wax Poetics
Made You Look

Uncut Gems

Joseph McDermott of Victory Lap

published online
By Danny Veekens

Victory Lap flips the script of rap cyphers. The close-knit community broadcasts live radio, cyphers, and freestyles from the Peckham-based online radio station Balamii. Their sessions in the small studio space show what today’s vibrant UK rap scene has to offer, ranging from undiscovered talent to top-tier names like Central Cee or Dave. . Far less competitive than the grime sets in the hevdavs of pirate radio; instead, Victory Lap embraces raw, spontaneous energy. DIY at heart, Victory Lap welcomes anyone into their circle.

There’s a strong do-it-yourself spirit in everything Victory Lap does. Where does that originate from for you personally?

Skateboarding is a huge one for me. I’ve always been heavily inspired by hip-hop, punk, and hardcore, and the DIY values that come from that. Skateboarding lives in that in-between sector of hip-hop and punk. It draws all of it together. With Victory Lap, I found my place in how I can be involved in rap music with my skillset which has always been visual, creative, and curatorial.  Maybe that’s why I got into skateboarding and not breakdancing. [Laughs]

You do all of the graphic design for Victory Lap. You aptly call that “visual sampling” in the documentary. Can you tell us a bit more about that approach?

A lot of the flyers I create for Victory Lap are very much punk-zine-inspired. So there are a lot of photocopies and old-school techniques influenced by punk zines, reappropriated for a modern rap audience. Sampling is of course at the essence of hip-hop: taking something that wasn’t intended for you and then flipping it in a new way. That’s what I try to do visually.
I always have to think of polo shirts: essentially preppy, high-class, white-culture clothing, repurposed in the 80s when [the Lo Life crew] in Brooklyn started to wear polos in a baggy hip-hop style. That’s a great example of making something your own and giving a spin to that.

Now we’re getting into New York hip-hop culture: the name Victory Lap stems from a trip to New York where you and your friends recorded mixes for Half Moon and The Lot Radio. Aside from that, is there a deeper connection or influence from New York hip-hop?

I’ve always been a big fan of New York hip-hop. That trip was essentially a way to touch base and link up with artists we were friends-slash-fans of. Think of someone like rapper MIKE, who helped hook us up with a set at The Lot Radio. We’ve been loosely forming a bridge between the scenes in London and New York. After our trip, I wrote an article for Trippin World about how I see New York and London as two sides of the same coin.

In which way?

There are stark similarities between the do-it-yourself nature of how both New York and London are set up in a certain way. With a cultural melting pot that ends up being an incubator for DIY scenes. In both cities, music was born from inner-city struggles and the way people support each other to build upwards.

Rap cyphers are a good example of that. Cyphers originate from New York—think of the legendary freestyle sessions at Stretch and Bobbito, to name one—but communal rhyming also plays a crucial role in UK hip-hop history and the evolution of grime music. Where does Victory Lap fit into that spectrum?

In the US, the cyphers are more of a rapper-centric type of thing with freestyles off the dome. For the UK, it’s more MC-led and about sets, reloads, and being the hardest MC. Such as with grime radio sets back in the day. For Victory Lap, it’s much more DIY with raw, unfiltered energy.

What does that raw, unfiltered energy bring to the table for rappers who join a Victory Lap session?

A lot of good things have come from keeping an authentic, spontaneous vibe going. After all, having fun is infectious. When people see the fun in Victory Lap sessions, they want to be a part of it. There are constantly new artists reaching out who want to join in.

That reminds me of a quote from rapper Kirbs in a recent article by END. Clothing, about his Victory Lap session: “I don't really class myself as an ‘MC/Cypher’ type rapper, so being in that space was fun and I learnt a lot from people.” That shows commitment; stepping out of a comfort zone to grow as an artist. Is that part of Victory Lap’s essence?

Yes, it’s about embracing spontaneity and trying to get people out of their comfort zone, but not by calling them out. It’s all about sharpening skills while also having fun; it’s alright to make mistakes.

In the documentary, you talk about “giving voice to the voiceless.” How does that take shape in Victory Lap?

For example, take the session with Central Cee and Dave. That opened a lot of doors for us. But the best part was being able to put some underground kids in the same room as them, levelling the playing field. To shine a light on what’s coming out, from young kids to OGs and everything in between. That middle space between the underground and ‘overground’ and for it to make sense, that’s really where Victory Lap exists.

What’s the importance of creative breeding grounds like Bankrupt, the store on Brick Lane we visited for the documentary?

Bankrupt is a true community space where initiatives like Victory Lap kind of sprouted from. We need those spaces to exist to bounce off each other and be inspired by. Places like that truly invest in an underground level. When brands or people take off, they show love back. With Victory Lap, we also want to be in a place that supports people along the journey.

What’s to you the most valuable influence of hip-hop on creative culture?

Culture starts at the bottom and then rises up. That’s an important thing to remember: hip-hop started on the streets without ulterior motives and forces. That kind of purity is the most inspirational thing about hip-hop’s influence. That’s also part of the framework of Victory Lap: it’s just me and my friends, messing around on decks with a mic. That DIY spirit reached the point of Drake posting Victory Lap on his Instagram… That hip-hop attitude of ‘Okay, we are just going to do it ourselves. We don’t need anything else’—that’s the biggest influence hip-hop had on me and Victory Lap.

It doesn’t get more hip-hop than that: two turntables, a mixer, a mic, and friends. Creating something out of nothing.

One hundred percent! I embrace that essence and I’m proud of that. If you give us two decks, a mixer, and a mic, we can do this anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in my bedroom or at an expensive studio. Everything else can come and go, whatever. As long as we have these elements, we’re good to go. There’s a beauty in that simplicity.

Polaroid releases a documentary in partnership with some of Europe’s most prominent creative individuals and communities, exploring the influence of hip-hop on contemporary culture in London, Paris and Amsterdam. See the full documentary here on May 18th. 


this is part of "Made You Look" Story

Polaroid releases a documentary in partnership with some of Europe’s most prominent creative communities, exploring the influence of hip-hop on contemporary creative culture in London, Paris and Amsterdam.

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