Tommy Evans, co-founder of YNR, man of many 12”s, historian of turbulent times, man with a dental plan. You can say a lot about Tommy Evans, you can not doubt his work ethic. He is tireless, working hard on running a label, putting music out, making music and finding other artists to nurture and development. He’s seen friends and colleagues like Skinny and Jehst tear up this year with multiple hits and not too shabby sales and press. He’s finally decided to commit himself to an album proper. October saw the release of his debut album, “New Year’s Revolutions”. A lot more political in nature (right down to the Che-inspired artwork), very soulful and full of nice collaborations, it features Tommy unedited, uncensored and unforgiving about US foreign policy. He’s also had a good stab at cracking the top 10, teaming up with Mark B to deliver Bollywood-disco freakout hit, “Move…Now”, which had Radio 1 amongst others salivating over its inclusion in their playlist.
So, to Tommy, it was time UKHH tracked him down and asked him about politics, his album and those infamous pearly whites.
What follows is pretty much an accurate record of his conversation with Nikesh.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND TELL US ABOUT “NEW YEAR’S REVOLUTIONS”
I’m Tommy Evans (real name) and “New Year’s Revolutions” is my new debut LP.
THE STUFF ON THE ALBUM SEEMS A LOT MORE POLITICISED THAN THINGS YOU HAVE DONE IN THE PAST. WHY NOW? WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOU TO DO SO?
I had a similar comment from a DJ which amuses me because my work has always been politicised from “Last Days, Final Minutes” on my debut EP “Time Capsule” (2000) to lines like “I’m a dissident causing dissonance to make a difference” on “Silent Mobius” (2002). At my live shows I always drop a political acapella too.
It seems that it’s only when I make this political aspect of my character blatantly obvious through revolutionary imagery and language that people perceive me to be politicised. Maybe people are deluded by my friendly persona and don’t associate an outgoing demeanour with a politicised character?
The fact is NYR has taken me two and a half years to complete (for reasons too lengthy to discuss here) and release so there is older political material on there from 2002 like “The Parallax View” and “The Mysteries”. My politicised music is nothing new!
What is a political artist anyway? Most people would probably dismiss the notion that Jay-Z is, but up until Eminem’s “Mosh” he’s the only rapper I can think of who spoke out against the Iraq war on record (Punjabi MC remix). Because Jay-Z’s style is deceptively simple listeners might think his content lacks depth. It doesn’t, it’s just that he doesn’t need a plethora of big words to express deep concepts. I would say the same applies to myself.
One final point; I know a few artists who outside of music, are very much involved in work in the community, yet don’t feel the need to rant on about social issues in every song. Then you have artists who have may chat conscious lyrics but do nothing outside of music; they’re merely armchair revolutionaries. It’s all talk! Don’t let appearances mislead you.
“…Maybe people are deluded by my friendly persona and don’t associate an outgoing demeanour with a politicised character?…“
SAYING THAT THOUGH, YOU’RE DOING ENTIRE SONGS ABOUT CHANGE AND CORRUPTION RATHER THAN BARS HERE AND THERE. I GUESS I WANT TO KNOW WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PRESENT A MORE POLITICISED LYRICAL SIDE TO YOUR AUDIENCE.
I’ve always had complete songs about politics but the wider public don’t always get to hear every song I make! I had always planned to build up as wide an audience as possible before dropping my political message outright on them. Why speak to 50 people when you can speak to 5000 or 5 million? Unfortunately most heads ain’t ready for an all out political rapper, so I had to bring that aspect of my character in more slowly. Hopefully, in these turbulent times, people are a bit more ready for what I have to say! Besides I didn’t want to get typecast as just a political rapper… I have many different aspects of my person that are expressed in my art. As it is I think I may have spun a few heads when they see the transition from the Turbulent Times artwork to the NYR art, but that’s something what all the best artists with longevity do whether it’s Madonna or Picasso: evolve.
ALSO, YOU SAY THAT NYR TOOK TWO AND A HALF YEARS TO MAKE. DID IT TURN OUT THE WAY YOU ENVISAGED IT WOULD ALL THAT TIME AGO OR HAS IT EVOLVED INTO SOMETHING ELSE?
I always intended NYR to be a politicised soulful LP but obviously a piece of art will turn out differently to how you envision, especially when working under the very difficult circumstances I encountered (i.e. no budget!). During the recording/ marketing/ manufacturing process certain compromises had to be made, but this is inevitable whether you are an underground or multi platinum artist. We don’t live in an ideal world where everything runs smoothly so you have to adapt to that!
“…To be honest I am not really interested in a “UK Hip Hop” scene. I am interested in creating good music…“
“MOVE…NOW” GOT A LOT OF RADIO PLAY. HOW WOULD YOU REACTED IF IT HAD HAD THE CROSSOVER SUCCESS IT WAS THREATENING TO HAVE.
“Move Now” opened me up to a wider audience which I’m grateful for. Whether this translates into LP sales remains to be seen, but I’m truly grateful for every new listener who supports me.
“NEW YEARS REVOLUTIONS” IS VERY SOULFUL IN PLACES. HOW DID YOU PICK THE BEATS THAT WENT ON THERE?
I’m a very soulful dude hence my soulful choice of beats. When it comes to Hip Hop I love people like Common, Kweli, Mos Def, De La Soul, Kanye West, Outkast and The Roots so its natural that my music should have a soulful edge. To be honest, the projects I work on in the future will be even more so, incorporating even more singers and live musicians. The best artists excel in their field and transcend their genre. That’s what I’m trying to do.
