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TAKE THE STAGE STORIES OF HIP HOP VOLUME TWO

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LIZ SEABROOK 02 THE gomorrah ISSUE


TAKE THE STAGE STORIES OF HIP HOP VOLUME TWO

EDITOR Ed Andrews

ART DIRECTION Rob Longworth

PHOTOGRAPHY Liz Seabrook, Tim Smyth, Angus MacPherson, Andrew Winter

THANKS The Church of London, Alex Capes, Danny Miller, Mike Lewis, John @ Urban Elite Promotions, Dr Syntax, Scroobius Pip, Sarah Love, Slug, The Last Skeptik, Sam Hesketh

CONTACT ed@storiesofhiphop.co.uk

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SCROOBIUS PIP “IT’S THE JOY OF CRAFTING IT ALL, WEAVING A BEAUTIFUL STORY WITH RHYMES AND PATTERNS. THAT’S THE PART THAT IS MISUNDERSTOOD BY NON-HIP HOP FANS.”

“I got into hip hop was because of the similarities I saw with punk: the voice of the voiceless, an underground thing, a cultural movement,” explains Pip in his distinct Essex accent. “Punk I could relate to more instantly because it seemed to happen more in England. But as soon as I started to listen to good underground hip hop, the similarities were there, it seemed to work.” Scroobius Pip has always been on the leftfield of hip hop. Never one to just slavishly follow the sound of the boom bap, the 30-year-old emcee from Stanford-le-Hope has become known for his unique mix of spoken word and rap that accompanies the eclectic beats of long-time producer collaborator Dan Le Sac on such tracks as Thou Shalt Always Kill, The Beat that My Heart Skipped and Sick Tonight. And with his trademark scraggy beard – that he once claimed was down to nothing more than a lazy attitude to shaving - he doesn’t look like your average head either. Tall and slightly hunched, he sits slightly awkwardly and plays with an unopened bottle of water as he talks – curiously with a slight stammer in his speech that contradicts the eloquence and confidence of his verses. Now, in the autumn of 2011, he’s struck out on his own for his first solo album, Distraction Pieces, indulging his love of punk with heavy, guitar-based beats and collaborations with Blink 182 drummer Travis Parker and Radio One deejay Zane Lowe. “Growing up, I was in loads of little punk bands. It’s the one area that Dan [le Sac] isn’t really into so it’s the one area I haven’t made any music in so I wanted to get those influences across but it still being hip hop, still having the spoken word influence, but having more influence from

At The Drive In, Minor Threat and The Clash.” The result is something that ranges from shouty fuzz to melancholia, but still with a beaty edge. Pip first ventured out of the punk world in his late teens and started rhyming after finding it “annoying having to rely on a drummer, a guitarist and all that” in the various punk bands he played in. “I started doing spoken word because I listened to Sage Francis, Saul Williams, Gil Scott Heron who were that little bit outside hip hop, more poetry. It wasn’t just riding a beat,” he explains. “It was instantly accessible. Sitting at home in Essex, with not much money, I could start rhyming with nothing.” After dropping out of university, the monotony of a job at HMV in Lakeside shopping centre saw him and his colleagues writing battle raps on till receipts passed between them. This experience pushed him to take the art of the word seriously. Since this time, his love for rhymes has become his raison d’etre – not only performing gigs with Dan le Sac but regularly attending poetry and spoken word open mics to indulge his passion. “I liken it to stencil art,” he says of rhyming - what he readily refers to as a ‘craft’. “When I was making stencils, I’d draw them and always fill in the eyes last. It’s a weird thing that you really can’t tell if i’s good until you’ve done the eyes. It’s like that with writing, until it gets in someone’s ears, you don’t know if its worked or know that its good. But it’s the joy of crafting it all, weaving a beautiful story with rhymes and patterns. That’s the part that is misunderstood by non-hip hop fans. They wouldn’t question it in literature or poetry but because it’s kids with caps on, it’s treated like nothing.”


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ANGUS MACPHERSON


SARAH LOVE “IF YOU HAVE LOVE AND RESPECT FOR WHAT YOU DO AND PUT THE TIME IN TO BEING GOOD AT IT, THE REST HAPPENS ON ITS OWN.”

