Either Way, They’re Talking TraviS and Elzzz

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
Styling: Laura McKann
BTS Video: Ror Conaty
Special thanks to Stepaside Golf Centre

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
Styling: Laura McKann
BTS Video: Ror Conaty
Special thanks to Stepaside Golf Centre

With a record-breaking debut tape, clothes that sell out instantly and a heavy hitting collaboration on the way, TraviS and Elzzz are building a world of their own. Ahead of a performance at the second edition of Jameson Connects: The Circle Stage at All Together Now, the multi-hyphenates detail their mission to pave the way for the next generation of creatives in Ireland.


Undeniably Connecting

At a pitch and putt in Stepaside, a golfer is clumsily devising a song in real time he claims will propel TraviS to superstardom. “Got me a one, got me a two, got me a three, got me a four…” he sings. It’s the second time he has approached TraviS today. He has never heard of him or his music but can’t help but hover around the six foot something iced-out rapper for fear he’s missing out on time with a star. By the time Elzzz arrives, he’d missed the first encounter and is in a state of disbelief when the middle aged man name-checks the relatively nascent drill upstart.

“You know my brain was blown out when that guy came in and he called you TraviS, because I thought that was the first time he was meeting you” Elzzz laughs, visibly perking up after a long day at work at his engineering job. “That would’ve blown my mind to smithereens. That was trippy.”

While the pair are certainly on the rise, even they’d admit their music hasn’t quite infiltrated the golf clubs of suburbia yet. However, their uber-confident brand of drill is undeniably connecting with young people across Ireland. So much so, that their debut tape Full Circle landed at number two on the Irish albums chart, making it the highest debuting Irish rap project ever. This is made even more impressive by the fact they only started making music seriously in lockdown. Fast forward to June and they’ve just played their biggest show to date at Longitude.

At the core of the pair’s success is Gliders, a loose crew of creatives pushed by a desire to be their most confident selves. It includes director and videographer Sam Fallover, producer Liam Harris, TJ Meggison, TraviS, Elzzz, as well as a host of other affiliates. It’s also the umbrella under which their streetwear brand, music, and content comes under and whose exclusive drops, closed instagram, and website makes it feel more like a members-only club. It’s not hard to understand the appeal of this multifaceted culture machine, especially when its products are broadcast online by a rotation of charismatic characters who are anything but camera shy. 

This marketing model which showcases a lifestyle rather than a specific product is straight out of the playbook used by streetwear moguls such as Clint of Corteiz and artists like Central Cee, both of whom TraviS and Elzzz talk about at length. As keen students of what it means to be famous, TraviS and Elzzz understand how to get there. In a world that rewards lifestyle content and storytelling, they know that existing across fashion, art, and music and relentlessly documenting that existence is essential. After all, if you document what you are doing it means that what you are doing is worth documenting.

Whatever your thoughts on the ethics of selling an exaggerated lifestyle online, it’s a viable path to success and it’s easy to understand why TraviS and Elzzz would avail of the strategy.  It’s no surprise then that in between snaps from our camera, they were taking photos of their own, streaming on Instagram live, and generally licking their lips at the day’s potential for content creation.

This marketing model and showcasing of a lifestyle rather than a specific product is straight out of the playbook used by streetwear moguls such as Clint of Corteiz and artists like Central Cee, both of whom Travis and Elzzz talk about at length.


Just Hustlers

With this in mind, TraviS and Elzzz’s performance at Longitude provides a perfect case study for understanding how the duo move through the world. On the day, the pair arrived in unreleased Gliders jeans to generate interest for their next clothing drop. Meanwhile, the rest of the collective did some old-fashioned marketing as they handed out cards to festival goers.

While one would imagine the focus for the two would be on the show, the subsequent vlog on YouTube placed more emphasis on TraviS and Elzzz playing up to the camera than on the performance itself. The vlog also featured a short clip in the middle which effectively functioned as a commercial break. In reality, music is just one part of the ecosystem they’re building. To understand Travis and Elzzz one cannot separate the music from the fashion, the real from the digital, or the art from the product. 

“This is the Nigerian in us. We’re just hustlers, bro. Wherever the money is you will catch me there bro. I can never label myself as one thing. It’s too small… I think it’s part of the journey – we’re even going to start YouTube and do some vlogs and all that”, Travis says.

Interestingly, their rise is reflective of where rap is moving while being at odds with the self-deprecation typical of the Irish music scene. Fans say it’s aspirational drill powered by a community of creatives that advocates unwavering self belief. Meanwhile, their critics might write it off as self-indulgent, fake it til you make it content that treats rap as a corporate enterprise. Other acts have even gone as far as to parody their videos. Either way, people are paying attention. 

Given both were born in Nigeria and moved to Ireland, it’s no surprise their music and personas don’t subscribe to Ireland’s social norms. However, the journey to becoming self-assured wasn’t so smooth. TraviS explains that his mother initially struggled with the move to Ireland. Raising a family in a country with few other black people left her feeling alienated. Even as a child, TraviS could sense his mother’s discomfort and it amplified his own “confusion” during primary school as the only black child in his class. However, he caveats the story with the observation that their unique perspective and dual identity means they aren’t held back by restrictive worldviews. Instead, they now have the freedom to rewrite the rules for the next generation of artists in Ireland.

