Have you heard the name A.M.M.O. before? I’m sure you have. Have you heard any of their tracks before? I’m sure you have as well. Somewhere, you just can’t place it. Maybe it was on 1Xtra, maybe it was on DJ Excalibah’s “Ex Files” mixtape, maybe it was just one of those buzz things around the London scene or the internet. But A.M.M.O. keep cropping up everywhere. They’ve been on those hot upcomers lists for two years now. And only this summer did they put out their first proper release. “The Slewage” EP is full of breakneck rhythms, tight drums, reggae bounciness and necessary roughness. The title track alone is worth the price. Truly fire. “A-dubble-M-O” is absolutely amazing as well, intense, tough, and wall-shaking.
Cariz, Keelow, Kaan and newest addition, DJ Fatal-E, are A.M.M.O. and they will rightfully be blowing up the scene in months to come. Capturing the initial buzz as we speak, they are trying to juggle lives, music, and the politrix of the business all at the same time. Releasing stuff on their own imprint, Armshouse Records, for the time-being, they are still struggling to ensure that the business side doesn’t corrupt the creative side… touch wood.
I met up with A.M.M.O. on carnival bank holiday Monday and chatted to them about beats, rhymes and life…
Please Introduce yourselves:
Ca: What’s up, I’m Cariz.
Ka: I’m Kaan, producer.
Ke: I’m Keelow. Keeza, man.
What does A.M.M.O. stand for?
Ke: Nothing really.
Ka: We came up with the name Ammo and tried to find something that fit in with the abbreviation. We came up with Allied Minds Mentally Organised. Before that, it didn’t mean anything.
Ke: It’s a bit dry now so it’s just A.M.M.O.
You’ve had a lot of support from 1Xtra and other places for a while now but you’re only just putting out your first release. What took so long?
Ca: Poli-trix. Boy, it’s a combination of time, money, efforts… it just took us a while to get things together.
Are you happy with the finished product?
Ca: Yeah. Obviously, it could have sounded better if it was recorded in a proper studio but for what we’d done in a home studio set-up and putting it out ourselves, I’m happy with the finished product.
Ke: It was just madness. There was times when I thought it wasn’t going to happen. Simply because life was getting in the way, individually. Sometimes we couldn’t get it together. It was tough. Also, cos you haven’t got a label behind you, you have to be motivated to do things yourself. Promotion, record it, come up with the ideas, mixing and mastering. We’re not professionals when it comes to that stuff. But we done it, rags. In the span of three to four weeks, burning CD-R after CD-R, listening back, picking the best ones.
Tell us about “The Slewage”. What kind of production styles/lyrical content you’ll find on it?
Ka: Production, I tried to be as varied as possible, and make different types of beats that would appeal to everyone. Not just stick to a leftfield or a commercial sound. It’s a middle ground, a melting pot of all the different styles really that I like.
What styles influenced you?
Ka: Reggae, soul, jazz and then, hip-hop. East coast sound, West Coast sound. A whole heap of influences. You can tell there’s reggae influences in there. I used to be into metal. I play guitar. A whole heap of stuff.
What about lyrically?
Ca: It’s just expression. Whatever we feel we should write about, we write about it. People say “conscious” but I wouldn’t even put us in that bracket. We’re just expressing how we feel at the time. It’s just straight from the heart.
“…We can address the street but there’s different things to life and we try and touch all bases…”
Ke: One of us will come up with an idea for something and share it. Exchange it. I’ll write 16 and give it to him and he’ll write 16 and then we’ll do 2 four’s or 2 eights or whatever. If you have a verse that’s decent enough, you’ll offer it out and see if the next man’s up for it and if so, you’ll make it a collabo. If not, just park it up for yourself for a rainy day. We made a lot more tunes than what’s on the EP. It was just a case of whittling down to the ones that were solid enough on their own, as singles or whatever. Or, they were the most diverse ones out of the bunch, beats-wise or whatever. I think, some of the tunes are so old. “Pull the Other One” was 2002. Yonks ago. It was just our first chance to put it out.
Ka: A lot of the tunes are a year old maybe. “The Slewage” was the newest one on there. The rest were just old.
Ke: Same goes for the beats. The beats are older than the lyrics!
As musicians though, you’re constantly doing new things and the stuff you did in the past in your mind will never be as good as the newer fresher stuff. I suppose you have to draw a line somewhere and just put it out. I think you feel that way because you’ve lived with the tracks but your audience won’t necessarily feel that way.
Ke: I suppose, it’s old to us but new to those who ain’t heard it.
How did you all meet and decide to put A.M.M.O. together?
Ca: Originally we met through the Darker than Blue forums. We used to go on there and post up our rhymes and conversate about music. I initially met Kaan and Keelow through there. I was in Dirtburg before I was in A.M.M.O. and these two guys came to one of our gigs. We exchanged numbers, hooked up and that’s how it came about. That was 2001-2. Three years ago.
How did you build up your reputation so quickly without putting anything out?
