Entrenched firmly in Manchester’s creative community, Keke Thompson is a multi-talented artist and performer who’s lining up her debut, self-released EP.
First published as a poet at the age of 10, Keke has since been published in various antholgies and is a core member of Manchester’s youth writing groups Young Identity and Inna Voice. She’s opened up for the likes of Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka and Kate Tempest and performed at such illustrious venues as Glastonbury’s Poetry and Words tent and Nuyorican Poetry Cafe, New York.
She’s currently hard at work prepping her solo show I Wish I Had A Moustache, more of which you can find out about below.
Abecedarian is her debut EP, released under the pseudonym SheBeKeke – six tracks which constitute a fusion of poetry and music. Playing around with her loop pedal to create sounds to give her signature poems a new vibe, rather than the original acapella versions. Producer Yussuf M’Rabty (aka Dyslexis) was enlisted to bring his own perspective to the rough experiments.
Keke says that the tracks (including one cover) have been given one-word titles that can be read as a Hemingway-esque short poem: Fickle Mantra Hush Sweet Skin Sun. Two of the tracks (Mantra and Sun) feature bassist Ben Price.
Abecedarian is out 24th September 2014 on Bandcamp.
Can you summarise the themes of the EP?
I’ve called it Abecedarian because it describes someone who is learning their alphabet. It seemed like the perfect word because this is my first EP and the featuring pieces were written when I was exploring my voice as a poet. The collection focuses on what I learnt about myself through my experiences with various men in my life. It happened to be a major topic (not the only topic, I would like to stress!) from that period of writing.
Am I right in understanding it comprises new versions of your own material?
Yes, so the poems were not written specifically for this EP. They are some of my favourite and most popular performance pieces. I wanted to play with them – come up with sounds and hooks that could transport them into the realm of music. Some tracks feature more than one poem, I’m not rigid about my material. There is one cover in there that popped into my head whilst I was playing around with my loop pedal. I sent my ideas to producer Yussuf M’Rabty and then we recorded and tweaked them from there.
How long have you been experimenting with sound and recording?
Hhhmm… the word ‘sound’ is bringing up childhood memories for me. I was involved in quite a few musical activities (African drumming, Indian music, soul choir, steel pans) but recording, it took me ages to get into recording. I would go in to studios and freak out and lose my voice, ha. I started playing with loop pedals for performances with my poetry group when I was about 18. I got my own pedals when I was about 20. I wish I could drill it every day and become a mega looper! But I’m intuitive with these things. A hook will come into my head and then months later I’ll find that it compliments one of my poems, then I’ll get the pedal out and play around. I think I’ve answered the question…
How has your style developed over the years?
In a range of ways. At first I would just sing gospel choruses to compliment my poetry but now I write my own. My poetry is definitely more personal and honest since I’ve started performing. I love playing with polysyllabic rhyme these days. When I was younger I was like “poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, you know” but I’m a poet and I love rhyming! I think I’m less hard on myself in regard to rhythmic ideas. It’s good to be critical but I used to think everything I came up with was too clichéd but now I’m more like “If that’s how it has come to me, I’ll take it. I’ll critique it and play with it but I’ll take it.”
What is the poetic community in Manchester like? What have your experiences been?
It’s huge and I love it. It’s a beautiful circuit, loads of interesting and talented people. There are always poetry events going on. My experience has been great. I think once you put yourself out there, send your poems to people or jump on an open mic, then opportunities will come.
When I was 16 I was commissioned to respond to Emory Douglas’ exhibition at the Urbis, still now when I think about it, it was just amazing. It all comes down to having encouraging older artists in your community and in Manchester were are privileged to have so many.
So you sing, dance and act too… what have been memorable experiences for you?
I’ve had quite a few interesting gigs with Manchester Soul Choir and Urban Voices. We’ve done beautiful venues like Bridgewater Hall and The Lowry. But we’ve also done some random gigs like Sports Personality Awards and a few David Guest shows. I always had fun being a part of Contact Playback, never a dull moment when you’re improvising for about two hours straight.
Can you reveal anything about your upcoming solo show?
Well, it’s called I Wish I had a Moustache and it’s about beauty, gender anxieties and the taboo of body hair. I’m taking it back to Contact next year as a part of the Flying Solo Festival and I’m performing it next month at Camden People’s Theatre. It’s a wacky show: poetic, comedic and little bit disturbing. Oh yeah, the EP will be on Bandcamp – SheBeKeke.bandcamp.com for free. I’ll pop it on my Soundcloud too – soundcloud/le-keke
This Friday night will see the culmination of a week’s residency between DJ Yoda and a lucky team of collaborators working at Band on the Wall. Potential partners were asked to apply for the residency, but places were already cemented for Manc rappers Truthos Mufasa (Ape Cult), Sparkz (Voodoo Black) together with Rex Domino.
Find details on the collaborators and keep an eye on the process over at Brighter Sound. Day One is already up here.
I caught up with Yoda ahead of this weekend’s performance. All pics of participants are by Brighter Sound.
Breakfast of Champions is gonna be the start of a movement…
First off, this is an unusual project in the grand scheme of things – have you done anything similar in the past?
I’ve always tried to work on interesting collaborations – from orchestras to beatboxers to brass bands – but this is the first time I’ve actually put together a band from scratch to make original music. It’s a lot more work, but also much more satisfying!
Who’s behind the project? Why do you think they approached you in particular?
Band On The Wall in Manchester put on an “artistic residency” once a year (here’s a little info on last year’s with Snarky Puppy)- they approached me and asked if I’d be interested in putting together a band. I can’t say why! It’s an interesting idea to have a DJ be the driving force behind something that sounds musically bigger than just playing records.
Were you integral in deciding on your collaborators or are their talents going to be a surprise?
I was absolutely integral. They put a call-out to emerging musicians, and we had tonnes of interest. So I then had this “X-Factor”-style day up in Manchester where I whittled the selection down to the kind of group I would like to work with.