“It also works in a good way too, because I’m not from here. It made me look at this place differently. I don’t have to care that everyone is doing something a certain type of way – I’m not from here anyway” TraviS explains.

“Even my teachers – I was probably the first black kid they were teaching. Growing up here, I can’t lie, it’s nice, but every black kid had this stage of identity crisis. It’s like, okay, I want to be Irish. So I’m gonna fit in. But then there’s also the sense of like, ‘I’m also me though. So where does ‘me’ fit in?’ Everyone who is black and grew up in Ireland went through this. Because being black and Irish is a new thing. I’m first generation, we’re actually learning what it means to us.”

I don’t have to care that everyone is doing something a certain type of way – I’m not from here anyway.


A Different Formula

What we are building right now, I can see that the wave that’s coming is bigger than us and the people around are going to benefit from this as well.


While TraviS arrived at age six, Elzzz was in his mid teens when he moved. Though he alludes his adjustment was a bit smoother, he admits he didn’t know he was “landing on a farm” in Ireland, which was very different to his boarding school in Nigeria. The strict routine and minimal contact with people outside the school in Africa raised him to think creatively around restrictions. “No phones allowed, you’re not allowed to leave the school. For you to graduate you had to get first class. It was fun, ‘cause it was just real life. No phones, no contact with the outside world. We had school emails; on a good day it’d send on a bad day it’d bounce” Elzzz laughs. 

Together, they’re part of a wave of black artists changing the face of music in Ireland with the common thread for many being church. It’s where TraviS met MJ or Monjola as he’s better known. Every Sunday after service, they’d jerk to music from New Boyz and listen to artists like Soulja Boy as part of a path that’d see them graduate from a childhood of gospel and pop to harder sounds like grime and drill. Subsequently, it was through one of MJ’s Cleavage Club events that TraviS would meet Elzzz who was booked for a show in 2017. They started hanging out and the rest is history.

It would be easy to assume that TraviS and Elzzz, as rising artists, are trying to fit within the context of an Irish music scene. In actual fact, they couldn’t care less. Their braggadocious lyrics, entrepreneurial model, and nods to Nigerian culture aren’t designed to fit traditional Irish cultural norms. They’re made to innovate, inspire and speak for other first generation immigrants in Ireland in an attempt to reshape that scene in their image.

“It’s culture for black people that haven’t necessarily been spoken for. What we’re doing…. We never had that [Music from Ireland that spoke to them]…” TraviS says. “Growing up, that’s the reason we had to look over to England [for inspiration]. That’s why I don’t like people saying ‘why you rapping in an english accent?’. Which Irish rappers was rapping and breaking ground that was the same colour as this kid and saying stuff we can relate to?”

Nodding, Elzzz says, “It’s just taking it to the level where we know that, okay, this is something that’s gonna outlive us… What we are building right now, I can see that the wave that’s coming is bigger than us and the people around are going to benefit from this as well.”

Though they play it down, the next door they want to break down is a number one Irish single. They’ve teamed up with SELLÓ on a track called ‘Franklin Flow’, which lands later this month. They even brought him out at Longitude to tease it and played a clip in their recent vlog.

“We kind of have to place those benchmarks ourselves. So it might not mean anything to the wider public, but what we’re creating, over time you will actually go back and trace it back [to us]”.

After leaving the brillo-pad carpet of the golf club they take a moment to spell out their “global plans” and shrug off critics to their approach. “All my eggs are in one basket. I ain’t got no Plan B. This is my plan A and it’s been my Plan A from the beginning” TraviS explains.

Their unshakeable confidence and often performative social media presence is at odds with how we’re used to acts carrying themselves within the context of the Irish music scene. If that makes one uncomfortable, it’s worth examining why that’s the case. Irish people have been told they have “notions” any time they showcase self-confidence and artists’ successes are often caveated by something other than their talent. 

People would say that individualism and content culture is in direct conflict with some of music’s most desirable features – community and connection. Sure, TraviS, Elzzz and Gliders’ approach might be self aggrandising but it’s not at the cost of connection as the growth of their audience speaks for itself. They want to achieve what no rapper living in Ireland has been able to do before and, if you ask them, you can’t get different results if you follow the same formula. 

It’s worth noting that the duo are acutely aware of critics too. A recent video published on Gliders’ YouTube channel features a defiant monologue from TraviS, talking about their mission statement. “They believe in themselves and their ideas, so that’s why sometimes people say they are arrogant… but it’s also why the movement is so infectious. The Gliders have built their own world and it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger until we’re all living in it”.

Reaching the steps of the clubhouse, TraviS and Elzzz are unanimous when quizzed about their near ubiquitous social media presence and non-stop photo taking. “You have to!” they say in perfect unison. “If you want to enter this game you have to be flicking out” TraviS says.  For the critics that take issue with the often performative nature of TraviS, Elzzz and Gliders, it’s worth referencing the Instagram bio of one of their inspirations, Central Cee. It reads, simply: “Not Real Life”. 

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