Pre-pandemic, in London and beyond: UK rapper Avelino had been living the fast life.
Since unleashing his breakthrough mixtape ‘Young Fire, Old Flame’ with Wretch 32 in 2015, he had ascended the rap scene’s ranks with ease. Collaborations with BRIT and Mercury winning rappers flowed in by the bucketload – Stormzy and Skepta in 2017; Dave in 2018 and 2019. With the success, however, came the accelerated lifestyle: the super-lavish clothes and nights out.
Flying overseas, brunching in Mayfair, shopping for bags at YSL – these things are all well and good. But there needs to be balance. When lockdown arrived in March, 2020, Avelino welcomed the slowed-down pace with open arms, hoping to readdress the tipped scales in his life. He read books, lost weight and practiced mindfulness. Between it all, he reflected and ‘Ego Kills’ was born
From his earlier years writing aspiration-led bars in Tottenham, on tapes like 2014’s ‘Iconic Ambition’, through nick-naming himself AV, da G.O.A.T (aka, the greatest) and rising up via jet-setting festival appearances, everything seemed to delicately rest on a biting point. “Ego can be destructive,” thought Avelino. “But without the ego, how do you achieve?”
The ego helped Avelino survive those early years; it gave him the self belief and drive he needed to become the artist he is today. But, recently, it led to him getting caught up in life’s material side. There are two sides to every story – the conscious light and the unconscious shadow.
New project ‘Ego Kills’ treads gracefully between those two states of mind. It’s “the acknowledgement that too much ego and not enough balance can get you into the wrong place,” he says.
Recorded mostly in lockdown, and entirely in the UK, the 12 track project gives a no holds barred insight into the life-saving – and life-threatening – decisions made under the ego’s influence.
Rather than shying away from the negatives, the ego takes centre stage from the very beginning. Opening track ‘Demons’ lands straight into a boast-themed setting – where feeling like you’re better than the next person is more than possible, especially when you’re famous and wearing the right designer clothes. If it feels in your face, that’s right – “that’s exactly what the ego is.”
Several lyrical motifs remain constant throughout the record – designer-level swag and boss-tier self-belief (‘100k’, ‘Easy’); gassing up someone else’s ego (‘Control’, ‘Audacious’); trying to live every second of life like it’s a Hollywood movie (‘Another Holiday’). But the Avelino’s dual-mindset is reflected on the record in the way that there are some thought-led tunes that focus less on the material.
‘Same Old Story’ is a personal stand out for Avelino. Beginning, lyrically, with drug-laced fingertips and a fatherless upbringing before ending with a third verse situated in Paris, the track’s continuous juxtaposition of past and present showcases how every story doesn’t need the same ending.
He explains: “Let’s be real: no kid wants to sell drugs or go to jail. But you see what it gets them. The cars and the lifestyle is attractive, but the other stuff isn’t worth it. There are other stories out there. I don’t like preachy raps, and so I had to figure out a way to say that without preaching.”
This conscious undercurrent underpins the record. As we hear about the ego, about the boasts and the fast cars and the life of luxury, we also hear about the losses made along the way. On ‘Prey’, lines that could be seen as flexes reflect the opposite (“last year man spent more dough than I made”).
For every reference to Louboutins or flights abroad, there’s a bar that treads back toward Avelino’s past and showcases where he’s come from. “I believe that everything is two,” he says. “I try to express that balance in this project, without undermining or suppressing my ego in any way or shape or form.”
The Wretch 32 featuring track ‘Me and My Friends’ strips back the materialism further. Bringing in tales of friends “lost to the blade”, chasing destiny and the importance of friendship, it explains how looking beyond the confines of your environment and into the future is crucial. “We’re not talking about material things on that song – we’re talking about other people. People we care about.”
Including Wretch, several guests feature throughout the project. Simb1a, Not3s and Yungen help freshen up the afro-swing tones on ‘Control’. SL – south London’s verse serving prince – weaves in-and-out on ‘Waze’.
The ego-centric focus however is all Avelino. It’s his story, his ego on display, his bad parts and his better parts. The hope, he says, is that he’s come through the process as an evolved version of who he was pre-lockdown.
“Everything, in the past, has added to making me who I am today. From having Stormzy and Skepta on one song. To doing a mixtape with Wretch 32. To putting out music and selling out shows. To even putting out records that maybe didn’t get the response I wanted or didn’t do as well. All those experiences are pivotal. I’m as grateful for the ones that didn’t work out, as the ones that did.”
“I can confidently say that I’m fitter, stronger, more talented, more skilled, more loving, more of a family man and sharper and shrewder than I’ve ever been before. I really feel like Avelino, 2.0 right now.”
This is a 14+ event (under 16s to be accompanied by an adult)