How are you preparing? What form will the final performance take or is that a complete unknown at this point?
I’ve produced an EP’s worth of music that we will translate to a live band performance, and then we plan on creating about the same amount again of totally original music during a week’s jamming, rehearsing and drinking tea.
What are the overall objectives of the project?
To do something different and new! That’s pretty much the goal with everything I try.
Have you had a chance to meet Sparkz, Truthos and Rex yet? How will your relationship with them play out over the five days?
Yep I put these guys together from the start, and we’ve been working on music all this time – I’m really excited about getting to share the results of these sessions!
Why should we come and check out the gig?
Because there’s a lot of people working together to make something really unique – Breakfast of Champions is gonna be the start of a movement!
Hi there, Charles! Please sum yourself up in a sentence.
The best producer in Essex that you’ve never heard of.
What can you tell us about the forthcoming long player, Lightbulbs?
It’s an album of instrumentals ranging from 1 to 3 1/2 minutes long and there’s allsorts on there. You have happy music, sad music, digital sounds, more traditional, earthy beats. You could consider it an introduction I suppose, as there are a whole range of different styles on it. I feel like I’ve developed my own sound, so the album has the cohesion I was looking for, but at the same time it takes you up, down and everywhere inbetween. The first track we shared was My Name Is and then after that, Bitstorm. They couldn’t be more different. I can’t wait to share Lightbulbs in its entirety.
How long have you been making music, and how have you been doing it?
I’ve been making music for about five years using various versions of Fruity Loops. I’ve had brief periods using hardware like the Akai MPC (the hip hop beatmaker’s mainstay) but always came back to FL as I quickly realised there was nothing I could do with hardware that I didn’t already know how to do with FL.
At the moment I’m using Fruity Loops 10, an Alesis Q49 midi keyboard and a Technics SL1210 MK2 for sampling vinyl.
Terrible but necessary question – who are your influences?
I could talk about this all day, but the people I find myself constantly drawing inspiration from are:
Damon Albarn – The work Damon has done as Gorillaz has had a huge impact on the way I approach projects. Each of the albums they’ve put out have had a clear theme running through them and a strong concept tying everything together and I always strive for that cohesion. Not to mention Damon’s songwriting, which is often so vivid.
Kanye West – I’m really impressed with the way his sound has evolved over the course of his career. One of the biggest challenges I find is to continue to push boundaries and try to innovate without losing a sense of what defines my “sound” as an artist but I think Kanye’s done an amazing job of doing that.
Daft Punk – The Tron Legacy score in particular is one of my favourite albums of recent years. Working with samples, I find it’s sometimes difficult to lay melodies and synth sounds over them without sounding a little jarring or forced. What I loved about the Tron Legacy score was how well they combined raw, digital sounds with the warm, rich tones of an orchestra whichcomplemented the film’s visuals beautifully.
Who’s doing it right, right now – music wise? Who are you listening to?
I still have Disclosure’s ‘Settle’ on repeat and I think their talent is incredible. The fact that they’re only 20 and 23 is amazing. I also like London Grammar a lot. I love theirsound, it’s so eerie and emotive. I also listen to a lot of 60s bands like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and The Zombies.
You’ve produced for the Delusionists. Who are they?
Delusionists are a three-man hip hop outfit consisting of Ben Black, DBF, and Slim Pickens. I heard an album they put out called Prolusion Plus and was really taken by it – the production, the concepts, everything. It just felt different to what everyone else was on. I loved what they were doing so I began sending them beats – one of which became Messiah Complex. That ended up being picked up by Radio 1, so I was really happy with that.
What’s the story with BLA Records? Is it a label you are heavily involved with?
Ben Black set it up to put out Delusionists’ music. I met him at a couple of gigs, sent them Lightbulbs and they decided they wanted to put it out.
What about Straw Man and Fisky?
Fisky is a rapper I’ve collaborated with. I did a few of the beats on his album recently and I’m always open to working with vocalists. I don’t know too much about Straw Man except that he’s putting together an EP for release on BLA after Lightbulbs.
What’s your experience been of getting your music out there in the age of Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc? What works well? What doesn’t?
I use Soundcloud a lot. When I make a beat that isn’t for a particular project or artist I’ll usually put it on there and I’ve found it a good way to test reactions. It’s always so difficult not to let your own feelings or opinions dictate what you do with a track. I might not like a beat because it only took a little while to make but everyone else might love it, so I think platforms like Soundcloud make it so much easier to understand what you’re doing right.
I walked in to Apollo Brown punching some dark 80s pop post-soundcheck, before sitting down with the crew to reminisce over the tour.
The show itself was banging yet sparsely attended – whether that was the fact it was a Thursday night or that people in the city aren’t familiar with the group yet, it was symptomatic of where Manchester seems to be at a lot of the time – rammed, or empty. From talking to Red Pill after the show, it seems numbers in attendance had been very healthy in Europe and London – maybe all the rap fans get caught in a hip hop Bermuda Triangle in Manchester. I certainly can’t make every show I want to go to myself, particularly on weeknights or with teaching commitments such as planning and marking, but it was definitely disheartening that it wasn’t busier.
@LRCN0CNNR London. For those we came out in Manchester, they were a great crowd. But London actually showed up lol
Professional to the max, Ugly Heroes didn’t let the low numbers affect their attitude at all, maximising the intimacy with a real connection to the audience. If you want to have a listen to some of the show as you read, hit play below.
As it was World Book Day and I’d spent the day dressed as Iron Man in school (comic books are books too, haters!) I kicked off with: What’s your favourite book?
AB: That is a good question. My favourite book is ‘Land of Opportunity’, it’s a biography of the Chambers brothers from Detroit.
RP: I think my favourite book, which maybe is kinda lame, is ‘1984’. I read it in high school and it impacted – I don’t even know how much it would impact my thinking today, but it totally altered the way that I thought about everything. It planted the seed of thinking about politics and things like that for me.
