Issue One - Autumn 2017
Urban Scot Magazine
Page 6: Meet the worldâ€™s first Gaelic emcee Page 10: Glasgow graffiti artists call for legal space Pages 12-15: Albums, gigs and rap battles reviewed
The only magazine devoted to Scottish hip hop music and culture
Autumn 2017 3
EDITORIAL FOR all the talk of renewed Scottish identity and cultural confidence, there remains a massive gulf between the music and arts industry and Scotland’s fiercely independent, working-class driven hip hop community. Critics and commentators tend to overlook hip hop music and culture because of negative stereotypes, perceived cultural appropriation and unconscious class prejudice. They don’t recognise that hip hop culture is arguably one of the most inclusive and positive movements of the past century. It goes back to the late 1970s when hip hop DJs like Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc provided a space for disenfranchised young African Americans to come together and step away from violent gang culture. Hip hop has since developed into a universal movement comprising different elements: emceeing, deejaying, breakdancing, graffiti art, beatboxing and more. All these scenes are live and kicking in Scotland today, offering a voice to people who often hail from the most deprived communities. This magazine, which looks forward to Autumn 2017, celebrates hip hop in all its unique and incredible forms. Whether you’re a seasoned fan or new to the scene, there’s plenty here to enjoy...
CONTENTS This is Scottish Hip Hop Hector Bizerk: In Tribute
The Four Elements: An Overview
A Tribute to Hector Bizerk: 2011-2016
Events Calendar p5
Sampling the Culture Griogair: The World’s First Gaelic MC
Folk-Rap for the Masses at Oban Live
Loki on His New Album Trigger Warning p7 Five Battle Rappers to Check Out
Battling with Noises: Beatbox Scotland
Yardworks: The New Graffiti Festival
Off the Wall: The Fight to Legalise Graff p10 Flyin’ Jalapenos: Breaking Convention
How Breakdancing is Changing Lives
Something To Say Album Reviews pp12-14 Live Reviews p15
The Back Page Interview Ashtronomik on His Hip Hop Workshop
This is sponsored by Scotland Stand Thismagazine one off magazine has been designed, edited, developed and produced by Jonathan Rimmer and submitted as part of his MA Multimedia Journalism Portfolio. All stories are by him except where stated. This project collates content published in a variety of publications. Many pieces are hosted in a different format at: www.scotlandstandup.co.uk. Scotland Stand Up is a long running blog dedicated to supporting the country’s ever growing hip hop scene. It was launched in 2009 and is currently edited by Jonathan Rimmer, with contributions from Steven Duncan, Leo Zawadzki, Hannah Westwater and Stephen Butchard. You can follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook @SSUMedia. Front Cover Photo by Kenichi Images.
WHEN Hector Bizerk played their final show at The Art School in October, they capped off five years of sensational releases and thunderous live shows. Initially composed of Glasgow rap veteran Louie and drummer Audrey Tait, the band evolved into a formidable act that turned heads everywhere they’ve played. It’s hard to put into words just how important Hector Bizerk have been for the Scottish hip hop wee scene. Along with a handful of others, they’ve changed people’s perceptions in this country. Glasgow emcee Loki told Scotland Stand Up in a 2014 interview a couple of years ago that he worried “parodies of Scottish hip hop are more popular than Scottish hip hop itself”. The biggest compliment we can pay Hector Bizerk is they’ve earned a following without losing personality. If you’ve followed Scottish hip hop for any length of time you’ll already know front man Louie is an incredibly gifted emcee, but he’s also evolved into a first class songwriter. Hector Bizerk have managed to do what very few hip hop acts have managed: speak to people regardless of their musical inclination.
Taking influences from punk, indie rock and slam poetry, their tenacious sound has been entirely their own. As for their performances, Louie and co. managed to captivate audiences wherever they played, whenever they played, even grabbing the attention of journalists and tastemakers who don’t ordinarily have hip hop on their radar. In tribute of their contributions, artists and critics got in touch to share their own thoughts. Dave ‘Solareye’ Hook, of the group Stanley Odd, said: “The impact Hector Bizerk have made on Scottish hip hop and the wider Scottish music scene is huge. “From Louie’s outstanding firein-the-belly lyricism to Audrey’s powerhouse percussion and production their records have been insightful, boundary-pushing and culturally important. “Live, their full show including Pearl’s amazing live art, expanded band and breaking was a masterclass in musicianship and hip hop culture. “Their musical legacy will stand for a long time to come and as sorry as I am to hear the band are no more I look forward to what music, magic
and mayhem its members go on to create in the future.” Emcee and designer Chris ‘Mega’ Stephens said: “Hector Bizerk were more than a band, and more than a vehicle for a rapper. They were an energetic powerhouse, incredible to see live and the culmination of years of graft from each equally talented member. From the frontman Louis to the drummer Audrey the whole outfit had energy and passion in spades. “The mix of socio-political commentary and music designed to get the crowd moving evoked the feel of early punk, without the anger - their gigs were a celebration of individuality, their breakup is Scotland’s loss.” Bram ‘Texture’ Gieben, writer, musican and slam poet, said: “Hector Bizerk’s importance to Scottish hip hop, and, I believe, UK hip hop at large, cannot be overstated. They were, in so many ways, Scottish hip hop’s watershed moment in that they presented undeniable evidence that a Scottish rapper could front a band that took no prisoners, and appeal far beyond what has traditionally been a niche, insular scene. “From their political engagement, to their ongoing incorpo-
ration of other ‘elements’ of hip hop culture through their work with breakdancers and graffiti artists, to their forays into the world of Scottish literature, collaborating with the likes of Liz Lochhead, they were a powerful force in Scottish music. “They made the SAY Award list with no promo. They toured beyond Scotland. Their success has always been about grassroots support - about soul, and integrity. “They’ll be sorely missed, but for aspiring emcees and musicians who want to follow their model, or who envy their success, it’s clear that their legacy is this - the door they kicked open remains open. “They legitimised Scottish hip hop in a way that no other band has quite managed, connecting with rock and punk audiences in the same way Stanley Odd did with pop and soul audiences. “Most of all, I’ll miss their incendiary live performances, and the waves of Hector-t-shirtwearing fans who always congregated to sing Louie’s words back to him. “I can’t wait to see what he and Audrey do next. They are without a doubt two of the soundest people in music.”
Autumn 2017 5 Photos:
Breakdancer (left) - Wikimedia Commons. Loki (right top) Derek McKay Steg G (right middle) - Derek McKay Graffiti - (right low) - Wikimedia Commons.
What’s Happening This Autumn? August 25 - Silver Spoon @ The Flying Duck, Glasgow This new monthly club night celebrates the cultural and political impact of hip hop. August 31 - Break Even @ The Flying Duck, Glasgow A bi-monthly night where newcomers and veterans alike can showcase their skills. September 16 - Lowkey @ The Liquid Room, Edinburgh One of the UK’s most celebrated emcees brings his energetic show to Edinburgh. September 23 - Busker Rhymes @ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow Genre-bending collective Busker Rhymes headline Glasgow’s most legendary venue. September 29 - Steg G & The Freestyle Master @ The Dungeon, Dundee The legendary Glasgow duo launch their new album ‘The Freedom Frequency’. September 30 - Resurgence 1v1 Breaking Battles @ Town Hall, Ayr The latest edition of the Resurgence breaking battles comes to the west coast. September 30 - Bristo Rap Battles @ Bristo Square, Edinburgh Edinburgh’s long running summer rap battle event returns for another year.