NOW THAT JEHST HAS BLOWN UP AND YOU ARE DOING WELL, WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR YNR? WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR IT?
This depends on what you define as “blowing up” and “doing well.” This has been one of the most difficult years of my life so people outside our world may perceive Jehst and myself to be doing well on account of seeing videos on TV or hearing songs on the radio, but the reality behind the scenes is very different. Life’s still a “beautiful struggle.” As for YNR, expect a second compilation LP in 2005.
TELL US YOUR MEMORIES OF THE LONDON HIP HOP SCENE IN THE LAST 6 YEARS AND YOUR FAVOURITE MOMENTS. YOU’VE LIVED WITH YUNGUN AND DOC BROWN, DONE STUFF WITH JEHST AND PUT OUT RECORDS BY KLASH… WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN TO YOU?
Interesting question. I love Hip Hop, but this year I realised that none of this is actually really that important in the scheme of things! I devoted all my energies to Hip Hop but ultimately is it worth it? Being an artist is a very self-indulgent thing to do. There’s no way I could morally justify the time / energy / money devoted to music if the main purpose is to have my ego massaged, which is the reason why the majority of artists do this, although I doubt very few are honest enough to admit that. They are basing their happiness on an audience’s response to their creativity, which is a philosophy destined to leave you ultimately unhappy because people are fickle. I guess I used to be this way to some extent, but let’s just say I had a “moment of clarity” earlier this year when I could see this “scene” for what it really is. So now I make music to be creative and convey a message that I hope will inspire people to change the world.
“…The All-Seeing Eye is always watching! Beware the Djaal!…“
“TURBULENT TIMES OF TOMMY EVANS” WAS ONE OF THE FIRST IN A SERIES RELEASES TO COMPILE ALL YOUR 12″S ON TO CD. WAS THAT AN IMPORTANT DECISION TO OPEN UP YOUR MUSIC TO THOSE WITHOUT TURNTABLES?
Yes. It also meant I could actually listen to my own music because I don’t have turntables!
YOU’RE KNOWN FOR YOUR BIG TOOTHY GRIN. HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR PEARLY WHITES INTACT?
THE ARTWORK FOR THE ALBUM: IS IT A HOMAGE TO CHE GUEVARA OR CITIZEN SMITH?
Che Guevera. Malcolm X. Nelson Mandela. Asaata Shakur. Martin Luther King. Gandhi…and many more people who fought for a cause they believed in.
BY THE TIME I GET THESE ANSWERS BACK, THERE WILL BE A NEW AMERICAN PRESIDENT (OR A RE-ELECTED ONE)… WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ARMAGEDDON ELECTION?
I was hoping Kerry would win it because he would have to be better than Bush, but these guys are two horses owned by the same stable owner… big business. Incidentally they are both members of The Skull & Bones Secret Society. The All-Seeing Eye is always watching! Beware the Djaal!
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?
Whatever God has planned for me. Hopefully more music, travel and opportunities to meet good people.
AS A SPIRITUAL MAN, DO YOU BELIEVE IN DESTINY? IF SO, WHERE IS YOURS LEADING YOU?
I don’t really believe in destiny. I think you pretty much create your own fate.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU MAKE TO THE SCENE TO MAKE IT MORE INVESTABLE FOR OUTSIDERS?
Outsiders will want to invest in this cottage industry when artists show initiative and go for self instead of waiting for outsiders i.e. record labels to save them by investing money!
BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE NOT WAITING AND ARE CREATING THEIR OWN IMPRINTS AND GETTING CREDIT CARDS TO PAY FOR THE PAYING OF THEIR EPS. THERE IS A LOT OF PRODUCT AND MAYBE NOT AS MUCH QUALITY CONTROL. WHAT DO YOU FEEL THE SCENE NEEDS TO DO TO CROSS OVER TO MORE PEOPLE?
That’s how we got started at YNR, but minus the credit cards – doesn’t seem to have done us or the scene any harm. To be honest I am not really interested in a “UK Hip Hop” scene. I am interested in creating good music. If you concentrate on doing that then your creativity will eventually be recognized. So I would recommend people spend a lot of time working on their craft and developing it. MCs need to think more as Musicians and learn how to construct a song with a structure, a theme, a hook, a melody, rather than just spit on a beat. If you’re a naturally good musician then it’s inevitable you will cross over without having to try too hard, Outkast are a fine example of that. If you set out with the intention to cross over you will probably develop a contrived sound that may sell a bit to a pop market but you won’t have any real longevity. As I said before, I think creating music just so you can be recognised by a wider audience will ultimately leave you unfulfilled because you are basing your happiness on other people’s perception of you.
“…I make music to be creative and convey a message that I hope will inspire people to change the world…“
HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE TALENTS OF MC’S NOW TO THE ONES YOU HAVE DEVELOPED WITH?
It’s all relative! Unfortunately talent counts for about 10% in this industry. I’m more interested in people’s work ethic, professionalism, determination, discipline, self-belief and honesty.
WHO NEW ARE YOU CHECKING IN THE SCENE?
Lowkey, Mic Assassin, Wordsmith, Genocide and Sway.
SHAMELESS PLUGS AND BIGUPS…
Buy the LP, ‘New Years Revolutions’. Use your vote. Recycle. Spread love.
There you go. Worthy words. Check out the album, see what you think cos Tommy’s words are beyond wise. It’s time you checked out his music to see if it does the same.