Book: Sounds Northern
Chapter: 10. Hashtag 0161: Did Bugzy Malone put Manny on the map?
My chapter will analyse the career trajectory of Manchester rapper Bugzy Malone, the highest charting grime artists to date, discussing his position within the Manchester urban music scene and wider UK grime scene. Bugzy invites his debut EP Walk With Me to be understood as a one-on-one psychotherapy session with his audience with the artist declaring on lead track ‘M.E.N’ ‘let me confide in you,’ and on ‘Pain’ ‘it’s not physical pain, it’s psychological pain.’ not to mention the confession of relating to serial killers, with his EP centred around fantasies of violence towards the men who have let him down, namely his dad and step dad, a style of songwriting in rap music previously deployed by artists such as Eminem. Bugzy creates internal narratives he presents as his history which in psychoanalytic theory is often believed to help patients deal with past experiences, stay happy or ‘grow’. It is around the notion of the morality of creating and the deployment of personal narratives that I will examine Bugzy’s rise to chart success against a backdrop of Manchester’s current musical climate. I will look at the culture and history of self-help, Eva Illouz’s idea that since the 60s health and self-realisation are viewed one and the same; that people who have un-self-realised lives are in need of care and therapy and Adam Curtis’ argument that those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy, posing the question, does Bugzy owe his success to upholding the dominant ideology through focusing on his own story?
Looking at the wider UK grime scene, with reference to its history as presented in books such as Simon Wheatley’s definitive Don't Call Me Urban!: The Time of Grime as well as print and online music publications and relevant YouTube channels, I will discuss Bugzy’s place in the current trend for themes of intellectual personal growth deployed by artists of prominence in grime’s second wave such as oldtimers Wiley, Skepta and JME and new arrivals to the scene such as Novelist and Stormzy. However, I would argue that Bugzy’s unique delivery, especially evident on lead track ‘M.E.N’ whose volume is considerably lower in comparison to other tracks on the EP, accenting the confessional style of the song, posits Bugzy as a new role model for the until recently taboo topic of mental illness amongst young men and has been the key to his staggering success against a backdrop of no media coverage. As Bugzy continues to rise in popularity, it must be noted that he refuses to celebrate any sense of community through uncharacteristically for grime, not being a member of a crew, posing a question about the ramifications of such an isolation within a small urban scene such as Manchester’s. Moreover, Bugzy attributes Manchester’s rise to prominence on the UK urban scene solely to himself declaring that he ‘put Manny on the map’, appearing alone on the cover of his EP with his picture surrounded by a large border of negative space, suggesting that aside from him there is nothing of interest in the city, as well as appearing in many scenes in his videos by himself too. Using sources such as media coverage of his EP and interviews with Bugzy and other Manchester artists, I will investigate what effect this has had on the urban music scene in the North and ask whether Bugzy has singlehandedly obliterated Manchester’s Marxist sensibility of togetherness and support, and in doing so, has Manchester joined London in its neoliberal ideal of individualism and success at any cost?