Some have already obtained some small successes, spending years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment and others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn a lot of heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting new talents that our tiny country has to offer.
Seems like you can’t blink without missing a new kid on the block in the Brussels’ rap game. But one name we want to make sure you’ve heard of is Venlo. The 23-year-old François Lovens moved from his hometown Liège to the capital with a lot of ambition – and this seems to be the year the pieces are falling in place. In May, the pensive rapper dropped his debut EP, Sang Froid, and just the other month, he scooped up a nomination in the Chase Award for New Urban at the 2018 Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. Characterized by his calm and steady flow, this friendly poet is keen on showcasing his technique in every piece of music he has released so far. Big players like Roméo Elvis, JeanJass, Senamo and Caballero have already praised him, so it’s time for you to get to know Venlo as well.
Hi Venlo, how did you take your first steps into the game?
I started rapping when I was about 17 or 18 years old, doing a few freestyles and open mics with the Hesytap Squad. We didn’t really record anything – we didn’t even have a studio. At that point, I had already done a fair share of raps, but I only uploaded about 2 or 3 tracks on YouTube and most of it was stuff I did with the crew around me. So when I moved to Brussels for my studies about 3 years ago, it turned out to be a very good move for my music career. Over here, I linked up with Phasm, a true step up – and I started to focus more on my music under the Venlo moniker. This year, I dropped my first 2 music videos and my debut EP ‘Sang Froid’.
How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Personal, introspective and floating.
You are a rapper that puts a lot of thought and work into the essence: the flow, the technique, the choice of words. Are these the things that you value the most in rap?
As a rapper, I will always value a solid technique and writing good lyrics. This is the most important part for me, but the music and production are just as important. For example: I work together with my producer, Dee Eye. It’s a collaboration, not just a beatmaker and a rapper who do their own thing.
What subject you do like to rap about?
I could talk about the ‘hard knock life’, but not in a convincing way, you know? These are important subjects – so I won’t shy away from them if people would ask me, but I can’t rap about it in a way like I’ve been going through those things. The subjects I rap about are the things that are going on in my head, my feelings and myself as a person. If you want to hear these harder styles of rap, I’m not the one you’re looking for.
So you started out with the Hesytap Squad. How do you look back on this period?
Good memories only! But to be clear: I was never in the Hesytap Squad. It’s a duo that consists of Absolem and Slyder. They are my best friends, but when I met them they already had their thing going on. I wasn’t in the group, but I was with them all the time. Without them, I would have never recorded anything. When you are working with multiple people, there’s some friendly competition and so you get some extra motivation from that. To be honest, I may pursue other things now, but I never really left them. We still do tracks together and they are still going strong to this day.
You also mentioned Phasm as a key player in your career. What does he mean to you?
He’s a guy that does everything: rapping, producing, managing, etc. In general, he was the first one that picked us up once I moved to Brussels. He told us he liked what the Hesytap Squad was doing and wanted to work with us. The first result was ‘Pression’, a track he made with the guys and Roméo Elvis, which came out last year. Phasm was the first guy to invite us to a professional studio (Studio87) – and he knows everything there is to know about recording, mixing and mastering. Before that, we would just record tracks in our bedroom, so this was really an improvement for us. He showed us the ropes and taught us a lot. We’re all standing here because of the trust he put in us.
So now you know what Brussels is like, how does this scene compare to the one in Liège?
Liège is my hometown and I’m happy that people see me as an artist from Liège. I will always represent my home. That said, Brussels has a lot more going on. There are more opportunities here, more rappers, more record labels, etc. Additionally, there’s a real hype going on around the Brussels rap scene – and I just kind of stumbled into this. Lately though, I’m happy to see a lot more things are happening in Liège. New rappers are popping up here and there.
You’re also part of the Six O’clock collective now: who or what are you guys?
We’re a large group of about a dozen rappers basically – most rap in French, but others rap in Dutch (like Berrykrimi or Jay MNG), which is something I think that makes us stick out. Hesytap Squad, Phasm, Convok, Lord Gasmique, Yogen, Sham Lepire, Elka, STR, Soon Jay and Mélangé complete the team. In general, we were just friends who hung around Phasm’s studio as most of us were already recording things there.
Where did the name come from?
Many of us had been booked at a small festival in the UK, called Boom Bap Festival. At this point, we didn’t have a real name yet. Our set time started at 6PM, so the English just started calling us the Six O’clock gang – and the name stuck. There was a great flow between all of us.
How did it feel to rap in front of a British crowd?
Great! It wasn’t a large festival or anything like that, with maybe around 4000 people altogether, but everyone was a dedicated hip hop fan, so the vibe was right. We had a great show.
You have been getting support from Senamo, Roméo Elvis, JeanJass, Caballero; how does that feel?
It’s great motivation to continue all the hard work (laughs). It feels good because it shows that I’m moving in the right direction.
Which track are you most proud of so far?
For the moment, I would say ‘Reflet’. I already favoured this song before it came out – and once it did, it had more reactions than any other track of mine. It’s a good representation of me: it’s calm, it’s a bit fly, but at the same time it can get you moving. That said, there’s plenty in the pipeline still that I really dig. The future looks bright. We’re making a lot of progress with new music, new videos, new concerts, new collaborations, etc. There’s a good deal of great vibes coming your way soon enough, don’t worry.