If the name sounds familiar, let me jog your memory a little: Blood and Jonez, Deprogrammed, the Alex Blood solo EP, and now a single featuring Rukus (remember Let It Go?), called What Is Your Name, that you’ve heard on 1xtra and seen on MTV and Channel U…
This is not an introduction: if you feel like you’ve missed a bit, go back and do your homework. This is Alex Blood, now repping the Soul Alliance, talking to me about work, what’s changed, and how to break out of a cultural vacuum.
What do you want to leave behind from Blood & Jonez, and what do you want to build on?
Blood & Jonez was a definitive time for me as an artist; being my first experience of dealing with the industry and with fans, I learned a lot from it, and I really enjoyed what we did. Things have developed and changed since then – the industry has changed. Though we’ve gone our separate ways there’s no animosity, and I still take a lot from that experience. The music I make now is more my own style. I think it’s more accessible than the Blood & Jonez material, but there are still the same underlying sentiments – sentiments that are close to my heart.
What do you think has been your (more recent) progression as an artist?
Getting involved with On The One put me into the right circles for me to develop a better understanding of the industry; I got a lot more insight into how to figure out where to go, how to move faster and how to achieve goals quicker. Developing the Blood Makes Noise mixtape with Hudson helped me learn a lot about the processes involved, and also helped me fine-tune my sound with regard to music. Whilst working on Blood Makes Noise I bumped into Diveno because he happened to be studying in Derby. It turned out that his main influences were all the same as mine – the Tupacs… the Dres – we had the same style, even down to the artwork and design, so we formed a partnership called the Soul Alliance, which is where the single came from, and now the new mixtape, The Preface. There’s a lot of difference between this material and what came before, and I feel that right now I’m on the starting blocks: I’ve got my sound, I’ve got my team, I’ve got my producer, feedback’s been strong already, so I’m ready to run.
There are often references to family and loved ones in your lyrics – do you feel that you have seen relationships suffer because of your chosen path?
Over the last year I’ve learned what it involves to be working seriously in the music industry. If you want to make a living out of hip hop in this country it can’t be a part time thing. It’s almost mathematics. I’ve got the time to do it, but literally every hour of the day – unless I’m earning bread and butter – is on the phone, on emails, in the studio; it’s rehearsing, travelling here and there: constant communication to the outside industry about what I’m doing. Over time that has affected my personal relationships quite heavily. I don’t have the time or even the mental energy to maintain some of those relationships. It gets me down, but on the flip side of it I can see where my dream is progressing, so it’s kind of a sacrifice that I’ve not consciously made and I’m not particularly happy about making, but I have to work at this rate. My work has to consume 99.9% of me, otherwise I feel like I’m not going to make it, or in years to come I’m going to look back and think I didn’t give it 100% because I tried to keep people happy, which is something I know deep inside that I would never forgive myself for. I’ve put so much on the line for my music career that I can’t let it fail.
“…We’re winning this support purely through the quality of our music, not through anything else…”
What do you make of the Derby scene and what do you think is your position in that scene?
The Derby scene, industry wise, is quite healthy; there are a lot of people in it making serious moves. There’s the Ant Records (Baby J, Yogi, Rukus, Shade One) camp and On The One at the top end, and below that there’s other people doing their own thing, people setting up studios and that. But there’s no support outside of the internal industry that there is: for people who are interested in buying the music or seeing us live there’s nowhere in Derby to do that, because it’s predominantly rock round here. Everything cancels out to zero in a way because there is a scene but there’s a counter-scene.
Right now I’m making noise outside of Derby, as are the Ant Records camp, which is good because it shows the younger kids in derby that they can make moves. I’ve worked with a couple of young guys on my mixtape and it’s good that they have that kind of example to follow; they see that they can get out there too. A few years ago no one thought it was a reality, that we could live off this, but it’s starting to become a reality. People like Baby J and his camp showed me that from my town someone can make it in UK Hip Hop, so I got my grind on and a year later I’m showing people below me that they can do it as well, and if that circle keeps going then I think things will go from strength to strength locally.
What you want to achieve as an artist?
