Hailing from Manchester’s Moss Side, twenty-six year old Rio Nelson is giving the north of England a place in the urban music scene with his fourth mixtape release, The Ri-Mix. Nelson, stage name RIO, entered the scene at the age of eighteen, and has since released various mixtapes and singles. He has featured on radio stations such as BBC 1Xtra and performed at numerous live events. RIO brightened up my very sleepy, hungover Sunday evening by talking to me about his Valentine’s Day release, and why he stands out in the Manchester urban scene.
Georgina: Hi RIO! Tell me a little about how you started out in music.
RIO: Hello! Well I first started out in the underground mixtape circuit in Manchester, and did quite a bit of pirate radio, which, alongside my YouTube and MySpace channels, built up a decent local fanbase. I had actually started out wanting to be a professional footballer, and I even had trials at Manchester City, but music sort of took over for me. My cousin first got me into writing music and I realised that I was pretty good at it. Soon it became more of a full time thing so it made sense to make it my career. I progressed to meet Mike Clapcott, who owns an independent label called Rare Breed Music, and he signed me to the label. I’ve had a lot of heat since being played on BBC 1Xtra and performing at events such as I Luv Live. My single Mr Unpredictable actually premiered on 1Xtra and it got to number six in the Channel AKA chart. My mixtape Bottom to the Top was nominated for the Best Grime Mixtape award at the Official Mixtape Awards last year, and it was in the same category as artists such as Scorcher and Skepta! Things have really started to take off now; I’m performing at after parties on the Labrinth tour and I’m looking to do a lot of collaborations this year.
Georgina: Who are your main musical inspirations?
RIO: Musically, I listen to a huge range of genres, not just hip-hop and grime. I love old school reggae like Bob Marley, and the more conscious rappers like Nas. I also really like Coldplay. Life itself inspires me though; it’s hard to pick just one or two artists that motivate me.
Georgina: Tell me more about The Ri-Mix and what it’s about.
RIO: Well the mixtape is basically a bunch of my own remixes of the hot tracks people like at the moment. Lots of people call me Ri, and because the mixtape is a compilation of remixes I’ve done, I thought I’d just call it The Ri-Mix as a sort of combination of my name and the subject of the mixtape itself. I’ve put my own stamp on the tracks I’ve rapped over, but I did put it together really quickly. I actually wrote and recorded the whole thing in about three weeks, and I announced the release when I got to 14,000 ‘likes’ on my Facebook fanpage. People are going mad for it and really looking forward to the release, and so am I!
Georgina: With London having the reputation it has for being the ‘core’ of the UK urban scene, what do you have to offer that will put Manchester on the map?
RIO: I’m never scared to try new things, or to be myself, whether the opinion of me is good or bad. If I hear a beat that I really like that isn’t the typical ‘urban’ thing, for example something dubsteppy or poppy, I’ll rap to it whether people like the idea of that or not! A lot of people are scared to come out of their shell because they’re scared of what people might say or think. If people don’t like my music then there’s nothing I can do. There is going to be a lot of talent coming out of Manchester in 2012, including Geko and Misha B who are both good friends of mine. There are artists from Birmingham and Liverpool getting involved, and I think that this is the year that the north is going to explode onto the London scene. We’re going to start being noticed. It’ll take time though, and it is true that London is where the scene is right now and I respect that, but I’m not team Manchester or team London, I’m team UK!
Georgina: What is the biggest challenge you have had to face, not just in music but in life?
RIO: The biggest challenge I’ve had to face in life is probably being a father and a good role model. I have two sons and I want to work hard and go for my dreams, for them. I want to be the best I can be for their sake. There are a lot of people from my area that are trying to push their talent through, not just in music but in other areas, like football. Danny Welbeck is from Longsight which isn’t far from my area, and he’s one of the people who’s making a change and showing that there is a way to grasp your dreams.
Georgina: How have you progressed and improved since your earliest material?
RIO: When I first started there was no professionalism behind my music in terms of writing proper songs. It was more ‘get a beat, write something to it and put it out there’, but now I understand music more and I can write better structured tracks. I also let people get in touch with who I am more; I always put my honesty out there, I need to. I have improved in that I now write a proper hook and some really good lyrics, and I’m more professional in terms of recording; I have bigger and better studios. However, saying that, The Re-Mix was nowhere near as professionally done as my other recent releases but it is still very good! Haha.
Georgina: I’m looking forward to hearing it even more now! What else are you going to be doing in 2012?
RIO: Well following The Ri-Mix, I’m going to record a studio video to Mirror which is my favourite track off the mixtape. I’m going to be performing the after parties on Labrinth’s tour, and I’m going to get a few collaborations done too. I’ll be involved in the Manchester Lord of the Mics too. I’ve got some really good stuff happening! I’ll be recording a track with Jodie Connor, who sang on Roll Deep’s Good Times. My single Can’t Stop We premiered on DJ Semtex’s 1Xtra show last month and got a good buzz. I’m going to bring out one or two more mixtapes to really cement my name, and I’m hoping to do some stuff with SBTV too. I’m just gonna be putting out more music!
Georgina: Sounds sick. Any final words from you?
RIO: I’m just an honest artist. I love people like Ed Sheeran, Drake and Adele because they are not just multi-talented, but so honest in their work. They put heart into their material, and letting us in on their journeys. I like to think that I do this too, and you’ll hear a lot of it on The Ri-Mix. There will be some songs that may offend or rub people up the wrong way, but I’m sincere in what I do. You can’t please everybody and there is no point in changing for people. I don’t bother with all that. I want to make a change. A lot of artists do this for money but I do it for love. I want to show people that I can achieve my dreams.
The Ri-Mix is available for free download at 3pm, Tuesday 14th February.
Follow RIO on Twitter: @RIOMUSIC10
RIO’s first body of work Bottom to the Top was released in October 2010 and was immediately nominated for ‘Best Grime Mixtape of the Year’ at the highly coveted Official Mixtape Awards. Now the manchester based rapper releases his next mixtape entitled Ri Mix with DJ Tango!!