VK: I guess ‘Crime and Punishment’ is one of my favourite books. I read it twice, and every time I do I gotta read it again. It doesn’t really do anything for me, but it’s really interesting and I like the writing style.
Are you familiar with Manchester at all?
VK: Soccer. Ah, football.
AB: Manchester United.. that’s about it, though.
RP: Manchester City, right?
AB: Not United?
Yeah, both, the red and the blue. This is the last date of the tour, how’s it gone?
AB: I can’t complain, it’s been good. It’s been better than expected, well received, the reaction and response has been amazing in every city. It’s just setting us up for further trips over the pond.
Have you found a difference between European and US audiences?
VK: Sure, it’s a different feeling in Europe, there’s a love for hip hop that’s not necessarily the same as in the States I think.
With the lyrics being so important in this project, have you felt a difference in the ways audiences connect geographically?
RP: The things is, we actually haven’t toured over in the States, so this is the first Ugly Heroes tour in general, so I guess we can’t know. I do know it’s easier to tour here, it’s more accessible, they support more here. With Apollo Brown’s production and our lyrics – it’s more about feeling anyways, I think. Obviously when people can understand it, it’s probably a better connection, but they feel vibe of the song and that’s what’s moving them, they get certain words from the hook, and they can piece together things.
AB: From my experience, the European crowds are more open to songs with feeling. Slower songs from the heart, versus the US who, again from my own experience, like to hear music that bangs.
VK: It’s just where the market is, really.
The chords that run through your work – and the 80s synth pieces you were playing as I arrived – are very emotive and I guess can be related to on any level.
AB: Yeah I mean, I think people can relate more when the song moves you. Not necessarily to dance but to reflect on something in your life.
Your Wikipedia entry lists you as ‘alternative hip hop’ – how do you feel about that?
AB: We have a Wikipedia entry?
VK: I didn’t know we had a Wikipedia entry. (At least, they did when I googled last week… I can only find a French wiki now!)
AB: I have no idea. I don’t even have a Wikipedia as Apollo Brown.
Do you think that’s indicative of the scene? Attitudes to the music?
AB: Alternative hip hop.. it’s classified as alternative now?
VK: Hip hop’s alternative. That makes sense, though. Alternative to ‘entertainment’ hip hop.
AB: It’s the alternative to… y’know, whatever. Whatever genre or category they put us in, I don’t care (VK chuckles)… as long as they listen to the music. And feel it.
Has Bandcamp been the main proponent of getting the album out there?
AB: No, Bandcamp is a very, very supplemental, small part of getting the album out. We have worldwide distribution, iTunes, it’s in stores.
I ask about Bandcamp particularly because, I guess, as a consumer that makes me feel more in touch with the artist than say, iTunes.
AB: The Bandcamp is a part of it, but a small percentage.
RP: But I think that it is a more direct way, especially for independent artists, Bandcamp’s fee is very nominal compared to iTunes or a distribution deal through a label, and the artist is usually, unless they’re working with a label, directly in charge of their Bandcamp page. Every dollar that comes in is going right to me. There’s no middle man, no anything. Bandcamp will take a little percentage but it’s small. I think it’s a cool way to directly support. There’s no in-between, it’s right there.
The vinyl’s sold well, hasn’t it?
RP: Yeah, third pressing, right?
AB: Vinyl is definitely an expense, if you’re gonna try and do it by yourself.
So you’re happy with the way the album’s got out there?
AB: Yeah. For me it’s better than I anticipated. Starting a brand from scratch is hard. Ugly Heroes was never before, so now just to jump on a scene with a group called Ugly Heroes with three people in it… I dunno, it’s done way better than I expected and I’m pretty happy about it.
What’s the deal with Mello Music Group – I assume you have something to do with running the label?
AB: I make decisions in the label but I don’t run it. It’s based out of Tucson, Arizona, run by Michael Tolle, and a couple of other people involved with it as well. Myself, Oddisee, and a couple other background people. It’s something that started from an apartment, a living room, to now it’s one of the top five indie hip hop labels out, period. That’s pretty dope.
Has tour life brought you closer?
AB: We’re all friends, no doubt. We all know each others’ personalities, we know how to push each others’ buttons and that stuff. (There’s a lot of charming sparring between Verbal and Red Pill both on stage and Twitter.)
Is there a genesis for a second album forming?
AB: I believe so, we’re looking forward to a sophomore, definitely. It’s kinda one of those things that I think is inevitable – time wise, who knows, but I think it definitely should happen.
What do you think’s brought the most attention to the album?
RP: It’s Apollo Brown’s history, man.
VK: If Apollo Brown’s starting a new group, people are gonna automatically check for it. It’s just up to us to make sure the quality’s there. We definitely had a head start with that.
AB: It helped that it was coming off of doing this ‘Dice Game‘ album, ‘Trophies‘… it helped that this came right off the wings of that. ‘12 Reasons‘ with Ghostface… you know, it kind of put a spotlight on this album, a lot of attention on it. For good reason. Even those people who didn’t know what to expect, they listened to it and were like, whoa, okay, this album garners its own respect. I think that, and promo and marketing, and I’ve seen and heard a lot of word of mouth, obviously social media.
(There’s a great little piece about the making of his 12 Reasons version here. I hadn’t realised he hadn’t even heard Adrian Younge’s version before making it.)
Is that too close to the bone sometimes? Most social media feedback seems to be positive.
AB: Yeah. I don’t read a lot of the feedback anymore because, y’know, I don’t take it too much to heart because a lot of … there’s a lot of opinions out there, I don’t get a lot of negative feedback, but the negative feedback I do get, I just take it as I came into this industry knowing that not everyone’s gonna like what you doing. You just gotta keep that mindset, there’s a lot of people that take that to heart and literally read a negative comment and go sit in their room and cry. You can’t, you just have to kinda take it and let it roll off your shoulders. I don’t feel like I’ve been violated yet, as far as being too personal or too open to the people. I don’t think I allow myself to.
I guess you put that out there anyway, in terms of lyricism.
