Blade Interview

With new LP Storms are Brewing out, and one of the UK’s biggest selling hip hop LPs ever The Unknown in his recent history I had a lot to ask Blade. Around 20 years invested in our scene and releasing his first track Lyrical Maniac back in ’89 makes him one of our longest serving rappers to still be releasing material. Blade has always had a cult underground following during this time, and when he wanted to release his first LP Lion Goes From Strength to Strength in ’93, 2000 people paid for their copy in advance even though it hadn’t even been recorded yet! As a performer he’s repped for the UK on stage with an amazing wish list of artists from the US over the years and held his own. If he has shown us one thing, its that hip hop really is about The Survival of the Hardest Working!

BladeSeed: You’ve been a major player on the UK scene since way back, how and when did you start out?

Blade: Around1979 I started hearing a bit of rap going on. I had no idea what it was at the time, all I heard was people talking over music, but I was totally blown away by this new phenomenon! So I started listening to the lyrics, writing them down and singing along to the tracks, I learnt the lyrics as quick as possible so that I was the first person in school who knew them.

I could tell it was something I was going to enjoy, but when the Wildstyle film came out that was the moment when we all knew that this was not just a music form, it was a movement! It was amazing watching that film and seeing all this music going on, kids graffin’ the place up and the MCs! I think that film is incredible. I had always been into music and had written poetry from an early age, so when I heard rap I wanted to give it a go. Simple stuff at first, as time went on I raised my level, did what I did, the next thing I knew I had a record out called Lyrical Maniac and everyone was talking about it.

Seed: Its been a long journey from Lyrical Maniac to Storms Are Brewing, what’s it been like?

Blade

Blade: A lot of ups and downs! In the days of Lyrical Maniac I was on the streets selling the stuff myself, I was constantly standing on street corners and walking round London trying to sell each new record direct to passers by with a bag of 12”s over my shoulder and playing each track to anyone who was interested with a walkman. Eventually Lyrical Maniac got picked up by a company called Raw Bass who where based in a small record shop in Lewisham. I approached them hoping to get a few sales, they heard the track, ended up offering me a deal and I went ahead with it. Since then I’ve been through some good times, and some bad times. Some of the highlights include performances with Big Daddy Kane, Ultramagnetic MCs and people like that so I’ve had some really good times!!

“…I still listen to every track without wanting to skip anything and to me that’s a great sign…”

There were also times where it was a bit depressing, where things weren’t happening like you planned them to, getting ripped off by distributors or whatever, it just sets you back a little bit. It’s been a crazy journey, ups and downs, roller coaster ride all the way, but there’s still a lot to come and I’m prepared for it, I just need to change the bike seat so it doesn’t hurt my ass so much!

52 Acre Lane where Lyrical Maniac and Mind of an Ordinary Citizen were recorded
52 Acre Lane where Lyrical Maniac and Mind of an Ordinary Citizen were recorded

Seed: Storms are Brewing has been out for a few months now, how do you feel about the LP right now and what kind of reaction has it been getting out of people?

Blade: Reactions I get from people in general who email the website or people I speak to have been really good, and they’ve been saying this is the best Album I’ve ever done. I’ve had the LP complete for about 2 years now and I still listen to every track without wanting to skip anything and to me that’s a great sign. No disrespect to The Unknown, I thought it was a good album for then and everything but even when I walked out of the studio there were tracks there that I personally couldn’t listen to and I found it hard to walk on stage and perform some of those tracks because I didn’t feel that they were all live concert tracks, BUT having said that there were some great concert tracks like You Don’t See The Signs, The Unknown and One Shark One Piranha, there were some great tracks on that LP too.

Yeah the vibe I’ve been getting from the general public has been really good, I’ve also had good feedback from people like DJ Skully, Woody and John Kennedy who are professionals that know music and the scene so I’ve got a lot of respect for their opinions. I reckon John Kennedy was one of the reasons The Unknown broke in the way that it did coz he pushed it and pushed it, so as long as I have people like that on my side it gives me the strength to solider on.

