The last couple of years has seen quite a revolution in the UK hip-hop scene. Anyone paying attention will have noticed how many independent UK hip-hop labels there are now compared to the early to mid-90s. Of course, when there are a rash that come along there are good and bad, but one of the best, putting out consistently good EPs, has been Low Life. Each of their EPs has been eagerly anticipated by all UK heads, whether it’s a Braintax EP, the 98 Series or previously unknown groups like Psychic Phenomena.
So ukhh.com decided it was about time the culprits were tracked down and made to explain just why and how they can put out such quality time after time.
Present were Joe Christie (JC), record label founder and the man behind Braintax, Lewis Parker (LP), Profound (P), Supa T (ST), Peter Low (PL) and your intrepid ukhh.com roaming reporters, BSE and Rooke (UKHH).
Meeting at Lewis Parker’s new studio in East London, Joe Christie, originally from Leeds, explains how he came to be in London in the first place.
JC: When I moved down here from Leeds, it wasn’t like there were loads of crews doing stuff up in Leeds, there was like Braintax which was me and another guy, Paul and Thomas who were Breaking The Illusion, we were the only ones fucking doing anything. Then we lost a lot of money trying to sell records, the distributors went bankrupt on us, so I though fuck this, what’s the point in staying in Leeds? Might as well move to London. My mate who I worked with moved down to London, so I did as well. But it wasn’t like Leeds had a scene at the time, now you go up and there’re hip-hop nights on all the time.
PL: Soon as you left innit? Funny that…
JC: Well I was fucked if I was going to start putting on nights, y’know what I mean? You do what you can, but you don’t expect to have to create a scene yourself, but that’s how it felt, people looking at us to create stuff y’know.
Dolo & Profound in the sun
So Low Life was launched in 1992, then after a few releases it was stopped, and in 1997 was re-launched with the goal of producing rap of the quality that comes out of the other side of the Atlantic, but without imitating it. Look at recent Low Life releases and you’ll see what strength in depth this crew has with the list of producers and rappers.
JC: Yeah – I do beats, Lewis does beats, and Dolo does beats, and Giacomo too.
[to Supa T] And you co-produce some yeah?
ST: Yeah I co-produced ‘High Times’, and ‘Life and Breath’ was my break. That’s what I’m going to be getting in to more now I think.
So with all of you doing the production, what holds you all together as a crew, as a sound?
LP: I think everyone’s got their own style, in production and in MCing, y’know what I mean, like none of us is madly the same, but there’s ways everyone connects, and most things that we appreciate we appreciate in the same direction, like the feel of the tunes, what the beat and the essence of the rhyme is about. I think although it obviously varies through the group, we all have a similar aspect on where we’re going. It’s hard shit, but it’s good shit, we all want to elevate to the next level, rise above the bullshit that’s down there y’know.
JC: There’s probably a lot of hip-hop that we all like, but if you listen to a track you won’t hear it and think ‘oh they’re all in to Pete Rock’ or whatever
LP: Or Black Moon! [laughs]
Walk in the sky
JC: Y’know what I mean, you wouldn’t like listen to tracks by T, tracks by Lewis, by Jason or by me and go ‘oh yeah you can tell they’re all into blah blah’ or whatever.
LP: I think the tunes on the 98 Series volume 2 are so different. The sound on that EP is mad raw – it was basically recorded in my bedroom, you can hear the traffic on there, Jack cutting up downstairs, cutting some totally different beats and stuff on the vocal tracks.
JC: We’ve got that all a lot more polished now, y’know. But basically, what holds us all together is that we’re all mates.
LP: Yeah even if it wasn’t on a musical level, we’d still check for each other, cuz we’re all friends. It ain’t just about beats and rhymes. Well, you get caught up in that, but it’s more than that, although I don’t really have friends who aren’t into that side of things.
ST: Like the beat digging, cuz that’s a whole science man.
LP:There’s a lot more to beat digging than a gamble. I’m still learning every day y’know. And that’s the whole beauty of it – the learning. We’re on some masters levels in beat digging in this crew y’know. But y’know when I sample something I’ve found, some mad orchestral classic, I’m not just going in and grabbing a sample and that’s that – I’m trying to rebuild that tune as a hip-hop tune – trying to break it down, twist that vibe and bring it back up, like putting the track back together. A combination of putting in the drum track with the breaks and trying to make it all come together – that’s what it’s about. But how you achieve that is up to you.