RP: Yeah, you invite people to enter your world, into your life, through what you write and what you recite. But you give the people what you want them to know. If you don’t want them to know something then you’re not gonna divulge that information.
So what have you guys got coming up? Verbal, you just had an album out.
VK: Yeah, Sound of a Weapon just came out about a week ago, produced by Khrysis, and that came out on Mello Music Group too. That’s fun, that’s exciting for me.
It seems quite bouncy in places.
VK: It’s different, I mean it’s just on a different level of where my mind is, or whatever, that’s all. There’s stuff brewing, there’s always something cooking, but my focus is on my writing and on my work. There’s a few releases that could or couldn’t be, but no matter what, the Ugly Heroes shit is where I’m at for sure.
Do you guys get to physically meet up?
VK: Every couple months, yeah, it’s not far… five hour drive.
RP: It’s a collective that I grew up with, we started in Lansing, Michigan which is about an hour and a half outside of Detroit, it’s the capital city of Michigan. It was based from a bunch of people that went to Michigan State University. It was founded by a couple of members named Joshua Smith and James Garden, a couple of rappers, MCs. It was really a collective of artists that I kinda came up with, producers, singers, couple of people that had industry connections. We decided to get together and make a team that was, y’know, individual artists but we benefit from each other. Everyone’s doing their own thing right now, we kinda moved around – BLAT! pack is family, man. I’m always gonna support whatever they’re doing. Hopefully there’s something in the future with them, too.
What you working on right now?
RP: Right now a solo for Mello, that’ll be coming out… sometime, I hope, this year. It should be done pretty soon actually, it’s just a matter of timing. If I get it turned it in a couple of months it’ll be out in Fall, that’s what I’m working on right now.
AB: Y’know I’m always working on something, so… I just finished an album that will be coming out in April, called ‘.38’. I’m also working on an album, that I kinda gotta keep under wraps a little bit, that’ll be coming out in September. So this year’s gonna be a big year. A real, real good year. And then I have a compilation album in the works, finally, a producer compilation in the works for early next year, 2015.
GROOVEMENT FIRST LOOK // SUBSTANCE ABUSE: FRONTROW
Substance Abuse are Eso Tre and Subz – you may have heard of them most recently through the video for their track Paper Tigers (below), or the sick 7″ that’s just been put out of Rear View with Kutmaster Kurt. The two grew up together in Los Angeles, attracted to the message of hip hop from an early age but most of all the idea of positive expression through creative art. The music they produce now recalls that Golden Era vibe without overdoing the nostalgia tip.
They dropped the Brand New Crime EP back in ’98, have worked with the likes of Kool Keith (Night on the Town) and MF Doom (Profitless Thoughts), and dropped their first full length Overproof in 2006. Background Music dropped this year and features guest spots from Tash, Sadat X, Percee P, Myka Nyne, MC Eiht, and Max Julien around the nucleus of Eso and Subz.
First of all, thanks for the ‘Frontrow’ video! Give us the lowdown…
Eso: Frontrow is a song we did about the highs and lows of doing shows. Actually, my focus was more on the lows. Subz was a bit more positive.
Subz: We just like to get the crowd involved so we saying something that’s motivational to help wall flowers break out of their shell.
Winding back, how did the formation of Substance Abuse come about?
Eso: We were homies since 5th grade. We both went to Uni High in L.A. which, at the time we went there, was a mecca for hip hop and graffiti culture. We came up together in the L.A. scene and it shaped our outlook about how music was supposed to sound. On this album we boldly talk about a lot of things that people don’t give a shit about anymore but that mean a lot to us.
Subz: It furthers explains where we are from and where we are heading.
Give me a quick three adjectives that most suit each member of the crew.
Eso: cautious, hopeful, non-suckerish
Subz: Open, Creative, Pensive
How is the hip hop scene in Los Angeles nowadays? Has it been infiltrated by the ‘beats’ scene that Low End is famous for, do they go hand in hand, or do they stay out of each others way? Please share your thoughts and opinions.
Eso: L.A. was and is a place where, at least in terms of hip hop music, you could be yourself and people would appreciate what you were trying to do. Project Blowed really open the gates up for people who were trying to do something different. I think L.A. is known for being receptive to music from all places, and I think that’s why some of the most creative stuff has come out of this town.
Subz: There are so many bands and groups from all over the globe concentrated in LA because they are serious about their craft that this town can’t help but be diverse and inspirational.
Your first LP dropped in 2006, Background Music at the end of 2012 and the Brand New Crime EP back in 1998 – why so long between works?
Subz: It took a while to understand the changing dynamics of the music business we wasted some time trying to get things done the traditional way. We have so many tracks on this album it probably should have been divided up.
Eso: Politics. No A&R plucked us out of obscurity, so we always had to use our own resources to make things happen. When you don’t have some big machine behind you, it’s hard to get things crackin’ the exactly the way you want them to be. But this struggle has made us stronger as artists.
As you’ve been active since ’98, what have been the most exciting (and conversely, disappointing) aspects of the way the music industry (or lack of) has developed? Have social platforms made it easier to connect with people or are those connections to shallow, lost amongst a sea of artists?
Eso: social media is something you HAVE to use as an artist. Has it made things better or some how facilitated broader exposure? In my opinion no, but people will say it has because you have no choice but to fuck with it if you’re trying to put out music. In myspace’s heydey I think I counted literally around 1 million hip hop pages. Anyone who could create a profile was a rapper, which made it harder for people who really had made it a point to master their craft. People were jaded from getting a billion friends requests a day. It’s like a girl getting hit on twenty times at a bar. You could be Mr. Right, but by the time you get to her, she’s over it.
Subz: that’s why you have to be interesting, original, and at least slightly familiar, you dig?
What made LA special in the early nineties? Is that a spirit that can be recaptured?
Eso: the past is in the past, but I think there is a feeling of excitement that we can still recapture. What I remember about LA that made it interesting back then was these wild as house parties where kids from all over LA would come to. Cats from South Central would be at a house party in Beverly Hills. I think people in this city became more weary of throwing wild parties because no one wants to get their crib ransacked. But those days were fun.
