I thought it was a bit of a crime that there wasn’t already an interview with Chemo on this site, so I took it upon myself to find out a bit more about Chemo. I first heard Chemo’s beats about 5 years ago when his crew Frontline performed at a night I was putting on in Camden; since then he’s produced for pretty much all the UK heavyweights, as well as some of the US ones. I heard he was also raised by wolves.
For those that don’t know you yet, introduce yourself..
Chemo: My name is Chemo and I make beats and run a studio in Brixton.
I heard you’ve recently been in Ireland filming with Kashmere, how did that come about?
Chemo: The video was for a track called ‘playing with fire’ which is out now on receptor records check out the b side too featuring Jehst, we filmed the video out in the fields in Ireland in the freezing cold, you can see it started snowing during the filming. That’s real hiphop!
Is that you dressed as a witchdoctor with your face hidden in the video?
Chemo: Nah it’s a guy called Seamus who sells turf, he really wanted to be in the video but he was ginger and had peg legs so we put the cloak on him and sacrificed him to the god Gunrah in an extravagant pagan ceremony.
Your face is hidden in Manage and Syanyde’s “Riot” video… Is it your choice or the directors to never show your face?
Chemo: Well I am horrifically ugly and channel U told us that kids might be scared by my deformed face so I always tend to cover up in videos; it’s really a sales tactic.
Did you hear any Irish hip hop while you were out there?
Chemo: Nah we were in the countryside so not much hiphop out there you know, I heard one dude called Roysta from Belfast and my boy DJ Snuff is from Belfast so we got Irish connects in the camp.
Could you understand what people were saying? When I went to Dublin I had no idea what people were saying to me. Hopefully they were asking me to shrug, because that’s all they got from me.
Chemo: I must have Celtic blood in me cos I understand everything, the Irish accent is great.
I hear a lot of pianos in your beats, do you play the piano?
Chemo: I play piano and recorder up to grade 1, so I guess I’m pretty much a professional.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a beat in your head then rushed down to your studio to make it before you forgot it?
Chemo: Nah I dictate the beat to my servants and they do it. You see I’m just the figurehead for the corporation; my beats are made in Cambodian sweatshops by slaves with no eyes. I’m like a big brother figure to the hiphop game.
“…I am a sound engineer at heart; I live the lifestyle of an intoxicated gourmet hermit…”
What’s the process of making a track with you then? Like, what equipment do you use, and do you have the beats made before the emcee records their verse etc…
Chemo: It all varies man, I prefer to make beats suited for particular artists, I find out what vibe they are on at the moment and try to tailor make shit for them, I pretty much know what they will like and what they wont, but sometimes I get surprised.
I know you’ve worked with a few American emcees; most recently with Vakill. How did they hear your beats?
Chemo: My boy Grimlok hooked me up with Vakill, I spoke to him a few times and he said he would make me famous. I’m still waiting..
Is it important for you to work with American emcees or do you prefer working with local ones?
Chemo: I don’t give a fuck who I work with, as long as they are talented. I admire a lot of American rappers but if it’s just a case of sending beats on CD to someone I never met before that’s not really my vibe. I’ll probably go out there in next year or so and link up with all those cats, but for now I’m still building my reputation in this country.
Lewis Parkers gone out to America and seems to be doing quite well. I heard something about Ghostface Killah using one of his beats. Have you ever thought about packing your bags and going to America to seek your fortune; perhaps with an MPC in a red and white handkerchief tied to a stick?
Chemo: America is hell; I wouldn’t want to live there. I’m waiting to make my dough here and then I’m heading to Morocco/India/Brazil and setting up there. It may sound strange but as an engineer, the fact that Pro tools sessions can be sent through broadband in 30 minutes means I can work wherever I like as long as I maintain my reputation. You can imagine it being something to brag about, “yea my music is getting mixed in India by Chemo”, cats would no doubt be impressed would they not?
I’d probably be impressed. A lot of people are forming live hip hop bands at the moment; like Taskforce and Rawdog, Dirtburg, Hiphopratives, Fugazi Rum, err.. I’m sure there are lots more. What do you reckon about them? And is making hiphop with live instruments something you’d ever do or do you prefer the more traditional methods?
Chemo: I use a lot of live instruments in my beats along with samples, that is the way to be. I could never be in a band as I am incapable to do anything in a live environment; I am the worst DJ in the UK. I had decks for over a decade and I still drop pure clangers when I try to mix, as for cuts I leave that to the pros, I’m too much of a spastic. I need to sit there and tweak the sound until its perfect. That’s how I work.
“… America is hell; I wouldn’t want to live there. I’m waiting to make my dough here…”
Conflix’s Character Assassins CD was one of my favourite releases last year, and the follow up’s even better because the beats are all original (mostly produced by you I think). Apart from provide the beats, what else did you do on the CDs?