“I definitely consider myself a nerd, not even just about hip hop. I’m really sad,” laughs Sarah Love in a warm selfeffacing manner, fiddling with her long dreadlocks as she speaks. “As deejays – back in the day when it was all about wax – we were all fiending out and digging everyday. That makes you a nerd because you are not doing other cultural things. So, definitely, you find a lot of nerds in hip hop.” Despite this self-imposed label, this deejay/presenter seemingly has very little in common with your average, socially awkward ‘nerd’. Vivacious and disarmingly chatty, she’s sitting elegantly in the corner of The Match Bar in central London for a string of interviews ahead of her show with DJ Muggs and UK tour as Aloe Blacc’s deejay. Not a bad way to finish off 2011 it seems. “To see how much happiness and joy people get out of music, I think I’m really spoilt to be able to earn my living from it,” she enthuses. “Music is just the most beautiful thing. It’s the closest we can get to expressing the inexpressible. I’ve been around music and worked in music my whole life so I don’t know anything else.” The women dubbed ‘The First Lady of Hip Hop’ has been rocking parties professionally since 1999, having honed her skills while working at the famed Deal Real Records in Soho. The job proved very useful for this aspiring deejay, allowing her cost-price vinvl and the opportunity practice on the decks when the shop was quiet. Helping start up the muchcelebrated London hip hop night Kung Fu around the turn of the century, her glowing passion for music and gregarious manner saw her naturally move from behind the decks to infront of a mic and a camera in the world of broadcasting. This culminated with her getting her own Hip Hop Mix show on BBC 1Extra in 2007, as well as presenting on such stations

MTV Base, Spine TV and Squeeze Radio – so becoming a recognisable champion of hip hop music. But it’s not like this career path was exactly planned out for this girl from Wood Green. “People often ask me ‘how do you make a name for yourself’? I don’t really have any ideas. If you have love and respect for what you do and put the time in to being good at it, the rest happens on its own,” she says in her wellpronounced North London twang. “At the same time, I’ve mashed up some parties so people trust me to usher them through the evening with the turntables.” This mashing up parties is a curious art, and just playing someone else’s music may seem like a relatively straightforward thing to do. But getting good at it takes something more it seems. “It’s not always about being able to mix,” says Sarah. “Tony Monson is one of my favourite deejays in the world and he doesn’t mix, cut or scratch but he has an incredible knowledge for music – he’s a walking encyclopedia. Then, on the other spectrum, Shortee Blitz has wicked taste, incredible skills and innate musicality. He knows how to drop records that’s going to terrorise a place. So it’s skills, knowledge, musicality and simply love for it.” The tools for this are changing though with technology like Serato Scratch and a trusty laptop replacing the need for stacks of wax. How does this old-school digger feel about the transition? “I’m not against it. When I’m out on the road, I’m on Serato. But if something goes wrong, it’s the most upsetting shit ever that makes me want to get violent!” she laughs. “Wax is just so damn heavy. When I think about doing month-long tours with a record box, I wonder ‘how did I do that shit?’ But Serato is really souless. Wax is warm, rich, tangible, beautiful: I like that.”


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DR SYNTAX “I TRY TO MAKE MUSIC THAT REFLECTS BOTH SIDES OF ME. I TRY TO GET THAT BALANCE AND BE CONSCIOUS OF MAKING SURE THAT PEOPLE KNOW I’M A SERIOUS ARTIST – BUT WE’RE REALLY GETTING INTO PONCEY, SHOWBIZ TERRITORY HERE!”

“You don’t want to be a comedy rapper because then you’re a novelty and that’s the box you get put in,” says Dr Syntax as we sit at a table in the eerily deserted Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, prior to the launch party of his album, Benny Huge in December 2010. “The whole album isn’t a comedy album. There are moments where I’m definitely just trying to have fun with it and then some that are serious made in some fairly depressing times. I try to make music that reflects both sides of me. I try to get that balance and be conscious of making sure that people know I’m a serious artist – but we’re really getting into poncey, showbiz territory here!” Despite these protestations, ‘comedy’ is something that Syntax has become associated with. While hip hop is awash with emcees rapping about their various prowesses – be it lyrical, physical, sexual or criminal – Syntax’s selfdeprecating rhymes often play on his bookish appearance, a lack of success with women and his middle-class upbringing – ‘ghetto’ he most certainly is not. But if he is trying to avoid the comedy label, it certainly doesn’t help that on the cover of Benny Huge he’s dressed in 1980s gym kit drinking out of a giant creatine shake tub. “I just wanted, tongue-in-cheek,” he explains. “There’s not enough tongue-in-cheek stuff about these days. Derogatory, the hype man for the show, suggested we all come out on stage in gym stuff. I said no because there are some songs that are really serious and passionate and it would be like that bit in The Office where David Brent gets fired while wearing that little ostrich suit.” Syntax may have a light-hearted approach at times, but he also possesses some serious ability as an emcee. His eloquent flows, inventive wordplay and acerbic edge means he fits very comfortably in collaborations with the likes of Stig of the Dump and Wordsmith as well as supporting the live shows of such legends as The Pharcyde and KRS One.

