You’ve always been big on representing local and upcoming artists. What can fans expect from The Battle for Hearts and Minds in terms of new artists?
Well, I’ve put releases out from artists based in Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield, Chicago, Spain, France and more, but yes I definitely have an eye out for artists in the north and where I’m from.
The new album features some new up and coming artists & musicians as well as known names within their respective genres, for example, DJ IQ, well, Luke Story produced the tracks ‘Refreshment’ & ‘Third Time’s a Charm’. Whereas tracks like ‘Change’ & ‘Endurance’ features singer-songwriter & DJ, Aisha Zoe an artist making some serious moves the in UK R&B scene. The album as a whole is weaved together by spoken word artist & writer Lisa Luxx she’s almost the narrator/guide to the album as you listen to it. She’s a writer of exceptional skill and does an amazing job of pulling the listener into the album.
You’ve also always been an advocate for representing your hometown (and the north in general) – Was that still a big consideration on your latest release?
To be honest nah, the aim was purely to make an album that could stand the test of time, you know you listen to it in five years and you still get something from it and not just have a buzz for a few months. I still believe in the concept of an album but I couldn’t get all virtuous about it, putting a local artist on a record just because they’re local can’t work for me. I’ve got to consider them as good as or better than artists nationally or internationally. Taking that into account I also wasn’t interested in chasing artist for features / co-signs in order to sell the album and build hype.
You’ve got a pretty eclectic taste in music, but even considering this, there’s a broad spectrum of sounds on The Battle for Hearts and Minds – everything from dub to rock to some wild experimental stuff; how have your musical tastes changed as you’ve matured?
Yeah, I guess…It’s just growth and being honest about that growth. I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is fundamentally a hip hop album, It has to bang just like any other but the very nature of hip hop is to move with the times. I’m not sure the album would be considered so wild if it wasn’t coming out of the hip hop scene in the UK. I literally know artists within the scene that admit (on the quiet) that they’re not that into the music they release, but due to the nature of commerce, modern culture and I guess just fitting in, it can lead an artist to never really push the envelope due to fear of fans not accepting a newer, more developed sound… And to be fair they’ve got a bit of a point as some fans just want an artist to repeat themselves over their career.
There seems to be a lot more focus on bringing in live instruments – will that be a feature in live shows too?
Yeah, basically I have two main live shows; one the classic outfit consisting of my DJ Therealdemo and my hypeman Goatstar. The other show is with my 12-piece live band. Both very different vibes but I love ’em both.
The production values on The Battle for Hearts and Minds are unreal if I do say so – how much of a hand did you play in that?
Ah, thank you very much, sir! I don’t think I got my due props on the last album The A Loop Theory so I had to body everyone and everything with this LP.
I pretty much produced the whole thing apart from 3 tracks 2 by Luke Storey (DJ IQ) & 1 co-produced with one of my band members Luke Peeters.
Poet and activist Lisa Luxx pops up on The Battle for Hearts and Minds fairly regularly – how did you go about bringing her onto the album and what was the thought process involved in bringing her onboard?
Well, the title for the album has been swimming around in my brain for years but it’s almost like I needed the events of the last 5 years to transpire in order to write this mo-fo…
Lisa is a quite an inspirational lady and activist, performer, writer and more. We got to know each other about six-seven years ago and would regularly talk about what’s going on in the world. We used to trade verses with each other and realised we shared a lot of common ground artistically, politically, just generally as humans. So as the album started taking shape and I had a solid idea of where it was going I gave Lisa a shout about it and her role just fell into place. It’s kinda creepy how well her verses fit into the whole narrative of the album too perfectly.
The past few years have seen an explosion in the number of UK artists getting real coverage, but they tend to be in the grime community. What’s your perspective on the current state of UK hip hop?
Well, there’s no doubt that grime has pulled away from UK hip hop in the commercial aspect. Partly due to a unity that extends beyond music, it’s more class/culture related. There’s the fact the sub-genre was birthed in the UK too and has a strong identity within the British music scene. In regards to UK Hip Hop, if we’re talking about the music, there are some really great acts out there; you could say that artists as a whole are better than they’ve ever been. And there are labels that are building and doing well. However, I do see a degree of a race/class divide in listeners/supporters and also there’s more of an ‘every man for themselves’ approach which I think is just more of a hip hop thing in general.
Further to that, which artists have been making an impact on you lately?
Obviously, my long-time brethren Konny Kon & Tyler Daley from Children of Zeus, Ocean Wisdom, Childish Gambino, Anderson Paak, the new Pusha T album is cool. I quite liked the new The Internet album, the new Black Thought EP, ahhh there’s just too much to mention, to be honest.
In an interview for UKHH back in 2006, you said the scene is a lot more hungry up north because there’s less attention paid to emerging artists there – do you think the scene has become less London-centric in the past decade?
Most definitely Nottingham also used to be quite the powerhouse but I think Manchester is killing it right now, to be honest. I love London, don’t get me wrong, the city is one of the greatest in the world musically & culturally, but I’m not sure London has the same dominant strength of identity as it used to.
You described The Battle for Hearts and Minds as “A look at the state of the world: at our battle for power, control, for sanity & clarity” – how much of that is inspired by your own personal experiences and how much comes from the current fucked up state of the world?
The Battle I’m referring to is on many fronts. Personal, national, global. So yeah I’m drawing from my own personal struggles, but then, like I said, it’s also a reaction to the events that have come to pass over the last few years … The album is almost a bit of a question too, you know like what’s your struggle, what you been dealing with?
Finally, can you sum up your current life ethos in one sentence?
Even wi di bad ting, di wolf hafi gwan!!
The Battle For Hearts & Minds out now on Saving Grace Music
Available to stream, download, CD & Double Vinyl LP