London Lens: N16 with 23 Unofficial
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23 Unofficial - aka ’23’ or ‘two three’ - has only been kicking it on the UK rap scene for the last two years, but that hasn’t stopped him from blasting his foot through the door. With a distinctly humble vibe and a bank of bangers under his belt ('Ain't Bothered', 'Torn’, 'Can't Tell Me') - it's not surprising that he's been been making some sizeable waves.
An N16 stalwart, we ventured to Stokey to spend an afternoon getting to know him and his ends - eating, drinking and shooting the shit. He gave us a taste of Hackney’s flavour, what the area means to him and how it's shaped his life and career - these are his essential spots.
As we dipped off Dalston's High Street and swerved hungrily around Hackney's backstreets on a hot summer's day, the intoxicating scents coming out of Junior's could have easily been mistaken for a fragrant mirage. Nevertheless, the loud hustle and bustle radiating from its doors assured us this was no trick of the mind - so we made a beeline for a window table and got ready to fill our boots.
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23 tells us that he's been coming here as long as he remembers, and as the staff all affectionately greet him and ready his usual (brown stew chicken with rice and peas and a glass of Quench Aid), it's clear he ain't lying.
He tells us how growing up this was the go-to 'can't be bothered to cook' spot, and that the staff have been round for BBQs at his mum's. After tasting that tender oxtail, we'll be eagerly awaiting our invite to the next link up.
Dalston has it's fair share of kebab shops, but voice this to 23 and be ready for a confident, 'nah, but this is the best'. Unassuming in comparison to its neon-lit counterparts, Best Turkish is decked out with placards of awards and famous frequenters (we spied David Schwimmer and Sadiq Khan).
'You need to see this place at 1am on a Friday and Saturday night, there's queues down the High Street.'
Apparently this was the first kebab shop in the area. Our team of researchers struggled to fact check that one, but as we chomped through the seriously juicy meat and crunchy salad oozing with spicy sauces, we could see how The Best Turkish Kebab became such a dominating presence in N16.
A PLACE TO GET LOOSE:
Two days after releasing his debut track, 23 played his first show at Birthdays: a Dalston institution, with an underground dance floor that has seen some big names and is known to get wild. As you can imagine, he was nervous, but he showed us a video of the night and it's safe to say it went off.
Seeing the vid also makes his meteoric rise clear - the guy's got talent. He says it all started with him and his friend Not3s messing around with beats at the studio. Before long - and without any tunes to his name (number?) - he caught the attention of his manager-to-be, N2theA. Ever since he's been traipsing up and down the motorway playing shows and gathering millions of views.
'I was still working at my job - I'd play a show in Nottingham and have to drive back in time for work the next day'.
Since that first show at Birthdays, 23 has since played all across England and Europe. Nonetheless, the dream is still to play the Hackney Empire - 'there's nothing quite like playing to a Hackney crowd'. We can only imagine.
As we made our way over to our next stop, it became apparent that this was 23's home turf - countless passers by stopped him to show their respects (mostly through a lot of 'aaaaaaaays'), and a couple friends decided to join the crew. 'Is this usual?' we asked - a resounding 'yes' followed.
Whilst 23 got caught up with an excitable chap on a bike, we poked our head around this 24 hour Bagel spot - paying particular attention to the enticing row of holed goodies. We nabbed 23's go-to chicken bagel and an angelic looking pink donut alongside a rich triple chocolate muffin for good measure. All with change from a fiver.
A COMMUNITY CENTREPIECE:
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The Football Cage
When asked to sum up Hackney in two words, 23 replied with 'diversity' and 'community' - and this football cage seems to be at the centre of that world for him.
'There were three main schools in the area, with all sorts of ethnicities and cultures mixing and integrating - we'd get 30 of us in the cage playing tournaments, getting riled up, and then go resolve any beef over each other's yards'.
When asked about the changing nature of the borough, 23 explains that despite the wide-spread gentrification, there's a fire in Hackney that no concept bar or hipster cafe could choke.
'Would you ever consider living somewhere else'.
'Urr, maybe Islington?'
We took that as a no.
By this point even more friends had joined, and we could feel a walking-and-eating-induced coma coming on - so we made our dues and left them chilling.
Check out 23 Unofficial's new EP, The Unofficial Album, or wait just for it to be plastered all over the radio waves.