Subz: My level of excitement never stopped. I like being out having fun staying up especially if it’s productive or a good atmosphere. I’ll never take my finger off the pulse of where the energy is.
I met up with Kool Keith recently, and found him pleasant company. How was it working with him?
Eso: I remember being at Kurt’s house and he was making some lentil soup. Keith comes out and says, “Kurt, what are you making? Some beef stew? Some pterodactyls?” Pterodactyl Soup. I always thought that would be a funny intro to one of their albums.
Subz: I remember swooping him up to shoot “Night on the Town” and he was posted up in Seventh Veil on Sunset strip. It took forever to get him up out of there! And then when we finally did we had to drive back because he left his hat up in there.
What are the main thoughts and drive behind Background Music?
Eso: We’re trying to talk about the environment that created us, and how it’s the lens through which we see reality now. But we’re also talking about what hip hop has become, at least to most people.
What features are on the album – how have you chosen who to work with?
Eso: We’ve never really gone with the flavor of the month dudes, but instead with people who really meant a lot to us. On certain albums you can see very “obvious” cameos, like damn, they went with so and so, what a shocker. I don’t knock anyone’s hustle, because cameos can be a very strategic and effective way of gaining new fans. The main thing for us was making sure they fit the vibe of the song.
What’s the day to day grind like out there in terms of live shows?
Subz: At the moment we are tied up in our other hustles but are always open to hear offers.
Eso Tre, you write too. What’s the context of that?
Eso: Was tired of lame ass critics who haven’t done their homework talking about a genre of music that they never experienced firsthand. I didn’t get my game on hip hop from a message board or some toy rapper writing salty reviews ’cause his own music is so criminally inept. Someone had to put the intellectual smackdown on these chumps.
Subz, what else takes up your time?
Subz: I am into art and design. About to be an architect soon so hit me up if anyone wants something fresh!
Does hip hop need saving? Can it be? Has anyone come close?
Eso: People have to be careful with that, because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. What really needs saving is people’s ability to think for themselves, especially when it comes to their musical tastes.
What are your plans for the near and far future? Can we expect a follow up album sooner rather than later? Rumours abound of you nipping over to UK shores…
Eso: Expect the unexpected from The Abuses. And whoever is spreading those rumors needs to contact us so we can talk about our travel arrangements.
Manchester is standing at the forefront of a hip hop and beats revolution at the minute. The Mouse Outfit have disturbed the underground with their brand of funky hip hop, while the Room 2 imprint (download debut label release Kydroponics Vol 2 here) looks set to be a prolific representation of the Manc underground over the coming years – more on that below.
Stalwarts of the Manchester hip hop community over the past few years have been Ellis Meade, Sparkz and Dubbul O. I got to know them well through our night In The Loop, where they were (and still are) regular attendees not only to show off their skills on the mic, but as lovers of the music. While they’ve all remained independent and carved their own paths, they were all members of ‘The Kollektive’, and eventually released the Digital Textures EP (currently not available) as a trio. Things then went quiet for a couple of years as they followed their own projects, but this year Voodoo Black arrived…
Ellis: Voodoo Black was formed around the start of the year shortly after myself, Dubbul O (Vidal) & Sparkz got a chance to get back in the studio. After a long break since all working together on Digital Textures, we also have Joe “Cutterz” on the 1’s and 2’s now, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do, in the studio, & on stage. We just put out our first EP, you can download this here @ http://www.VoodooBlack.com
What are the origins of Voodoo Black? You three have worked together before, so what makes this different from the Kollective or Digital Textures?
Voodoo Black’s origin was from the Kollektive & Digital Textures project. Back in late 2009, I shouted Sparkz & V to get on a hip hop beat I’d done at the time which we ended up recording at The Cutting Rooms Studio in North Manchester. With me already buzzin’ with how the instrumental sounded by its self, they hopped in front of the RE20 & Neumann- running though the Avalon Pre’s & Raindirk desk, it just sounded proper.
The main difference now from the Kollektive or the Digital Textures EP is that we have DJ Cutterz also producing and supplying the cuts. As well as this, Cutterz is gonna be putting down a couple beats for the next release. Needless to say, they’re sounding pretty dope.
You’re releasing this on Room 2, Kydro’s new label. How did you hook up with him and how does the relationship work?
Well… first things first. Room2 was an idea I came up with after having been producing and recording in Estate Recordings’ Second Studio at Wellington House. It was around this time last year they moved in, and not too long after, I heard they had a second space there they wanted some of the younger lot usin’. It wasn’t too long after this I shouted Skittz (Skittles) who helped out with the Vaagon, and I had all my nice recording shit moved up there. So really, I see Room 2 as symbol of what can happen when artists work together and support each other.
So… for a short while it was really just me, Sparkz & we eventually got Dubbul O down to the spot for a couple sessions. Not too long after, Dom Hz moved some of his gear in and we were off. So thats how the “Room 2″ name came about really, the concept behind it was to bring together and unite artists who know and work with each other on a regular basis, and this was an idea myself & Kydro had discussed in the past, but could not think of a name or point at which we could link it all together, so I thought Room 2 was a solid through line in where we could bring together as many artists & talents as possible. And to clarify, Room 2’s main producers are, in no particular order… myself, Kydro, Dom Hz, Metrodome & Pro P. There will definitely be more, but the idea is that we have enough content between ourselves alone that we can continue a steady stream of underground music, while not compromising quality.
Have Sparkz and Dubbul O become divas since working with the Mouse Outfit? Seriously though, have you seen a change in their performances since you started working with them?
Nar, they’re very down to earth people, which is why I get along with them so well. I think working with The Mouse Outfit has made them more clinical in writing and performance, which you should expect from working with such high calibre musicians. I don’t think you get to have a live show as good as The Mouse Outfit’s set without every musician excelling in their own way. The MO do this well.