The Elements of the Scene Explored THE TERM ‘hip hop’ has different connotations depending on who you speak to. The commercial success of hip hop music and the subsequent celebrity status attained by some leading artists means it’s often associated with wealth and opulence. But in reality, this is a misconception. If anything, hip hop has always been an underground movement that came from struggle, having first developed in the deprived New York boroughs by African Americans in the 1970s. Hip hop music as a genre only developed as part of a wider hip hop culture, which is mainly split into four pillars. These are: emceeing; deejaying and scratching with turntables; breakdancing, better known in the scene as b-boying or b-girling; and graffiti art. Other elements have also come to the fore over the years, most notably beatboxing, the art of making percussive sounds with your mouth. What these elements have in
common is a broad commitment to the hip hop ethos of unity, community empowerment, street knowledge and anti-racism. Unsurprisingly, hip hop has become interwined with many social and political movements over the years as it has become internationally renowned. The culture arrived in Scotland in the 1980s and spawned scenes and sub-scenes that mirrored those of New York. The current manifestations of Scotland’s music, dancing and graffiti movements are explored in many of the articles in this magazine. But here’s a really brief history of how these elements have developed over the past thirty years: EMCEEING Better known as rapping, emceeing involves rhyming in rhythm (usually over a beat). Some of the earliest crews to rap about uniquely ‘Scottish’ experiences included Two Tone
Committee and Dope Inc. The inherent Scottish cultural cringe has often led to emcees rapping in a local accent being ridiculed or parodied (most famously in the BBC documentary ‘The Great Hip Hop Hoax’) However, several emcees have been more successful in recent years such as Hector Bizerk, Stanley Odd and Loki. DEEJAYING
DJs in hip hop don’t just perform the backing track - scratching on turntables and manipulating sound is an art in itself. Internationally successful producers such as Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke, signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music team, and Warp Records’ Rustie first initally got their buzz for turntable-based work. On a smaller scale, Edinburgh’s Nasty P has also become a regular fixture at international festivals such as Outlook in Croatia.
These artists have moved onto electronica, but the likes of Steg G and Ritchie Rufftone are still renowned for a hip hop sound. B-BOYING/B-GIRLING Breakdancing - or breaking is an extremely athletic street dance that incorporates various dramatic movements. Breaking has a long, established history in Scotland crews like Glasgow City Breakers have operated since at least the turn of the 1980s. The likes of The Flyin’ Jalapenos (see page 11) are keeping the scene alive in Scotland. GRAFFITI An urban art form that involves spraypainting of walls and surfaces. Due to illegality, many of the most talented taggers in the scene only use pseudonyms, but some in Scotland want that to change (see page 10).
October 4 - Comedy Rap Battles @ The Stand, Glasgow Local comedian The Wee Man presents his own unique spin on the battle format. October 11 - Rob Broderick @ The Stand, Edinburgh Edinburgh Fringe comedian and rapper returns with his own ‘hip hop musical’. October 12 - Scottish Alternative Music Awards @ The Garage, Glasgow Who will be crowned Scotland’s best hip hop act? Nominees announced soon. October 21 - Jehst @ ABC2, Glasgow Arguably the most respected UK hip hop veteran tours his album ‘Billy Green is Dead’. Scotland Stand Up is home to: -
Reviews Videos Features Previews Podcasts
Go to: scotlandstandup. co.uk.
Autumn 2017 7
Trigger Warning: Loki speaks frankly on his provocative new album I RING up Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey a few hours after the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50, setting in motion the UK’s exit from the European Union. “Politicians are always talking about events ‘triggering’ other events,” says Loki. “All these incidents are related according to our politicians. In reality, what we’re witnessing is chaos.” tive American emcees over there From an artistic point of view, and I could really understand though, you get the sense that where they were coming from the Glasgow rapper thrives on with their lyrics. chaos. His new album ‘Trigger “To an extent, I see myself Warning’ is the first part of a in the same boat as them – double project exploring working an indigenous musician carrying class masculinity in the context traditions that modern western of 21st century nationalism and minds simply cannot conceptu- identity politics – and that’s it alise. Culture, music and lan- being put in the simplest terms. guage comes from the land – It doesn’t come close to sumit comes from something much ming up the array of subjects he more powerful. You do not want touches upon. Gender issues, left that knowledge to be lost.” wing activism, social justice and The first official Eólas album, intersectionality are all simultaneexpected to be between 12 and ously promoted and assessed in 14 tracks, will be released before a dizzying manner. the end of the year, with live “It’s an attempt to throw it shows expected to follow. all in the mix and tie issues to different stories,” says Loki. This article was published by the “There’s no unified message or Sunday Herald 15/01/17. conclusion to all this. The first Photo: Griogair Labhruidh. part of this project is an attempt to set up a guy’s descent into misogyny. If people listen and think it’s misogynistic, that’s what I’m trying to express, but it’s not the only thing that’s there. “It’s a character that’s related to me but also diverges from me. I feel it’s important to draw that distinction. Like with much of my creative work, there are concessions from me about the criticisms I’ve received.” If it seems strange that Loki defensively clarifies his intentions straight off the bat, it’s worth were are over the moon. I think considering that he readily conit’ll open up new doors.” tradicts himself and re-assesses his previous points of view. A longer version of this article He supports Scottish independwas published on Scotland Stand ence but routinely confronts what Up on 02/06/17. he perceives as hypocrisy from pro-Yes politicians and supportPhoto: Ross Case. ers. He’s campaigned in his lo-
Meet the World’s First Gaelic MC YOU might expect renowned bagpiper, guitarist and traditional Gaelic singer Griogair Labhruidh to be appearing at this year’s Celtic Connections Festival. Instead, he’s at home in Ballachulish working on a very different type of project – the world’s first Gaelic hip hop LP. “Well, first hip hop record in the Gaelic tradition, anyway,” says the highlander, who raps under the pseudonym Eólas – meaning ‘knowledge’. A student of both New York rap kings Rakim and Mos Def and ancient Gaelic poets like Ossian, Griogair believes the two styles are not as dissimilar as one might expect. Although he uses vintage hip hop production, characterised by jazzy samples and drum loops,
his rhymes draw from ancient bards and modern emcees in equal measure. “If I took my raps back 1000 years ago they would recognise it straight away as connected to their tradition,” he says. “Take away the beats and the essence of it is the same. “People always forget but hip hop is a folk culture. Its roots were in disco, funk and soul, which were in turn rooted in other African American traditions.” “I go between languages on some tracks, partly so I can better convey my concepts. Hip hop is universal so my messages need to resound with everybody.” Born into a long line of renowned pipers and composers,
Griogair is a fierce advocate of his own Scottish Gaelic tradition and believes his hip hop experimentations are less controversial than what he calls “misrepresentations by academics”. He continues: “My music has a political message that stems from anger against what has been done to Gaelic culture,” he says. “Even much Gaelic poetry is dismissed by academics as medieval Irish, but this is real stuff that has been passed on, carried by real people and passed down over generations.” Griogair speaks warmly about indigenous rappers he has met in his travels, most notably during his time at Canada’s Celtic Colours Festival in October. “I found my time there really inspiring,” he says. “I met Na-
Folk Rap for the Masses HIP hop has always been identified as an urban art form and culture and most people would struggle to name an emcee from a rural area. Unsurprisingly, Oban duo K9 Kev & Rory O’B’s acoustic hip hop tracks are packed with tongue-in-cheek comedy and trivial anecdotes from growing up. But what’s refreshing is the sense of pride they attach to their heritage. Their debut EP ‘Vocal Heroes’ features
local songwriters, traditional instrumentation and shameless singalong melodies. Over 100 people attended the album’s launch night, which raised £760 for three local charities. This summer, they performed in front of their biggest crowd yet after winning a public vote to play on the main stage at Oban Live Festival. It’s an achievement Kev (aka Kevin Irvine) has been fantasising about since
he started rapping at the age of 15. He says: “It’s always been a dream to play at Mossfield Stadium, which is only the corner from my house. I always thought it’d be one of those things where I’d have to be number one in the charts to play a venue like that. “We’ve done it on our terms. We’re not just another traditional band - we’re the wildcard. No one expects us to play an event like this.”
