‘I fled Albania but had to form a gang as London was way more dangerous’


When Rigels Rajku arrived in South London as a 10-year-old in the 1990s he was escaping life on the fringes of a warzone.

The Kosovan War was in full swing and, even though Albania was not directly participating, being so close to the deadly conflict had an impact on Rajku – better known by his stage name Noizy – and his family.

“We were coming from a rough situation,” the renowned rapper told the Express in an exclusive interview. ”The whole year I was hearing gunshots and grenades. Kids were literally finding guns in the bushes. It was just horrible news everywhere.”

In search of a safer environment, Noizy and his family hopped in a car and drove for six hours until they reached France where they boarded a train to their new home of Woolwich, south London.

However, the situation in the UK was not what the family had anticipated.

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“[There were no] guns and grenades on the floor, but [south London] was not safe,” he explained. “I was afraid to walk home from school without being stopped by gangs trying to rob my nice shoes or the small chain I got for my birthday. If you fought back you’d get hurt real bad.”

A shy boy who didn’t speak English, Noizy found even the mild-mannered kids in the dinner hall had a problem with his presence.

“Don’t sit here you’re a refugee, go back to your country we don’t want you here,” they told him when he tried to join their table with his lunch tray.

Faced with this hostility Noizy claims he had little choice but to develop a tougher exterior and harsher outlook.

“Can I be real?” he asked with a sigh. “The only way to survive in England is by being strong. The sad truth is there are so many cultures and races that it’s almost impossible to blend.

“The only way is to be the strongest then nobody is going to mess with you. It was how I found peace.”

A keen trainer from a young age, Noizy began honing his fighting skills at St Peter’s Boxing Club in Woolwich.

Regardless of his ability to land a punch, the schoolboy knew bullies hunted in packs and as an individual he was still vulnerable.

So Noizy formed a gang. He called it On The Run, or OTR as the tattoo on his hand reads, and the members were all South London Albanian boys who had encountered similar issues to him.

Noizy continued: “We were the first Albanian group, formed in 2001, it was just 10 of us at the beginning, all of us boxers.

“The group got bigger and bigger as more [people came from Albania].

“I was the leader because I’d come at 10 years old and learned the small things [that were important]; how to dress, talk [and] be more English.

“I told them ‘unless you want to go through war we need to stick together. Go try to walk home alone and see what happens to you. You’ll get robbed, stabbed and chased’.

“We were in for the ‘ride or die’ because although we were outnumbered compared to other groups we stepped down for nobody. It became so we were untouchable.”

Hellbanianz ‘feud’

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As Noizy reached his teenage years youth violence in London was spiralling with a record number of killings recorded in the mid-2000s.

He claims it was a far more dangerous situation than what existed in Albania and one which had an irreversible impact on his character.

“I don’t believe in violence or that two wrongs make a right, but there’s only so much a human can take. We all know how rough the streets can get in England, especially South East London in the 1990s to the 2000s,” Noizy added.

“I’m no angel, maybe I have done things that were wrong. But when you grow up in a place where you always hear fight and stab all the time [it has an effect on you].”

Even on the tough streets of South London OTR gained a reputation. A 2010 article in the Daily Mail claimed the gang had been put on a police watch list following online videos of members posing with weapons appeared online.

They also became a target for rival groups of Albanians who had settled in the UK. The most notorious rival being the Hellbanianz of east London, who regularly threaten OTR and Noizy in rap songs.

No strangers to the British press themselves, Hellbanianz caused a stir by driving a tank through a Barking council estate last year.

However, when we asked about the alleged feud the Woolwich native was quick to play things down.

“Them boys are young,” he cut in part-way through our question. “I reckon without disrespect they’ve followed. OTR was the first group.

“I hope they make it in music and get away from all the madness because I’ve seen they’ve been involved with a few crimes. I just hope somebody older from their group tells them ‘yo there’s nothing pretty about that lifestyle’.”

Noizy speaks from experience, there were many times when the streets have pulled him off course and nearly derailed him.

At the age of 16 a promising career as a boxer beckoned, but tempted by the offer of £500 for a street fight that was subsequently uploaded to YouTube he torpedoed his chances before they even began.

“It got back to the boxing federation and they took my licence. My coach Steve was so p****d,” he recalled.

It was at this point Noizy switched music from being his ‘side dish’ to his main focus.

Always a keen rapper, who was inspired by Eminem, the South Londoner dedicated himself to music the same way he had boxing with intense practice, laser focus and relentless determination.

Having caused a stir in Albania with his streetfighting YouTube videos, he returned to the Balkan state aged 20 with the ambition of becoming the biggest artist the country had seen.

At the time his friends in OTR questioned the decision. “Why do you want to go back?” they asked him. “We’re just getting old enough that we can start making money gang ways.”

Police intelligence reports from a few years after Noizy’s departure suggest they did just that.

A Bromley Council report on local gangs from 2012 said information gathered by the force indicated the “Albanian gang OTR are no longer operating as a street gang and instead are operating as an organised criminal network to supply drugs and commit robberies”.

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The ‘gangster character’

Noizy says he chose not to sell drugs or become involved in organised crime but it isn’t like his music condemns this lifestyle.

His explanation is that lyrics bragging about fighting, drugs, women and crime aren’t literal descriptions of his life but the words of a character he adopts when rapping.

The reality, Noizy explained, is far different – he claims to be a teetotal, non-smoking family man who enjoys keeping fit and managing his many business interests, including a clothing line, restaurant and boutique hotel.

The problem for him is a large number of dangerous people believe the gangster bravado.

As a consequence he’s ended up in several feuds with rappers in Albania which have put his life at risk.

In 2016, Noizy and a friend were shot during a fight in Kosovo, an incident he decribes as “old beef that escalated”, while on two occasions last year, businesses he owned were targets of suspected arson attacks.

The problem, he concedes, is that it is hard to subdue the instinct to strike back that he learned on the streets of South London

“I’ve had some issues in Albania with other rappers because being the most successful artist [they] are going to talk sh*t,” he said.

“What they didn’t understand was that I came from a jungle in England. The conflicts I’ve had didn’t really end up really well for [the other rappers].”

Asked whether the shooting had left him looking over his shoulder or made him anxious about going out, Noizy replied somewhat cryptically: “I have been living very good and very safe for a long time. Until I have some f***ing maniacs [starting trouble] on TikTok. I don’t even want to talk about it. But people will know exactly what I’m talking about.”

These days Noizy is recognised as one of the most famous artists in the Balkans, with more than 1 billion YouTube views and millions more across other digital platforms.

We met him in a high-end restaurant he owns in the exclusive resort of Durres after he’d finished filming his first movie where he’s the lead actor.

It’s a far cry from the boy whose classmates refused to let him sit with him at lunch.

But he believes it’s that life experience which made him and even his name came from a stinging remark from a teacher about where he was from.

“Refugees are supposed to be quiet,” they told him. “But you’re so noisy.”

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