What are the strengths of the Manchester hip hop scene in 2013?
I think the variety & versatility defines Manchester hip hop scene at the moment. From Kydro, Skittles ‘n’ that, Ape Cult, Mothership Connection, TNC, MOSH TEAM, The Bluntskins, ThisIsDA, The Mouse Outfit, everyone’s coming with something different. One thing that will define Manchester hip hop now, is how well we work together from paper to stage. I think for the first time in years I hear local music where people are allowing new influences to the sound, which makes for more authentic original tunes, & more unique artists. And what are its weaknesses?
I’d say that the main weaknesses to the hip hop scene in Manchester are artists who think they have “made it” and continue to put out the exact same sound UKHH has been dealing with for years expecting to blow up, as well as taking every opportunity to post bitter Facebook updates about how “certain people” get this ‘n’ that attention. To those who are inside this bracket, and hopefully reading now, cheer up yo, go make some tunes.
None of us involved with the scene tend to be involved in solely ‘traditional’ hip hop – how influential is the electronic element in Manchester?
Of course the electronic music scene has had a major influence on Manchester music, but I wouldn’t say its affected the way in which people make hip hop music, not directly at least anyway. Growing up in and around high school I was always one to be listenin’ to hip hop, not grime, so I didn’t get influenced in the same way it has influenced a lot of UK rappers, particularly in the tone and flow delivery.
Without a shadow of a doubt tracks like Strategy’s Marka w/ Dub Phizix & Skeptical, Chimpo & Enei’s Headtop & Dom Hz’s Remix work with Skittles & The Mouse Outfit have influenced the Manchester scene to some extent, but I truly feel that hip hop in Manchester is in its own thing, and will continue to grow & develop in its own way. In terms of electronic hip hop specifically, and who’s bringing fire, I think Metrodome is holding the torch right now, with Dom Hz & Sparkz sat on a few gems there, hopefully more producers will step into this arena and let loose.
How do you perceive the national scene? Is there one?
The National Hiphop Scene… Hmmm… Yeah I guess there is a scene, a pretty shit one. At one end everyone is concerned with snapbacks and the fashion of it all, at the other, you have little scruffs in hoodies wantin’ to rap and act hard. I think there is a lot to be done in diversifying the audience and letting people know who go out to nights, that yes, there is hip hop music you can vibe and chill to, and yes, there is (some) that you can go sick and mosh out to. As opposed to the predictable situation… having MCs spit their generic Mr Badman-wise bars, and maybe actually spit at you because he/she’s too close too your ear, shouting down your ear, etc. High Focus have turned some of these stereotypes on its head, shifting the focus to quality control while keeping the sound raw, letting artists have creative freedom while also bringing new, younger acts to the fore. Are you working on your own solo stuff at the moment? Last we heard from you was the Conceptions mixtape, how was the response to that?
I have a solo project I am working on with Kydro which will be a Room 2 release due to go out this year. There is also a self produced solo project which should be ready for around the start of 2014, so stay locked.
The Conceptions mixtape had a decent response I thought for a first free online release. It had a simple purpose, a very clear aim to let heads know, I am here. I think it did that.
Ruff Mercy is a Bristol based video director and animator who’s made a name for himself over the last few years through making unique visuals for some of hip hop’s most exciting artists.
He first came to my attention when I stumbled upon his video for Blu’s Doin’ Nothin’ (which features Flying Lotus on production and the Wu Tang’s U God). The animation managed to capture the energy of the track and run with it, making listening to the song without seeing the visual almost disappointing. Ruff’s talent lies in his abilities to create entire living, breathing worlds in which the artists in the video are able to inhabit. Part dream, part nightmare, part hallucination – his videos are both challenging and mind blowing.
Ruff’s first music video for another Blu and FlyLo track BNG, which he made simply because he was a fan of Blu’s work and it’s clear from his animations that he not only understands what the artists are trying to do but that he loves their work as well. Since that first video Ruff’s gone on to work both as an animator and a director on videos for some of hip-hop’s most exciting musicians such as Danny Brown, Wiley, Schoolboy Q, Blue Daisy, Paul White and Zeroh.
We managed to catch Ruff in a break from his hectic schedule for chat about music, animation and videos.
Danny Brown – ODB (Directed and animated by Ruff Mercy)
What are you listening to at the moment?
ODDISEE – THE BEAUTY IN IT ALL / TANGIBLE DREAM (Oddisee beats are always great but i’m a sucker for his raps so I have had the vocal tape on loop since i bought it Monday)
What artists (both visual and musical) inspire you?
Lots of people have influenced me at different times throughout the years so the ones i’m mentioning are pretty current to me right now in no particular order > MUSIC – BLU, DANNY BROWN, ODDISEE, FLYING LOTUS, CURTIS MAYFIELD, SYL JOHNSON, JEREMIAH JAE, MADLIB / QUASIMOTO, DIBIA$E, ZEROH, STONESTHROW LABEL, BLUE DAISY, NOTES TO SELF, TRICKY, EARL, RUN THE JEWELS, QUELLE CHRISTOPHER, VERSIS, GASLAMPKILLER… oh boy, too many
VISUAL > KAWS, CLEON PETERSON, BUCK STUDIOS, JASON JAGEL, JEFF JANK, SHYNOLA, DAVID M. HELMAN
You’ve worked with a few artists multiple times EG Blue Daisy, Blu, Danny Brown. What is it you like about building up a working relationship with artists?
Personally i’m not such a pushy guy so i don’t try and become these artist friends, i don’t know them personally, we correspond during projects and sometimes in between. If i can connect with the artists rather than working through production companies
When you’re directing a video is it shot with the animation in mind – or is it a two stage separated ways of working?
With the past few videos where drawing over the top was needed i try to bare in mind when we are shooting what will best aid this in post production but i don’t plan any shots because of this. because the style developed from working with other peoples shot footage and not knowing what it was going to be till i got it i’m used to playing with organically afterwards. With all the hand drawn stuff i try to tackle it in an loose way, i try never to erase or correct anything i draw because there’s usually so much to do i don’t have time and i like the challenge of getting it right first time. It feels organic and fresh to me.. i watch the scene or shot then just see what happens.