Kev and Rory certainly stood out on a card packed with ceilidh and folk acts like Skipinnish and Skerryvore. But the pair, who’ve been playing pub gigs and open mic nights in the town for years, have earned their spot. Rory (aka Rory O’Byrne) says: “We were whittled down to the final three and won over 850 votes or something. We only won by, like, 24 votes. It was unexpected but we
cal community against deprivation and anti-social behavior for many years but is critical of much of the terminology used by fellow activists. He’s long been regarded as a provocative character on social media but also calls it a source of “angst and miscommunication”. He says: “One thing I’ve learned is that for all the con-
ethical standpoints, he’s a superb emcee, with a sharp flow, vocal conviction and an ear in production that’s unmatched. Ironically, his sheer ability as a rap artist is often overlooked precisely because of the intensity of his material. He says: “I think hip hop is still an art form that’s considered unsophisticated and uncivilised
“Instead of sanitising my opinion in order to make it palatable, I just showed what I was thinking.” fusion and resentment it creates, you may as well not bother and should just arrange to argue in real life. ‘Trigger Warning’ is an attempt to distill all I learned over the year and express it through a story. “I ‘triggered’ a lot of people in order to create some reaction. I wanted to show how people how they engage with issues really before they sanitise their social media persona. I did a range of video blogs on the issues that were going on at the time: immigration, toxic masculinity, male privilege, and white privilege. I responded to a lot of these things. Instead of then sanitising or gentrifying my opinion in order to make it palatable, I just showed what I was thinking. “I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong and learn from this, too. For example, I understand gender inequality, the patriarchy and the need for feminism’s expansion, but on a visceral level I find it difficult when a university-educated feminist calls me privileged. It’s my own problem.” The way Loki balances braggadocio with withering self-critique is what makes him Scotland’s most interesting rapper. Irrespective of his political and
by some who don’t understand it. When I was young, I found gangsta rap scary and entertaining and that added drama. You know, I thought Eminem maybe did kill his girlfriend in the track Kim. I didn’t realise it was entertainment. Art shouldn’t come wrapped in cotton wool (or a trigger warning, ironically).” However, it’s not hip hop fans, who are well used to confrontational lyricism, that need to be converted. Unlike his more experimental recent projects, ‘Trigger Warning’ is mostly written on a traditional hip hop canvas, but with different samples and styles drifting into the mix depending on which narrative point he’s at. As well as working with notable beatmakers like Konchis, Scatabrainz and Florist, Loki utilised the talents of Simple Minds’ Mick MacNeil and composer Jim Sutherland for individual tracks. “I’m 33” he says. “I’m only really to youth culture by proxy because hip hop has that kind of spirit. The sort of stuff I want to tackle is aimed more at an adult audience that’s grown with me so I don’t feel a need to keep up with the Jones’.I see it more as a culmination of everything I’ve learned in terms of writ-
ing, principles of writing and hip hop.” You get the sense self-education is a big thing for Loki. In the run up to releasing the album, he tested much of his material at local poetry events, using responses as a “soundboard to work through ideas” which shaped the final product. He says: “While I was online calling out the left and middle class artists, here was this really open and accepting community of artists, diverse as they come, not only trying to accommodate my work, but genuinely discussing and debating it, recognising the validity of what I was saying and appreciating that I was working things out as I went.” To say ‘Trigger Warning’ is wildly ambitious is an understatement. Loki appears to present a series of provocations on political and social issues, responding to what he sees as inconsistencies and hypocrisies with little more than gut reactions. And yet at the same time, it’s a project that invites listeners to analyse their own prejudices. The logic appears to be that if he’s wrong and ill informed in many ways, then everyone else is too. I ask him how he’d respond to people who might boycott his work due to the sensitivity of certain topics. He says: “I want to create a portrait of masculinity that accounts for the good and bad men have to offer as culture and reality begins to fragment. “People shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what this album is trying to say, because they really have no idea until they hear part two. Trigger Warning is nothing more than a preamble, a trap for people who only listen to some things to condemn them.”
A longer version of this article was published by the website Bella Caledonia on 07/04/17. Photo: Darren McGarvey.
Autumn 2017 9
Five Scottish Battle Rappers to Check Out
SCOTLAND is rarely recognised as a hotbed of battle rap talent, even within a UK context. It’s not entirely surprising when you consider the differences in culture: our battlers tend to have stronger accents, a darker sense of humour and are seen as more old-fashioned due to their emphasis on jokes over wordplay. Still, several Scottish rhymers have made their mark over the years. Glasgow veteran Respek BA had a reputation as a legendary freestyler years before he even made the bulk of his LPs. Elsewhere, Gasp & Depths managed to get to the final of Don’t Flop’s first doubles tournament all the way back in 2010. Big names in the Scottish scene like Loki, Louie and Silvertongue were also active on the battle circuit before they began to concentrate more on music. But the only Scot who’s gained international attention specifically for battling in recent years is Soul, whose heavily technical style has won everywhere he’s battled from America to Canada to South Africa. The Fife battler’s ascension to the Don’t Flop throne in 2015 put the spotlight on Scotland once more. And though he’s now lost his title, he’s inspired a whole new wave of battlers to step up: MACKENZIE For Fans of: Multisyllabic rhyming Mackenzie is the stereotypical Scot for many reasons: he’s
ginger, loud couldn’t care less about political correctness. Stylistically, the way that he constructs his rhymes isn’t wildly dissimilar to Soul. But there are obvious differences in content and delivery. Mackenzie immediately commands the audience’s attention with blunt, aggressive rhymes. His approach is to personally dismantle his opponent and he doesn’t hesitate to take shots at other battlers or even audience members mid-round. EVIL For fans of: Eminem era freestyles
EVIL might be your bread and butter Eminem-inspired battler, but he’s very good at what he does. A lot of emcees can string together rhymes at the top of their head; few can do so with such fluidity and confidence. Unsurprisingly, the Edinburgh emcee first made his name by winning freestyle tournaments around the country. He’s recently made the jump to Don’t Flop, where his animated approach has helped him to stand out. He’s not shy of controversy - he somehow managed to insult half the audience in his hometown in his Don’t Flop Edinburgh battle this year - but nobody can deny his performances are always entertaining for one reason or another.
