You owe Hijack everything and I mean everything. If it wasn’t for them then you’d now be wearing a bad (meaning awful) shell suit with a baseball cap on backwards reading an article about Derek B or MC Einstein. Certainly a shuddering thought. Of course there were other credible groups to fight the good fight before Hijack: Demon Boyz, London Posse, even Overlord X had his moments but Hijack were something else. They weren’t as good as the Americans… They were better. It is easy to forget how big they were and importantly, how big they nearly became.
Their story mirrors the story of UK hip hop, quality releases creating an insatiable appetite amongst underground followers, occasional forays into the enemy territory of the top 40 and mainstream television, a shot at the big time only to be let down by record company politics, a split and for some, a dubious career change into whichever dance genre is selling records at the time.
Who better to tell the story than DJ Supreme? As one third of the core of the Hijack crew he forged the hardcore sound and has refused to compromise it ever since despite others showing a more lucrative career plan. Supreme set up Backbone Records to continue where Hijack left off, with classic releases already under the belt and with new projects on the way, his story is far from over but let’s bring you up to date…
I’ve read that you initially got into the hip hop scene when hearing Buffalo Gals by Malcolm McLaren. Can you describe the scene in South London at around that time?
The London scene was very much like it is today, dominated by UK pop and American soul music. I remember artists like Davie Bowie, Jackson 5, Police, Marvin Gaye, Bonie M, Kool and the Gang, BeeGees, Blondie, Abba, and Chic making some of the better records. At the time I was listening to a lot of Reggae Music. I was particularly into the ‘toasting’ style of reggae done by artists like Eeek-a-mouse, Yellow Man, and Billy Boyo. But it all changed for me when Malcom Mclaren released buffalo gals out of blue. When the video first aired on TV, it totally freaked me out, the images of breakers, popers, djs and grafitti art had a profound effect on me to the point I was totally consumed by it. I discovered the next day at school that I was not the only person wanting to be a part of the new HIP HOP phenomenon.
Virtually everyone, whether artists or fans, mention Hijack as an inspiration, as pioneers and originators of hardcore UK rap, the first UK band which could compete with the U.S on an equal footing. How do you feel about this level of respect that you have?
I feel a sense of achievement when people acknowledge what we done and give credit. Earning respect was our primary objective.
When recording Style Wars and then hearing the final cut, was it obvious that it was something different to all the other UK releases at the time? Something special?
To be honest, I wasn’t totally happy with the music on Style Wars, it was too similar to PE’s “Public Enemy Number 1”, but those are the compromises I had to make as a co-producer. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bothered because I was utterly convinced that the Rapping and Scratching were what made that track a winner.
Hold No Hostage was your first solo production and led to a whole wave of similar recordings, was it your definite intention to increase the BPM and create a track of this pace?
Yes, I used speed as the main ingredients for creating an intense hardcore atmosphere in my music. I think about music the same way that a composer writes movie scores to capture moods. I did not increase the BPMs intentionally instead I tried to capture my feelings at that moment i.e. dissatisfaction with commercial rap, my old school battle mentality and a hunger for street credibility. It just so happens that 120BPM seemed to capture all that perfectly. Haha, It sounds corny and immature now but we just wanted to serve everyone and I tried to represent this in the music. I think everyone got the picture!
I remember at the time that all my mates thought it were wicked where you scratched up the high-pitched sample of the word Hijack.
Haha, that’s funny, it was all discovered by mistake! What’s even funnier is amidst the other more complex scratches that were done it’s the simplest and least challenging ones that people remember.
Ice T then got to hear the track when he was guesting on a radio show, when did you first hear that he was interested in signing you to Rhyme Syndicate? Had you met him before?
The night that radio show aired, I got a phone call from a friend to tell me Ice T was going crazy about Hijack and the Hold No Hostage single. The following evening I was sitting in the WAG club having a drink with him. He was all about business and wasted no time in propositioning us with a contract on his Rhyme Syndicate Records. I had not met Ice before but I later grew to know him during the several shows we did on the road. I find him to be a real genuine character, I still have much respect for him.
Did you have any doubts at all about signing up with Rhyme Syndicate?
No doubts what so ever. I mean, the label was being managed by Ice T, a Hip Hop veteran whom by then was a leading force in rap music industry, he had power. Rhyme Syndicate were not the problem, it was their collapse and our subsequent move to Warner Brothers that I had doubts about.