Chemo: I executive produced the whole joint, along with Conflix we selected what we thought were the most accomplished tracks from all submissions and I put the whole project together, I kept my beats off the CD as best I could because there’s lots of dope beat makers out there (Beat Butcher, S-Type, Leatherface) to name but a few.
Do you still listen to tracks you made say, 5 years ago and still rate the beats?
Chemo: I rate them for the time and the place they were conceived in. I don’t bump them, but I like to listen to throwbacks say on the 1st Conflix Brainstorm EP, now out of print, there were some great ideas on there, and it’s nice to check them out after not hearing them for years.
How do you think your beats have changed over the years?
Chemo: I have definitely expanded my horizons, I used to be on a straight boom bap tip, stuck in the mid 90’s but then a combination of Beat Butcher and Jay Dilla (rip) showed me that you can make hard beats without being dark and menacing, you can make uncompromising, yet soulful music that hits as hard as the standard piano loop + hard break bets that I was churning out in my early years.
Of all the emcees you’ve ever worked with, who was the best?
Chemo: Haha ummm I work with a lot of very talented folk but I still maintain that my favourite is and MC called Syanyde from my debut group ‘Frontline’, the guy is criminally underrated in my opinion. He has the whole package as an MC, the voice is like nothing you have ever heard, the lyrics are on some apocalyptic gutter shit, and the flow contains remnants of Big Pun and Kool G Rap in their prime. His only downfall is that he completes about one track a year, and seeing as hiphop seems to be now about quantity not quality, this is a downfall of his, but I still have big expectations for him.
So what are you working on at the moment, and what can we expect from you in the future?
Chemo: I’m just putting the finishing touches to my compilation with DJ Skully, which is all my beats featuring the cream of UK artists. It’s going to be a good listen, and Skully is the toppest selector in the UK so it should be like manna from heaven. Manage’s album is a project which I have invested lots of time in, and is ready to go, Manage is a guy that everyone knows but not many have in their record collection, and with this LP we are looking to change that.
I’m executive producing Kashmere’s LP which is sounding really on point yet off key if you know what I mean, a cult classic in my mind. I’m putting out a new group called Phalanx Heresy out of Clapton who are really talented, look out for their Album and video ft. Kyza. I’m executive producing a compilation Album for Verb T with lots of dope tracks and beats from myself, Harry Love, DJ IQ, Copperpot and T himself. He’s a talented guy with wide musical interests and it shows in his music.
Aside from that I am producing a lot for Poisonous Poets, Terra Firma, and some ill soul vocalists.
Do you like doing the live shows or do you prefer working in the background at the studio?
Chemo: Definitely one for the background, I am a sound engineer at heart, I live the lifestyle of an intoxicated gourmet hermit. Not a lot of people know but I am a highly skilled cook, a select few have sampled my cuisine at Kilamanjaro (the studio) I may offer food as part of the studio package in the near future. Watch this space.
Who was the last emcee you did a track with?
Chemo: I recorded yesterday with Poisonous Poets, a track called ‘Here I am’ for the UK Takeover Compilation, it uses the same sample as the Twista joint but I flipped it differently. It’s hot.
“… I could never be in a band as I am incapable to do anything in a live environment…”
Are we gonna hear any more from Brigadier Gun Clap?
Chemo: Yea he just got out for jail for possession of a blunderbuss, so he should be back in the studio soon.
Blades Internet fans went mental when you did a track with someone called Blade who wasn’t the Blade of Mark B and Blade.. Do you think its okay for artists to share names?
Chemo: I don’t give a fuck about that whole saga, end of the day judge the music as music, if you don’t like it that’s cool, but I was getting hate mail from old skool Blade’s legions of fans over the shit. Both Blade’s are friends of mine and neither sees it as a problem, so all these chode-rocking egberts need to take 5.
I’ll battle you for the name Chemo right now.
Here’s by beat:
I made it in Hip Hop Ejay 4. A German version, that’s why all the people talking in it are speaking German.
Chemo: Damn that beat is off the hand glider dunn… I’m pretty sure I can’t beat that but here is something that may rival the quality of your offering… RELAX BITCH!
You win, congratulations! Haha. The list of people you’ve worked with is pretty impressive. Is there anyone you’ve not worked with that you’d like to?
Chemo: Oh there’s plenty. In the UK I still need to get a solo track with Klashnekoff down, as well as him, there’s Kano, Durrty Goodz, Ghetto, Life (PLC), Rodney P, MC D etc.
Cheers for your time, there’s just enough time for any final plugs or shout outs.
Chemo: The Chemo benefit gig (my studio was recently burgled) is going to be held in Red Star Camberwell (500 capacity) on May 20th, the line-up will be off the hook so make sure you check that, in conjunction with speakers corner which runs the monthly free hiphop event first Thursday of every month.
Peace Panos keep up the art.