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Whatever happened to MC Smally? In search of an urban legend

It is difficult to reconstruct the sheer virality of social trends before ubiquitous technology hijacked the term and defined it. However, for people of a certain generation – those born around 1994, specifically – peak virality was signified by the Bluetooth sharing of music and ringtones in adolescence. That was the peak of big tech for kids like me.

And back then – in 2005, say, when Carbrini tracksuits and Motorola RAZR flip phones were relevant – one scratchy, amateurish song trumped all others in viral popularity: That’s My Name by MC Smally, a hardcore mix of urban British hip-hop and grime that spread like wildfire through high schools, playgrounds and apartment blocks.

Released when MC Smally was just 11-years-old, That’s My Name is a time capsule, in many respects. It is a masterpiece of contemporary yearning that should never be forgotten. Set to a mashup of Better Off Alone by Alice Deejay, the tune inspired ridicule, celebration, togetherness, bullying, violence and comedy in unequal measure. it never failed to elicit emotion in listeners.

All these years later, in fact, many of the great MC Smally mysteries remain unsolved. There are still more questions than answers pertaining to this esoteric genius, whose very identity has inspired urban legend for almost two decades. Just who was – and is – MC Smally? Where did he come from? Did he really get shot by rival gang members? Was he really trampled to death at a rave in Newcastle? And if not, what is he doing now? These are the questions that plague my generation.

The internet yields a few answers, of course, but more questions are never far behind. That is why I recently embarked on a mission to finally discover the truth, gaining closure on those timeless childhood quandaries. This is the story of my journey, mixing disaster with enlightenment rather like the song itself. Join me for a trip down memory lane.

How MC Smally went viral in mid-2000s Britain

After its subterranean release, That’s My Name initially went viral in Bolton, the apparent hometown of MC Smally, then quickly spread across Britain. Contemporaries from Bolton reported going on holiday to other parts of the UK and hearing the tune, as word of mouth – and Infrared messaging – created a beguiling phenomenon. Reciting the MC Smally rap verbatim became a dubious badge of honour in certain quarters, and a generational anthem was born.

That's My Name by MC Smally lyrics 

Yes iii.

MC Smally, yeah that’s my name,
Gonna go by the flow, gonna play the game,
Gonna roll the dice, once or twice,
Pushin' and a feeling nice,
You got me, you got me rushin’ the maa,
Bit of bad boy, pull up the shots so we come dancing down,
Yes I, pass us the mic.
Hold on tight,
Bit of bad boy, gonna feel alright,
It's the MC Smally 1 2 3,
Shout going out to the Prestolee.

Yes wicked. 

Hummin' and a bummin’ and a kickin’ the bass,
MC Smally gonna win this race,
Am the best MC to walk on this globe,
Wanna jump on the mic, I'm 11 years old,
MC Smally, yes I am the best,
If you don't know, I’m from the north west. 

Yes one.
Coming on hyper, coming on strong.
Prestolee bad boys, with our guns,
We'll blow your liver and blow your lungs.

Check, wicked.

Coming up again, yes I.
B A M, we got the bassline,
So you can see,
Don’t mess with us,
Don’t give one out ‘cos I’m the buzz,
One bad boy ain't gonna do this,
Hardly ever gonna they take the piss.

Yes iii.
You know the sound inside,
Rock to the beat, rock to the bassline.

[Instrumental]

Yes, wicked.

[Instrumental]

All you MC's get ready for me,
It's the MC Smally from Prestolee.
One wicked MC, move to the mic, yeah nice and easy,
‘Cos I live a life that’s smoking free,
Don’t wanna head and a don’t wanna beat,
‘Cos don't give me a hoe, nah,
Give me a light while smoking a number.

One time bad boys right this way,
Ride with the rhythm while you’re rockin’ on me,
Yes jump up, around my side,
Lose to the DJ, hold my grand, check,
One time bad boys right this way,
Ride with the rhythm while you’re rockin’ on me,
Check, check, live and direct, whose to the mic, motherfucking hit.

Yes wicked,
Coming up again,
DJ bad boy ride with him,
Ride with him, ride with the rhythm,
Don’t give in when I'm coming on nothing.
MC Smally, yeah that’s my name,
Jump up up, I go like a plane.

Yes iii,
Sii to that
Whose at the mic?
Yes, I, correct.

Coming on back like a racing nova,
How you win this,
Bubble and Chris,
One time bad boy's gonna take the piss.

One time, you know the score,
See MC Smally, you know you want more.
Just give me a shout or knock on my door,
I'm the best MC to walk on this floor.

Yes, yes.
Give that DJ bit of time.

Who was MC Smally? The makeup of an urban legend

Despite the viral success of MC Smally, conjecture and hearsay shrouded his identity from the beginning. Nobody seemed to know who this kid was. Or, perhaps more accurately, everybody pretended to know who this kid was, with few tangible leads.

Unquenchable rumours said he went to a school nearby, or that he was due to visit the area for a prearranged fight, typically involving pellet guns or petrol bombs. Many rogues said they were MC Smally, rather like Batman or The Stig from Top Gear, but their stories never added up. There was always something that foiled the ruse and stoked the enigma. The urban legend always lived on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fabricated tales of MC Smally’s demise eventually outweighed authentic tributes to his meteoric rise. One yarn said the rapper was shot dead after an altercation with a rival musician. Another story saw him die in a car crash. The guy became a blank canvas onto which the bored and the envious projected fantasies from the darkest reaches of their warped imaginations. Anything went, it seemed, and MC Smally seemed to have more lives than a Cheshire cat.