Who came up with the ‘Terrorist Group’ imagery?
The terrorist group image spontaneously grew out of the name Hijack, coined by DJ Undercover. We simply incorporated the imagery associated with rebel forces, airplane hijackers and terrorist as seen in the newspaper and movies.
What did Agent Clueso and Fritz actually do?
They were recruited to participate only in our live stage performances.
Although I never caught Hijack live, I remember when you were performing Syndicate Outta Jail on Dance Energy and there was a bit of theatrics going on, was this a regular occurrence with a Hijack concert?
Yes, this was a regular feature of our show. We had learnt very early on that some carefully thought out acting and action sequences would leave a lasting impression with the audience. What wasn’t shown in that particular TV show was the use of firearms, this wasn’t allowed for obvious reasons. We normally used blank guns to act out on stage shootouts with blood capsules and everything. These days I think a lot of artists/groups lack a good entertaining show, they would have a lot more success if they thought about this more seriously. Another thing about that TV show was that my brother stood in for me on the turntables that day as I had an urgent engagement elsewhere. I think he did a pretty good job faking it though – haha.
The next single was the Badman is Robbin which got into a UK chart placing didn’t it?
Yes, It entered the top 40. When I was told about this I remember thinking that “we’ve crossed over”. The best thing about going top 40 is that we made a tune that was 100% Hijack, no compromising, and people liked it. I find that flattering.
The Style Warriors Revenge remix was released, how come this appeared?
We decided to do a remix of Style Wars as a stopgap while Warner Brothers were figuring out what to do with the Horns of Jerico album. We wanted to let people know that we were still around and haven’t gone anywhere. If Warner’s released our album when they were suppose to we never would have done that remix for Music of Life.
Which of your U.K contemporaries did you really rate?
Haha! I would have never entertained such a question back in the day but since I’ve buried my battle axes long ago I can confess that I rated the Demon Boyz, London Posse and Hardnoise. These crews were as innovative as Hijack and if not for the silent competition that raged between us, I doubt that UK hip-hop would have reached the heights that it did. For these crews I still carry much admiration and respect.
When The Horns of Jericho finally arrived, I remember clearly thinking at the time that you would now crack America, was this your anticipation also? How realistic was this view?
I think we would have made a few ripples on the US scene if Rhyme Syndicate Records had not been dissolved and we got the proper backing but that never happened. We knew Warner Brothers gave no release date for the album in the US well in advance so we weren’t under any illusions as to what was going to happen, realistically.
Once Rhyme Syndicate dissolved, didn’t Ice T carry anymore weight with Warner Brothers in pushing for a U.S release?
I’m sure he did have influence with Warners, but not enough for them to invest thousands of dollars on something that the US where not ready for. You got to remember that there was nothing out there that sounded remotely like us, it was totally alien to them, they couldn’t pigeon hole it, they just didn’t know how to sell it.
Did you get any reaction from America in relation to either your live performing or your tracks?
Yes. Through the Internet I’ve received many emails from people in the US who know of Hijack. I found out that our material got around on the underground hip hop scene in a big way. It’s weird because I had always heard about this back in the day but never paid it any mind, as far as I was concerned it was a rumor. All that changed the day I received a telephone call at home from Q Bert of the Sckarcth Piklz. He told me he was a great fan of Hijack, that the scratching was way ahead of its time and how it had a major influence on him. Further to my surprise he invited me to address an audience at the Scratchcon 2000 seminar in San Francisco in the company of Cash Money, Dj Aladin, Craze, The Xecutioners, Beat Junkies and Scratch Perverts. Haha, after almost 18 years of perfecting the cut, there I was invited to share the stage with the worlds best DJs! This was one of my proudest moments. I’ve been told I appear in the Scratchcon video too.
What went wrong in this period, why didn’t the album get released over there?
I guess someone on-high decided to push the album in Europe where there was already a market for us and not invest any capital in promoting us in the US. The usual major label bullshit!
On ‘Back to Brixton’, Chuck D is mentioned as giving advice to yourselves and I got the impression at the time that Public Enemy were very enthusiastic about the U.K scene, did U.S groups like this do enough to help you and other UK groups to gain more success, particularly in America?