Ca: It came through the Ras Kwame thing.
Ka: Hold on, how did it start? There used to be another person on the Darker Than Blue forums who worked for 1Xtra. Her manager asked her who we were. So I don’t know how he got to hear of us. It came through that. The director of the hip-hop section called me up just before it launched and asked me if we wanted to be featured on Ras Kwame’s Homegrown Cut of the Week.
How did he hear of you?
Ka: That’s the thing. I don’t know how he heard of us. We made a few tracks and they were floating about on the internet so maybe off there.
When was your first gig?
Ca: Camden, at WKD, supporting my band Dirtburg and Buttercuts. Man, I’m not good with dates though…
Ke: 2001. I can remember that flyer well.
So, basically, the buzz was through 1Xtra and Homegrown and being played on there…
Ke: Yeah, but they need to play us more though cos the EP is banging. We won Homegrown Cut of the Week with “Jazzical” off the first EP that never really got released. Then, Riz has got the links with Excalibah, which helps. He’d slip our tunes into his playlist every now and then. We’ve been blessed because there aren’t that many DJ’s out there that will just focus on playing UK hip-hop. So to have the biggest station playing UK hip-hop playing it is great.
Ca: Gotta show love to the boys on Itch as well.
Ke: Yeah, got to big them up, even though I can never pick it up.
Ka: Furious as well. DJ Furious. He was one of the first people to play us as well.
If you don’t mind me asking, Kaan, what happened to your management contract with Nicci Cheeks?
Ka: I was signed to her as a producer and she was supposed to find me artists to work with but nothing ever really happened. After two years I started working with another artist called Rising Son. And he kinda got dropped as well. I don’t know what he’s doing now.
“…I don’t look at any other MC’s for inspiration, I just look to myself…”
Cariz, working in A.M.M.O. and in Dirtburg as well, what does each band get out of you and how do you differ in each band?
Ca: I think they’re two completely different sounds, two completely different feels. Dirtburg is all about the live element, the presence of a live band on stage when you’re performing. A.M.M.O. is more traditional hip-hop but we’re taking it to a different place.
What live set-up has A.M.M.O. got?
Ca: A CD and two mics.
Ka: Ali (Fatal-E) and two mics. I mean, I play bass and guitar and so we have those instruments there. Synth. Studio-wise, we have pretty much everything you need to make any type of music. I could make any type of music there. The only thing missing is drums. I could make indie or rock.
What do you feel puts A.M.M.O. head and shoulders above the rest?
Ke: Most definitely, beats. The UK scene, beats-wise, there’s only a couple of heads who consistently churn out the big beats and make memorable tunes. If they manage to get the right MC’s to join them, it’s a classic. I think, with A.M.M.O., not many people will know of Kaan as a beat-maker compared to an established cat, but when the first album comes, people will see the full spectrum. I don’t trumpet-blow, but in respects to the people in my camp, I know Kaan can make a beat or five or seven. Lyrics, as well. A lot of the MC’s are coming off the same vibe nowadays and people aren’t being personal enough. They say they are, but their personal is a next man’s personal, so it all sounds the same. I don’t really think it’s heartfelt enough.
Ka: I think vocal-wise, Riz and Keez have a different type of flow. They sound completely different to each other. Not enough crews sound different to each other. All the people sound the same. Like, with Taskforce, Chester and Farma are tight, but in delivery and vocals they sound the same, tone-wise. That gives us an edge.
Ke: I think we’re a classic duo. Like Batman and Robin… I’m not saying one’s Batman and one’s Robin but that the partnership was ideal. I think that’s we got over here. We cover bases so well. With other partnerships, one’s up and one’s down. You very rarely get the two MC’s on an even keel. Down our ends, as far as A.M.M.O.’s concerned, like for like. Although the styles are different, we match each other, style-wise, content-wise, concept-wise, delivery-wise, flow-wise. Hopefully, it’s a matter of time before people recognise that and see us as a decent clique and then they’ll see us as individuals, which is what inevitably happens with crews.
Ca: I would ditto everything Kaan and Keelow have said. I would add, that the way we touch on different subject-matters is different from other crews. I wouldn’t say we’re deeper than any other cat out there, but we’re just on our own level in the way we express things. We don’t follow any template that’s out there. I don’t look at any other MC’s for inspiration, I just look to myself. I think Keez is the same. If anything, I’m more inspired by Keez than any other MC that’s out there, and Bone as well. It’s the people who are around me who inspire me and not the people who are already established.
Ke: Out there now, there’s a lack of inspiration and a lack of originality. That’s why when someone good does come along, there’s a big hou-ha, when really there’s a enough MC’s out there for the standard to be exceptional all year round. Instead of the odd hit, like Skinny this month, Klash next month, then nothing for three months. And then the next bad bwoy comes along. Cos everyone’s following. They might think they’re not but they are. From what I hear, everyone’s living this impoverished lifestyle, and everyone’s downtrodden and everyone don’t like sunshine, they like the rain.
