It’s not often that an artist comes along with a truly unique demeanor, one that stands out as incomparable to the rest of the landscape. Yet North-West London’s Kiko Bun is one of these rare artists, offering a contemporary voice for his generation over music that feels timeless. Kiko has crafted a refreshing and contemporary sound based on the re-emergence of Reggae, Soul and golden era Hip Hop that continues to infiltrate mainstream music. He’s long-reveled in the joy of crate-digging, crafting sample-based beats and creating roots-heavy reggae music, but it’s time that the wider world got to share this feeling.
His music sounds reflects the lifestyle of young London, spending a Saturday afternoon chilling in the park, as the sun begins to weaken and time feels like it’s slowing – a contrast to the image of the constant rush of a metropolitan nine-to-five that is imposed upon us so often. It’s a reflection of Kiko’s laidback lifestyle, and the reason why his fan-base has been building rapidly on the festival circuit following performances at Glastonbury, Boomtown, Leeds and Reading. And it’s no surprise that afternoons are Kiko’s favourite time both to record and perform, watching the joy on his fans faces and observing how his music connects in real time. By the time studio rats and nightclub performers are heading into the darkness, Kiko – a former sous-chef – is most likely cooking up some supper or putting his feet up to enjoy some comedy on Netflix.
After putting in the ground work to establish an authentic reggae sound over the past few tears, working with the likes of Alborosie, General Degree, Dre Island and Ticklah (of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings), as well as receiving radio support from world renowned tastemakers such as Sir David Rodigan, Julie Adenuga and Annie Mac, Kiko is ready to take things to the next level.
The sound that Kiko has been crafting for so long has now become so effortless to him, that it often surprises him. This is where he can really begin to have fun, working collaboratively with others to explore and push his foundations as far as they can go. “When I do tunes that don’t have a skank in them, people still listen and say ‘That’s a cool tune with a reggae vocal on it,’” he admits. “And that’s a good thing, it means when I come to collaborate with people like Naughty Boy and Cadenza I can just do my thing, and I know it will come off sounding like me. It’s nice to experiment.”
Used to producing his own music, he admits that he’s very picky when it comes to working with others and it’s taken some adjustment, but admits that it brings exciting prospects with it. “I really like old school hip-hop, and I really like rock steady from Jamaica in the ‘70’s.” he says. “And I might want both of those sounds at the same time. I know how to make a Kiko Bun record, but then I do find it interesting to see how other people would work with it, and what else can be brought into it.”
An obsession with 90’s hip-hop and the lyricism of Big L, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, The Pharcyde and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, has lead to a fascination with narrative song-writing, which runs throughout Kiko’s music. Even from first listen, his clear vocal delivery makes it easy to follow the tales that weave throughout his songs. “I love when you listen to something and it takes you somewhere,” he explains. “I especially like it when a story is being told, but it’s not so specific so it could refer to a number of events. And when you talk about things that are real, they’re more likely to be things that people can feel themselves and relate to.”
His new single ‘Sweetie’ is the perfect example of that, telling the tale of an on and off relationship with an underground Rock Steady DJ. “She was playing on my mind and I was sitting around trying to think of something to write about, so I started to put these words down.” After recording a demo vocal, the song would be picked up by Naughty Boy, who produced an upbeat summer reggae rhythm around it, full of syncopated chords and an infectious feel-good vibe. The result is a very accessible number primed for mainstream radio and festival crowds alike, and is certain to attract new ears.
Over the past few years, artists like Mark Ronson and Sam Smith have proven the broad appeal of combining contemporary lyricism with retro-influenced production. “If you’re coming from an old school sound, but you’re talking about iPhones and shit, it’s ingenious,” says Kiko. “Because then, rather than sounding like something being re-released from the past, it becomes a current thing that’s happening. You can talk about something that all the young people will know, like an Internet meme or something, and older people won’t know what you’re talking about, but they like the music because that’s what they used to listen to. I think that’s really cool, when you draw different people into that one thing.”
The timing is perfect, as Jamaican influence continues to penetrate the charts through the light-dancehall vibes of tracks by Drake, Rihanna, Sean Paul and Alicia Keys. Through his own shows and London’s legendary Reggae Roast nights, Kiko has observed more young reggae enthusiasts than ever before. “It’s fascinating to see how young the crowd it getting now for the reggae now. When the music eventually comes out in the world and on the radio, there are people that are waiting for it.”
For a plugged in generation that can’t be fooled by manufactured idols, Kiko Bun is an authentic voice for young London, one that can easily transcend a niche underground market, without leaving them behind. It’s important to him that he bridges this gap, feeding his core fans with that roots Reggae sound that they fell in love with, while simultaneously releasing music with mass appeal. Kiko offers a much-needed alternative to what he describes as the ‘plastic nature’ of much of today’s money-focused music: “I think there’s definitely room for something a lot more organic to come back,” he says. “I’m not sure whether that’s funk or reggae or anything, but just that sound in general there is definitely a place for it. What I’m trying to do is make this sort of music very accessible, so that more people can relate to it.”