WEE D For fans of: Scottish humour
No, his name isn’t a reference to weed - Wee D gets his name from the fact that he’s one of the smaller battlers on the circuit. Unlike many others on this list, he battles almost entirely in Glasgow. This is partly because he caters to his local audience - he’s even gone viral promoting battle rap in Scotland. While it’d be wrong to dismiss Wee D as a jokes battler, especially given the quality of his punchlines, he very much follows former Don’t Flop champion O’Shea’s philosophy by not concentrating on “intricate wordplay and rhyme schemes”. SCOTT EARLEY For fans of: Relentless aggression Before you delve into a Scott Earley battle it’s worth reflecting on what type of battle rap you enjoy. If you’re entirely disinterested in a battler who uses local references and whose accent you can’t get to grips with, Earley isn’t your man. If you’re looking for strong flows, delivery and aggression, you’ll get a lot out of his showings. Earley is cut from the same cloth as other UK bruisers. His Don’t Flop debut with Q-Riot - another talented Scottish up-and-comer - is probably
his best performance to date. Although, it’s also further evidence he won’t be switching up his delivery to cater to English or American fans any time soon. SEUSS For fans of: Witty wordplay When it comes to the ‘jokes v wordplay’ debate, Soul was arguably the first Scottish emcee to win big doing the latter. Since then, we’ve seen an inevitable rise in the number of up-andcomers imitating this style. Don’t Flop and King of the Dot are now nearly a decade old, and it’s worth noting that like many of his generation, Seuss has grown up watching these platforms rather than Scribble Jam DVDs from the freestyle era. Along with JR the Juggernaut, Makar and Ryza, Seuss is the most talented of the newest crop. As evidenced by his performances in the Don’t Flop Headhunters tournament, which he won convincingly, he’s already a comfortable stage performer who flows and projects well and has buckets loads of charisma. Seuss balances wordplay and comedic material well and so as stylised as he might be, there’s plenty of potential there for him to find his own niche.
Photo: By Craig Hain.
Scotland’s First Graffiti Festival Held HIP hop heads descended on Glasgow in May as SWG3 played host to Scotland’s first ever graffiti festival. The two-day Yardworks Festival (6-7 May) showcased street art by both Scottish and international artists. The sun was shining for the outdoor event, which was held in a specially designed maze-like structure in the venue’s Galvanizers Yard. Rather than preparing pieces for exhibition, artists showcased their painting skills live in order
to “bring the concrete jungle to life”. Frank Carty, a signwriter painting at the event, said: “The festival’s a great way to showcase all the talent we’ve got here. A lot of the guys here are working with no funding, but they’re not waiting for somebody to do it for them.” Glasgow City Council has commissioned various murals in recent years, with a range of artwork displayed on buildings around the city. However, there are no lo-
cations where artists can paint without breaking the law. Gary MacKay, general manager at SWG3, said: “I’ve not told one person what they can paint on these walls. Everyone has done what they want to do. It’s giving them a legal spot to paint – they won’t be looking over their shoulder here. “It’s all about putting a spotlight on the graffiti scene and the graffiti writers themselves. By bringing in international artists, it helps the younger guys improve.”
The festival also catered to other elements of hip hop, with attractions including a breakdancing showcase featuring local b-boys and b-girls. Chaz Bonnar, organiser of the showcase, said: “The crowd were amazing and showed their appreciation for the dancers and the battles. We’d love to come back and do it again.”
A longer version of this article was published by The Scotsman on 08/05/2017. Photo: Jonathan Rimmer
Sleazys the Battleground For Beatboxers SCOTLAND’S best noisemakers gathered at Glasgow pub Nice N Sleazy in July for the first major Scottish beatbox battle event of 2017. The free event attracted a loud and enthusiastic crowd, comprising a mix of hip hop heads and casual passers by. Hosts Bigg Taj and Spee Six Nine kept things moving with a brief live set while up-andcom Ashtronomik, Red King and nine-man collective Togo Fam were on hand to play tracks from their new respective LPs. But the real showcase was the battles, which were hosted by UK beatbox champion ABH. The eight man tournament showcased beatboxers with a range of skills, from the more technically gifted to the more musically inclined. The full results were as fol-
lows: in the first round, Boycebox beat Napoleon, Styx beat Ionix, Maciek beat L, and 5th Element beat Biscuit Beats due to a no-show. Boycebeats took the semi final over Styx while Maciek knocked out Glasgow veteran Fifth Element. Maciek, who is based in Perth, triumphed in the final over Boycebeats with a uniquely versatile style that combined hip hop and drum and bass. He said he was happy with the win: “Yeah, it feels good. It was a tough competition, but I was very confident going into the final. “I felt like the other semi final wasn’t correctly decided. But everybody did their best and got what they deserved I think. “Improvising and trying out new sounds has been the most
influential thing for me. I like to stand in front of the mirror, trying to make the silliest faces and sounds ever, and then develop them. “It was a big pressure to perform in front of someone like Bigg Taj [a former UK Beatboxing Championship finalist]. “I’ve been watching his videos for a long time and I was inspired by a few of his sounds. He uses his voice to perfection.” The event was organised by Player 2 Music, a “creative & youth inspired online talent and entertainment channel”. Bigg Taj, who helps run the channel, said: “It’s nice to kind of step back and watch younger guys go at it this time around. “The scene’s definitely growing. The guys just need to get more confident in what they do.”
Watch our video highlights and hear Bigg Taj’s impressions of the growing beatbox scene at: www.scotlandstandup.co.uk Photo by Bigg Taj.
