It’s a beautiful day in April and I’m sat in Victoria Park, Bristol, sipping a fruit cider with Aristocrats frontmen Omar and Gus, otherwise known as Stil Bizzy and Gus Stash. After an hour or so of getting to know each other in the sun, Gus tells me that this is where he spends time when he’s got writer’s block, and where he comes when he needs room to breathe. The park is huge and for the time we spend here, we’re looking out onto a view that spans across pretty much the whole city.
Stash, Bizzy, JMaxfield, and Dubl Sweggrz—the original heads behind the Aristocrats sound—migrated to Bristol just over five years ago. For those who haven’t heard of Aristocrats until now, they started off in 2012 as a four-piece rap collective, originally hailing from Malvern; the West Midlands town where they met at a mutual friends house—the kind of place you’d gather as teenagers to smoke and listen to early High Focus albums on repeat. In the words of Stash, it was “the first yard where you didn’t have to roll a zoot in the rain”. You know the ones.
On the note of early High Focus, one of the first influences to come up during our chat was Leaf Dog’s debut album Life From a Scarecrows Perspective. Chances are that most younger heads will have fond memories of bumping that album regularly, and the Aristocrats are no different. Stash refers specifically to the track ‘Stoned Broke and Single’, pointing to the tendency UK Hip Hop has had to reflect a life of struggle, or just the general scruffiness of its delegates. He half-jokes, “at that time in UK Hip Hop I swear the whole ideology was like ‘no money, no weed, we’re not living…I’ve been on my mate’s sofa for four days just with an MPC and a two bag of weed’”. They aren’t throwing shade at all, though. Stash goes on to explain, “don’t get me wrong, those were the guys that we all looked up to” and Omar chimes in, affirming that fact, “[they were] some of our biggest influences”.
So in a backwards kind of way, that’s where the name came from. They were influenced by that sound, but wanted to take it on in a manner that made it true to them, which meant pushing an image of prosperity, health, and well-being. The idea for the name came from Dubl Sweggrz, who according to Gus, one day at that same friends house, said something along the lines of “let’s be Aristocrats because we like smoking really good weed and wearing really nice clothes”. So that was that, almost. Omar went on to explain, “It’s not just about those things. It’s also about eating well, drinking well, and looking well. [It’s] just about trying to manifest that healthy, wealthy lifestyle”.
Aristocrats released their debut project in 2013. The 5-track EP, which was fittingly titled Aristocracy and recorded at a studio local to their West Midlands hometown, marked the very beginning of what has already been a profound journey. One year after the release of that first EP, Gus, Omar and JMax made the move to Bristol. With Stash and Bizzy sharing a house, JMax just down the road, and a recording space set up in their friend Contemplate’s bedroom, in Omar’s words, “productivity just seemed to flourish”. Another year after that, Sweggrz joined the boys in moving down to Bristol. 2016 saw them drop their second group project – a serious progression from their debut release -the Manorisms EP. The whole project is tied in by elements that emphasise the Aristocratic persona they’ve played on from the start: from the title’s wordplay, to JMax’s use of samples that speak of stately homes, to the saxophone that frequents the instrumentals, and even the vinyl crackle that runs throughout. These qualities, alongside the refinement of Stash and Bizzy’s skill both lyrically and in delivery, mark the EP as a clear development for the group.
In spite of that evident progression, it wasn’t until the release of their third project, L.I.K.R (Life In Konstant Ripples), that their sound began to solidify. L.I.K.R saw the group move away from the jazz-infused, boom bap style they had worked with up to that point; in turn embracing elements of other genres of rap and drawing together the genre-blending sound that has since become key to their name. It’s the first project from the group that feels refined to a point that does them justice, as they turn towards their other influences, away from Hip Hop. “Dubl Sweggrz and [I] always liked other sorts of rap, whether it be US or UK produced. Stuff like Piff Gang, for example, that was some of [Sweggrz’s] favourite music”, Omar explained. “I think that came into it a lot, and also listening to a lot of grime. Gus was quite into grime when I first met him and I was influenced by it, but not as heavily into it”, our conversation drifts as we nod to the likes of slowthai, Octavian, Kojey Radical and 808ink, all of whom have been making strong marks on the music world with their genre-defying sounds.
Just as the group had begun to find their feet sonically, they were hit by an event that uprooted their worlds. After six years of making music together, April last year saw the tragic loss of Dubl Sweggrz. Upon being told the news by Omar, Stash—who had been in a dark space at the time, and was sleeping on Sweggrz’s sofa three nights a week—quit his job and went home to recuperate.
As the boys spoke of the death of their friend, Stash considered the impact it had on his journey: “I always wonder where I’d be now if he hadn’t died. [It’s] such a weird situation because he was the person who, as well as Omar…would sit me down and tell me straight about things, but I never really listened to him then. It was almost like when he passed away I was like ‘I’ve got to listen to you without you being here now’ because I knew he was usually right about stuff.”
“It was a big turning point for everyone, really”, voiced Omar. “If something like that can’t make you reassess your shit, and really question what you’re doing in life, then what sort of person are you? We just tried to take the positive out of it as much as possible, which is all you can do in that scenario.”
As Omar emphasised when we spoke, the boys took their devastation and found a way of moulding it into something positive. Since their loss, the group have been channeling Dubl Sweggrz through their work in as many ways as possible. Soon after the news, Stash founded DUBL Studios—a creative agency offering recording support to up-and-coming artists, hosting events and selling clothes—in memory of Dubl Sweggrz. Having been hit by a wave of festival bookings, July saw the boys play a tribute set in his memory at Nozstock: a performance dedicated to tracks that were produced by Sweggrz himself. “The reception we got from that set was probably the best performance reception we’ve got to date” said Omar, “It was really home felt as well, everybody was there…everybody was on a mutual understanding and a mutual ground—we had some of our fans literally reciting our lyrics back to us”. In October last year, the boys dropped MANN£R$ CO$T NOTHING—a 25 track beat tape, comprised entirely of tracks they found when JMax took control of Sweggrz’s laptop. They’ve been using his music ever since, and his production will still be coming out for the next two or three years—maybe even longer.
This January saw the release of Answer, their first group project since Dubl Sweggrz passed. True to the style they’d established for themselves in L.I.K.R, the 5 track EP flows between dark, snare-heavy tracks like ‘Horse’, to Sweggrz’s equally hard, spacious production on the second track, ‘No Doubt’. Stash and Omar switch up flows between tracks, affirming that they’ve grown even further as artists since the groups last release.
As the boys move forward on their paths as solo artists—Stash having released his debut EP in March, and Omar working on his third solo project as we speak—they’re still keeping momentum going for their group movements. With Aristocrats singles in the pipelines, the boys are putting their focus on coming through with smaller, higher-quality releases. It’s already been an insane journey for the still-young group of artists, but make no mistake: despite it all, they’re still hungry, and ready to make their mark on Bristol’s rap scene.
You can catch Aristocrats shutting down Nass in two weeks time, and headlining the next Hip Hop Coffee Shop session at the end of July. Stay locked for fresh visuals in the coming weeks.