Icepick’s distinctive South London flow is still recognisable from his contribution to several old school records. Now part of crew ‘Against the Grain’, we met in Victoria, London to talk about his careers’ evolution, and eat possibly the nastiest meal in hip hop history!
Lady Cook: What year did you start rapping in?
Icepick: 1986, I was about 12 years old.
LC: Were you freestyling then?
I: Nah, written. Everyone was into hip hop then, me and a couple of guys were hanging out on the street spitting rhymes, and I’d wrote something a couple of days before – I spat it and everybody liked it. So that was it, I got the bug and started writing then we got a crew together, my first crew, we were called The Wanted Outlaws which is a really shit name but we thought it was really cool then!
LC: Then what?
I: We went studio, did a few shows, went on a couple of radio stations. Then I met up with Hijack and got signed to Music of Life – at that time they were like the top UK Hip Hop label, they had MC Duke, Cookie Crew etc. Our first record, I did with Hijack, was called ‘The Burial Proceedings in the Course of 3 Nights’, then I stopped for a few years.
LC: When was your first solo release?
I: My first solo record was in 1996 / 97. I did that with DJ Supreme, Hijack had broken up at that point. Supreme was putting something together and he asked me to rap on it.
LC: So what happened with that, how many sold?
I: Just over a 1000, about 1,200, which is rubbish, we basically brought it out ourselves. We started a label called Backbone then we closed down Backbone because we couldn’t do all the running about, so we went over to Ruf Beats.
LC: How did Against the Grain come about?
I: Nahim approached me. I was in Switzerland, he gave me a call and I came over. There was a lot of MC’s there Mello, Grizzly, Est’elle and they put out what we did that night. Bizniss co-produced it with Don-E.
LC: If you could work with ANY producer in the world, whom would you choose?
I: Dre, definitely Dre, and the Wu producers.
LC: Which Wu producer?
I: RZA, you’d have to go for RZA. Who else is out there? Want to make money you got to go for Puff Daddy, I like the new track he’s got out ‘We ain’t going nowhere’.
LC: What about people like the Neptunes?
I: Yeah, definitely. I like that Britney, is it Britney Spears?
We go off on a tangent discussing how weird it is that ‘Slave’ is so absolutely banging and drives people to shake their thang on the dancefloor – yet is by Ms Spears.
LC: What about other MC’s, who would you like to go up against?
I: Canibus, definitely Canibus.
LC: Do you feel he’s undersold himself?
I: Yeah, ’cause he makes, again I’ll use the word shit, but he does make shit tunes, he’s a good MC but his music is not, he should be bigger. Mos Def – we might be doing stuff with him, anyone who’s up there doing good stuff.
LC: What’s a tune you can remember from way back, like one album that really influenced and inspired you?
I: Criminal Minded, Scott la Rock and KRS1, their first album, killer album, that set me up, Ultramagnetic MCs, Yo go bum rush the show.
‘ …You know what, it’s the concrete, everywhere you look in this city it’s cold concrete, it keeps it dungeon…’
LC: Do you think things will change after September 11th?
I: Yeah with the twin towers going down. I think right now, to be honest with you America are like the bully in the school yard and the Middle east has always been a major problem for them and now they’ve got their excuse to go in and bust them up, and that’s what their going to do. As far as the implications are concerned death destruction the whole thing just blew my mind.
LC: Going off that totally, how many years ago did you sell 1200?
I: The first one came out about five years ago.
LC: I know a lot of artists aren’t selling much more than that now however many years later. What could artists be doing to make kids decide to buy their record rather than, to use a clichéd example, buy a garage record?
I: To make a good record for starters. Fact is to me most of the British tunes that come out aren’t really worth buying, because they aren’t of a quality, of a standard.
LC: The production?
I: Not even just the production, the mix of a tune, it’s so important, it’s how it sounds, that big sound, you can just put it in your car and turn it up and it’s bumping. A lot of British tunes just sound really flat, there’s no real dimension to it. It’s getting better though to be honest I think the whole rap thing over here seems to be picking up, Roots Manuva’s doing well. I don’t regard myself as specifically a British rapper. It’s a world thing.
LC: So you won’t be wearing your England shirt on stage then?
I: Nah, Bizzniss does though.
LC: Do you think a lot of people just don’t have the right promotion?
I: It’s hard if you don’t have the right backing, its difficult. So many people are having to do it by themselves and when you’ve got to find the funds it’s difficult. You might get a few flyers in a few record shops but as for the posters and the video, the glossy video nah, it’s hard for the youths out there. We need to be taking it to the scenes that are happening. Germany, Switzerland, U.S.A, France, I was in Switzerland recently and the scene there’s vibrant. There’s money to be made out there from just doing your stuff, artists who are making a living just going to the studio every day, over here there’s hardly any doing that.
LC: Do you feel a gap between yourself and the new generations of MCs?
I: I don’t know if I’m young at heart, working with Estelle when we did the Mos Def show I was up the front vibing, I don’t feel no way. Estelle’s the future of it, they’re the future of it, it’s a family thing, you can’t be bitter towards the youngsters coming up. I mean people say Oh Icepick Old School, but I wrote 28 lines when I was like 16, I did 20 lines on the Hijack album and 8 lines on track called Beyond the 16th Parallel on a project called the Brother Movement.
LC: What was the Brother Movement?
