Having lived in both Sao Paulo and South London, it’s unsurprising to discover that Yuri Santos has music pumping through his veins. From the pulsating sound of samba, to the 2-step of UK Garage, the 21 year-old has been surrounded by beats and rhythm his whole life. “When I was about two I went missing at a birthday party in Sao Paulo,” Santos remembers. “My mum found me in the samba room banging on a dustbin, trying to play the drums.”
For Santos, music is absolutely a way of life. Whether trying to drum at 2 years-old, teaching himself guitar at the age of 9, or writing his first rap record at 15, this South American born, Streatham raised rapper boasts a truly natural talent. By the age of 18, Santos was already a star on Channel U and MTV Base, playing shows all over the country and selling thousands of copies of his mixtape, which he distributed single-handedly. With his debut album in the works, you can expect Santos to bring South America and South London together, making him the first truly international proposition that the UK has produced.
Entirely self-taught, the aspiring MC first fell in love with making music after buying Carlos Santana’s album, ‘Supernatural’ at the age of 8, thanks to tablature he found on the Internet. Teaching himself to play ’Maria Maria’ and ‘Smooth’, before graduating to Jimi Hendrix, he kept up the guitar through senior school, picking up drums and keys along the way. After successfully auditioning for the BRIT School at 14, where he played drums for classmate Adele, the So Solid and Dizzee Rascal fan was introduced to production programmes like Fruity Loops and Logic. “I saw other people with songs getting played on Channel U and I thought I could probably do as well, if not better than them,” he remembers of beginning to make beats. Picking the name Aggro because he was determined to aggressively make moves in the music business, he left the BRIT school, intent on making his name in the grime scene.
After college though, the realities of living with a single parent mum in a deprived area took hold. Arrested several times as a 16 year-old for petty crimes, Aggro’s mum began to despair. Cristina Lessa had bought her two sons over to the UK specifically to avoid the kind of trouble Aggro’s father found himself in back in Brazil. “My dad actually missed my birth because he got shot that day, in a bakery,” remembers Aggro. “He was shot through the neck, and although he survived, for my mum that was the final straw. Soon after that she began making plans for us to leave Sao Paolo because she was so worried that we could get caught up in that life.” It took five years, but as soon as she was able to afford it, his Italian born mum bought her children to south London to start life over.
Though Streatham pales in comparison to Sao Paolo’s crime statistics, there was still plenty of trouble for a teenage boy to get in to. Luckily for Aggro, his illegal career was short-lived; realising that street life was getting him nowhere, and fast, he returned to his home studio to rethink the route he needed to take. Remembering a song he had written at the age of 15 that he thought might work well for Channel U viewers, he decided to make a video for it. Taking a job at a Marylebone café, he washed dishes for four months to raise £1100 to shoot his own video for ‘Free Yard’. Instantly accepted by the music channel (now known as Channel AKA), two weeks later the single shot straight to No.1 where it stayed for an incredible 18 weeks throughout 2008. The only acts to see success on this scale are N–Dubz, Ironik, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk. Even though the quality was below normal broadcasting standards, MTV Base were unable to deny its popularity, and also added it to their playlist. “It was a lot of word of mouth and kids bluetoothing it that made it big,” Aggro decides. ‘Free Yard’ gained Aggro over 50,000 friends on MySpace and has had over 600,000 plays on Youtube to date.
Despite having no management, booking agent or distribution deal, Aggro began touring the UK, and made his first mixtape,‘Aggro Culture.’ After initially pressing up 1000 copies, which he literally delivered to shops by hand, demand requested he press up another 5000 copies, followed by another 5000. “Having done stupid stuff like driving stolen mopeds, I saw that I could now make £800 a show. It really opened my eyes in so many ways; not only that music could be a career, but that there was a bigger world outside of Streatham.” The 21 year-old has legions of fans that queue up to see his show, whether at an under-18s show in Manchester, or at a nightclub in the West End. He also has the respect of his peers; Aggro has collaborated with N-Dubz, while Ironik, Giggs and North London’s Marvell all feature on 2010’s follow up to ‘Aggro Culture’, his second mixtape, ‘Rhythm N Flow’.