I knew there would be some negative feelings too coz whenever people go their own ways and split up from a partnership peoples opinions often get split 2 ways, people who liked Mark’s production but don’t like mine, or people who didn’t like Mark’s and prefer mine or whatever, but you know what, that just makes the battle a little bit more interesting. So I’m here smiling and I know I’ll turn everything around to show all the nonbelievers.

Seed: There’s a lot of variety on the new LP, both lyrically and in the production. I’d like to take time out to ask you a few questions regarding the concepts and motivations behind certain tracks on the LP. Firstly what kind of story are you telling us about in Reflection?

Blade - Storms Are Brewing LPBlade: The title came about because when I first moved to New Cross in 1986, I didn’t really have much, a flat with no furniture, no carpets nothing, I didn’t have electric or gas for the first 14 months and was just living on bread and chips all the time. During this period I spent a lot of time indoors writing, reflecting on things that were going on in my life. I used to sit in the corner of the room on a milk crate with a transistor radio I bought from Deptford market and a mirror I picked up. I used to talk to myself in the mirror, trying to encourage myself not to worry and that all the successful people I looked up to had been through similar times and turned it all around to their favour. So yeah it was just all about encouraging myself to take shit to the next level. I’ve still got that mirror today and I’ve been holding it back hoping one day to do a video with it as something for myself…

Seed: Another track I’d like to ask you about is I Wonder. What train of thought led you to make that track and also what one thing still makes you wonder to this day? As for me… its how those dudes on Jerry Springer don’t know their girl is a gezza!

Blade: I agree with you on that one!! Well I’m generally a thinking person I guess. I’m always questioning things, even simple things like why is a Big Mac Meal £3.49? How do you push a button and your computer comes on? Everything that goes on around me I’m always thinking how does this work, how does that work. I feel that a lot of people I’ve met don’t ever question anything, they just take what they are given and that’s that. I’m not like that so it was important for me to do a track and call it I Wonder to just question a lot of things.

What makes the Bronx boogie down? I’ve always been curious about that one!

BladeSeed: I’d like to ask you about your production inspirations behind Blow You Out Of The Frame. There seems to some eastern influences in that track?

Blade: I’ve got a mate, Adam Stringer, that plays flute and I really wanted to do a track with some flute in. There wasn’t any deliberate intention to go out there and try to put together a track with heavy eastern influence. When I first started making this track a few years ago there wasn’t all this Indian vibe going around in hip hop, so its not like I’m just trying to jump on the next big thing or whatever, it just ended up that way because of the direction using the flute led me.

I do really like Indian music though! I used to sit down at 4 or 5 in the morning and watch the Indian movies that they used to play on TV coz I thought the music on some of that stuff is incredible, it was always catchy and even if you couldn’t dance (like I couldn’t) you still wanted to get up and move to it. I lived in India for a while, when I was a kid there were signs of a war breaking out in Iran, which is where I am from, so my parents sent me and 2 of my brothers over to India where I lived for 4 years.

Seed: You’ve done a rock track on the new LP! What’s Robot about?

Blade: I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t really make up their own minds about what they want to do or think, they just kind of wait for other people to decide. Even things like did you watch that program on TV or have you heard that record… A lot of people don’t do for themselves, they always wait for someone else to make the move first or go with anything that’s popular. I call these people robots.

The reason I chose a rock instrumental to do this one was when me and Mark B put out the Feeder remix of You Don’t See the Signs a lot of people really loved that track, but on the other hand there were a lot of people who were slating the track too. People have their opinions, obviously they like stuff and they don’t, but that aside I got a lot of personal abuse because of specifically doing a rock remix. People actually forget to think hey, did Blade like doing this! (which I did!). I chose to do a rock track to show people that I do like rock music and if the opportunity comes to work with people like Feeder again (especially Feeder ‘cos I’m a fan of theirs now…) I’d do it again. I’m not going to decide what goes on in my life based on what other people think I should do. Its simple, even artists I’ve been a big fan of from day one like LL Cool J, if he does a record I don’t like, e.g. ‘I need Love’ I don’t buy it, I’m not going to abuse him for the rest of his life for it, I just won’t buy that particular record. I just thought I’d break this down and the energy of a rock track was the best way to try to get the message across and show people that there are a lot of people that do not think for themselves, they are just waiting for other people to jump on something then they’ll jump on it.

