Coventry rapper Pa Salieu has won the much-coveted BBC Sound of 2021 award. To outline the gravity of the achievement, the likes of Adele and Michael Kiwanuka have previously claimed victory in the competition.
In its 19th year, the competition began with 50 Cent winning the inaugural Sound of… back in 2003 as Dizzee Rascal and Electric Six finished as runners up. Last year, Celeste took home with Octavian winning it in 2019 and the year before saw Sigrid beat fellow nominees such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi, Sam Fender and Rex Orange County.
A panel of 161 industry experts, including former nominees Billie Eilish and Stormzy, compiled the longlist and concluded that Pa Salieu is the deserving winner. The rapper paints a violent picture about the Coventry that he grew up in and luckily survived after being shot outside of a pub in the city in 2019. However, he has explained how close friends who weren’t quite as fortunate.
“If I died last year,” Salieu told the BBC. “If I actually died – in their eyes, I would be a criminal. ‘Gang related. Drive-by shooting.’ Trust me, the whole perception would be different right now. You would have never heard of me. If you do hear of me, it’s, ‘That’s that kid that died.’ ‘Gun crime.’ ‘These foolish youths.’ No.”
Speaking about the message he wants to convey in his music, the rapper said: “Build. Unity. That’s what we lack. Where I come from, we lack compassion. It’s going to have to come from me. I’m not a punchline artist. Everything I say is exactly how I feel and exactly what I see and exactly where I’m coming from. My message is just build, build, build. Break down or make it out. Protect your energy. Protect everything.”
BBC Radio 1 presenter Annie Mac added: “His songs are exquisitely produced, with enough restraint for Pa’s voice to shine through and have the space to tell the stories of his life. They are stories of friendship and family, of violence, exclusion and racism, and they act as timeless evidence of British street life at the turn of new decade.”
Listen to Pa Salieu’s track ‘Energy’ with Mahalia, below.