When Kevin Taylor, one-fifth of UK rap collective House of Pharaohs, released the track “Ralphy” four years ago, never did he think that he would be standing in a London studio being shot in Ralph Lauren’s Fall/Winter 2020 collection.
“It’s crazy that this opportunity has come to us. Ralph is a brand that we've worn since school day one, you know, little shoes, hat, the puffer jackets, down to even the trousers. As we speak I'm wearing Ralph socks,” he says when we catch up over Zoom shortly after the shoot.
“We used to go to thrift shops and find some old school Ralph,” adds Danny Stern, another member of the collective. “When you found a Ralph Lauren piece back then it was like, 'Oh shit, you've got the Ralph.' But of course, if you get Ralph from the store it's a bit more mature. We're wearing the same thing as back in the early days, but the matured style of it.”
House of Pharaohs have been steadily climbing the ranks in the British capital’s music scene for the last five years. Frank Ocean gave them his stamp of approval early on, and the slew of media attention they’ve received since we last spoke to them in 2018 is testament to their continuing ascent. They are a humble bunch but really, it's not surprising that they found themselves standing in the studio dressed in head-to-toe "Ralphy".
Alongside Kevin and Danny, House of Pharaohs counts Sam Wise, Bandanna, and BlazeYL. The five got to know each other growing up in South London when they were teenagers, through school or common friends. Before they met, they had all started to explore creative avenues from dance to music and design – Kevin was even the lead singer in my primary school choir. But, it wasn’t till they decide to form House of Pharaohs in 2014 that they really began to gain traction which, given where they were brought up, wasn’t exactly expected.
“A lot of people where we're from say they feel like it's hard for them to flourish in things that they want to do,” explains Bandanna. “I feel like we've been lucky enough to take ourselves from that end and show a different side of us. It doesn't matter where you're from, it just depends on your mindset.”
The mindset they’ve taken is one of determination, but not of entitlement. 'Do what you love and success will follow’ is a throw around phrase these days, but in the age of internet algorithms, playlist politics, and the unhealthy influence of Instagram, talent and hard work aren’t always enough. The physical hustle now is almost always redundant without the online hustle to match. Somehow, House of Pharaohs have managed to skirt around this cut-throat route so far by focusing on music streaming platforms, dressing the part, and gaining the support of their local community.
“Before we even dropped a track, we were going around performing unreleased songs and we just built up a name off of that. So it was very ... not unexpected, but it was quite, ‘Wow, this is crazy. We haven't even jumped any music and we've got all this going crazy.’” Danny recalls before Kevin jumps in to add: “As we’ve grown up, it's really changed. When I was younger, I feel like there was way more to do, there was so much activity. In South London where I live, we had something called People's Day, which was put on every year in summer. It allows anyone from the community that does music or any talent to put yourself forward to perform on this stage, and everyone comes in from different parts of the South.”
Like most big cities, London’s rap scene has a lot to do with locality, and building up a name in the city starts with the people, clubs, stages, and studios in your local community. “When you grow up, you learn around what's in your community and then you take that into the world. You express yourself, you build your character and personality, it's where you learn,” comments Kevin.
This is the sentiment behind the name of their collective. “What do you find in a house?” Danny asks. “We kind of found a family. So we've kind of created our own family. And the pharaohs is just like, if we look back in history, it's just a lot of Black, righteous kings, and we look at ourselves like that. We're righteous people in our own ways. That's how it came together.”
Since lockdown, House of Pharaohs have been focusing on their family, blood-related and chosen, as well as making new music. “There’s a lot coming,” they laugh.