“…A lot of people don’t do for themselves, they always wait for someone else to make the move first…”

Remember I’ve been there when people didn’t even know what hip hop was, with the likes of artists like MC Mello, Katch 22, Hijack, Standing Ovation, Merlin, Hardnoise, MC Duke, Overlord X, Krispy, Demon Boys, London Posse, Gunshot, Caveman etc. We went out there and brought hip hop to people’s attention and we believed in it. Now all those people who didn’t like hip hop back then have kids that are into it in a big way.

Seed: What Have We Done is def one of the most serious, and certainly one of the most political tracks on the LP. How did you come to write this dynamic track?

Blade: I wrote that track on the day the thing happened on September 11th. My manager phoned me up when I was in the studio and said turn the TV on, and I was just amazed by the sights I was seeing, planes flying into buildings, it was crazy, shocking, proper shocking. It was one of those days you’re never going to forget about.

Anyway I wrote the song on the day, and was predicting that there was going to be a lot of secrets kept, who did it, if we were safe or if it was the end of the world or whatever. I thought it was important for me to do a track and not hold anything back, also to explain it from a parents perspective, like what am I going to tell my son, that this is the end? I had a lot of questions I thought needed answering like it’s easy to go and blame the Muslims for it, but where’s the evidence? There’s new kids being born into the world and this is the world they are going to have to be bought up in, a world full of confusion, madness and mayhem. Yeah I felt that there was a lot of questions that needed to be answered and it was a track that needed to be done.

I just wish Virgin had done what I asked them and put it on the internet the day it was recorded ‘cos it was mixed down and everything and ready to go on the day everything happened, but because of them being the corporate they are, all I was getting was ‘oh you can’t put explosions in the song’ and you can’t talk about this and you can’t talk about that. I understood their concerns, but at the end of the day it happened and its effect can’t be denied.

Seed: Lyrically Breath is one of the more abstract tracks on the LP, what’s it all about?

BladeBlade: The idea came about because my girlfriend used to work in Camberwell, and one day a kid got stabbed in a nearby McDonalds. Around the same time I saw someone get shot in New Cross, so it was a combination of the 2 stories put together. I kind of developed a story around these people and bought other characters into play, a police officer, a dad, a paramedic, etc. I wanted to do a story track and I thought it would be an interesting story to tell because its something I witnessed. I just hope people didn’t think I was trying to be gangster, it was far from that I was someone who just saw something happen and decided to document it.

Seed: I’d like to ask you about previous material that has a cult following – The Lion Goes From Strength to Strength is very sought after even till this day, I’d like to find out a bit more about what went into making this impressive double LP.

Blade: Up until that point I’d been putting out records independently, and it got to a point where I really wanted to put out an album and really wanted it to be worthwhile for people buying it.

We didn’t have enough money to put the album out. So when we were doing interviews we made sure people knew we were doing this album and that we needed funds in advance and that people who paid in advance would receive a free limited 7″. I was only expecting 100/200 orders but I ended up getting about 2000 orders and I was blown away by the support!!! A P.O. Box was set up and I started getting payment in advance.

“…I’ve been there when people didn’t even know what hip hop was…”

We then actually recorded the whole album in 16 days, I wrote most of the lyrics on the bus on the way to the studio. There was a lot of stuff going on at the time, my dad had come over from Iran, and died during the recording of the album, my girlfriend was pregnant and I didn’t know how I was going to afford to feed a baby, and I was trying to cope with a busy tour schedule amongst other things. Trying to fit all of this around recording the album was a bit mental, and there was a lot of things going on around in my head and I just wanted to get a lot of these things on the album.