It wouldn’t all be plain sailing yet though. Once ‘Free Yard’ and ‘Aggro Culture’ had done all they could do, Aggro was unsure of how to build his buzz. Without a manager or booking agent, he didn’t know how to get his single made available on iTunes, how to get press, or the procedure for getting radio play. Needing to make money but unwilling to take the route he had previously, Aggro got a job at Sky TV. Saved from answering the phone to complaining customers all day, he was offered a management deal by Albert Samuel, the team behind So Solid and Blazing Squad. Within a few months, Aggro was offered a deal with a major label, before Celia McCamley, who runs Future Records with Gary Barlow, asked for a meeting. She had heard his latest song ‘Culo’ and was interested in the young rhymer from Streatham. Almost instantly, the deal was done and, in the summer of 2008, Aggro found himself signed to Future Records/ Universal Mercury. “Gary has given me great advice,” Aggro points out. “What he’s said has really had a strong impact on me because he’s one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever had. To have him saying to me he likes what I do and giving me advice is great.”
Currently working on his untitled debut album alongside the likes of Quiz and Larossie (Alexandra Burke, The Saturdays), DaVinChe (Tinchy, Kano)), K-Gee (All Saints, George Michael) and newcomers Pegasus, Aggro recently released the title track from 2008’s ‘Rhythm N Flow’ mixtape. The track has blown up outside of all expectation, even though it was only meant to be a street single. ‘Rhythm N Flow’ has had plays by Fearn Cotton, MistaJam, Steve Sutherland and Trevor Nelson as well as being playlisted by AKA, and Flava and is currently at No.2 in the MTV Base charts, beating out the likes of JLS, Rihanna, and N-Dubz.
The first official single, ‘Candy’, mixed by Rob Orton (Lady GaGa) features Kimberly from the Pussycat Dolls. Having met Kim through a colleague at Sky, Aggros approached her about appearing on the chorus to ‘Candy’, a cheeky, flirty song that manages to be both subtle yet super-catchy at the same time. “She’s genuinely a great person; we work so well together, so I hope we get to do more tracks in the future.” Written in Sweden with Quiz & Larossi, the single joins the likes of‘Do You Believe’, also produced by the pair, and the Brazilian flavoured album intro track, ‘Like You.’ “There’s definitely a south American flavour on the album,” decides Aggro. “I love what the UK scene is doing now, but I want to appeal to people in Europe, North America, South America. There’s no ceiling to what I can do, or who I can reach.”
Despite his past, Santos is also determined not to dwell on negativity; instead pushing a more positive message. “A lot of kids here try to glamourise gangster life, but coming from where I’ve come from, you know if you have gun shots outside your house and drug trafficking all over your area, you wouldn’t want to glamourise it,” Aggro points out. “Life situations inspire me, whether that’s love or partying or my friends. Although I could write about Brazil or what I went through as a teenager, I don’t like to reflect on that because I think people in England don’t really know what real struggle is. There’s a market for it, but it’s not what I want to represent.”
With N-Dubz, Dizzee, Tinchy and Chipmunk achieving huge commercial success, the stage is set for the leader of the new school to not only step into the spotlight, but surpass it on an international level. One of the most driven, grounded and entrepreneurial MC’s this country has produced, Aggro’s ability to combine pop hooks with street-smart savvy has seen the engaging lyricist quickly capture the attention of kids all over the UK. What makes this Brazilian born rapper’s accomplishments all the more impressive is that he has attained this success as an independent artist. With brilliantly written pop songs stuffed full of melody, and the ability to appeal to everyone from South London to South America, Aggro Santos looks set to have a very, very sweet career.