Blu (ft. U God) – Doin’ Nothin’ (Animated by Ruff Mercy)
What do you enjoy about animating over footage that’s already been shot compared to being able to control what shots you get?
Partly for the reasons i mentioned above and it’s about embracing the challenge of having to work with what i’m given and make it work. Sometimes i get footage and i think ‘Fuck, what am i gonna do here?’ but i think it usually works out well.
Your videos seem to have a lot of different things happening all the time, do you ever feel like you set yourself too much work (especially when you’re directing as well as animating)?
Yeah totally, sometimes i think it’s a downfall of mine because i enjoy getting my hands dirty i can’t let go of doing the animation myself completely where as my life would probably be easier if i could just direct. I have worked with a few animators and they have been great but with the hand drawn stuff i want it to feel like my signature like work. I’m going to rest that style for a little while and get some new things happening so maybe that’ll help streamline things a bit
Your animation includes a lot of what look like hand drawn elements manipulated digitally. What is it you prefer about working in each medium ?
All the hand drawn stuff is done in Photoshop using a Wacom, i love the process of just drawing straight over the footage.. the pen / brush can just feel so perfect and inky sometimes although sometimes i find the control i have over it nowhere as near as accurate as using pen on paper. i’m looking to do a purely 100% animated video next and i might try and include more hand drawn elements outside of the computer.
How long do you like to be able to absorb a song for before putting pen to paper?
An idea usually comes pretty quick but i will put the track on Loop whilst writing the idea. i just finished a video for Stockport band ‘Findlay’ and i listened to the track on repeat from London > Bristol and that journey is 2 hrs. The idea usually comes pretty quick but i keep it looped to make sure it’s going to work.
Zeroh – Coves & Caves (Animated by Ruff Mercy)
How do you choose what lines to emphasise in videos? I notice for certain lyrics you might write out the actual words where as for some you draw what the artist is saying as an image. How to choose when to do each technique? is it an instinctive gut reaction to lyrics or something you plan out?
As i mentioned earlier i just try and keep it loose. i’ll watch a shot a couple of times then just see what stands out to me then just go for it. i love drawing type so if certain lyrics stand out to me then i sometimes highlight key words… since lyric videos became a thing though it’s difficult for people to sometimes see it as anything but a lyric video. One video director i worked with kept getting me to take out the lyrics i drew but i love that shit so that kinda pissed me off.
What’s next for you? I would love to see more narrative based animation or a long form piece of work from you. Is this something you’d be interested in doing in the future?
More videos, more fully animated videos, more raw underground stuff, videos for bands / artists i dig. Yeah, i’d love to develop some narrative projects… Me, Zeroh & Versis were working on a project but it’s kinda stalled at the minute. i have a list of dope artists that said they’d be up for scoring something for me but i just haven’t found the perfect idea yet. I think i’ll make that my next big goal.
Share this post on Twitter or Facebook (or alternatively email me your name with subject: Sound History Comp to j @ groovement co uk ) to be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to the Manchester date. Two pairs to give away! COMP CLOSES SAT 19 OCT
Tuesday 22 October sees the Sound History tour land in Manchester’s Antwerp Mansion (check the other dates below). The tour brings together some of the UK’s finest UKG and deep house acts, plus Chicago’s Roy Davis Jr – both heritage artists and newcomers alike. Affordable entry but without compromise on the line up, this should be a sick one. We caught up with Ubiquity legend Roy Davis Jr below.
What are you up to these days? And who are you working with?
Well, at the moment I just finished my album on Mile End Records. Currently I am working with Terry Dexter & UK vocalists Yasmin and MNEK. I also just finished a remix for Disclosure and am currently remixing Rudimental, who just went platinum. Just staying on top of things in the studio with some touring, still in the mix, stay tuned!
How do you feel about the current state of dance music?
I think dance music is at a great state right now, it’s wide open for good music with groups selling platinum, with tons of number 1 records out there. The dance market is out selling hip hop currently, so with that all being said there’s a great horizon ahead.
What’s special about the Sound History tour?
This is one of those tours I feel that I can get loose on with freedom of expression of music! From where I started in house to where I am today, just good music from garage house to Chicago tracks – a journey into the future of sound!!
Any dubplates lined up?
I wont be playing any dubplates but I will be playing tons of fresh new sounds from my album and new unreleased remixes.
Tell us something that no one else knows about you?
Lol! Well my middle name is Earl. Which makes my initials R.E.D.
Last week, Chris Crates (of Radio Meltdown fame) sent me over this video from Ceddyjay.
It’s great. Based in Brooklyn, super talented and breathing hip hop from his pores, Cedric Preval aka Ceddyjay is only 14 and should have a bright future ahead of him. Groovement got in touch and he was kind enough to answer a few questions so we could find out a little more about him…
Ceddy, a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for taking the time out to do this! What have you been up to over summer?
What I’ve Been Up To This Summer ? I’ve Been Performing All Over New York But Primarily Working On My Upcoming Project Called ” #CREEP ” . Crazy Title, Right .
How was AfroPunk? Is that a Brooklyn-only festival?
O’ Man ! Afro Punk Was Crazy , I Actually Got Carried Out In An Ambulance Truck That Day . Someone Punched Me In The Stomach During A Moshpit . It Was Ridiculous . And I Totally Doubt Its A Brooklyn-Only Event As Big As It Is .
Beastcoast, from the upcoming mixtape Creep.
The Reckless video has been doing the rounds in the UK and getting people excited for your music. How has the response been at home – both in Brooklyn and further afield?
My Family (HOME ) Totally Likes My Music , They Show A Great Deal Of Support . As Far As In Brooklyn Everyone Is Feelin’ My Music . Everyone Is Just Waitin’ For Me To Release My Project ” #CREEP ” .
