RV can point to the day he left prison in 2019 as the moment his life turned around. He felt like he was at long last in a position to capitalise on the energy and hype that had built around the drill genre in the 12 months he had been away. Fresh out and back in the studio, he was ready to make good on the potential he had been showing throughout a career that dates back almost a decade. However, despite emerging to an audience baying for new music he found the experience bittersweet. “I did a lot of planning and wrote a lot of music but when I got out I had a lot of licensing conditions that meant I couldn’t act on those plans,” he says referencing the Metropolitan Police’s notoriously prohibitive treatment of Black men affiliated with drill music. Despite ending the year charting alongside lifelong friend Headie One with the second instalment of their Drillers and Trappers mixtape series, and releasing his own solo EP Savage, RV’s progress was halted by a stringent parole system which included having to run his lyrics past the police before they were released to the public. “The music I was making was said to be causing trouble but it’s having a career in music that will lead me out of that same trouble,” he says of the catch 22 situation. “You need free reign to make something that could change your life and keep you out of jail forever.”
This, alongside the birth of his first child, was what motivated RV to take a step back in 2020. He spent the year raising his son and living a rapstar lifestyle, eating good food, wearing designer clothes and experiencing a new life of freedom things he had missed out on and knew he had to feed into his music if he was to evolve as an artist. The result is Rico Vondelle, a body of work that not only stays true to RV’s lyrical talents and trademark flow, but also shows that same artistic progression he was so keen to capture. “I’ve been put in a box as a drill rapper but my life has changed so much,” he says. “I’m not doing half the things I used to rap about anymore and I wanted to reflect that. I had to go out and do different things to get inspiration.”
“Back To Back,” a classic RV and Headie One joint, sets the tone for the mixtape. The pair grew up together on Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm Estate and have been rapping together since the days when they’d play old Dipset and 50 Cent albums while telling stories about their lives through rough and ready road rap. Things have changed since those days but the bond is still tight and success hasn’t faded the chemistry the pair have always had. “We haven't gone back to back like we do on that track since 2017,” he says. ““Every time we link up the music gets better and I wanted to give the fans something they have been waiting for.” Elsewhere on the tape RV pulls in guests including Chip, K-Trap, Abra Cadabra and Yxng Bane; offering up a mouth-watering collection of some of the U.K.’s hottest talent.
If leaving prison was the first act of RV’s journey to freedom then the second was a little more theatrical. When he first emerged back in the music world RV would wear a balaclava, a staple item among drillers keen to avoid detection on the scene. Looking back he feels that the point in 2019 when he removed his bally and showed his face to the world was a defining one. “I opened myself up to the world more,” he says. “People knew who I was and it was a big change. I didn’t think it but everything was different from that day.” Facing this new lifestyle, one of freedom, maturity, and growth, is the driving force in RV’s new chapter.
That’s not to say RV isn’t still a savage. The blunt worldplay, one-liners, and brutal sense of humour runs throughout Rico Vondelle. Whether he’s decked out in Off-White in Soho or reflecting on being locked up and missing the birth of his child, RV delivers his bars with no filter. He knows “there’s a savagery behind what I say” but that it’s all about honest storytelling and “finding a balance between being civil and staying true to myself.” It all feeds into telling the world the story of his life. You can see the progress I have made in my personal life in the music that I’m making.”
Progress has been something RV hasn’t always found easy to come by. His story is one of building momentum only to have it interrupted by the authorities: be it his own prison sentences or those of his closest collaborators. “I’ve never had a clean run,” he says. “Every time I have built something up I’ve had to start again.”
This is why he’s so keen to keep progressing and making new music, never staying in the same spot creatively. “I’m privileged that I was able to make it out of that lifestyle,” he admits with the weight of those who weren’t heavy on his shoulders. “Not everyone gets that opportunity and it's on me to keep moving forward. I can’t let the past catch up with me.” Now, with the field at last open in front of him, RV is ready to move forward and reap the benefits of something he’s been building his whole life.