We were lucky enough recently to catch the thoughts of Shogun, the self-described scribe of ‘alternative hip-hop’ and grime. The MC hailing from Paisley (a short way from Glasgow) went viral to the tune of 4 million views a good while back with bars video ‘Vulcan’ which turned heads and put Scottish bars on the map. Often pigeon holed as “Scottish Grime”, at the least this is an over-simplification of what the lyricist is about.
With an output to date, especially for a younger of the scene, that has consistently straddled musical styles and demonstrated a wry social wisdom fighting for the forefront against anger and dark humour, its all the more of a shame that his music will be taking a hiatus shortly due to a conviction for a breaking and entering offence committed in 2014.
While he’s still available for comment, we talked Scotland, hip hop influences, his latest EP and impending jail time.
Shogun! Safe for taking the time. For any of our readers who might not know you… If you had to sum yourself up as an artist in a nutshell, how would you put that into a few sentences?
Thanks for giving me the time. If I had to sum myself up, I’d say I’m holding 2 broken blades somewhere between suicidal and samurai lord.
Over the years the UK Hip Hop and Grime scenes have expanded to every corner of the Island. For some reason though, despite everywhere from the West Country to Yorkshire catching acknowledgement amongst UK Hip Hop fans, for a lot of people Scotland still remains quite an unsung area. For those who don’t know, what are your tips for some of Scotland’s best artists to check?
Yes, each region has it’s own champion and militia in the fight against London-centric trends. I think it’s a matter of cultural bias, ignorance and phonetic phobias, more than anything else. Although, there is a swarm of mediocrity north of the border. My advice would be check out Gasp, Physiks, Konchis and Loki. You’ll find the rest.
‘Vulcan’ in particular helped put Scottish bars on the map. What was the reaction locally when that popped off?
Yeah it’s still weird to me that it did. The reaction was astoundingly positive with a delayed aftertaste of futility. I struggle under the weight of my identity now.
Lyrically, you’ve been consistently conscious and never shied away from painting a picture of real life struggle. How have your personal experiences coming up in Paisley and Glasgow influenced that?
My experiences growing up in Paisley crafted my entire persona. That’s my hometown. Where I did my first of everything! The attachment I have to that shit little place will always be deep routed in my music and will never stray far from my notepad. Glasgow’s shit and I struggle to be inspired by such a confused and decrepit place. If anything, it only inspires deep wanderlust and despair.
With some areas in Glasgow and other spots in Scotland rivalling many of the most notorious places south of the border in terms of deprivation, how do you feel the Scottish experience differs from the English one?
Our “gangsters” don’t have mix tapes on the way. You just get dealt with… I’d say the only real difference though, is, the lack of multicultural influences in Scotland. It’s white as fuck up here.
A couple years back we met briefly in the smoking area outside the Jazz Cafe in Camden. At the time I’d heard ‘Vulcan’ and a few of your grimier freestyles and had expected your style to be an odd fit for a support slot for Pharoahe Monch, but you repped hard on hip hop beats. As someone who makes music that often has a foot in the world of hip hop do you find that your more well known tracks often get you pigeon holed as straight grime?
First of all, it was an absolute pleasure to support Pharoahe Monch… Especially at such an iconic spot like, The Jazz Cafe. The funny thing is, I’m not subscribed to one particular genre. People that are, have an agenda. I don’t. I have a sense of overwhelming purpose and the medium I choose to articulate that through will change, radically, as I grow and mature. I don’t mind being called straight grime because I know it annoys all the wee grime apostles out there.
Who are your biggest hip hop influences?
Tech N9ne. Nas. Eminem. Redman. Big Pun. Big L. Big Boi. Lil Wayne. Mick Jenkins. Aesop Rock.
Especially with the amount of money involved in the two genres respectively, it’s quite unusual for artists making grime to head more in the direction of hip hop. Diesho definitely seems like a further step in that direction for you though. What is it that makes you gravitate in that direction?
I don’t have money and I’ve never had money, hence why I’m terrible with handling it but music does the moving for me, I just follow.
We had a quick google on what Diesho means including looking up Japanese translations and got nothing. What does Diesho mean and how does that relate to the new EP?
Daisho is the collective term for a twin set of blades, used by samurai. I spelled it that way because I wanted to kill the idea that people have of me – being a weird grime kid who got lucky – by presenting my secondary blade to them as a peace offering before I embark off into the smoggy wonderland depicted in the artwork. I’m seen with my finger up to the hellish cloud of realisation I’m about to disappear into, as I bravely try to remain of a sane mind whilst trying to be normal but knowing that I never will be. The city in the distance is where I will die. Amongst high rises built on the foundations of my own fallacies. I got what I wanted and none of it matters.
Single ‘Goodbye’ off the Diesho project features production from Sumgii whose work with Potent Funk affiliates and others has frequently blurred the lines between hip hop and grime, so a good fit for your style. How did that link up come about?
It actually came about very casually. I know Foreign Beggars and they hooked me up with that feature. Sumgii’s an absolute G and his dogs are cool. His wife made us dinner and we smoked and chatted shit. It was class.
Is the kind of instrumental vibe on the new EP symptomatic of the direction listeners can expect Shogun releases to take in future?
Definitely. Those swingy pockets of duality is where I fit best.
Details of your criminal conviction in 2017, skipping out on your community service and the resulting 12 months Jail time you’re facing are public knowledge due to shit rags like the Scottish Sun. Is there a different side to that story to the way it’s been spun by the media?
Nah they pretty much covered everything.
You were reportedly arrested minutes before supporting Nas, if you were avoiding arrest at the time did you weigh up the chances it might go down there and risk it for the chance to support a legend?
Genuinely just didn’t cross my mind that day, that I still had a warrant. I just thought I’m about to make history. I guess, in a way, I did.
Has the consequence of the jail time you have coming up made you reflect on choices you’ve made and the choices you will?
Nah I’ve already came to terms with it, that I shouldn’t have been so stupid. Now I just wish I had a better lawyer.
Def shout us once you’re out. Are you already planning what’s next?
Of course. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’ve enjoyed this and I’ve already got it planned and ready to go. You’ll see soon.
Colour: Tommy Slack
Black and White: Benjamin Vee