Coventry-raised Pa Salieu cannot be ignored. His growling and booming delivery has made his 2020 singles run, from “Betty” to “Block Boy” and everything in between, one of the most dazzling highlights of the year. His bone-rattling raps catalog his experience on the streets, his Gambian roots, and his aspirations. Surviving a gunshot wound earlier in his life, and dodging bullets for most of his youth, Pa understands the value of life itself and never wastes a moment—or a breath—in his music. A man focused on his message, the young rap star-to-be released his debut mixtape, Send Them To Coventry, on November 13 to much support.
Send Them To Coventry runs 15 tracks of dancehall, drill, and Afrobeats influence, and showcases Pa Salieu as a jack and master of all trades. He isn’t bothered by genre confines. Instead, he channels sounds native to his tastes to create relatable and banging tunes. “Flip, Repeat” thumps while the soothing outro “Energy” reminds us Pa Salieu is all about protecting his mental. The menacing “T.T.M” is propelled forward on a bed of street tales, while the signature singles sound perfectly in-place. There are no blind spots in the mixtape’s sequencing.
In a short time, Pa Salieu has gone from singles king to proving he can develop and execute a body of work worthy of multiple replays. His lionhearted and old-soul attitude drives Send Them To Coventry, removing the chip bestowed upon his shoulder from his younger days. Listening to Send Them To Coventry, you get the sense you’re watching an artist plant their flag in an unforgiving industry with a zeal mostly unheard of for a developmental act. No fuss and no gimmicks, Pa Salieu arrives fully formed and ready to establish himself for all-time.
Your 2020 has been outstanding. Each single, from “Betty” to “Block Boy,” has been bigger than the last. Have you taken some time to appreciate your success?
I appreciate it, but I haven’t stepped back and looked at it, no.
What inspired the title of the tape, Send Them To Coventry?
That was the narrative when I decided this was the first tape. Send Them To Coventry makes sense, innit? That’s where I’m coming from. It’s an old saying. They used to send criminals to Coventry. It’s to completely cut somebody off, and I’m from Coventry, so I’m coming with that narrative, too.
From our last conversation in May, I got the sense you had so much more to give after getting shot. How did your passion for life influence the project?
It’s influenced by me not… I’ve been concentrating, haven’t been looking left and right. When I got shot… I get to breathe again! Another chance, innit? That’s it. That’s how I see it.
You also told me you weren’t chasing views but were focused on your message. What message is Send Them To Coventry sending?
Unity! People like me doing it; it’s big motivational. My message is motivation and unity. I hope my music explains it—I don’t know how to explain it. The way I write, I ain’t a punchline artist. You’re gonna have to proper listen to my music, it explains it all.
Which song on the mixtape is most important to you?
“More Paper,” “Energy,” and “Block Boy.” “More Paper” is so in-depth. You’re gonna have to listen. It’s not just punchlines. I don’t know how to explain it…
I think your music speaks for itself in a lot of ways.
That’s it! That’s the only place I can express [myself]. I don’t talk much, even this. I’m still getting used to it. From our old interview, I’d like to think I’ve improved! I’m trying, man. I’m trying.
What is it about music that lets you be yourself?
The way it started was an expression for me. When I told you I didn’t chase views or nothing, I’m still not chasing. I’m chasing a goal in my head. Something’s calling me and I’m going for it. That’s why I don’t look left or right. There will be a time where I can articulate so much about my body of work. Right now, it’s just expression, bro. It’s what mans been through.
That’s why I always say, “genreless.” I want everyone to be able to have the comfort to hear [my music]. Some people don’t listen to this kinda music, that kinda music… If I can put it in every genre in one, with the same message, that’s how I see it.
You don’t confine yourself to a box?
Either love me or hate me, you know? I’m trying.
Send Them To Coventry is your first body of work. What challenges, if any, did you overcome to make it?
No, I lose it when I’m in the studio. I tap out. I let the vibes take over.
So it’s totally natural for you?
Yeah. I used to paint. It’s the same feeling of expression. I tap out, and when I was painting I’d put headphones on. When I’m writing music, I don’t need to do that. It’s the same feeling. Writing is art.
Back in July, you told mixmag, “It’s like back in my schooldays: you’re not gonna bully me… ”
I never got bullied in my life. I never took it. Me? I used to fight so much. People wanted to say this and this about my skin tone. I scrapped it out. I was a fighter. I come from Gambia; I’m prideful of my culture. When I came back to Coventry, I was in a time where it wasn’t cool to be African. They tried, but I never got bullied. I’ve seen so many take it, but I was not that guy.
In your music, you sound like you’re fighting for your life.
For real, for real. What’s Plan B? Back to trapping? Life is too short. The bad side of life, it’s too much, bro. I want to be able to do something. I come from a militant background, spiritually, physically, emotionally, where you just have to do it.
Are you ready for the good side of life?
No. I deserve it, yes. I put it on my life I deserve it, but, no. It’s youth… My mom said, “Use your youth wisely.” So I’m using my youth wisely. You can’t enjoy it. I have to take it in, but I can’t have fun yet. I can’t do nothing yet, just because of where I’m coming from. I’m trying to make sure my great-great-great grandkids are… I wanna be part of the reason why Africa becomes united one day. I’m chasing something greater. Music is so important; it’s the gateway. It’s a community, man. These business parts, I’m learning, but music is a bigger picture to me.
The last time we talked, you made it clear the most important thing to you is to have people from similar backgrounds relate to your music.
Yeah, that’s what it is! Unity. Music used the right way is unity. I’m telling you, music is too powerful. It can break a nation, build a nation. I am from greatness, innit? I have to do what’s right, move what’s right.
Photos by Rosie Matheson (main) and Aliyah Otchere.