Scotland’s Top Crew Onto a Breakthrough
Glasgow Graffiti Artists Call For Legal Space WHEN it comes to graffiti art, Glasgow is in a league of its own. It is the Scottish city of street art. But Glasgow is also one of the only western European cities without a legally defined space for graffiti artists. Now, though, in the midst of a street art boom in Scotland’s biggest city, a new campaign has been started by the nation’s best “taggers” to allow them to legally paint the walls of designated parts of Glasgow. Street art is ubiquitious in Glasgow - from the huge murals going up across the city, including art work of Billy Connolly, to the installations on show at this summer’s Merchant City Festival. In May, Glasgow held Scotland’s first-ever graffiti festival (see page 9). However, graffiti is treated as vandalism in Scotland, with offenders facing fines or even imprisonment. Graffiti artists can work legally, however, if they are commissioned. Since 2008, Glasgow City Council has hired renowned graffiti artists like Rogue One and Smug to paint murals in the city. While these publicly-commissioned murals are known for their photorealism, underground taggers painting ilegally are more likely to use complex “bubble” or “wildstyle” patterns only decipherable to fellow artists to
avoid police detection. Unsurprisingly, many taggers who operate in the city do not want to be fully identified. One, who calls himself Chris, claims exhibitions and festivals are the only opportunities he has to hone his craft legally. He said: “A legal space is long overdue. The city has commissioned a lot of street art in the last couple of decades, which has gone a long way to legitimising the image of graffiti in the city. “A legal wall would be a great next step and serve as an olive branch to [artists] who have so far only been criminalised for their art. It’s not vandalism. “Scratching your name onto a bus window with a coin is vandalism - planning a piece of art and executing it in an interesting place is graffiti.” The debate around graffiti has raged for decades, with many artists arguing it is an essential element of urban culture. Another active Glasgow artist, who tags simply as !MAN!, believes the line between graffiti and street art is becoming increasingly blurred. Commenting on the different legal treatment of commissioned street artists and graffiti artists, he said: “At the moment you could spray paint a beautiful
picture of a bird on an abandoned building and it’s illegal if you’ve not got permission. “I think it’s dangerous the two are separated. People see these beautiful Commonwealth Games murals and think ‘that isn’t graffiti’, but a lot of these guys got their name in the first place because of tagging illegally. “The technology used to make these murals has evolved because of graffiti culture. Now you get photo-realistic art done with spray cans. I would directly correlate this with the culture the authorities want to slam and condemn.” Although Glasgow has no legal graffiti walls, there are permitted spaces in multiple UK cities including Dundee, Edinburgh, Leicester, and Bristol, home to famous street stencillist Banksy. Mark Higginbottom, director at Spectrum Arts, who run an art supplies shop, was instrumental in launching a legal wall in Edinburgh in 2012. However, he said Edinburgh City Council was resistant to the idea and he had to negotiate with private land owners to get the project off the ground. The New Street location was on waste ground, already heavily covered with graffiti, and had to be cleaned by the landowners. Higginbottom said: “We fig-
ured that this was a huge waste of money and resource... “I believe a legal wall in Glasgow would be extremely popular, based on the success of those in Edinburgh. It is a larger city with a more substantial graffiti and street art community who are crying out for space to use. He added: “It’s impossible to predict the behaviour of every individual and I do not believe legal walls should be created solely to try and manage a perceived ‘graffiti problem’. These spaces should also be provided to allow talent to flourish and nurture creatives who happen to use spray paint as a tool.” As well as being considered vandalism, graffiti in Glasgow has long been associated with sectarianism and gang culture. The longest sentence handed out for graffiti vandalism is 28 months. This was later quashed. A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said: “We do not see the benefit in the creation – in the city centre or anywhere else – of a graffiti wall or legal space for graffiti artists. There has been no dialogue on this subject in recent years.”
A longer version of this article was published by the Sunday Herald 30/07/17. Photos: Wikimedia Commons & Viv Lynch.
IT’S more commonly associated with the gritty neighbourhoods of New York in the 1970s and 80s, but it’s Scotland that is now at the forefront of a resurgence in breakdancing across the world. Leading the revival of urban street dancing has been Scotland’s most celebrated breakdancing crew, The Flyin’ Jalapenos, who will be performing in Glasgow on August 15. When Christopher ‘Sideshow’ Maule formed crew with his friend ‘Wee Super Steve’ in 2002 they simply wanted to emulate the ageing heroes of their youth. Today, The Flyin’ Jalapenos boasts 40 members and a network of teachers training up dancers - known as b-boys and b-girls. On Saturday (August 15) the crew celebrate their fifteenth anniversary with a showcase at the Glasgow School of Art, where they first practised breakdancing. The event, featuring dance battles and live music, will be a celebration of the crew’s achievements and the revival in
breakdancing - or breaking culture. Breaking is recognised as the dance element of hip hop, but b-boys and b-girls also dance to other music including funk and breakbeat. The dance includes a series of different movements, most notably the ‘toprock’, performed standing up, the downrock, performed on the floor, and more acrobatic ‘power moves’. Although breaking hit Scotland in the early 1980s, the scene stagnated. Maule says: “When I first started out there wasn’t much going on – it was just us messing around. I was lucky because I had an older friend who used to sneak me into clubs where the older guys were holding events, but there wasn’t much of a scene. “In Glasgow, it was important for us to get a space to train. From 2004 onwards, for 10 years, we had a space at
[Glasgow venue] SWG3. When the crash happened in 2008 a lot of arts funding got cut so there were less projects to get involved with, but we kept on going.” Maule and his crew travelled around Europe, learning from what he calls the “worldwide hip hop family” and building links with other scenes. They observed how young dancers were taught at workshops abroad. Chaz Bonnar, aka Chaz B,
who organises Resurgence, was a member of the Flyin’ Jalapenos crew for four years. He says: “The Jalapenos have been accountable for the growth of the scene since the 2000s. Thanks to them, the scene is really starting to grow again.”
A longer version of this article was published by the Sunday Herald 06/08/17 Photo: Kenichi Images
How Breaking is Empowering Poor Glasgow Communities BREAKDANCING tends to conjure up images of urban young people performing elaborate body movements in public places. But breaking, as it’s more commonly known now, is also having a positive impact in some of Scotland’s poorest communities. Chaz Bonnar, aka Chaz B, who teaches children in areas of Glasgow like Maryhill and Anniesland. In 2014, Bonnar was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust grant to travel across America and research its positive benefits on young people from deprived backgrounds. He says: “It was designed as a means of expressing yourself. I’ve found it’s an amazing way to feel empowered and improve self-confidence. It’s about going off and releasing all the energy that you have. “I believe a lot of my teaching
helps solve the needs of young people within local communities. Kids in these areas lack self-esteem, they don’t have many friends, they’re not integrated in their community, and they need a form of release.” Although equal access is seen as a fundamental principle of hip hop, a majority of performers are male. But Dmitrij Cechov, who teaches young people in Shettleston, says there’s a new generation of b-girls getting involved. He says: “Shettleston is a rough area to teach in and it’s a lot of work to motivate young people, but there’s definitely a mix. I actually find it’s mostly girls that come along to my classes at the moment as they like that it’s a dance, but it changes on any given day. “The most intimidating aspect for kids is technique. You have
to learn to tone it down. Once that mindset is ready, then it’s like any other dance. It’s about co-ordination. You start getting the patterns and then you start making your own stuff up.” The promotion of breaking as a constructive initiative in local communities is becoming more accepted, with local authorities and youth organisations coming on board for events. But Bonnar believes more can be done to ensure breaking is utilised in a positive way. He says: “People of influence need to realise hip hop’s potential to positively impact people’s
health and wellbeing. “Just as rapping helps literacy, dancing helps physically and emotionally. When these people see hip hop serves a bigger purpose, hopefully they’ll advocate for it because it makes a big difference in these communities.”