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This artist born Benjamin Hughes first started rhyming at the age of 12 in his rural home town of Banbury, Oxfordshire. Isolated from anything resembling a ‘scene’, he was very much self taught in the art – hence the title of his 2007 debut album. However, relocating to Brighton in 2001 for university – partly attracted to the town by the burgeoning hip hop scene there at the time – saw him build his place in UK hip hop, playing countless shows as part of local crews The Imagineers and The Menagerie. In 2003, his appearances on Foreign Beggars’ Asylum Speakers bought him to the attention of a wider audience. Since this time, he’s put out releases with such artists as Tom Caruana and Steady Diggin Workshop; a collaboration album with Skrein, Scene Stealers; and even rocked Glastonbury Festival alongside Foreign Beggars. Regardless of these achievements, this career is has far from lucrative with Syntax still taking on the daily grind to pay the bills. For starters, he’s taken the day off from his anonymous office admin job in his new home of Manchester to come down to be the star of the show. But by devoting his energy to his music, he’s opted to forsake any serious mainstream career path – something his disdain for emerges in such songs as ‘Hire Me’ and his Kate Nash-sampling ‘Dickhead’. “I think that’s a lot out of my own insecurities and justifying it to myself through the medium of rap,” he openly admits, recognising that now he’s reached his thirties there are certain expectations placed upon him. “Certainly that is something that plays in my mind. I’m also at an age in life where people are getting married, having kids, owning cars and all that. While I don’t want to be a complete waste and have nothing in the future, if I’m not doing what I want to do now, I’m not really living. But I think for our generation as well, you can do what you want a lot more.”


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TIM SMYTH


SLUG “YOU’RE ALWAYS GOING TO HAVE PEOPLE WHO IDENTIFY A LOT WITH WHAT YOU DO SO WHEN YOU START TO STEER AWAY FROM THAT, IT HURTS THEIR FEELINGS. I UNDERSTAND THAT BUT I HAVE TO SAY BACK THAT I CAN’T FUCKING TIP TOE AROUND THEIR FEELINGS.”

“I like driving,” Slug tells me, his enthusiasm near bursting at the seams. “It’s just like a real life video game and I’m really fucking good at it. High score and everything!” I am standing in a side alley in Camden, North London with Slug - one half of prolific hip hop duo Atmosphere. The setting is something he requested before the interview so as he could smoke. Comprising of Slug AKA Sean Daley as emcee and Anthony ‘Ant’ Davis as producer, they have been making records out of Minneapolis, Minnesota for nearly two decades. Most commonly known for Slug’s raw, emotive and highly personal rants about women, alcohol and fatherhood, they have been branded with their own sub-genre of ‘emo hip hop’. But in recent years, with their albums When Life Gives You a Lemon, You Paint That Shit Gold and The Family Sign they have created a much mellower, less angst-ridden sound focusing more on story-telling and social commentary. “We just wanted something not so in your face, something more that you had to pay attention to it to really hear,” says Slug of this more relaxed sound. But what still remains in Slug’s lyrics, and his personality in general, is a disarming honesty about himself and his shortcomings. He talks frantically about his own issues, explaining his thought-processes before humbly apologising for rambling. “I don’t really think about the listener,” he says in his sharp yet friendly tone, “I’ve never been very good at that. If I did, I would probably rap better. But I do what I do for my own selfish reasons. The songs are fictional but are 012 THE gomorrah ISSUE

torn from different parts of my world.” It’s exactly Slug’s deeply personal and open nature that has attracted such a loyal following of fans. But this new direction has attracted a hoard of criticism from disillusioned fans who prefer the Atmosphere of old. “You’re always going to have people who identify a lot with what you do so when you start to steer away from that, it hurts their feelings. I understand that but I have to say back that I can’t fucking tip toe around their feelings,” he tells me, flicking his second cigarette into the gutter. “I like to have MySpace so when a kid says ‘Fuck you, you’ve sold out’ I get to vent and do like fifteen paragraphs saying ‘Here’s why I’m not a sell out, you fucking internet dork!’ I like to nerd out, get on message boards and talk shit!” One particular point of angst that Slug has become synonymous with is Lucy Ford – a fictitious female character who bore the brunt of many of Slug’s particularly vicious verbal attacks. “It was just me projecting my issues towards women, but it was also tied to alcoholism. A lot of people go through that, it’s just that I rapped about it,” he explains. “Now I take responsibility for all my flaws, and all of my err.. good things. But I’m not going to point the finger at beer, cos I still like beer. It’s just too much of anything is a bad thing.” As we finish the interview, the mic check inside booms through to the alley. He mimicks it, repeating it over, and adding new words, flicking from the real world back to the immense world inside his head. The whole ‘driving/real life computer game’ thing seems to make a lot of sense.


