Positivity, motivation and inspiration are the key buzz words circling around south London MC Clement Marfo and his genre-splitting band The Frontline. Based around a grime and hip-hop core, the collective straddle genres at will as they season their urban leanings with gargantuan pop hooks, sweet neo-soul vocals and a rush of energised rock dynamics. They’re the sound of the city streets, the sound of aspirational youth rising above societal problems, the sound of a multi-cultural community uniting rather than dividing.
Clement’s sheer charisma operates as a force which has repeatedly attracted a karmic sense of good fortune to his musical career. “Everything about us is organic,” he affirms with infectious enthusiasm. “There’s been so much serendipity around us. Things just fall into place.”
Things have fallen into place ever since a young Clement first attempted to rhyme in front of his freestyling classmates. Their reaction, he laughs, was, “Wow! Clement can rap!” When asked what initially sparked his eagerness to perform, he’s uncharacteristically lost for words. “I loved music… but I have no idea what triggered it.”
Initially a solo MC who made an underground breakthrough with the track ‘Fresh Starts’, Clement began to build a solid fanbase almost solely from his own efforts. He soon discovered that bigger stages called for something more than a mic and a DJ. “I remember doing the Love Music Hate Racism festival and I was the only guy with a backing track,” he says. “I needed a band behind me.”
Equally as inspired by Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s ground-breaking ‘Collision Course’ project, Clement met his future drummer Dion through a mutual friend. And so that serendipitous force soon created The Frontline – completed by Kojo (vocals), Rich and Dan (guitars), Johnny (bass) and Stacey (keyboards, vocals) – almost without its seven members noticing the evolution from acquaintances to band-mates. “They’re called The Frontline because they’re like an army and we’re ready to attack,” states Clement.
Being seven-piece band sounds like a diplomatic nightmare that can only lead down the road ominously marked Artistic Differences. Clement refutes this suggestion in an instant: “If I say something and Stacey says, ‘How about this?’, it makes me look at it in a different way. We all know the standard and we all want to get the best out of it. There’s no selfish reasons behind it, there’s no favouritism; just a focus towards the main goal.”
Stacey, a Paramore loving pop-punker whose female vocals add another dimension to the collective’s harmonies, concurs: “If there’s something we disagree with, but we know it’s going to be the best for us, you can’t be selfish. If it’s going to get us to that next step, I’m going to do it. That’s how it should be.”
In contrast to expectations, The Frontline are united by their differences, their shared DIY ethic and their staggering array of musical interests. Spend some time in their company and you may well hear references to everyone from The Fugees and N.E.R.D. to Deftones and Blink 182. Their influences permeate into each other. As guitarist Rich explains, “I always liked hip-hop, but I never really took the time to discover it. You know when you’re into rock bands, you learn their back stories, so you know the different members who have been involved and all the songs? I’d never gone that deep into the hip-hop side of things. And now I have.”
One of the first songs to emerge from the band’s creative process was ‘Champion’, a defiant chest-beating anthem that celebrates triumphant against adversity as much as the accomplishment itself. Working with producers and writers Matt Marston (Eg White), Iain James (Professor Green, Wretch 32) and Rob Wells (Paloma Faith), ‘Champion’ sparked a flood of inspiration.
“Since then, everything came together,” smiles Clement. “We went into the studio every few days and were banging out songs. The chemistry was there and the vibe was great.” A perfect fit for huge sports events, ‘Champion’ has been used to soundtrack everything from David Haye boxing matches to Steven Gerrard goals to coverage of the Superbowl. Also used in the pivotal montage scene in the hit movie StreetDance, ‘Champion’ is destined to accompany moments of victory and glory at the 2012 Olympics.
Other songs such as ‘Rule The World’, ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Mayhem’ find the band addressing lyrical themes at odds with a genre that has often been demonised by the mainstream. “In urban music, you have to have something that stands out,” opines Stacey. “You need a slightly different subject matter or to come at it from a different angle.”
Rich agrees: “It needs to be inspirational rather than just guns, girls and sex. I think that comes from the sort of person Clement is.”
“It’s the about the lives we live,” confirms Clement. “My lyrics are a message to myself, but I project them to anyone who can relate. It’s like I’m having a conversation with myself and I’m trying to motivate myself.”
The list of those who can relate seems to be growing by the week following the release of their first Warner Bros. Records single ‘Overtime’. Support has already come from Mistajam, Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens, Semtex, Ed Sheeran, Sway, Smiler and Master Shortie to name but a few, as well as from MTV 2, MTV Base, NME, RDW, sbtv and Urban Development. At the same time, the band have built a reputation for their energetic and irrepressible live shows following dates with Plan B, The Streets, Example, Rizzle Kicks and Florence and The Machine and a place on Sara Cox’s Insanity Tour. Another sign of their impending stardom came when they nominated for a MTV Brand New for 2012 award.
Clement Marfo and The Frontline’s appeal is their chameleonesque ability to morph into any situation and to embrace any environment. “When I was doing my music earlier, I was doing grime but it wasn’t aggressive grime, it could appeal to a mainstream pop audience,” offers Clements, using Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal as figurative comparisons. “I’m not afraid to do that because the person I am is adaptable to different societies. I went to a school with a mixed population of people – there were black people, there were white people and there were Asian people and I could get along with everybody.
Stacey shares the same ideal: “Rich and I aren’t from a hip-hop background, but when we go to gigs and that’s the people who are there, we’re not alienated from them, we can adapt to them.”
Thanks to the aforementioned serendipity, hard work and talent, Clement Marfo and The Frontline are set to be ten-feet tall and unstoppable in 2012. “I can do anything,” declares Clement with such conviction that you just can’t doubt him. And then a self-deprecating smile washes over his face. “The only thing I can’t do is swim.”