A longer version of this article was published by Positively Scottish 08/05/2017. You can watch a video intro to breaking, made with BBC The Social, on www.scotlandstandup. co.uk
ALBUM REVIEWS Ciaran Mac - Rainy Daze Hannah Westwater YOU’D be forgiven for thinking this can’t possibly be Ciaran Mac’s solo full length debut – a few blinks around Scottish hip hop and he’s everywhere. Whether it’s his work with Rory O’B, hyped live shows or word on the street that he’s Glasgow hip hop’s freshest voice, Ciaran Mac has earned his place at the heart of the community. Having made his name, ‘Rainy Daze’ serves as a reminder why all eyes should be on him. Ciaran’s flows are the focal point of this release and he isn’t stopping for breath. On opener Gimme a Second, he unapologetically takes shots at the “parasitic fantasists” of Scottish hip hop over an old school beat. Impressively, he strikes a balance between boom bap bravado and a quiet confidence that he can back it up. ‘Rainy Daze’ is a playground for Ciaran’s often relentless flow, demonstrating a real affinity for rhythm which, no, isn’t a rap inevitability. At times it risks being to the detriment of his lyrical skill – he really runs rings around many of his peers with metaphors and smart rhymes, but some of his best moments as a
G-Mo - Cause I Can EP Jonathan Rimmer EVEN though Coatbridge’s G-Mo is relatively new to hip hop, anyone with even a passing interest in the Scottish scene will have inevitably encountered him over the past few years. He’s a conspicuous presence at gigs and battle events, always on hand to jump in and freestyle at any given open mic or cypher. The loud-mouthed emcee’s erratic performances at battle events have made it difficult to gauge his potential. G-Mo is witty and clever when on form, but he’s the first to admit maintaining a drunkenly boisterous persona has its obvious side effects. So it’s surprising to hear G-Mo so poised on ‘Cause I Can’, the most thorough collection of tracks he’s put out. He’s as blunt and funny as you’d expect, but anyone expecting Ol’ Dirty Bastard-esque theatrics will be taken aback. Whereas he has a tendency to slur and sound disjointed in a live environment, G-Mo brings a degree of professionalism to this EP. This manifests itself most obviously on opening track DSF. He bounces around comfortably on an Ill-Az beat, switching up flows and varying his rhyming patterns. Even the vocal hook (“drink til’ it’s done / smoke til’ my lips burn / fuck til’ my hips hurt / that’s the life that I live”) is delivered with clarity. Okay, so the subjects he tackles are hardly groundbreaking, but G-Mo proves himself a solid rapper throughout. From the jazz-inflected You Like This Shit to group cut Woman, his bars are tightly structured and technically sound. He also has an intrinsic
wordsmith struggle for air beneath flows so uncompromising. With a little development, though, it’s clear he’ll easily establish a middle ground which allows equal spotlight for all of his skills as an emcee. And there are definitely shades of that on the album, with Let Em Be a well-judged moment of calm that adds valuable dimension to the release. Most of the beats are sophisticated but fairly straightforward (a scan down the tracklist reveals a handful of the scene’s production gems) and the record is all the better for it. Ciaran’s no-nonsense strain of rap is well suited to tracks that compliment but don’t distract. But make no mistake: there’s no lack of ambition here, and this effort sonically demonstrates Ciaran won’t be restrained by a scene that can be difficult to step out of. Munity, featuring words and production from Big Shamu, is a particular highlight. A sitar-like motif swirls throughout as both emcees go back and forth, making for one of the album’s most addictive moments. But track two, Bag of Rations, is Ciaran’s mission statement. He’s not kidding when he drops rhymes like “I like to spit so when I’m coming up with something sick I’m making sure that every word is hitting like a tonne of bricks”. He shouts out the hip hop community, a heartfelt moment of gratitude which may have seemed out of place coming out the mouths of other rappers – but there’s an authenticity to the entirety of the album that helps it fit right in. To many it was inevitable Ciaran Mac’s first full length would be one of, if not the, best of the year thus far, but that doesn’t detract from his achievement. On ‘Rainy Daze’, he erodes any doubts left kicking around and does a good job of making sure you believe every word he says. understanding of how to spit his material, using cadence to better communicate the message of each track. Keeping in mind the title, the EP’s main deficiencies derive from trying too much if anything. ‘Cause I Can’ feels more like a mixtape due to the sheer number of styles and samples on show. Gaze takes snippets from Daughter’s Amsterdam, Fuck G-Mo uses AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Yellow features an annoying hook about traffic lights. Most confusingly, Here To Stay essentially starts with 30 seconds from a classical piano piece for no discernible reason. There are other issues that perhaps stem from lack of experience: he overuses ad-libs a tad, the vocal mixing isn’t as strong on the tail end of the project, and though Butterflies’ sentiment is nice, the ode to his girlfriend only proves he can’t sing well. These odd moments tend to come over as endearing rather than irritating, though. G-Mo possesses a natural charisma that is too often missing from the Scottish scene. While he’s slightly scatterbrained in the songwriting department, he clearly has a strong grasp of what makes for a good hip hop track. His trademark antics make for an entertaining spectacle live, but ‘Cause I Can’ shows he has the potential to be far more consistent.
Read more at www.scotlandstandup.co.uk Asthmatic Astronaut - This Is Not Pop Jonathan Rimmer I’VE always been a fan of Scottish hip hop compilations. I know a lot of people see them as dated but they’re a useful way to present the scene to people with only a passing interest. To date, Scotland Stand Up has put togeter five beat tapes for this very reason. Respected producer Asthmatic Astronaut is of the same mindset. In case you were in any doubt about the depth of talent lurking in Scotland’s underground, ‘This is Not Pop’ features nineteen emcees and not one of them sounds out of place. But just to be clear: this isn’t a compilation. This is very much Asthmatic Astronaut’s baby, with each cut primed and tailored to a specific emcee (or the other way around - it’s hard to tell). Like most artists on the Black Lantern label, the Astronaut is attracted by the weird and esoteric. In fact, he’s more akin to a scientist, painstakingly constructing beats to the point where minuscule details are often introduced at the back end of tracks without much of a warning. It might be a switch up in the drums or a subtle countermelody in the synths or even a new sample entirely. With that said,
Brian Jamieson - Cover Stephen Butchard FORMERLY known as Damaged Goodz, Brian Jamieson has been an unsung hero of Scotland’s underground hip-hip scene for years now, his dense bars, clever punchlines and barked delivery typifying the giddy spirit of a battle-centric movement. But the change in moniker highlights a move to more mature, personal avenues, something wholly explored on his latest release, ‘Cover’. Along with producer and multi-instrumentalist Nick Turner, Jamieson has crafted a gritty character portrait of scheme-living, broken relationships and mended mental states. It’s an ambitious album, one with a bigger picture more than the sum of its parts. ‘Cover’ brings to mind British hip-hop landmarks like The Streets’ ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ in its tight narrative focus and artistic presentation of working class life, but remains a Scottish album throughout. Jamieson’s humour, wordplay and grim tone feel at one with his peers, but the project’s incorporation of grime, jazz, metal, folk, and even IDM give it a breathless scope of its own. The LP tells the story of Sean, a man from a scheme trapped in a downward spiral that’s the product of his addictions, vices and surroundings. Even during the album’s low-key moments, such as Water Under the Bridge, Jamieson’s slick penmanship render his story with urgency: “My heart is in ruins / I’m in a dark room / my scars open wounds / Friends and family fear I’ve lost the plot / trying to piece together last year dot-to-dot / swallow my wage wi’ these pills a doctor got / I’m an animal – leopards
none of the beats here seek to seize the attention away from the emcee. Taking his cues from 90s techno and IDM, Asthmatic Astronaut gives each beat a sense of personality and progression without detracting from whatever the emcee is saying. Unsurprisingly, this minimalist production lends itself way to more introspective rhyming styles. The wonky-inspired Kaczynski compliments Texture’s philosophical monologues, for example, while The Bleakest Blues’ more kinetic beat suits Solareye (Stanley Odd) intrepid flows and multisyllabics. There are exceptions: Johnny Cypher (Futurology) absolutely steamrollers Split Into Sections with crazy double time, making for probably the best verse on the LP. There’s also a seriously catchy hook on the Conscious Route-led Addiction, which perhaps slightly undermines the album title. Other than that, there’s a peculiar continuity to the concepts many emcees explore here, leading me to wonder how much editorial input Asthmatic Astronaut actually had. From Ciaran Mac to Lifeshows to The Replicator, a number of rappers touch upon writing in a ‘dreamlike’ state, the power of imagination or, you guessed it, space. Deliberate or not, it makes the record feel consistently ethereal even from the first listen. In fact, ‘This Is Not Pop’ is probably the most coherent collection of Scottish hip hop released in the last year. Due to the sheer number of emcees and styles on show, it’s a project that could have easily gone pear-shaped. Credit is due to Asthmatic Astronaut for bringing together so many artists and making them work under the same umbrella. Is it a tad long? Perhaps, but there aren’t any glaring skippers, which for an album of this type is very difficult to do. can’t change spot to spot”. A gathering of musical guests play roles that lift ‘Cover’s cinematic vision, but it’s Jamieson’s tortured bars that give tangibility to the tale. The album’s clear ambition make it easy to root for, and the sharp choruses on Clock in/Clock out and The Fantastic Adventures of Iceberg Grim will have listeners coming back. That said, the album’s messy delivery makes it frustrating to grapple with as a longform piece. The mixing is spotty throughout and it can be hard to make out Jamieson’s voice beneath audio sludge. Some of the accompanying melodies feel worn and ham-fisted, while the expository dialogue within them would give any film buff a migraine (the worst offender is Welcome to Hainehill where he says: “I hold keys to the playpen / you’ll never see your baby again.”). Some of the experiments don’t completely land either, like the acoustic waltz of Behind Every Man There’s a Good Woman, where Jamieson’s rocky flow threatens to collapse across its five minutes. Unfortunately, ‘Cover’ never fully captures the power of its concept sonically, but highlights like Rage Against the Fruit Machine - where Jamieson argues with a bartender for crying out loud demonstrate it’s still a worthy listen for any Scottish rap fan.