No, US groups did not do enough, but then why should they? Hip Hop is not a charity business. I believe you will always find your way through once you can prove you can stand on your own two feet as an artists. Right now UK hip hop hasn’t got a leg to stand on and no ones going to hand out wheel chairs to support it. Until the right group/artist comes along with the winning sound, image and show and hits it big, no ones going to pay the UK any attention.
Had most of the Horns of Jericho LP been recorded before you met Ice T?
Not exactly, I had approximately 70% the music done in pre-production. For example ‘Daddy Rich’, ‘The Contract’, ‘I had to Serve You’, ‘Brother v Brother’, and ‘Shoguns Assassin’ were all made well before we released ‘Hold No Hostage’. With the album release being delayed I later produced ‘Terrorist Group, ‘I had to Serve You (remix)’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Murder in the first degree’ (Murder was the last track I produced with Hijack.).
Did he have any influence over your musical output once you’d signed?
None what so ever, we were in total control. In fact he loved the music and even wanted that I produce for him, we just never got round to it.
You then left Hijack after disagreements over your future. You’ve said that Kamanchi Sly and Undercover wanted to conform to what the U.S market dictated, can you clarify this further?
Yes, I had said earlier that Warner Brother’s did not release our album in the US for economic reasons. When this happened it was pretty clear to us that Warner’s believed our unique brand of hip hop would not sell in the US. The realisation of this affected everyone in different ways. My feeling was we got this far being unique it’s just a matter of time before the US caught on and if not, who needs them. K Sly and Undercover were of the opinion that we needed the US market and if our music was a problem then we should adapt. In other words ‘jump on the US band wagon’. They were adamant that this was the only way forward for Hijack but compromising was something I was not willing to do – this basically brought about the end.
Looking back, what would you have done differently with Hijack?
I would make sure I got my full production credits.
What is your favourite Hijack tune and which is your least favourite?
My favorite track is ‘Hold No hostage’. ‘Back to Brixton’ would be my least favorite.
Really? I always thought Back to Brixton was one of the best cuts on the album. Why don’t you like it? ‘Don’t Go with Strangers’ is probably the one I’m not keen on.
It’s not the best rock loop that was used, there was much harder stuff but they just didn’t make the final album track list.
In between leaving Hijack and forming Backbone Records, what did you get upto? There is a house DJ called Supreme who has released stuff, are you one and the same?
I did not make this DJ Supreme house track. I found out that DJ Undercover and K Sly are responsible for this record. Apparently, when I left the group they replaced me with someone else with the same name and made their move into dance music.
It’s a bit low replacing you with someone of the same name, I take it that the split with Hijack was not totally amicable?
I guess those guys were generally not pleased because they probably knew when I left the Hijack sound would come with me. And I wasn’t happy because I realised I had nothing in common with them anymore.
I know that the record was released without your permission leading to solicitors getting involved, what happened there?
Not wanting to get into all the details, my lawyers got involved and the record label responsible for releasing the single agreed to stop pressing that record.
What do you make of the Pied Piper and the Unknown MC? A lot of b-boys are up in arms at Kamanchi Sly going from one of the hip hop scenes most respected MC’s to dropping very basic cliched lyrics on a very poppy tune, what is your take on that?
I can’t comment much because I don’t know their material. I’ve been living outside England for some time now so I’ve evaded that whole garage scene (thank god!). My thoughts on K Sly moving from b-boy to garage-dude-whatamacallit, I’m not surprised, he was always looking for a new direction. I can understand how the b-boys feel with the blatant hypocrisy of the MC that wrote “money ain’t the matter it’s the principal that makes us invincible”. But hey, who are we to judge – every man is at liberty to choose how he makes his bread and butter no matter how stink it may look to the rest of us.
I think the tune has just hit number one in the charts and they’ve been performing on all sorts of prime time television. I’m not bothered that he’s gone into Garage but the lyrics are truly awful. Rodney P has been talking about doing some Garage but with better lyrics, it’s a shame that Sly couldn’t do the same.
Since UK hip hop is such a lost cause at the moment, sadly, Garage seems to be the only avenue for UK rappers to get paid. Who knows, maybe Garage will be a springboard for UK hip hop.
You then decided to launch Backbone records after a period where we didn’t hear much from you, what provided the impetus to start the label?
