areas. Where We Come From is a necessary homage to sacrifices, successes, trials and tribulations of those who settled before us as Black Britons. By bringing traditions from West Africa and the Caribbean to Britain's shores and watering the seeds of creativity in the youth - all of our ancestors played a part in creating the culture that has given us a sense of identity in an otherwise hostile and unforgiving land. We caught up with Neef to see how he is adapting to the rightful hysteria around this cultural landmark.

Has anything surprised you about the reception of the book?

The thing that surprised me most has been the conversations around masculinity. Where We Come From tells really personal stories of men connected to the music right across the country. A few people have mentioned how rare it can be to see a collection of men speak so vulnerably and so intimately about the personal traumas, tragedies and triumphs of their lives. That wasn't a connection I had made when writing the book and it wasn't necessarily intentional. I was just interested in hearing people's life stories and how their experiences have shaped them, and the music. 

Why was it so important to you to highlight rap and grime in Birmingham and Wales?

I wanted to write a book about Britain. I was really serious about trying to write a book that captures, documents and brings modern Britain into colour. To do that I had to really stay true to my word and travel across the country. Birmingham of course had a thriving grime and rap scene for a long time, and a thriving history of black British music. I was interested in documenting that. In the same breath Wales has one of the oldest black communities in the UK. I didn't know that at the time but that's something I discovered as I started doing my research and reporting in the area. To bring these histories into the fold alongside I the more common narratives that sit in London was really important because though these places are disconnected geographically, they are still connected through social, economic, community, racial and class conditions that have defined them and the music. That was really important for me to show. I was really keen to look at the reality of the country as it exists today and to explore the way in which rap is having an impact on everyday life in all of these disparate and similar places.

Your book highlights the crucial role Black music has had in building community and highlighting inequality. Do you think the commercialisation of U.K. rap in particular has altered this?

No I don't believe so. I think when you look at the music coming out of UK rap now I think there's still like a very big conscious element to it. You look at the biggest musicians: Dave is deeply political in his music, Stormzy political in his music too and politically in his actions. But even away from that, you look at who I feel has probably been the best rapper of the past five years, Potter Payper. His music showcases inequality in its rawest and realist forms, some of the stories he’s telling are visceral, even uncomfortable. As he’s moved deeper into the music industry, he’s been very uncompromising with his music and message. 

After spending so long writing, has it been hard adapting back to life without deadlines?

The funny thing with the book is that by the time it comes out you finished writing it about a year prior. I'd finished Where We Come From in early 2023 and the book came out in early 2024, so I'd been done with the intense writing process for a little while. I used 2023 to readapt to life without holding 90,000 words in your head and all of this information about structure, stories and music. When writing it’s all in your mind at one time. So I used that year to rest and recover. Now I'm really looking forward to meeting the new deadlines I’ve set for myself for the projects I want to do going forward.

Who are some up and coming talents moving the needle of urban U.K. music you're looking out for?

Cristale from Brixton, and Nemmz from Manchester. I like Rap Rap, and they both do that really well.

There's a breadth of exciting Black writers in the U.K. that you've solidified your place amongst. What are you excited to read presently and do you ever feel pigeon holed as a writer?

I love Yomi Sode’s poetry collection Manorism. A really pertinent and moving study on grief, family and the wider climate Black British men exist in. Poor by Caleb Femi's is a collection I read a lot whilst I was writing Where We Come From. The lyricism, the weight to the words, the use of space and rhythm inspired and pushed me a lot. Also, I really like Diana Evans’ work. She wrote a novel called Ordinary People about a Black British couple living in South London, around Crystal Palace way. A great novel,  when reading it you can tell that there was such attention to detail, to structure and pacing that went into it. As a writer, that excites and inspires me because that’s very much the way in which I work too.

I don't feel pigeonholed as a writer, it's what I love to do. It’s enriched my life in so many ways and I really think with writing I’ve found my calling. It doesn't mean I won't do other things and I definitely intend to tell stories in other mediums, but writing is something that I adore, I love it. What you can do as a writer and the work you can create as a writer is so expansive that I think it's almost impossible for me to feel limited by that title.

What are the top 3 best clashes in U.K. rap/grime history?

Chip versus Bugzy, the best grime clash of all time. Sometimes nostalgia gets people and we naturally think of some of the earliest iterations of clashes. But Chip versus Bugzy was epic. Sometimes I go through and watch and listen to all of the songs. It had everything, the surprise callout, bars, London vs Manchester. At one point it looked like Chip was finished, then he came back like T’Challa in Black Panther. The whole thing lasted like a year, and they were doing next day responses. It was incredible and it really had the country in a chokehold. At the time I remember I was working at SBTV, and I remember national news broadcasters were calling the office asking us to explain what was going on because the clashes had triggered a certain amount of attention and interaction which meant it technically registered as news of public interest. It’s rare you see that for any musician but let alone a clash. That’s the best. Everything else is secondary.

Where we come from is available to buy now

See more from Aniefiok here

Article and photography by Martyn Ewoma

Creative direction and styling by Jewel Kaye


You may also like...

Get to know the midlands based DJ collective, comprised of Felix Dubs, manj & Medley P. Here to champion the Punjabi underground sound and disrupt the U.K. music scene!

Wanna keep up to date with all things Sludge Mag? Sign up with your email address to receive updates on new articles, petitions and events.
Thank you!
Something went wrong. Please try again.
Using Format