Wembley to the World: cityboymoe and Gdup are Rising Up by Wearing North-West on Their Chests

Wembley to the World: cityboymoe and Gdup are Rising Up by Wearing North-West on Their Chests

From split club allegiances to their 'splitdat' mantra, the ascendant artists open up on their journey to becoming two of the most exciting talents in UK music.

November 9th 2021

cityboymoe and Gdup’s journey from boys to men in North-West London has been underpinned by brotherhood and breaking bread... unless you're talking to them about the clubs they support.

As day one Manchester United and Liverpool fans, Moe (cityboymoe) and Abdi (Gdup) back their sides the same way they tell their tales of North-West – with their chest. Growing up in the same neighbourhood that birthed country crown jewels like Chunkz and Raheem Sterling, the duo are now firmly next in line to blow up out of their borough.

Despite it still being early on their careers, the duo's output has seen them emerge as two of the UK’s most exciting new artists. With a selection of strong releases that come complete with beautifully-executed visuals, the duo have captivated their audience with their experiences of growing up in Wembley.

The streets that raised city and Gdup have switched up considerably in the past few years. The Powerlegaue pitches they used to kick ball on back in the day are gone, with a slew of new builds and retail outlets framing either side of Wembley Way on our shoot today.

Gdup reminisces back to a time where he was able to play just a stones’ throw away from the home of football: “When we grew up, we used to play a lot of football – it used to be an outlet which kept us responsible. But as time progressed, the council started taking down football pitches surrounding Wembley one by one. “We used to be able to jump in on a free to play vibe back in the day, but slowly prices rose to the point where we couldn’t play any more. We were like 13, 14… and our parents couldn’t afford to give us £5 every day to play football.”

But despite the rapid privatisation and gentrification that has changed their area, the duo owe everything to their area and community. “North-West made us the men that we are today,” Gdup asserts, “Those experiences, what we’ve seen, what we’ve been through, that’s shaped us into the people we are today.” That much is audibly clear in their output, with the duo’s expanding arsenal of evocative tracks detailing their journey up out of their area some of the freshest sonics in UK music at present.

“There’s a lot of trauma we experience growing up here, seeing what we’ve seen,” cityboymoe says reflectively, “But for the most part, I had a really good time growing up around here. My friends, my family and my memories are all deeply rooted to this area… I feel like you get to carry a lot of identity you get to carry from growing up around here.”

Moe and Abdi are day one friends, first meeting at Wembley High and growing up living just minutes away from each other. They connected together from Year 7, “ Everyone in that year at school is still good friends with each other today,” GdUp tells me, “But me and Moe were just always into the same shit. The same music, the same films, kicking ball… we had a shared route up and we had very similar influences and inspirations. So Moe’s my darg – his mum’s my mum and my mum’s his mum. Family ties.”

The duo also share those family ties with fellow North-West rising star Chunkz, who has frequently supported his music and featured in cityboymoe’s visuals for “Turned Out Alright” earlier this year. Having both cut through the turbulence to rise up out of North-West together, Chunkz’ ascension from being like Moe’s “older brother” to becoming a certified national treasure has been inspirational for him – particularly when it comes to his persistence with music.

“I don’t need to care about what people think or be conventional. I passed those kinds of hurdles by having him around. He was one of my closest friends… I didn’t have an older brother growing up – but he was mine. “I was in Year 7, he was in Year 9, and he just looked after me at a really pivotal point in my life.”

As they both got older, Moe and Chunkz started to get into different things that inspired them far beyond the constraints of their academic settings: “I was exploring the world in different ways – but he’s always filled me with belief. The bigger picture was always there with him. It wasn’t school that inspired us – we were thinking way beyond it… even though I was pretty solid at school myself.”

Despite the majority of his output featuring atmospheric production and slick, straight-up lyricism on his hometown, cityboymoe has got a truly global mentality when it comes to where he wants his music to go.

A recent trip to Cairo opened his mind up further to the levels he wants to reach in the future: “I linked lots of friends from all over the world there. “I hadn’t been back to Africa since 2015 – and that’s a pretty hefty stretch for me not have been back in my adult life. It was mad inspirational for me… it allowed me to understand the privileges and opportunities I have here now.”

“The game plan, the mentality to both worlds, it’s so similar. Coordinating with a team is also a big part of both worlds too. You need an engine to be effective in both games.”

That change of environment was powerful for cityboymoe: “Seeing kids there who are the same age as me, but not living as well as me, was grounding for me. But they were still really happy. People’s perception and scale of ‘happiness’ varies in different cultures.”

The duo both kicked ball and followed the game before they got into making music, but just like so many musicians who had aspirations of making it as ballers, they realised they had to pivot their creative focus elsewhere. “I really wanted to be a footballer growing up,” Gdup explains, “But just like it is for so many people, it didn’t work out for me. When one door shuts, another opens – and that’s where music came for me. Moe had been making tracks for time, so seeing him do that really helped inspire me with it too.”

cityboymoe finds the convergence between the two worlds inspiring these days: “Now my relationship between football and music has never been so clear as it is now. I watch a lot of interviews with rappers and I’ve always listened out for lyrics from rappers down the years, and I never really got why they compared the two worlds so heavily. But now I do.