“…People say “conscious” but I wouldn’t even put us in that bracket. We’re just expressing how we feel at the time…”
Ca: We’re three working men, so we’re not always coming off that street vibe all the time. We can address the street but there’s different things to life and we try and touch all bases. It’s not just one element.
What are you working on at the moment?
Ka: We’ve done a couple more tracks that need touching up. The next thing is the LP. Individually, I don’t know… I’ve got a beat on Mike S and S.Kalibre’s upcoming album. I’ve done some vocals for them for a chorus. Got a beat on Lowkey’s next CD. Also, Frisco Dan, who’s affiliated with Mike S. ISK, part of Armshouse Records, working with them.
Kaan, before we continue, with such a beautiful voice, why don’t you sing on more tunes?!
Ka: I like singing but it’s personal to me. So it’s not something I want to follow up and do live. I prefer doing little choruses. I have written songs but I may get other people to sing them.
OK, sorry for the digression, how much of the album is already done?
Ca: Beats-wise we have about five or six albums worth… but vocals-wise, we have about five or six more finished, and we have the seeds in the mind for the next five or six. The album is pretty much underway.
Ke: This time, we’re gonna keep them fresh, not stored up in the cupboard. Build up the catalogue as we go, and when the last one is done, they get put together. The concepts are being cooked up.
Are you hoping to put them out on Armshouse or are you hoping to licence them out to a bigger company?
Ka: We’d prefer someone to pick us up. We’re broke!! But if that doesn’t happen, then it’ll be on Armshouse.
Are you hoping to get studio time sorted for it or will it be done at home again?
Ca: Depends on whether we get any label-interest on whether we’ll be able to get into a studio. I’d love to be able to record it properly but if we have to go through the same process as last time, then it’ll just be a home studio set-up. The equipment’s improved so it’ll be tighter this time.
Ke: It makes it more of an interesting project when you have to do it all yourself. It’s hard but it makes it interesting because you go through it start to finish. Talking to printers, getting artwork done and whatever else… we’re artists. These other things we have to do cos no one else would do it for us. If we don’t, the music won’t get out. And we can’t call ourselves a hip-hop crew cos we can’t put music out. And that’s what it was feeling like before we put the “Slewage” out.
Ka: This EP was ready at the end of last year and we were hoping to get it released at the end of April, but it was just the corporate side, money and business-side kills everything else. It kills your enthusiasm to make music as well. It would be nice if someone picked us up so we wouldn’t have to do all that.
Ke: I don’t think we’ll shop it around though or push it in people’s faces. If someone hears it and the terms are right then yeah… otherwise we’ll just do another Armshouse records instalment.
What’s next for you?
Ca: More gigs, pushing the EP. Putting out the album, videos.
Ke: I wouldn’t mind a single release off this one, but we’ll see how the overall sales go. I’d like to put the “Slewage” out just as a single. Depends on how it goes. More exposure I think.
Ka: Getting more stations to play it as well. Kiss or Choice…
“…A lot of the MC’s are coming off the same vibe nowadays and people aren’t being personal enough…”
Ke: Widen the whole A.M.M.O. name and get it out there. Cos we were sleeping a little while ago. But we’re wide awake now and it’s given us momentum to go to the next thing. Between this and the LP there’ll be a few singles, a couple of vinyl releases.
Ka: A mixtape.
Ke: A few collabos with Jimmy Whispers and Luca Brassi, a few boys from round my way. They got an upcoming EP and stuff. A couple of boys called Zone 2 from SE. Yeah man. Mostly us on our Jack Jones, cos we ain’t got no celebrity mates! Keep it close-knit.
Any big-ups/shameless plugs you wanna make?
Ca: Dirtburg! My Allied Minds Mentally Organised clique, family, friends, anyone who supported A.M.M.O. along the way, and anyone out there doing the same thing as us.
Ka: Spitfire Records, Conflix, all the upcoming UK people, Mike S and Kalibre. Lowkey, SO Recs, 1Xtra, all the people who appreciate our music.
Ke: A.M.M.O., Armshouse, Fatal-E, this team first and foremost cos we’ve come a long way and we’re getting somewhere at last. Jimmy Whispers, Luca Brassi, the Blue Borough massive, my cousins in New Cross, SE1/8.
Ka: Baron Samedi…
Ke: Just everyone, man. Look out for the “Slewage”…
Ca: UKHH.COM. Nikesh!!
Ke: Buy the “Slewage”… Nikesh, what did you reckon of it?
Didn’t you read my review?
Ke: Oh yeah, I did. You liked it though!
And I can rectify my mistake that on the title track it wasn’t a lover’s rock sample, it was Kaan!
Ka: Thank you…
The boys must go places, they have so much energy and boundless creativity that it would be a crime if in two years time, you weren’t at a gig, going spaz and shouting “A-double-M-Oh NO!!!!!”
“The Slewage” EP, a true banger, is out on Armshouse Records and through Suspect Packages. Buy it. Do it, do it…
– Nikesh Shukla