King Sour DA MC, rapper of Bethnal Green
“I’m more of a rapper than a poet, though it’s because of poetry that I became a rapper. Since I was nine – after listening to hip hop – I wanted to rap, but before that I used to be writing poetry. It made me happy, putting words together, even just a couple of lines. I wouldn’t call it a talent, I would call it ‘practice makes perfect’. Every since I understood what life was about, when I was about seven, I have always wanted to help people out. You could say I’m a helper, a healer, I want to see people get treated equally in this world. Music is the remedy of hatred . People usually respond well to music and poetry, and my lyrics are short and to the point.”
These are the words of Yasin Ahmed, aka King Sour DA MC, spoken as we sat together one afternoon, sheltering from the rain beneath the canopy of the bandstand in Arnold Circus, at the heart of the tightly woven web of streets that he knows intimately. Blessed with an astonishing gift of eloquence, at just seventeen years old, Yasin has already established a reputation in the neighbourhood through his performances here in the bandstand and an appearance at the O2 Arena, as a finalist in a competition out of 21,000 under sixteens. Yet in spite of demonstrating the strength of character to stand up and perform in public – sometimes extempore – Yasin possesses an unassuming almost shy personality, speaking thoughtfully under his breath and pausing frequently for thought. A contemplative character who does not make eye contact when he is thinking, yet who illuminates with delight when speaking passionately of poetry and rap.
“At first, my school didn’t realise I was taking it that seriously,” he explained, taking about his evolution as a writer,“but I have Miracle MC, Naga MC and Chinx MC, they’re only a year older than me but they’ve helped me develop lyrically and Chinx he helped me to stand up again, every time I had the grief.” Yasin is referring here to lapses of courage when inventing poetry spontaneously for a live audience, a testing and definitive requirement of his chosen medium. With quiet determination, Yasin is pushing the boundary of his own ease in order to become stronger. “It helps me to think out of the box, to learn to be calm and control my anger,” he informed me in a perfectly relaxed tone that demonstrated the self-evident truth of his statement.
Yasin is vividly aware of the social politics of the world he has grown up into – in East London and beyond – a situation defined by the conflicts and controversies in the wake of 9/11. “Religion is important to me because religion gets stereotyped, when it is important to me to respect all religions.”, declared Yasin, thinking out loud as we both sat gazing at the falling rain,”People need to be open-minded and live together, because our life in this world is short.” And Yasin was not talking in abstractions, because he was eye witness to the violence provoked by the presence of the racist English Defence League outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel recently.
Yasin prefers to speak of literature, especially of the works of John Steinbeck and William Shakespeare that he is studying, though it brings him back again to the same subjects. Reading Steinbeck’s account of characters struggling with racial conflict at the time of the dust bowl and the Wall St crash has an obvious resonance for Yasin, while the works of Shakespeare reflect back on the tensions that Yasin experiences daily in Bethnal Green.“I have lived in these streets and I know the codes, so I do feel comfortable to a certain extent, because I have friends that look out for me.” said Yasin, apprising me of the situation, “It’s not as bad as ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ but it could be.” Yasin told me he plans to go to performing arts college, has his eye set on the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the Barbican, and in ten years time he sees himself living in Canada or Portugal – because he wants to experience other cultures.
My conversation with Yasin led me to appreciate the epic scale of the world he inhabits, even when he is walking through the small streets of Bethnal Green. Yasin looks over his shoulder and he carries his unknowable ancestry that connects him to Bangladesh and beyond back to Kenya. Yasin looks around and he sees the crisis of the current moment in global politics, and chooses to address it personally through embracing the aesthetic challenges of rhetoric and verse. Yasin looks forward and he has got hopes for the future. Yasin has got presence of mind. Yasin finds joy in words. Yasin wants to talk about human dignity, and he has a story to tell.
Meeting Yasin gave me hope too because, resisting alienation, he has fought to retain an open mind and an optimistic temperament, channelling his thoughts and abilities into finding a creative voice – and discovering a sense of moral clarity in the process. It confirms my faith that young people will always recognise the emotional truth of a situation intuitively, open-heartedly seeking freedom for everyone, when their seniors can too readily be clouded by prejudice.
You may like to watch King Sour DA MC performing “Out in Society.”
I am from the ghettos of the Bethnal Green, And on the streets there’s always crime scenes, There’s a lot of haters in my ends that wanna be seen, See I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green, See I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green, I can’t tell a lie but in my bits there’s a lot of thieves, Burgling houses making money to buy weed, These lunatics just survive on the seed, Forget doing a deed, Only thing they think of in my ends is how to commit a sin, F listening to the angel they listening to Lucifer the djinn, See I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green, Bethnal Green short for B.G, I am from there you see, An area called Turin Street, See my home land is a bit like assassins’ creed, Cos everyone’s fighting for one thing, And that’s to be the honourable king, But they can’t take that title because I’m the rapping singing G, That’s right King Sour the MC, I’m no, no, no wanna b, See I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green, The name might be green, But my area is blue, Fighting and crime is all they do, It’s like the tool is stuck to their hands with glue, My area is in a different time zone it’s like stepping into the police box from Dr Who, They greet visitors with a little boo, One step out of line and they’ll jack you for your shoes, And if you have a hat that’ll be gone too, See I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green, I am from the ghettos of Bethnal Green.
These days everyone wants to be hustling G’s, They’re fighting for identity, This is life in the 21st century, We have little kids smoking on cancer sticks, Youngsters thinking they’re in a game, Trying to make some long flex name, They just don’t know they’re acting lame, Don’t you know we’ve moved on it’s just not the same, So I say just focus your mind, You still got time, Even if you want to rap and rhyme, So please don’t commit the crime, Young people get off the streets ‘coz I’m screaming aloud, Next time you hear a loud sound, Like click, click bang just know someone got shot down, ‘Coz they were fighting for identity, Day by day they’re forgetting their responsibilities, Look we all have human dignity, And we all have individuality, We want to fly high and free, So do we really need identity? At first it was all a scream, I wanted to be a mc it was just a dream, Did I do it for me? Or did I do it for identity, This is life in the 21st century.