‘do it yourself’ distribution The Lion Goes From Strength to Strength packaged up and ready to ship out
‘do it yourself’ distribution The Lion Goes From Strength to Strength packaged up and ready to ship out

Looking back now I think if I’d taken a bit more time I could have made it a lot better lyrically and I could have used my voice in different ways instead of just shouting on most of the tracks, but I’m happy that there are a lot of people out there who still want to hear it. I think it was a brave album, but it worked out for me because of the support people gave it. We put out a limited 12″ instead of a 7″, because of the money from the advance orders, and a booklet we did included credits to as many of the sponsors of the album that we had the names of because I’ve always wanted to show my appreciation to those who support what we do. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are, we wouldn’t have the opportunity!

Seed: Have you seen the crazy prices your old releases go for on Ebay and other sites?

Blade: Yeah I have! And believe it or not I was offered £700 for the Reebok trainers I wore on the cover of Lyrical Maniac by a Swiss guy! They were just totally worn out and I felt so guilty selling them that I ended up giving them to the guy for free just coz he was willing to pay so much. I was totally moved by that gesture.. Also someone was selling a copy of Lion Goes From Strength to Strength with the limited 12″ on Ebay and a guy from Japan paid £1000 for the limited edition white vinyl copy of which only 20 copies were printed!!

Seed: In recent years you’ve had the privilege of supporting such giants as Eminem when you where touring with Mark B, going back to the old school I’d like to know more about who you ran into back in the days when hip hop was young. I heard something about you spending time with the Ultra Mags?

Blade: I’ve had the chance to do shows with or meet a lot of the people I consider legends. There are a few I didn’t but still wished I had, like Stetsasonic and Chill Rob G. I did also have the privilege of nicking LL Cool J’s Kangol and selling it to a mate for £60, if LL reads this I’m really sorry but I was broke and I had rent to pay! That wasn’t the reason why I snatched the Kangol though; I just had so much respect for the guy, there were so many people crowding him, that I saw my chance, jumped unto the crowd and snatched the Kangol. It was actually a sign of respect for the guy rather than stealing shit off him. He’s still one of my favourites of all time. A friend found out I had it and when I was desperate, he offered to buy it for £60 and I just couldn’t turn down that offer. Sorry man, but when the bellies rumbling!

“…I think it was a brave album, but it worked out for me because of the support people gave it…”

Blade and the Ultramagnetic MCs
Blade while touring with Ultramagnetic MCs

An interesting one was Public Enemy when I went to see them at Hammersmith Palais. We climbed in through a toilet window on the second floor coz we didn’t have the money to get in. Anyway the security noticed me and was like ‘where did he come from’! He started running after me and as I was running round a corner by chance I almost ran straight into Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff. A few years later I meet Professor Griff at a record shop and ended up giving him a copy of Mind Of An Ordinary Citizen, days later he was saying in HHC that it was one of the best records he had heard in years, which I took as a massive massive compliment from someone I looked up to in such a big way!

I did a show with Big Daddy Kane at Brixton Academy in ’89 and met the whole of the Juice Crew, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, DJ Polo etc the whole lot. Back stage I had the privilege of beat boxing while Shante rapped and even better, Biz beat boxed a bit while I rapped with Kane backstage! I’ve met KRS One, Cash Money, Mantronix and performed with too many people to list.

“…believe it or not I was offered £700 for the Reebok trainers I wore on the cover of Lyrical Maniac…”

The people I reckon I was the closest to though from those days and from the US was the Ultra Magnetic MCs. While I was out in Europe promoting shows for myself I was arranging for other promoters to put on gigs for them. I originally met the Mags when I did a show with them at Brixton Fridge, and met them a few years later in Battersea, I was totally blown away when they performed Poppa Large!! We ended up arranging shows for them in places like Switzerland, we would do our shows then jump up and all do a freestyle together or whatever. One time we had a bet with Kool Keith in the hotel lobby that he wouldn’t walk on stage in his underwear, but he didn’t just go on stage like that, he was walking around in the street in his underwear after taking his trousers off! He’s a character!!