“The game plan, the mentality to both worlds, it’s so similar. Coordinating with a team is also a big part of both worlds too. You need an engine to be effective in both games.”

Their shared ethos of ensuring everybody eats as a team is embodied by ‘splitdat’ – the mantra, label, and mentality that defines what cityboymoe and Gdup are all about. The phrase is plastered over tees and hoodies that they wear today under the Liverpool and Manchester United gear accompanied with a striking and spiritual image of a pair of hands breaking bread.

“splitdat encapsulates everything we’re about now in terms of mentality,” cityboymoe tells me, “We’re still growing, this is the beginning of our journey. We’ve got a sick, collaborative mindset, but we’ve definitely got a competitive mentality too.

“That’s definitely the sporting side of us showing through. The competitive rivalry we both feel when we find out what we’re working on is a good thing,” Gdup says. cityboymoe nods in agreement, “For instance, if I hear some of Gdup’s music and rate it, that makes me wanna go harder. If I hear he’s going stu, that makes me wanna go stu, and vice versa for him. We’re both driven by that.”

“We’re still growing, this is the beginning of our journey. We’ve got a sick, collaborative mindset, but we’ve definitely got a competitive mentality too.

Both Gdup and cityboymoe come very clean when it comes to their own style. Wearing Supreme and True Religion beanies with splitdat, their brotherhood-inspired apparel strikes a contrast to the club merchandise that they wear alongside.

Gdup is a massive Liverpool fan, whereas city is a lifelong United supporter. That aforementioned mentality of unity goes out the window when it comes to their club rivalry, according to Moe: “Some people who watch us watching the game are a bit like “oooff”, these guys are taking it quite far! But it’s just like brotherly banter, you feel me.”

While Moe tells me his dad wasn’t the biggest football fan, despite supporting any side with Black players playing for them – “he used to love Arsenal’s side with Wiltord, Vieira and Campbell in the early 00’s” – his cousins were the ones who got him properly hooked on the game.

But just like any United fan in London today will know, that affiliation makes you an easy target: “People always used to say to me: ‘You’re not from Manchester… so why do you support United?’… everyone on my estate supported Arsenal. There was always that pressure from them to support them. My response to that was just “we’re a better team”. Arsenal were still dominating those times… but I was just United through and through.”

GdUp’s love affair with Liverpool started slightly differently. Inspired by Luis Garcia’s iconic goal in that Champions League Semi Final against Chelsea back in 2005, he hasn’t given up the ghost ever since. “I’ve seen some incredible moments with this club now, but the Istanbul final back then was the one. Since then it’s been tough though, we’ve had the likes of Borini, Lambert and N’Gog up top – I used to get coooooked at school back then. But now, it’s the other way around. I’ve been waiting on these times!”

Both cityboymoe and Gdup have had plenty of fond memories growing up as fans, and there are players in both Liverpool and Manchester United’s current set ups that mean a lot to them, for different reasons. Faith is something that features heavily in both their visuals, with cityboymoe’s soulful “city on fire” and GdUp’s new track “For All The Times” showcasing their dedication to their faith amidst the commotion of life in North-West.

Seeing ballers like Paul Pogba and Mohamed Salah display greatness for their respective teams is vital in a world filled with negative press and association when it comes to talking about their faith as devout Muslims – you only have to check the stats on the decrease of Islamophobia in Liverpool since Salah joined for proof of that. “It’s incredibly important to have figures like that to showcase the best of our faith,” GdUp asserts, “Mo Salah is the best player in the world right now, so he’s showcasing Muslim excellence to the globe on a week by week basis. It’s beautiful. Our parents have always taught us to be men of faith – and that’s what we are. We’re just people who just wanna do well like everyone else.”

Then, of course, there’s the small matter of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the club cityboymoe loves. Seeing “the goat’s homecoming” was an emotional one for Moe, who grew up on watching a noodle-haired Cristiano ball out on his way to a Ballon D’or: “My first-ever shirt was a Ronaldo kit. CR7, AIG business, in that 07/08 era. I was maybe like 10 when I got that. I remember watching that Champions League win with my grandma in my old house there… I’ve got so many emotions attached to that, so it’s really nostalgic having him back.”

As for Gdup, his first-ever Liverpool jersey was from a fairly iconic era for Reds fans, too. “The best shirt ever – and my first-ever – is the adidas one in the Gerrard and Torres era. Torres, Agger, Aurelio, Arbeloa… that team were cold!” he beams, before remembering… “my mum actually bought it for my birthday, but my brother ripped it the same day”

Liverpool had some good times in that kit, which he remembers fondly, but GdUp is confident of even better ones in the current collection “The 4-1 at Old Trafford! I actually think we’ll do them again… but this time they won’t score,” he predicts, “It’ll be 4-0,” he says, without total sincerity.

One week after we wrap up the shoot, Moe headed up to Old Trafford donning his new Manchester United shirt – freshly emblazoned with ‘Ronaldo 7’ on the back – to watch them play Liverpool. GdUp’s prediction, only one goal away from being correct, turned out alright. For him, anyway. But no matter the scoreline, cityboymoe and Gdup will never stop on their mission of ensuring everyone on their team eats.

Photography by Olivia Jankowska