“A phenomenon throughout chavs in the UK. Whoever he is, we will never know. Many people pretend they know him through various forums and YouTube, but there is no actual proof. There is no MySpace, Bebo, Official MSN address of his. All we know is that 5 songs of his – Armour, Better Off Alone, Chase Da Sun and O-Zone Bounce – have leaked there way onto the internet and mobile phones throughout the UK. He claims he is 11 years old, but must be in his early teens by now. Some people love him, others hate him. Is he real or is he a joke? Reveal yourself the real MC Smally.” - Urban Dictionary.

Indeed, MC Smally was the musical equivalent of marmite – some loathed him as the archetypal chav, while others idolised him as a working class icon. Adrift in a paradox of fame and anonymity, MC Smally became a figment of blue collar folklore. A compelling figment, inspiring critics and copycats alike, but a figment nevertheless, as mythology overpowered reality. 

What is MC Smally doing now? An update for 2022

Still, if his pomp was veiled in subterfuge, MC Smally’s retreat into the everyday milieu was positively cryptic. The world heard little from MC Smally – or, indeed, from the Prestolee Bad Boys as a wider cohesive force – for the best part of a decade following his supernova debut. In fact, it was not until 2016 that we received a formal MC Smally encore, and by that point, most of his ardent fans had moved on from selling ciggies behind the bike sheds.

Rebranded as Smallz, a grime-infused rapper, our forlorn hero resurfaced on the obscure BG Media label in December 2016, collaborating with a chap named Afghan Dan on a comeback tune. A switch to JDZ Media followed soon thereafter, and Smallz released a nostalgic track as part of the label’s Spitfire project. “MC Smally ain’t dead,” he spits on the YouTube version, while burying further mawkish references devoured by perceptive connoisseurs.

Finally, in 2017, a journalist named Jack Kenmare found MC Smally and revealed his true identity in a LadBible exclusive. Akin to David Attenborough spotting the Lock Ness Monster while shooting for the BBC, Kenmare interviewed 23-year old George Smalley from Bolton, giving the world a name to chase for further information.

According to the LadBible biopic, Smalley was born in 1994 and idolised Eminem while growing up in Prestolee, a small rural village four miles from Bolton town centre. “I’ve never really seen myself as a celebrity or anything,” said Smalley in the piece. “There was never a face to MC Smally. In fact, there are still clips on YouTube that claim to be me when I was a kid, but they are false. There was plenty of haters and politics, too, but you get them with anything I suppose.”

Nevertheless, even five years removed from this apparent unveiling, Smalley still remains elusive. For instance, while trying to find him for this article, I reached many dead ends and blurred junctions. The various record labels with which Smalley collaborated were difficult to contact. Attempts to reach Kenmare also went unanswered, leaving internet research as the only means of finding information.

A spot of remedial googling revealed a Bolton News article from December 2015 detailing how a 21-year old George Smalley was arrested at a Bolton nightclub for dealing cocaine to an undercover police officer. It is unclear whether this was the same George Smalley, but such coincidences - age and location, mainly - are rather improbable. Regardless, the failed drug dealer appeared at Bolton Crown Court and was sentenced to unpaid community work, along with receiving an electronic tag and a nightly curfew. So, perhaps that is what MC Smally was doing during his sabbatical. It would certainly be consistent with his lyrical fantasies.

However, the same newspaper profiled George Smalley in altogether more edifying tones in January 2018, while the rapper promoted Clues?, his debut single. “It gets mentioned to me every single day,” he said of the MC Smally phenomenon. “I never live it down. That’s My Name was not my best moment, but that’s where it all started for me.”

Keen to hear more about this journey, I resorted to Facebook in search of MC Smally. Eventually, after sifting through an endless stream of parodies, I found a profile that seemed authentic. In one upload, for instance, this George Smalley says he recorded That’s My Name in his grandmother’s box-room using a computer mic. I sent a friend request, then a personal message asking for an interview, but neither interaction has been acknowledged. Such is the prerogative of a fleeting childhood star.

In sum, then, MC Smally is still alive and producing music – at least to the best of our knowledge. Smallz continues to release tracks under the JDZ Media umbrella, including part three of his Spitfire recital in 2020. Nevertheless, That’s My Name will likely remain his defining opus, rather like Macaulay Culkin trying to escape the shadows of Home Alone. The original MC Smally mix has millions of views on YouTube across various postings, and the comment sections crackle with wistful reminiscence.

Indeed, whether the song has you rapping or wincing, it will undoubtedly spark some reaction in you, and that is testament to Smalley’s enthusiasm, if nothing else. For all the criticism and controversy, MC Smally clearly had – and has – a deep passion for music, and his willingness to put work out into the ether should not be chastised. George Smalley believes in his ability, and he is not afraid to create things that would be beyond the kin of your average social media troll.

Moreover, attaining such deep and long-lasting relevance is virtually impossible today. Yes, the internet has a knack for conveying messages to billions of people, but we are now inundated with content – with trends and fads, with fake gurus and false dawns. Sure, huge numbers of people can be interested in the same thing simultaneously nowadays, but never for a significant period. Never for a sustainable stretch. Something else comes along after 30 seconds to steal our attention, anger and energy. We live in TikTok death spirals and Twitter rabbit holes. MC Smally would be gone in the blinking of a modern eye, never to conjure the emotion we still harbour for his zeal.

Regardless, we will always remember him – us teens of the late-2000s. To us, MC Smally will always be a ridiculed yet adored hallmark of our bygone adolescence. If you were raised among the final embers of millennial confusion, especially in the north and specifically on a council estate, that song will be imprinted on your brain forever. The clothes come and go. The phones no longer flip. But That’s My Name is still available online, and that will never stop meaning something to millions – no matter your opinion.

🎤 🎤🎤

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