These days if you’re a UK hip hop artist, based in the UK and you want to bring out a record, you have no choice but to start your own label. Labels like BackBone Records are a necessity and without them there would be no UK hip hop out there. Until the industry takes notice of UK talent, underground labels like BackBone will continue to be an important part of the scene.
What releases on Backbone would you refer people to if they haven’t checked for them already?
Phenomenal Criminal, by the Icepick feat. Grizzly 1998
Dungeon Funk b/w 5 Paper Style, by the Icepick 1999
You can listen to them here.
How come Icepick ended up on the Ruf label?
That isn’t exactly correct, Icepick is not signed to the Ruf label. We had a pressing and distributions deal with the Ruf, this is why the BackBone Logo appears on the Ruf label art – a very small logo, but its there!
What is the future for DJ Supreme and the label?
The label is currently in a dormant phase while artists complete albums. In the meantime there are a few projects of my own in the works. Firstly, I’m prepping my solo album entitled “Dawn of the Dread” – it will feature several European artists. Secondly, I’m putting together a Scratch Tools album with Aliosity of San Francisco entitled “W.R.I.S.T” (Wrath Released In Superior Techniques). Thirdly, I’m soon to launch my own personal web site, www.djsupreme.com. It will have a gang of stuff on it including news, tour pictures, sound bites of my new album and of course scratching. Lastly, I’m organising a seminar named rapology to take place in Europe in 2002.
If you could produce for one emcee, UK or US, who would it be?
Hmm, tricky question, I’m still hoping I’ll get the opportunity to work with Rodney P, Roots Manuva and Mud Family someday. But if I were to choose one, US or UK, it would have to be Canibus. I believe the production for him thus far has let him down miserably. I think, it would make an interesting challenge.
I think most people would agree with that, have you ever thought of approaching him? He’s done a track with a U.K artist called Malarchi so he might be up for a collaboration. DJ Supreme and Canibus would be something else.
How is the hip hop scene different now to what it was when you first started making records?
I try to stay up to date with what’s going on back home and from what I know the situation still remains pretty grim. This is the complete reversal of the scene as it was between 1987 and 1994. During this period UK dominated European hip hop, we set the trends, raised the standards, called the shots and even made a little money. Our sudden explosion onto the scene was due to a series of crucial events that have yet to be repeated. They were the huge mainstream success of rapper Derek B followed by the relative success of the Cookie Crew, Monie Love and Wee Papa Girl Rappers. Remember that Derek B released two top 10 singles and a top 20 album, still unmatched by any UK rapper. With this the doors of the mainstream industry were flung open and soon every major label wanted a UK hip hop act. The climate was perfect – the best talent came to the forefront, the scene flourished, and the music developed. This climate is definitely missing from the UK scene today.
What the current scene needs is a new ‘Derek B’ character, someone to break big on the mainstream – most likely with a commercial sounding track, than real hip hop. Why? Because, sadly, the UK is only about ‘popular music’ and since underground UK hip hop is too small to support itself, it can only survive if pitched at the mainstream audience. Without making a couple of dents in the mainstream armor I have little hope that things will get any better for the UK scene. We must learn from the examples of Jungle and now Garage music – initially totally underground until a few top 10 singles appeared in the national chart.
There is also a major difference in the sound between the two eras. There was the fast hardcore sound of the early 90s and the New York, Premier type sound we have from 95 to now. I’m not sure why the early 90s sound was abandoned but I feel we were on the right track there. I’m not saying that the beats today are not good, no, they can match most of the US stuff out there. I just think we need to be more innovative and work on putting out a top class product – well mixed beats, stylish lyrics and first rate djs.
Hope isn’t all lost for UK hip hop. There is another approach – get signed by a German or French label where ‘real’ hip hop has a large share of the commercial market. If you’re good enough they’ll take you in. You might see this as jumping ship, but I’d say your damn right!
I appreciate all your time, are there any shout outs you wish to make?
Hey no problem, man. Thank you for offering me the opportunity to share some of my background and opinions with your readers. Respect, luck and perseverance goes out to all hip hop artists/groups trying to break out in the UK, keep your head high.
Many thanks to DJ Supreme for help, time and patience and for the highpitched scratches on ‘Hold No Hostage’ and ‘Doomsday of Rap’!