I: It incorporated Cookie Crew, Demon Boys, MC Mello, and I got on it simply because Hijack were producing it and they were like if we do it we want our boy on it, got a little love off it, I was the first one to finish my lyrics, and that was it that was all I did. Then I did my solo stuff in like 96 – 97, so for me it’s all new, it really is. To be honest when I was younger I flirted with rap, it was just a thing I did, it wasn’t serious I never made any money off profit it. I knew Hijack and I knew Supreme and I just run around with them, so right now this is me, the stuff we’re doing with Against the Grain and my own tracks.
LC: Do you make your own beats?
I: I did do a beat the other day with Don E.
LC: What does it sound like?
I: I’ll tell you what it sounds like, a cold day in Brooklyn, B Boy goose down jacket. That’s exactly it.
LC: Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I: My own stuff, and there’s a tune around that is from Insane McBeth‘s album The Heat, I think he’ll be releasing it in 2002. I’ve known him about 10 years, we move around quite a bit.
LC: Sometimes I think the seriousness of it all overtakes the listenableness of a tune, I think your average 15 year old wants something they can dance to.
I: You know what, it’s the concrete, everywhere you look in this city it’s cold concrete, it keeps it dungeon. Beats are really sparse and dark. Then you get artists doing the club thing and it doesn’t really work. To be honest though we do need more club tracks here, tunes that play out well. We made a tune called Dungeon Funk made entirely for big speakers, big bass kicks big for the club and when we played it out in the clubs it went down a treat. Supreme produced it, but we didn’t have the promotion, so it came and went which was really disheartening at the time.
LC: What’s Supreme doing now?
I: He’s working on his album; some French and German artists are going to be on it.
‘ …I went to 279’s show and I spat it, we just ended up cracking up and I couldn’t even finish it, so we went out and made a record of it …’
LC: What’s innovative in your opinion at the moment?
I: The 4 Horsemen, or Horsemen 4, I’d never heard of them but then I heard the track, they did a play on the War, Pestilence, Death and Plague thing, that was pretty cool I liked it. I like a lot of the stuff the Nottingham boys are doing, cause they just keep doing it, they’re up in your face. I like Roots Manuva ’cause he’s stuck to his guns, I like his album and MC Ty’s album, I like Ty as a performer, one man on stage and he just commands it. There’s a lot of cool stuff , Task Force and them boys, Farma G I rate him, he’s a good writer, good rapper. Everyone’s making moves and we need them all, even the rubbish ones.
LC: What’s your working pattern, how do you write your lyrics?
I: I’m really uptight and anal about it. I’m like switch off the phone, turn the lights down, put on whatever music I’m listening to, it doesn’t have to be hip hop, the other day I wrote something listening to the Radiohead album, Amnesiac, really off centre but it had the mood and put me in a certain frame of mind and I wrote. People will ring my door and I won’t answer it. I’m like I think I’m deep but I’m probably not.
I crease up at this point exclaiming ‘But at least you’re admitting it!’ having been subjected to countless artists earnestly overusing the ‘d’ word in interviews.
I: ‘Yeah, I like solitude when I’m writing. I find it difficult writing with people around me. I’m a thinker and what I’m saying has to be exactly what I want, or I scrap it. I could go home tonight and write all through the night, and at the end of it have 4 lines, everything has to be exact. I’m very analytical and I can see what I want to do lyrically and if it’s not like that then I don’t like it. That’s why you’ll hear me say ‘It’s shit’ or ‘It’s rubbish’ so often, because something wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to be.
LC: What inspires you to write?
I: To be honest, a lot of what I write is the usual braggadocios bollocks. Asserting your manhood type of stuff to be honest whatever I’m feeling at that time. I write tracks about girls, I wrote a track on my EP, yeah I know you’ve not heard it! (I had been honest and earlier confessed my utter lack of Icepick knowledge) …called Sourpuss..
LC: I’ve heard of that one actually…umm, does that mean what it sounds like it means?
I: It was at a time in my life, I was bitter..’ The conversation temporarily descends into total crudeness which I’m censoring, UKHH is a wholesome site!.. ‘ It was comedy, it was a lyric that I had at the time, I went to 279‘s show and I spat it, we just ended up cracking up and I couldn’t even finish it, so we went out and made a record of it. Whatever, I write about whatever I’m living for the minute.
LC: What is your favourite lyric from a song, any song, not just hip hop?
I: That’s a good question….Radiohead, Karma Police, because it was really off the key, you didn’t know what the guy was going on about something like ‘crushed like sardines in a tin box’ excellent lyric, I love that because he’s just talking about waiting for a train. I’m really into my Radiohead, today is Radiohead day’ spoken with the authority of someone who ‘s enjoying Radiohead day because they’ll have a new musical best friend tomorrow ‘I like those sort of lyrics. Conceptual, where you say one thing but it could mean something completely different’.
At which point our ‘food’ arrives – note: do not eat in the steakhouses near Victoria station – if we hadn’t already realised the waiters were mean it was made glaringly apparent by their forgetting to bring us cutlery and then standing staring blankly at us across the restaurant.
Interview over we attempted to eat our ‘meals’, me resorting to the comfort of Mr Jack Daniels to get me through. Icepick quietly asked for a piece of paper before we left the table then neatly wrote ‘TIP: Be polite to your customers, and bring cutlery with their meals’ before folding the paper up, grinning and leaving it in their hopeful tip saucer.
– Lady Cook