Some years ago, Peter Bowditch, 70, a retired Royal Mail assistant, didn’t comprehend what UK grime or drill music was. While his granddaughter would tune car radio into stations rap and grime broadcasts, Pete would turn it off. But over time, Pete halted reaching for the dial and began to appreciate what he was listening to. Pete decided to ask his friend, Basil Belgrave, now 73, if he’d ever considered rapping.
So few would have predicted that the two grandfathers would become significant players in the UK drill. Pete and Bas are South London born and bred. Before embarking on a music career, Pete served for Royal Mail and Westminster Council. Bas’s past is shrouded in mystery – and he favours to keep it that way.
As a child, Bas tells his father had a bare-knuckle boxing ring. He has earlier claimed to have served as a lawyer and worked in the army. There are rumours he served as a bouncer in the 1970s. While in an earlier interview with Noisey Raps, Pete encouraged Bas around London, where he typically exited the car to drop off packages. Asked what he was up to, Bas refused to comment.
He tells the BBC that he served as a helicopter engineer and a carpet seller. One portion of his story that continues to be constant is that he taught piano – and that is how the duo met half a decade ago. Pete stepped into a shop in south London “on a short bit of business” and listened to the sound of a piano coming from a back room, where Bas was reading a lesson. Interested, Pete stuck around and presented himself. Pete, a huge fan of The Specials and Madness, was opened to rap and grime through his granddaughter. He ultimately persuaded Bas, a Frank Sinatra fiend, to convey his newfound love a listen.
Bas also loved the menacing beats and street-smart storytelling of drill, and the pair started writing lyrics in 2017 – bouncing impressions of some of the younger members of the family. Pete & Bas composed their first song, Shut Your Mouth, delivered on new year’s day in 2018. It commenced racking up views on YouTube within days while people tried to find out more about these two retired grandads and the amalgam of modern-day and conventional cockney slang.
Many believed the song was simply a one-off gimmick, but Pete & Bas released more songs that year, including Do One and Dents In a Peugeot, as the fame started to rise. By 2019 they were publishing pieces on major UK rap stages GRM Daily and Pressplay Media. Both say it was about this time that they marked a change in the way people responded to their harmony.
Their first live show consisted of about 20 people in a pub in London’s Blackheath. By 2019 they were trading out shows across the UK, and they even performed a show in the party resort of Ayia Napa in Cyprus, where they were uprooted by police driving mopeds.
Then began 2020 and Covid-19. With both classified as high risk, the pandemic has been a challenging period for the pair. Pete has lost buddies to the virus. But like many up-and-coming UK rappers, their reputation grew during the lockdown. In December, they delivered Old Estate with M24 – one of the greatest names in the UK drill.
The genre polarises the conclusion. With its frequently provocative lyrics, police have been criticised for fuelling gang violence; and drill videos are often being used as proof in lawsuits. But its defenders say the genre provides a raw and unfiltered insight into the darker side of life on the country’s inner-city estates and can give way for young people to avoid the situations they’re describing. Last month, the assets of Pete & Bas grew even more with their appearance on Plugged In With Fumez The Engineer – one of the biggest platforms in the UK drill. Their performance is now one of the most seen Plugged In freestyles ever – scoring 5 million views in a month.
They now have growing fanbases across Europe, the US, Australia and Japan. But opinion within their own families about their newfound fame is mixed. Pete says he’s a “hero” in the family. With lockdown constraints easing, Pete and Bas have big projects for the years ahead. They own a full UK tour and are in talks with notable artists for more collaborations