Class dysmorphia & identity: the return of Bobby Basil

Bobby’s back. After a stint of putting out auto-tuned, bubblegum pop music under his Isaac Nelson guise, the Dublin artist is reviving his menacing character as a middle finger to a music industry that abandoned its artists all too regularly.

Previously using the Bobby Basil moniker as a vessel for mixing masculinity and femininity (see ‘Make Up‘), his latest work sees the creative take full ownership over his background for the first time; rapping about growing up in council estates, feeling out of place and the class dysmorphia that contemporary society finds itself in.

We sat down with Bobby for a chat about his return, unifying the classes and becoming comfortable in his own skin.

“Now, as Bobby Basil, I’ve embraced where I come from.”

The last time we spoke – for Clash – we were talking about a move away from the Bobby Basil guise in favour of Issac Nelson (a combination of your own name and a lost Caribbean grandfather). Now Bobby is back, why?

When you listen to the Bobby stuff and the Isaac stuff you could almost say it’s two different people. I was doing the Isaac Nelson stuff under a different record label, after the album. It was the first time in my career I took a ‘being directed’ route, where a director takes my image and uses it. I just thought, fuck it. It’s always something to learn.

‘Mood Fades’ and ‘Truth’ were both written for me. Basically, all creative control was taken out of my hands, part of me felt a bit dead doing it, but I thought I’ll go for it because I’m open to new experiences. At the time, I got hit up by a few London labels who wanted to chat with me, but then Covid happened and they lost contact. The label that I was working with just, I don’t know, dropped me I guess. The project just kind of abandoned. 

“I was no longer inspired to write these bubblegum, pretty songs. I want to speak my absolute truth.”

There’s certain fashion aesthetics that can be quite deceiving. Growing up, I always hung around with people that were relatively well off, y’know? Without meaning to, it would just happen. I moved to a council estate when I was sixteen, before that my family would have rented apartments. Other working class people would call me posh and I’d be like, do you live in a council house? Well, I do, so how am I the posh one? It was down to the way I spoke and dressed at the time. 

The people I ran with who were wealthier, they would run around with lots of tattoos or change their accent depending on what they took their influence from. They look more like the people from where I’m from, and I look like I came from where they came from. It’s like these two class structures are trying to be each other, there’s a class dysmorphia. Kids from working class estates just want to get out, and richer kids want to separate their image from how economically privileged they are. People are constantly rebelling from where they come from.

It’s a little like the classic generalisation of the middle-class university student who goes to London and starts rolling zoots and listening to J-Hus.

That’s exactly what it’s like! It’s interesting how we fetishise these backgrounds. There’s this show about slum landlords essentially kicking people out who can’t afford their rent. We fetisihise this shit, and then we watch the Kardashians complaining about being filthy rich. We’re fascinated by each other.

We’ve spoken before about how you feel your music has been more accepted overseas than it has in Ireland, do you still feel that’s the case now?

I don’t know, once I release more of this music I’ll know. I’ve just started to incorporate Ireland into my music by talking about where I’m really from, so this is new ground for me. If I was to speculate I’d say this album will be more accepted in Ireland, it’ll be interesting. I’ve had blogs hit me up who are more into the stuff I’m doing now than the stuff I was doing before, maybe they saw something in the previous material that wasn’t genuine? I dunno. If there’s anything that is in any way disingenuous, Ireland will not tolerate it. The people want someone who is unapologetically Irish, the best version of themselves.

You’ve been working with Clu lately, haven’t you? What’s collaborating with him been like? He makes some wicked music.

He’s the producer behind my next single. He just sent me a beat for that one, but we’ve recorded two other songs. He’s such an authentic mind. I think his music sounds kinda European, like a futuristic Yung Lean. When I’m working with him, his music makes me feel a certain way that allows me to open up. It’s been so good working with him.

He’s very patchy (sings “it’s like you saw a ghost, frozeeeen on the landeeeen”), he says this mad shit that just works. His song ‘MOOD2098’ on Gobstopper Records, I think he really outdone himself there. Doing that in 2016 is like, what the fuck! He’s not appreciated enough, I’m suprised someone isn’t managing him.

That’s the problem in Ireland too, there’s all these amazing artists pushing different things, but there isn’t the management. Most of them are old heads who don’t want to take any risks on music that doesn’t fit into a box.

You’re currently making an album. What other social issues will you be highlighting on the record?

It’s very much an overlook at how each class copies each other. It’s a unifying message. There’s so much discourse that surrounds the class structure into trying to tell us that we shouldn’t like each other, but there’s a deeper issue and a different way of looking at it. We try to look like each other. My idea was just true visualisation: be myself and represent where I’m from. There’s some tracks where I talk about my girlfriend and love, y’know, cause everybody needs it.

21st April 2021