The time has come to get my Wax Poetics on and get deep behind the history of what was a massively important record in the development of my (and many other heads of my age) love affair with UK Hip Hop.
It was 1999, I was 18, at college, permanently plugged into my Walkman and trying to find out as much as I could about the UK Hip Hop scene. I would read HHC every month and scour the reviews section to figure out which UK releases I would buy the next time I had enough cash to catch the train to London and do the rounds at Deal Real and Mr Bongo.
Some Old School heads might dismiss this era as occurring after the magic had passed but for those of us that were only just starting to pay our dues I can assure you it felt pretty magical then. To say that Premonitions blew me and my mates away was an understatement. It became the record we all used as the example to non-believers that UK hip hop could be poetry. It was one of those records that felt special because it was so fucking good but so few people seemed to have heard of it – those who had it were part of a privileged club – and to say we rinsed it at our two-turntables-and-and-a-stack-of-wax music-discovery nights would be an understatement. For this reason it gave me great pleasure to be able to share this interview I recently conducted with Evil Ed who produced three tracks on Premonitions and was a major figure in many more of the early YNR releases.
Postie: Give us a brief history of your early involvement in hip hop, what was it that got you into the music and how did you progress from being a fan to actually producing and putting out records?
Evil Ed: I started listening to Hip Hop back in 1984 when some kids at school had tapes like the Street Sounds ‘Electro’ albums and Tommy Boy’s Greatest Beats. I started buying the UK pressings from places like Woolworths and Virgin like ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ and ‘The Message’, ‘Planet Rock’, ‘Boogie Down Bronx’ them kinda tunes. I was into the whole scene, breaking, graf and all that, but I got into DJing mainly, I was the only kid in my town I knew who had decks (belt drives with no pitch control!) and was a Hip Hop addict from day one.
In 1985 I met up with Silver Bullet, he lived a few doors down with a kid I knew from youth club and we started hanging out and making trips over to Luton to buy import 12”s and albums. Being in that shop around all these older, knowledgeable heads really influenced me even though I could only buy one record every month or something. We went to UK Fresh ‘86 and saw legends like Steady B, Just-Ice, Mantronix and DJ Cheese when they were at their peak. We got round the back afterwards and were there with people like Bambaata, Dr Dre, all these legends, it was crazy. Having that experience and being around that aged 13, I wanted to be a part of the culture, it just appealed to me more than anything else in life!
I didn’t have a clue about production back then, it was more about mixing. I attempted to MC too and I was on Radio London on Dave Pearce’s show once, but it was probably cringe worthy even back then. I tried to MC until around 1993 then knocked it on the head because I wasn’t very good and I wanted to get into production and DJing more. I was listening to producers like Muggs, Beatnuts, Pete Rock, Beat Miners, those were my inspiration back then, and of course the UK, London Posse, Caveman, Demon Boyz, Mello etc. their beats, but I didn’t have any music gear so I just did loops and stuff.
I had a record out in 1993 as one half of Hidden Identity. It was mainly just loops off other records and me doing cuts with the MC on vocals. I kinda produced one track on it which I’d call my first real production. We got huge support from 279 on Choice and Max & Dave on Kiss and probably thought we were rap stars or something. We were going to do a follow up, but it never came together, ‘creative differences’ (yeah, right!) and all that! It wasn’t until 1997 that I got my s950 and started learning how to chop up samples and construct beats properly. This was when I moved to Huddersfield.
Postie: At what point did you hook up with Jehst and how did that come about?
Ed: I met Jehst around 1998 although I’d seen him MC a couple of years before in Manchester. He came on stage and I thought he was some live-wire kid with skills, he really left an impression. I then bumped into him in ‘98 in 4th Wave Records in Huddersfield. I was playing a demo tape I’d done with some MC’s and we got chatting and he remembered me from the HID record. Jehst came round mine and we recorded some freestyles and stuff over some of the beats I’d been working on. He was in the process of making Premonitions and got me involved with some production and cuts for it. I met the rest of the YNR crew at the various recording sessions for the EP in Leeds, Tommy Evans, Nmonic, Asaviour, Taharka, Usmaan, Nexus 6.
At that time I had the chance to do a tune with some of my heroes of UK rap, Gunshot, for Disorda’s UK Hustlas mixtape. It was a last minute thing, but I persuaded Jehst to come with me, I told him they’d let him on the track once they heard him. He nearly never came, he came to Leeds bus station and nearly never got on the National Express with me, but by some fluke there was a spare seat and he came with me. Gunshot let him spit on the track and I remember we were sitting in White Child Rix’s lounge playing them ‘Premonitions’ on tape. These were legends to us – proper rap heroes!
Jehst came round mine and we recorded some freestyles and stuff over some of the beats I’d been working on. He was in the process of making Premonitions and got me involved with some production and cuts for it.
The beat for the Gunshot track, ‘Firepower’ never got mixed properly due to White Child Rix’s girl and her parents coming home and we to cut the session short, which was shame, I always was gutted about that, but they said to us they had these MC’s called Task Force who they wanted to get on the track too. I’d heard of them and Jehst had too I think, but that hook up lead to me and Jehst recording with them, me for ‘The Tournament’ and Jehst for whatever he recorded with them (even though we weren’t there when they recorded the vocals for ‘Firepower’).
Postie: What was the creative process behind the beats you did for Premonitions, what equipment were you using, what were the samples used for your tracks on Premonitions and how do you personally go about the process of building a beat?
Ed: The creative process? Probably the same as I’ve always done, hook up some drums, find a dope loop, and then fill it around that. I would do a few variations on the drum pattern, put in some extra sounds and stuff – all very simplistic. I have used the Akai s950 for every beat I have made from Premonitions onwards. I put all the samples through a Makie mixing desk with some compression on the drums and bass, a little reverb and EQ the hell out of stuff on the desk. I don’t know where the ‘Liquid Diction’ sample was from. ‘Deadly Combination’ came from Star Wars soundtrack (the Jawa theme music) and ‘India’ came from some Bollywood soundtrack I found for £1 in a charity shop.
Postie: It says on the sleeve that Premonitions was recorded and mixed at pleasure-based studios in Leeds. Was this a professional recording studio or a homemade jobbie? Were you involved in the studio sessions and what was it like?
Ed: It was a professional studio and cost Jehst quite a bit of cash I think. This pressure of paying for time resulted in some stress, especially if MC’s were taking forever to record their verses. The thing is, we didn’t mix the tracks properly, maybe I didn’t even have the Mackie desk then, I don’t remember, maybe not because we just came out of the main output of the 950 and of Jehst’s sampler and did it like that.
It could have been mixed a lot better, a 100 times better, but we were still learning then! I was there for most of the sessions.