Kool Keith dared to perform in pants white on tour in Switzerland!
Kool Keith dared to perform in pants white on tour in Switzerland!

Must not forget I ran into a lot of legendary UK artists too, like MC Mello, Hijack, Hardnoise, Son of Noise, Katch 22, Caveman, Demon Boyz, London Posse, Gunshot and so on, all those guys were all wicked, can’t wait for some of those guys to come back! They all did a lot for the UK hip hop scene.

Seed: Coming back to the present day, I had the good fortune to see you perform recently, I was blown away (along with the rest of the crowd) by how hyper the performance was, at one point there was even rock concert style crowd surfing, even topless crowd surfing from one girl!!! I’m just interested to find out what has contributed to you being the performer you are now, at what point did you decide that it was going to be a focus for you when it is not for a lot of UK hip hop artists out there?

Blade doing accapella with crowd at…
Blade doing accapella with crowd at…
Blade peforming at Astoria during Unknown
tour.

Blade doing accapella with crowd at…
Blade peforming at the Scala during Unknown tour.
Blade doing accapella with crowd at…
Outside Thekla in Bristol
Blade doing accapella with crowd at…
Blade

Blade: At the end of the day you can’t just be a MC or singer that sounds good on vinyl but doesn’t know how to translate that onto stage. A lot of people don’t have a relationship with the audience. I’ve been to loads of shows where the performer might as well been there with his back turned to the crowd. There are some groups that don’t do that, they just go into one mad freestyle mode, like Phi-Life Cypher them guys are heavy! I saw Jehst perform recently as well and I thought he was entertaining and wicked.

“…The people I reckon I was the closest to though from those days and from the US was the Ultra Magnetic MCs…”

I think its starting to improve now on the scene, people are starting to pick up on stuff like that, and that its not about just doing a rap then jumping off stage. For me its the whole package, I need to be able to get a crowd going otherwise everything I’ve put onto vinyl is pointless, it’s the live thing that really does it for me.

Seed: What artists do you rate on the UK scene right now?

Blade: I’m open minded to check everything out. With every artist there are tracks I like and tracks I don’t like, but for me my personal favorite is Phi-Life Cypher. I’m also feeling the likes of Yungun, Mystro, Klashnekoff, Sun Dragon, Kyza. I think Tommy Evans is a charactor and a half, Taskforce have deep lyric’s always worth a listen. Roots Manuva is just on his own thing, every time I hear his stuff I am always ready to listen coz I think he always has something interesting to offer.

Seed: On the US scene?

Blade: For me personally the one on the top of the list has got to be Canibus. I ran into him at Choice FM, couldn’t believe it the guy is even shorter than me!!!!

Recently I’ve been listening to a bit of MF Doom, he’s got some heavy stuff. There’s loads of artists, to many to name to be honest.

Seed: Is there anyone you might be collaborating with in the near future?

Blade: I’d like to do something with Phi-Life Cypher again. I’m hoping I can hook up with Herbaliser or Jo Buddha on a production level cos I really like what they are about. I’d love to do another track with Feeder regardless of what anyone thinks. I’m a big fan of what they do and I hope the feeling is mutual as well. I’d love to do something with Canibus but I just think I’d end up looking silly!!

Seed: How do you see the future of UK hip hop?

Blade: My only worry is there is a lot more artists now than there used to be, that’s a good thing but only if there is a fan base there to support it. But it just seems that everybody that once upon a time was a fan is now a wanna be artist, some people are ready and some people aren’t. Saying that there are a lot of talented people out there and hopefully a few will shine through despite all the negative nonsense that goes with the scene.

“…At the end of the day you can’t just be a MC or singer that sounds good on vinyl but doesn’t know how to translate that onto stage…”

I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the industry is going to be open minded enough to accept what’s coming. I know when we did the Mark B and Blade thing we opened a lot of doors, as have Roots Manuva and Black Twang but is not easy, its a lot of hard work. We’ve just got to keep pushing..

Sam Seed

 

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