Having released ‘The Sagas Of..’ to a blaze of underground glory in 2004, ‘Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast’ illustrates an artistic maturity that has the potential to push British Rap further into mainstream credibility. And while the broadsheets may have gone into modest detail over the wider sociological concerns dealt with on the album this is UKHH, and UK Hip Hop is exactly what we spoke about, as well as Grime, former band-mates and beaten up musical automobiles, all will be revealed…
It’s been a while coming since the ‘Sagas of..’ and ‘Focus Mode’ the drama with labels’ is well documented. But it must have been frustrating, how did you keep yourself motivated musically?
Having positive people around me, people who genuinely care about me, my children inspired me, kept me going through a rough period. Also feedback from fans on things like myspace, people saying positive things. It was hard at times, but I never doubted myself, I always knew I could do it (get the album released).
As for the album, did you enjoy recording in Nottingham?
At some points I did, but a lot of the time no. It was quite lonely up there, it was long y’know, but then being on my own was also quite inspirational.
So how long did it take to record?
Do you know what, that’s the crazy thing because it actually took about two years! Not necessarily just the recording but the whole process-two bloody years! There were basically plenty of long gaps between recording sessions’.
Oh, ok. So were you able to make a full time living out of Hip Hop then?
Yeah bruv! Standard, 24-7, this is what I make a living off of, I live of my ‘Focus Mode’ and ‘Foundation’, ‘Sagas..’ money, and other projects ‘. I think there’s a misconception that you can’t make a decent living from Hip Hop in this country-but you can make a good living from it! And to be honest with you I haven’t even really been trying that hard, not nearly 100% going for it. So I’m being straight with you when I say I haven’t really been pushing myself-because there’s flipping loads of money to be made doing this! I can only talk for myself, but if your making good music, covering all the angles of promotion and have a good business plan in place, as well as a good team of people behind you then, yes, you can definitely make a very good living out of Hip Hop in this country.
Talking of making money, how are you looking to promote the album?
Were going to do a live band tour around the country, standardly. Low Life have put a lot of money into pr, online, magazine, press that sort of thing. Just working it and the streets… y’know, the streets are watching!
What about Europe? Do you have anything planned out there?
Not at the moment, I mean I’ve been asked to do the odd show, were just weighing up the options. But there was also talk of something in Australia, but that wouldn’t even be my tour, it would be support for someone else.
You know what, they (?) haven’t even told us! We need to know who it would be with so we can work out the money! Ha, ha.
“…I think there’s a misconception that you can’t make a decent living from Hip Hop in this country-but you can make a good living from it!…”
How did you hook up with Kool G Rap and Capleton for the album?
Capleton was a link through Joe Budaha. Whose friends with a well know woman on the Reggae scene called Lady Vee, she hooked us up. As for Kool G Rap, I think that may have been through a guy called Mifp, and there were initially a few Americans lingering around on some of the tracks. This Latin-American guy called Joe Mortiz did a few verses but I weren’t really feeling it… And then we was like ‘now what ? How about Saigon!?!’ And we spoke to his people, but y’know we had a budget and as much as I think he’s a good rapper Kool G came into the picture and that was that, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
You’ve made your feelings on major labels pretty clear in the past, has anything changed there and why the hook up with Low Life / Riddim Killa? I mean they’re not necessarily a major label in the music industry, but in Hip Hop, they are…
Business bruv, that’s pretty much what it comes down to. I’ll be honest with you, there are so many reasons why it happened on this label, and I can’t even really go into it. And I appreciate what they’re doing, they’ve put their money where there mouth is and they’re obviously confident in me, trying to expose me to different markets… but… I ain’t signed to them, there just putting the album out and it’s purely business. Joe Buhdah and Rodney P are bredrins, and as much as I respect Braintax and Low Life the rest is just a business ting, nothing emotional.
You touched on it earlier in the conversation; do you ever feel pigeonholed by UK Hip Hop?
Hmm… sometimes yes and sometimes no… Kids I speak to in-I don’t like to use the term-but in ‘ghetto areas’, Leytonstone, Hackney, etc when they talk about rap-it’s just that, not UK Hip Hop, backpack Hip Hop or Grime – they don’t call it UK Hip Hop. What is UK Hip Hop? I’d like to think it’s just another part of Hip Hop.
Do you like Grime?
Yeah, course I like Grime man! I’m friends with enough of them man dem anyway.
Is there anyone you would be interested in working with?
Yes bruv, definitely. A lot of them, in terms of production I’ve been looking to do something with Terrah Danjah for a while, were mates anyway, but he’s given me a lot of beats and it’s due to me being a bit long that nothings happened. Who else? …hmm, maybe Jammer, Louie White, big up Louie White-top boy Grime / Hip Hop producer. As for MCs’; Wiley, JME, Skepta. JME in particular, he was probably the first MC I heard from Grime that comes across as a genuine artist, talking about real stuff.
Since the ‘Sagas of..’ came out you were probably among the highest regarded MCs’ in the country but since then we’ve seen the likes of The Streets, Kano, Plan B and Sway come out and blow up in a relatively short amount of time. Has that annoyed you at all?