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ANDREW WINTER


THE LAST SKEPTIK “MY WORK WILL ALWAYS BE ROOTED IN HIP HOP BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I LOVE BUT IF YOU ARE NOT CONTINUALLY PUSHING TO MAKE MUSIC YOU WANT TO HEAR, THEN THERE’S NO POINT MAKING MUSIC AT ALL. IF IT’S DIFFERENT AND WEIRD, THEN YOU JUST HAVE TO GO FOR IT.”

“I found this record about this symphony orchestra from the town of Beek en Donk in The Netherlands. It’s them discussing that they’re from this town that’s so small, they don’t even have a train station,” laughs The Last Skeptik, as he explains the curious sample on his new track No Train. “One guy was re-enacting someone going to a train station and asking for a ticket to Beek en Donk. And the guy was replying back, ‘no, there are no trains’. I heard it and thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty deep. It’s just rubbing it in their faces’.” It’s a warm September afternoon and this North London producer/deejay also known as Corin Douieb is sitting out in Finsbury Park, chewing on a cream cheese bagel and squinting against the sun. His bizarre new track has just gone on sale on iTunes only one month after its conception, a deliberately short time that helped temper his frustration at the usual delays in getting new material out – “For my own emotions, it really helped,” he adds with relief. The strange vocal sample on No Train – scratched over a beat that’s one part dub, one part cartoon – is just one example of this 26-year-old’s experimental leanings. With this following on from his 2010 album, Same Day, Different Shit, that remixed tunes from the likes of Marina and the Diamonds, David’s Lyre and Lowkey, it’s clear that his approach to beats is one of open-minded eclecticism – something that’s been cultivated in the 15 years or so he’s been producing. “I’m heavily influenced by Damon Albarn and other people who just do ‘stuff’. I don’t even like to classify it by genre. It’s just out there and sounds good,” he explains. “I’d hate to be seen as someone who just makes hip hop or dubstep. My work will always be rooted in hip hop because that’s what I love but if you are not continually pushing to make music you want to hear, then there’s no point making music at all. If it’s different and weird, then you just have to go for it. I’m so used to people hating what I do and taking the piss anyway so I think

fuck it, I might as well make what I want.!” Such words may be strong-minded, but they are delivered in good humour, not bitterness or anger, suggesting that he’s content to be a musician first and foremost, rather than seeking a core hip hop seal of approval from die-hard heads. And unlike many who have to hold down a day job outside the far-from-lucrative industry of independent music, he scrapes a modest living through deejaying and his own promotions company. “It’s tough but the fact that you can wake up every morning and think ‘I’m making money from something I love’ outweighs the brokeness,” he says of this struggle to make ends meet. “You hear people being broke and they’ve got a desk job, or work as a stockbroker, so I think I’d rather do what I love and be broke. Besides, if you had everything, would you have anything to strive for?” But this struggle can only go on so long. With a plan to make life that little bit easier for himself, he’s holding an ace card up his sleeve – or should that be on his hard drive? In what he jokingly describes as his ‘magnum opus’, he’s sitting on a ready mastered album that he believes deserves nothing less than a major label release. “It’s fourteen tracks of film soundtrack music. It’s me working with cellists, flutists, guitarists; a mini orchestra of people who are making this nuts but coherent album of songs that would be perfect for cinema,” he explains, asking that the title remain a secret after letting it slip. “It’s to do with my ultimate dream is to score a film but, as I’m not at that stage, I created the film in my head. It’s what I’ve been working on for so long and it’s the bain of my life. All I want to do is get it out but I want it to be perfect. It’s not about trying to get a million pound deal – that’s never going to happen as I’m not an indie band or a 15-year-old getting her tits out – but it’s about getting it the biggest platform for people to hear it. Then it’ll be revealed...”


LIZ SEABROOK


VOLUME THREE COMING SOON

©2011 016 THE gomorrah ISSUE


Take The Stage - Stories of Hip Hop Volume Two