The reason we all got so excited is the golden era sound of that track, as well as your flow in the same vein. Who produced it and where did you learn to flow like that? You started rapping young, right?
Who Produced RECKLESS Was Someone Named K.O.Beatz . But As Far As My Other Tracks & My Song #BEASTCOAST That Was Produced By My Homie KLIPA BEATS . And I Started Rapping At 4 Years Old .
Your Instagram says you ‘might have been misplaced a generation’ – is that a reference to the above?
I’m Glad You Caught On ! It Actually Is , A Lot Of The Music My Friends Listen To I Cant Even Take The Time To Listen . Im Into That Old School Kind Of Vibe Of Hip Hop . Basically Music From The GREATS So That Why I Said I Think Im Misplaced In A Generation .
Is that era of hip hop something you’ve grown up listening to? Who has shaped your musical tastes – family members?
Yeah It Actually Has Been An Era Of Hip Hop That Ive Grown Up Listening To . Whether Its From Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers , Nas’s Illmatic Or BIG’s Ready To Die I Use To Study Their Style & Way Of Rhyming Like It Was The Bible ! But Not Just That Era Though , I Even Have Artists TODAY ! Who Have Contributed To Shapin’ My Musical Tastes .
Tell us about your DJ, Kev Dot Kruz.
DJ Kev Dot Kruz , He DJ’d For Me During The Early Stage Of My Career , WAY BEFORE THE BLONDE HAIR ! He’s The Homie !
What do your family think of your musical aspirations? What’s their advice?
They Think As Far As My Musical Aspirations , Im Pretty Ahead Of My Time As Far As The Artists I Choose To Listen To Since I Was’nt Born During That Time . Their Advice To Me Is To Keep Striving On w/ What Im Doing . One Thing They Dont Want Is To See Me Quit On Something I’ve Been Pursuing Since The Age Of 9 .
Your music teacher seems to have commented on the video – is school supportive of your music? I’m a teacher myself so always wonder if children have enough room to develop talents not directly part of the curriculum.
O MAN ! A HUGE PART OF WHY I KEEP GOING ! My School Was Probably One Of The First Places I Ever Performed At . Not Just The Teachers , But The Kids In The School , Sometimes They Come Up To Me Askin’ For My Auto Graph . It Be Type GRAVY Though . LOL .
What’s the meaning and philosophy of RAAA? You’re even making your own shirts, right?
The Meaning Of ” #RAAA ” Is ” Rebellious x Against x All x Ahead . The Meaning Behind That Is That Were Not Going To Wait On Anyone To Help Us Succeed In Life . Were Going To Do It When We Want & How We Want . And The Time Is Now ! We Dont Allow Any Outside Forces To Dictate How We Should Or What We Should Look , So Were REBELLING Against The TRENDS & Mainstream Out There & Doing Our Own Thing .
I saw you performing at a Pharoahe Monch/Hot 97 show on YouTube – is there a local network of support that you have come up in? Do you have a homegrown circle of supporters who keep you grounded?
As Far As The Local Network Of Support , Its Building Everyday ! Because Ive Surrounded Myself With People Who Are’nt Just On The Business Side Of My Career But Genuinely Like My Music & Wanna See Me Succeed . And My Homegrown Circle Of Supporters Has Always Been My Family . Their Pretty Much The Only Group Of People Who Will Treat Me The Same Way Even Before My Career Took Place .
What have you learned over the course of doing live shows?
IT AINT EASY AS IT LOOKS , Gotta Keep Your Body Right , Eat Right . Theres So Many Things That Go Along w/ It But What I Really Learned Is That The Crowd Is Really The CORE Of It All . Not The Artist . The Crowd Is Like The Nucleus & The Artist Is Like The Other Little Small Things That Keeps The Nucleus Going ( If That Made Any Sense ) .
What are your other interests? Your Tumblr shows a lot of different aspects to you.
I Have Multiple Interest . Im A Very Un – Defined Person . You Can’t Really Pin – Point My Music Or What I Like .
‘Where Brooklyn at?’ What do you see of the scene right now – is it feeling healthy? Have you kept track of Joey Badass, Flatbush Zombies and the whole beast coast movement? Any favourites?
The Scene Of BK Hip Hop Is Really Healthy Right Now ! That Vintage Style Is Comin’ Back . As Far As Joey Badass & Flatbush Zombies I Definitely Keep Track w/ Them Since They Lived Like Blocks Away From . So Its Kind Of Hard Not To . And I Consider Myself As A Favorite !
You mention not cursing in Reckless – is that something you think may change as you get older? Is it something relied on too heavily in rap?
GREAT QUESTION ! Im So Use To Rapping w/o Profanity Its Like The Thought Of Cursing Doesnt Come To Mind . When I Rap Its Like BUTTER ! I Doubt That Ill Curse In MY Music When I Get Older But Possibly If I Do Then So Be It . & TOTALLY Cursing Is Relied Heavily On To Hip Hop . Cursing Just Really Emphasize On Getting Certain Artist’s Point Across . But Isnt Really An Essential As Far As The Genre .
What are your next steps? Do you plan more videos, or to record more?
My Next Steps, Get The BIGGEST BUZZ EVER ! Plenty Plenty PLENTY More Videos In Store , & Recording ? Of Course , More Projects To Come ! My Mixtape ” #CREEP ” Coming Out Soon !
You seem to have a sound, professional head on your shoulders. Do you see yourself as a role model for those younger than you now?
I Mean , Its Not A Thing Where I See Myself As A Role Model Its Just Me Doing What I Love And As Feedback Kids Just Keep Up With It & Support Me Along The Way . Whether Its From Them Asking For My Autographs Or Them Singing Lyrics Of My Songs , Thats Enough For Me .
You’re obviously aspirational and rightly so. How are you going to know when you’ve ‘made it’?
‘Im Never Going To Know When I’ve Made It To Be Honest , LOL , I Always Feel The Need To Put In More Work So I’m Not Really Sure When I’ll Realize I “made it “.