Hmm… Does it annoy me? That’s a good question, it doesn’t annoy me because in all honesty I’m more frustrated with myself for wasting some good opportunities, that’s maybe due to me not being on point. But then some other people have been better facilitated with more infrastructures, and maybe a bit more in terms of budget. While me being a completely independent artist, I have had to be a lot more self-catered…
As a side-point Klash then goes into a fairly detailed vitriol on one of the rappers mentioned, another female MC that has only recently released a single based on her perceived audiences’ indifference (although, to describe Klashnekoff as being ‘indifferent’ to her would be a wild understatement) and a part time singer-full time junkies generous treatment by the law. All his points are valid but due to my own journalistic integrity and a verbal agreement between us at the start of this topic of conversation I agree not to print what was said. Sorry.
“…Hip Hop has grown up, if you want to stay independent that’s fine but it’s moved away from the ghettos and the estates and has become big business…”
It’s difficult, I mean there are certain things that are preventing an artist like me coming through, and it’s lot to do with the stable you are coming through in, I’m trying to do my own thing. A lot of people are accepted on the vehicle they are coming through on, and I’m coming through in my battered old car and the music police are like, “Hold on mate, where do you think you are going!?!”
I mean that happened with the Mobo shit.
But the Mobos are a bit of joke now.
Yeah, now it’s become part of the establishment.
It’s just a plaything for advertising now, I wouldn’t pay much notice. Moving on, in terms of Hip Hop or any music what are you listening to at the moment?
First and foremost big up Jay Z and Nas, they have restored my faith in surface American Hip Hop. I’m bangin’ out there new albums at the moment, especially Nas. ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ is a crazy album, and on a UK tip… well I’m not really that in tune with what’s going on, but I’m listening to a guy called Smasher who’s a producer / rapper. But also some Reggae, Grime, my stuff, Skribblah’s stuff, and Terra Firma, all the music were making that’s coming to you lot out there…
I know you are a big Nas fan, what do you think about the sentiment behind the ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ title?
Interesting one, I heard Young Jeezy on the radio dissing Nas saying he can’t talk about Hip Hop being dead, and maybe he should get with the times, which is one take on it but I think what he (Nas) means is that it started out with one intention and has now turned into something completely different.
Right. Well I don’t know. I mean it’s like any establishment starts off one way and because the whole world has obviously changed over the last 20 years or so, as well as Hip Hop, new rules come into place and things change. I think what he is basically saying, and a lot of people are saying, is that the Hip Hop as he knew it, is dead. Basically I think Hip Hop has grown up, if you want to stay independent that’s fine but it’s moved away from the ghettos and the estates and has become big business, and if you want keep up then you have to treat it that way.
Ok, even though Hip Hop is the world’s most popular music, homegrown artists are for the most part still failing to make an impact on the mainstream, why do you think that problem persists?
Ahhh bruv… too many factors man. I’m not even sure where to start, there’s one theory, where they (record labels / music industry) are trying to churn these artists out to quickly, rather than developing artists from the ground up they’re trying to push things through to quickly. And now there’s this trend where these major labels will put loads of money into acts and then actually present them from a ground level-putting bare money into them and then release these grimey little mix CDs. Then they’ll ask me to jump on a track to add credibility, but I’m not interested in being a part of their lies.
The infrastructure is still lacking, it comes down to development in the end.
What annoys me are these one album or even single deals I keep hearing about, no major labels seem to be willing to nurture an artist with a 2-3 album deal, and let them grow more naturally. While the opposite seems to be happening within the Indie scene. Success has to be very immediate with UK Hip Hop.
Exactly, I call it crack-rap. I mean even pop music, some pop was actually decent back in the day, but now record labels are spreading the equivalent of 3 budgets on 15 or 16 different artists to find a star. Also, it’s now a lot easier for people to make music, everyone’s a producer or MC these days. I mean ha, ha, ha, it makes me laugh when I see these little yewts on Channel U spending money on videos and the equipment, Myspace and what not and a lot of people are flooding the market with shit stuff.
I see what you mean, the distinction between rapper / producer and even critic-to-fan has blurred since the digital revolution. Ok, moving on a bit what’s the situation with Terra Firma now?
Hmmm, I new this was coming. Terra Firma is here man! Obviously Kyza left the group, emailed me said he didn’t want to be in the group no more. But Skribblah and me are working on new material that should be out in the next few months.
So how are relations with Kyza?
I haven’t spoken to him since he left the group. I tried calling him straight after and a few times since but he didn’t answer. To be honest I wasn’t surprised when he left, it was always on the cards, he weren’t happy, not just about the music either. The industry can be tough, life’s tough. It (life) can be one big fist that keeps trying to knock you down-you gotta’ be tough.
Anything you want to add?
Yeah I just want everyone to know that I’m going through the ultimate struggle now, why you lot are enjoying my music and having fun I’m living it still, that ain’t no made up shit, the music isn’t far from how I’m living. Tussle with the beast. To all my people, I love you man; the hustlers, strugglers, jugglers, everyone who has shown me support, the fans, journalists, everyone. Bless.