ALBUM REVIEWS Togo Fam - The Family Album Jonathan Rimmer CREW albums aren’t common in Scottish hip hop. Veterans will tell you it can be hard enough getting a couple of emcees to link up for verses, let alone several for a full length project. But, as their name suggests, Glasgow collective Togo Fam are a tight knit bunch with a unified purpose. Still, there’s immediately a lot to get your head around. The crew is composed of seven members (or nine if you go by their updated Facebook page), variously described as rappers, producers and designers. There’s a mix of experience in the form of Nity Gritz and names less familiar such as Woze. The album is 87 minutes long at 29 tracks, with multiple skits and styles on show. On top of that, there are feature verse from Physiks, Ciaran Mac and others. Considering the number of heads in the group, you’d think they’d have a good editor. However, they use their time well. With crews this size it’s easy for individual rappers to get lost amidst the web of similar accents and flows, but Togo Fam are discerning in how verses are distributed across the album. Each emcee has a moment to shine, adding colour and personality to each cut.
Jackal Trades - Need the Characters Hannah Westwater GOOD art unashamedly shines light on ssues touching society at its heart, and that’s what ‘Need the Character(s)’ successfully does. This debut full length by Mark McGhee (aka Mark McG) under the Jackal Trades moniker could hardly have been released at a more politically turbulent time, and the commentary threading the album together reflects as much. Drawing on the production skills of some familiar names from across the country (e.g. Scatabrainz, Mackenzie, Soundthief), the album’s beats are its greatest asset. Triangular Trades, one of several stand-out tracks, sees McG echo “they took our jobs / who did, the robots?” over a dark trip hop-esque beat, lamenting colonialism to modern xenophobia and the common avoidance of Scottish culpability. Ehsewhere, Miley Syria explores a more industrial sound. That track’s shift to gentle piano tones as the chorus hits, while not ineffective, is symptomatic of something the album could improve on. This record is experimental and rarely fails, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly what the Jackal Trades sound is. In a blooming scene, it may soon be the case that he’ll need to offer something more uniquely recognisable to stand out. That said, there’s no shortage of highlights to be found on the release. The tongue-in-cheek Marilyn Monroe Logic (featuring Ella Maby) has a criminally infectious hook, while I Am the Fear… is a chagrined but fun exploration of the-day-after-the-night-before
For example, slick rhymer Big Shamu puts a marker down by steamrollering his way through early album highlight Heads Up. RDS accomplishes something similar on the track Charles Manson with his distinctive stream of multisyllabics. Combinations are important too: Kid Robotik’s aggression and Orry Caren’s more consciously monotone delivery make for a brilliant contrast on Prestige. Production-wise, it’s harder to work out who to credit for what, but there is a clear split on the album between traditional piano-based boom bap loops and more trap-influenced beats. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this, especially considering the sheer length of this LP, but the sequencing just feels off. In fact, the latter style isn’t introduced until tracks eight and eleven (Zonin and Hatin), catching the listener off guard with tinny hi-hats and dramatic sub-bass. The emcees at least adjust accordingly, with Kid Robotik particularly adept at switching to a double time flow. But they’re still unnecessary detours that would have fitted in more comfortably on a separate project. That’s not to say the crew’s more experimental moments aren’t successful. Sampling dubstep legend Burial is considered heresy by some, but the track Movin pulls it off well. Too Many is another standout as guest emcees Spee 69 and Upfront spit venomously over syncopated brass, bringing back the album’s momentum as it starts to drift. And there clearly are moments when ‘The Family Album’ does drift, partly because the crew are keen to pack as much into the record as they possibly can. Togo Fam’s boundless creativity make that easy to forgive, especially considering the level of competency in the rhymes department. They could have trimmed more fat, but this is still a remarkably impressive showing. over a head bopping beat. McG has a talent for penning bars that can be on-the-nose while remaining graceful and poetic. Rapping over the horns of Character Building Society, he drops slick lines like: “To predict is to gamble / to smile is to live / I have nothing in my savings / I have too much to give”, and “Karma’s not a theory, it is merely common sense/It’s a slow motion boomerang that knocks you off a fence”. This falters a little on the atmospheric Century of Self, which hints at being a highlight but is held back by heavy handed missteps like “everyone holds a bank account but no one ever holds a bank to account”. Nevertheless, the majority of his flows are masterful, bold enough to grip a listener’s attention yet reasonably measured so as to weave in and out of first-rate instrumentals without overpowering his lyrics. ‘Need the Character(s)# is an impressive effort from McG & co., showcasing beats which could be carried far beyond the realm of Scottish hip hop, as well as a well-judged mix of politically hard-hitting and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Perhaps the last word should be left with Century of Self, succinctly describing the reality of the political climate that has manifested itself in 2017: “This is not satire any more”.