Pretty much what I was talking about in the last question – to inspire people to do something with their lives. A lot of people drift through their life, a lot of people succumb to certain pressures and responsibilities that are placed on them by the powers that be, and that shit really got me down as a young man; it pissed me off and confused me. One of the reasons I started making music was to talk about that frustration with society. But as I got older I started to realise that you can play your cards in this westernised world – you can play it how you want. You just need the time to study the game and see who’s got the power and who hasn’t, and figure out your path to where you want to be. Artistically I just want to continue to talk about my experience as I’m moving through this life and hope that I can talk to the youngers about it. There are choices and you have to make those choices and you have to play hard, you have to be wise; if I can help them think about that, that’s what I want to achieve.
“…Everything is professional, from the engineering, to my delivery on the tracks, to the way the whole thing is presented and packaged…”
What is the future, and what are the aims, of the Soul Alliance?
Me and my boy Diveno are taking production to a whole new level in the UK. I’m still looking and I’m always open to listen to it but I haven’t found a sound like we’ve got in the UK – our sound is larger than life, it’s sonically banging, it’s soulful. Everything is professional, from the engineering, to my delivery on the tracks, to the way the whole thing is presented and packaged – we’re raising the bar. This first single has gone boom, and the stuff we’ve got in the pipeline we know for a fact is ten times more powerful than that single we’ve just put out. So we’re confident right now, we’re feeling strong.
We’ve started to work more with Rukus in production for his next album, and Diveno has two tunes on the new Antourage album for Ant Records. We’re also working with Def One, and other big name collaborations that aren’t fully confirmed yet.
We’re winning this support purely through the quality of our music, not through anything else. You know, I don’t live in London, like a lot of these cats do in the UK scene; I’m not next door neighbours with Task Force or anybody like that – there’s a lot of ‘cliqueyness’ in this industry and that shit is starting to get left behind because we’re stepping the quality up and you can’t fuck with that. You can have your crews and put out your records in your part of the country, but when we come with this shit there’s no fronting. We’re gonna come with this – what you coming with next? People are going to start noticing the difference. The Midlands scene as a whole is really strong, and Soul Alliance are looking to take it forward and pioneer a new level of quality in UK hip hop. We’ve been working behind the scenes for a while but within 3 months of dropping a single we’ve made some serious noise and that gives us confidence to keep going.
What’s the purpose and message of the mixtape?
It’s a large selection of the bits and pieces that I recorded in the last year, after Blood Makes Noise, stuff that I feel really does define my style. Over the last year I’ve recorded a lot, but certain tracks and certain freestyles really captured what I wanted to say and what I’m trying to sound like. I record so much that we could do an album every six months but obviously I’ve not got the profile, the reputation or the finances to do that, and it’s just not wise to do that, but mixtapes can help me stay active and they can keep a rolling presence in the scene.
We’ve called the mixtape The Preface; it’s an introduction to what people are going to hear from the Soul Alliance. It was put together by DJ BFG, who was part responsible for setting up and running the Mudlums events in London back in the day, and he’s put a lot of work into the mixtape. He’s mixed it to a tee; it’s crisp, it’s fast moving, each track blends into the next like a mixtape should. It’s available on all the sites – Myspace, on my site and BFG’s. The beats that BFG pulled out his record bag for me are serious heavy fat beats and I do my best on it.
“…You just need the time to study the game and see who’s got the power and who hasn’t, and figure out your path to where you want to be…”
I’m probably looking at following that mixtape up in another six months with a new one, which will be called Chapter 1, which we’ll take from there and carry on through the chapters of my life as an artist. The single will last about another month, I’m following that up with another single in March called Game Over, which again is produced by Diveno and which we’re working on a video for at the moment.
Any props you want to put out?
Diveno, the Soul Alliance crew, DJ BFG, Ayzee, On The One, Rukus, Baby J, Yogi, Shade One – all of that camp, all the DJs for supporting me lately, 1xtra, MTV and Channel U, all my family and friends, everyone who’s supported me from day one, and to anyone who’s not supported me or had any bad words to say – you’ll see…you’ll soon be eating your words.
– Fierce Freas