Rat Boy’s homegrown raps paint a lyrical dissertation of suburban Britain. It’s a place in which stepping onto public transport is akin to entering a battlefield: a land of wannabe gangsters, muggings and sportswear casualties.
The Chelmsford resident observes the society around him and encapsulates his environment in songs which flow with wit and caustic disparagement. He’s firmly within the storytelling lineage of Britain’s great lyricists who represent some of his greatest influences: Ian Dury, The Clash, Squeeze, Blur and The Streets.
Rat Boy (real name Jordan Cardy) is a product of his background. Life after school offered little: after going to art school, he faced a succession of rejections from retail work which finally culminated in him landing a job in Wetherspoons. “I was in the kitchen – they didn’t let me out the front because I was too weird,” he recalls. “I wrote a lot of lyrics in Wetherspoons, just sitting at the table writing about people in there. Afterwards, I’d ride my bike home at night, and stop to record drunk people’s conversations. Eventually I got fired.”
Rat Boy found solace in music. If he wasn’t hanging around the skate park, he’d be found trying to teach himself Logic on his mum’s computer, and gradually evolved his skills from that of an absolute beginner to become someone who could bring his flood of ideas to life. He had little other choice. “Every week I tried to start a new band but I couldn’t get people to rehearse. So I did everything myself.”
The result was The Mixtape, which distilled his small-town tales into three minute mash-ups of hip-hop and indie topped with his half-rapped, half-hollered Essex vocal tones. Rat Boy performs almost everything – vocals, bass, keys and production – throughout its five riotous tracks. “I can’t play drums, though. Just strings and fingers.”
Its songs reflect reality: “blokes getting woman pregnant and then not bothering about the kid” (Sportswear) and the fear of doing the same dead end job for his whole life (Carry On). Inspiration strikes randomly, so Rat Boy carries a notebook (“it’s kind of embarrassing”) and will often interrupt conversations to “write some shit down on my phone.”
His tracks are often intercut with samples from films such as Withnail and I, Scum and Made in Britain. Those films are favourites of his father and, he notes, are well suited to his music. That quotes from these long passed visions of British society can fit seamlessly into the modern day is a damning indictment of where we’re at in 2016.
“I’ve always been interested in history and shit,” he adds. “I listen to a lot of old music and watch old films. I’m interested in skinhead culture, mods, Quadrophenia and stuff like that. Shane Meadows is sick too.”
After sending his mixtape out to any blog he could find, he suddenly received a deluge of “weird e-mails from record company scouts.” Amidst them all, however, he found a notable fan in the shape of Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell. “I didn’t know what was going on, but he set me up talking to managers. I didn’t even know what a manager was. He lent money to come to meetings in London after I lost my job. He’s really helped me out.”
The stakes are higher, but he’s sticking with his singular style. Although debut single Sign On was a co-production with James Dring, he’s producing everything else himself; he feels that co-writes would dilute his style; plans to continue to create all artwork himself (inspirations include skateboarding artist Mark Gonzales and Snoop Dogg associate Darryl “Joe Cool” Daniels) as well as the accompanying music videos; and he has formed a band in which he’s joined by three friends.
“We always get kicked out of everywhere,” he laughs. “If there’s four of you, you can be more of a dick.”
Other songs continued where The Mixtape left off. His debut single Sign On tackled the insecurity of being unemployed and hoping that his music career takes off, while the follow-up Fake ID offered a stream-of-consciousness tale of an outsider who gets mugged after being denied entry to a club.
The reaction that followed proved that Rat Boy possessed the ability to connect with a huge audience, with widespread support at Radio 1 backed by critical acclaim from the likes of Noisey, NME, Q, The Fader and DIY. Meanwhile, his anarchic live shows have also sparked chaotic scenes at the Reading and Leeds Festivals as well as on tour with The 1975 and Circa Waves.
2016 commenced with the kind of acclaim that suggests that Rat Boy stands on the cusp of a major breakthrough. Not only was he featured on the influential BBC Sound of 2016 longlist, but he also featured for MTV’s Brand New For 2016 shortlist and collected Best New Artist at the NME Awards after been nominated alongside the likes of Halsey and Hinds.
For his recent single MOVE, Rat Boy resurrected the boisterous bounce of the big beat era for the modern age, with his British Beastie Boy rap declaring “Everything’s free if you want it to be / Take my MP3 illegally and MOVE!”
Rat Boy personally asked Dillon Markey to direct the track’s accompanying stop-motion music video. The Los Angeles-based director, animator and inventor is best known for his work on Robot Chicken and for Fresh Guacamole, his Academy Award-nominated collaboration with animation artist PES.
This year has also seen Rat Boy take several bold steps forwards with his live show. After receiving a rapturous reception at his sold-out headline show at London’s Heaven (“A raucous atmosphere that’s rare at gigs these days,” noted The Times), Rat Boy embarked upon the prestigious NME Awards Tour on a bill that was headlined by Bloc Party and completed by Drenge and Bugzy Malone.
Similar scenes were ignited when Rat Boy stepped out in April and May for his biggest headline tour to date which featured a major London show at the Electric Brixton.
After playing the 6 Music Festival in Bristol, Rat Boy was also in the first wave of artists to be announced for this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals alongside the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, The 1975 and Slaves. He’ll also hit Glastonbury and Latitude for the first time this summer.
Other festival plans already include Japan’s famous Summer Sonic Festival, plus Hurricane and Southside in Germany, and Best Kept Secrets in the Netherlands.
Even more fresh opportunities are on the horizon for a young man who until recently hadn’t even left the country. “It was crazy to meet Mike Skinner – when I was six-years-old I knew all of the words to Original Pirate Material and used to rap along to it. He told me that me that once you go abroad, you realise what the UK is really like. If I get to see different cultures, I’m hoping that when I come back I’ll see stuff that I’ve never noticed before.”