Temple of Hip Hop Sessions @ Box, Glasgow, June 9 DJ and producer Steg G is a monumental figure in the Scottish hip hop scene. Not only does he invest time running workshops across the city, but he is also one of the only people to actively promote local talent via his weekly Temple of Hip Hop show on Sunny Govan Radio. It’s therefore unsurprising that respected names would travel from across the country to perform at a free fundraising event for the station, which also operates as a charity for young and vulnerable people. Although it’s a humid summer night, a mix of hip hop heads and passing locals pack out the clammy Box pub on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. Opening act K9 Kev & Rory O’B travel all the way from Oban to play alongside Steg, who serves as DJ for each of the five acts performing tonight. Fresh off a heroic festival performance, they seem a tad ill suited to the more intimate setting. Their folk-influenced beats fail to cut through the venue’s poor acoustics, but they make up for it with self-effacing humour and charm. Local emcee Empress might be the least experienced rapper
IRN BRZ Rap Battles @ SWG3, Glasgow, 23 June IN terms of attracting wider UK talent, Mackenzie’s IRN BRZ is the leading Scottish rap battle league at the moment. Booking Don’t Flop leading lights Bobby Rex and J Dillion for this one year anniversary event was certainly a signal of intent. Yet despite energetic performances by Mistah Bohze and Delivery Room between battles, there was an oddly subdued atmosphere. The event’s length was a factor - a chunk of the crowd headed home mid-way through the night - but chokes and stumbles by battlers didn’t help. Manchester’s Bobby Rex suffered the most damning memory slip during his headline battle with Mackenzie. After a confrontational first round, his second and third rounds sucked the life out the room as he fluffed his lines and attempted to ring a pal to steer himself back on track. Mackenzie flipped by commenting he’d “used a phone a friend and now wanted to ask the audience”.
on the bill, but she possesses a confidence and natural delivery that makes her set one of the highlights. She’s slightly limited by the fact she primarily raps over 90s boom bap instrumentals from classic Wu-Tang Clan and Big Pun tracks. However, she has such a strong flow and grasp of how to construct rhyme schemes it doesn’t overly matter. In a scene where women are underrepresented and misogyny is still prevalent, it’s refreshing to see her boss the stage with consummate ease. Edinburgh-based Conscious Route knows how to make his presence known, too. After steamrollering through a selection of his ‘Conscious’ material, he slots on a luchador mask for his other persona Stutter Jack. Think an English MF Doom with a taste for reggae and you’re on the right path. But it’s hometown veteran Loki who makes the biggest impact. As he takes to the stage there’s an observable difference, and the crowd are transfixed by his absorbing social narratives – at least until he snaps them out of it with a trademark political rant. Regardless, he brings clarity, experience and a selection of beats that just places him a cut above his peers. The majority of tracks he performs are mostly from his lyrically dense new album ‘Trigger Warning’, but he raps them fluidly as his older material. Despite officially launching his new record ‘What is Happiness?’, headliner Wee D’s casual demeanour suggests he’s about as inebriated as half the crowd at this point. He causes a mini-ruckus, going ‘taps aff’ by the climax of his set and inviting the crowd on stage. There’s also a serious side, though. Many of the tracks from the album deal directly with mental health, which he communicates through stories rather than preachy messaging. Dedicating one piano-laden track to ‘the fathers in the room’, he keeps the room on side and ends the night in a surprisingly touching manner. In fact, given the diversity on show, positivity and community spirit are about all the the five billed acts have in common. For all hip hop can be portrayed as overly confrontational, it has the potential to make for an incredibly unifying spectacle – especially when Steg G is involved.
Photo: Laura Docherty Of the two English emcees, J Dillon had the better night. Though not a vintage performance, his pun-based humour and wry observations caused some big laughs. His opponent Scott Earley had home advantage, though, and edged the clash with hilarious local references and performance antics. Veteran Wee D split opinion in his battle with relative newcomer Acre. His jokes targeting Acre’s ethnicity and religion struck the wrong tone in the room. Acre’s content and delivery was mostly solid, especially given it was his Glasgow debut, but he was massively let down by lengthy chokes in his first and third rounds. Zee and MC Lean was also tricky to call. Zee’s wordplay-oriented material was mostly slept on, but jokes about Lean’s weight were received better. His experience saw him through in the third round, where he freestyled the majority of his bars. MC Lean’s style was less sophisticated but more cutting, and he already has strong projection and crowd control.
You can watch video highlights from the events, plus interviews with all of the battlers, at www.scotlandstandup.co.uk
The Back Page Interview Living Hip Hop: Ashtronomik Talks About Empowering Local Communities Ashkan Farzan aka Ashtronomik is breaking down boundaries by teaching deprived youngsters in the south of Glasgow Can you introduce yourself?
What is your role now?
My name is Ash aka Ashtronomik. I do rap music. I’m a producer, I’m a writer. I’ve been recently putting some videos together as well. Other than that, I’m a project worker with YCSA, where I’ve had the opportunity to work with young people. It’s been great for me to help some guys get into hip hop in different ways.
I run a workshop with YCSA called Represent. It’s short for Represent Media because the young people here manage their own YouTube channel. Working with the young guys here in Pollokshields - and we also have some over from Govanhill we give a voice to the most marginalised. You know, guys from Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic and all sorts of ethnicities. That’s kind of what I’m doing here in YCSA at the moment.
When did you first get into rapping? I came from Iran when I was 10 years old, but have lived in Glasgow since then. When I heard my first rap song I couldn’t even speak English yet! It was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy.’ But I actually got into rapping through breakdancing. I used to breakdance myself when I lived in Sighthill back in the days. I fell in love with it. I used to do it in my living room. But became difficult because I went through surgery at one point. I was also really into my music, though, so I decided to focus on the music. Dancing was good for me but I couldn’t progress as much as I could with the music. Volition was the first community project you got involved in. How did that come about? I saw a post online by Darren [Loki] McGarvey. He was organising a meeting so a bunch of guys could get together and try and get a movement going. That became Volition. We were guys doing hip hop and we just needed a place where we could do our stuff and talk to others and relate to each other. I quickly became friends with everybody there and learned a whole lot of stuff. So when did you take more of a teaching role? I did have the opportunity to take part in open workshops at Volition. Through that, I did my first co-facilitating rap workshop with my man Tesko. He was a breakdancer at the time - in fact, he still is. Then, I just started doing workshops by myself and teaching with different community organisations in different youth centres and so on around the city.
What sort of stuff do you do in the workshops? It kind of started as just rap, where I was just kind of getting them to learn the beats and how to rhyme better. But eventually the guys enjoyed it and they told their friends to come over and we built a little team. It’s turned into more of a production, making beats as well as rapping, as well as getting videos done. It’s a whole set of activities to try and give them a genuine artist’s experience. Why do you think workshops like these are so important for these young people? I think it’s very important. First of all, speaking about myself, it’s changed my life because I’ve learned so much, met so many great people. I was one of these young guys. From what I’ve witnessed - I’ve worked with a bunch of guys - their confidence levels have just totally changed massively. Their language has improved a lot and it’s raised their aspirations. You have guys and girls that maybe socially isolated and by putting their energy into something artistic they’re able to have a new level of understanding about themselves. They want to different things and it’ll affect their careers in a good way too. It’s a start for them, a way for them to be empowered and do something. Why do you think hip hop in particular is such a positive force? I think hip hop from how I’ve experienced it, it instantly breaks down all barriers between different races and classes and whatever, and it just brings everybody together. You just feel the music and the culture and the elements to it. It’s life changing for a lot of people. And it’s fun obviously!
Jonathan Rimmer presents Scotland's only magazine dedicated to Scottish hip hop music and culture