West Londoner Incisive talks to SB.TV about recording with Julian Marley and Dionne Reid on new track Winners, his friendship with singer Shakka, Tim Westwood and certain unnamed Grammy winners…
Not a lot of people can say they’ve worked with a Marley in the studio…were there any starstruck moments during the recording of Winners?
I don’t think it really hit me until after the record was finished. I was in the studio, in my environment – just making music. I was able to say ‘let’s change that’ or whatever…it was just natural, just cool. After I was like ‘Wow’. He’s a Marley, but Julian was just cool. It was about the music and he was just talking and laughing…it was a really good session.
So give us some background on the track Winners, and how you, Julian Marley and Dionne Reid actually came together – how did the track come about?
Julian grew up in Ladbroke Grove, in west London and so did my manager. They grew up together, and they’ve known each other since they were young. Julian later went overseas obviously but they always stayed in touch and so eventually my manager was like ‘do you want to do a song with Julian?’ and I said ‘yeah, of course’ and so I recorded the first verse for the record and we sent it over to him and he liked it so he wrote something to it. The next time he was here we got into the studio and we recorded it.
Just before the session I was with [singer] Skakka and we were watching live reggae YouTube videos just to get into the vibe and I noticed the main reggae artist would be on the stage doing whatever and there’d be backing singers and I just thought that those vocals really added a lot to the songs. I then thought that I really wanted someone doing backing vocals, and remembered seeing a video Dionne Reid had done a video for SB.TV. Because she has a Reggae feel to her whole sound I thought to myself ‘I wish I had called Dionne’ I thought it was too late because we had the session in a couple of hours, but Shakka was telling me to just call her, and so I did. She works just round the corner, and came straight from work and jumped on the track.
When I was researching you keywords like ‘positive’ and ‘inoffensive’ kept popping up, I know you aim to counter a lot of the more materialistic content that’s in the charts at the moment with a more “enlightened” take on hip hop…so was there a day when you just said ‘no more’ to bling? Was it just a gradual thing? Was it an age thing?
I think it was a mix of all of them. I used to make angry music, like the angry UK hip hop – like [Growls, then laughs]. Obviously your parents want to know what you are doing and I could never play my Mum my music. I didn’t want to be ashamed of my music and also just listening to it, I was asking myself ‘well, what am I actually saying? What am I doing for anyone?’ So eventually I just made a couple of tracks that were a little more positive and it all just developed into that. I don’t even swear in my music and that’s not just because I don’t swear in normal conversation, it’s just because I think if you’ve got the time to sit down and say exactly what you want and be creative as possible…why is it you would want to use a swear word? I always try to challenge myself with not swearing so I can be more creative with it and look my mother in the eye and proudly say ‘this is my music.’
Do you ever feel irked…or jaded by an industry that seems to crave women, cars – do you ever feel overlooked?
Definitely. I feel like we’ve got a flourishing UK scene coming up, but because of my subject matter I am in a different circle…I’m outside of the inner circle. I can’t do features with artists in the inner circle because that doesn’t make sense – if all they are talking about is that kind of stuff and I am not. Us coming together would not make sense – it would be forcing it and I hate forcing music. I don’t feel jaded but it is harder, I’m in a different lane and I have to keep creating a path for this lane on a commercial level. It’s much harder.
I can imagine.
But it’s good to be a pathfinder – in general.
One of the other notable differences with you is the length of time you have been in the industry. What are the major differences you’ve witnessed within the UK scene since you started out?
UK-wise I guess there been a change in the development and the respect for UK hip hop. When I was doing hip hop at the start there was a lot of Jungle MC’s around and there wasn’t really a UK rap scene – that was the time where you’d go to Oxford Street and ask people ‘Do you like hip hop?’ Then Garage came along, I was still rapping and people were saying I should jump on Garage tunes but I wasn’t really doing that and the same thing happened with Grime. Now UK hip hop is respected as a genre on it’s own, you can go to the club and hear it and you can tell people you rap and they’ll say ‘lemme hear you.’ Plus you can push out your music much quicker and more easily to masses with Twitter, You Tube and Facebook.
You have a pretty solid friendship with rising star singer Shakka, can we expect to see him dominate the charts? Do you think he has what it takes to go all the way?
Definitely. He’s got the talent, but success in this industry it’s not all about talent. So you can only hope and put out good music hoping the masses receive it. Sometimes it doesn’t happen because the timing is wrong – but he’s got a good team around him.
You retweeted a tweet that seemed to allude to the UK rap scene being boring at the moment – I read the word ‘dead.’ What did you mean by retweeting that tweet?
I retweeted it to see what other people thought, so I retweeted it and then I wrote to my followers ‘what did you think of my last tweet?’
What do you personally think about the UK hip hop scene at the moment?
I think it’s like the American scene at the moment. Back in the day you use to have a clear distinction between the different styles of hip hop – you used to have Wu Tang who’d do their style, you’d have the East Coast sound and you’d have the West Coast sound and the Dirty South sound. Now someone from New York sounds like someone from South in the US. Same thing with the UK, I feel like everyone is doing that hype, street sort of music and I think that there should be more diversity, which is where hopefully I can fit in and spread the rings of UK hip hop. The scene here is still a baby, growing and flourishing, but I think it would be good for people to try and be a little more diverse in terms of subject matter.
You came up in the Ninties and so I can imagine when Tim Westwood decided to hang up his headphones at the BBC, it hit you significantly. What does his departure from his landmark show mean to you as a UK rapper?
Recently, I guess he hasn’t been doing the same things that he used to do, but back in the day Westwood was the only way you could really listen to hip hop. When you wanted to hear stuff like freestyles, he used to have freestyles where on Fridays where he’d let people call in and you could rap over the phone [Laughs] This was a really long time ago…but all the American artists used to come over and listen to him. You used to see UK hip hop on MTV Raps and the Box if you requested it, but that was it – there was no YouTube. He has done so much for the scene and bringing it over here. All the artists that came through and did freestyles on his show, I looked at that and said ‘one day I want to be on the Westwood show.’ I looked at MTV and said the same thing and I’m blessed that I was able to do that.
It’s all dwindled down now and new people have come forward, but it’s still a big loss and it’s only the people who know what he has done – not so much for the UK Hip Hop scene as that came later on – but in terms of Hip Hop in the UK and bringing it here he is one of the pathfinders and it’s a loss that people should respect.
Because I’m so good at pushing my luck…I’m now going to. You tweeted –
I have to be careful what I tweet.
You probably should, yeah.
You tweeted about a situation involving an unnamed Grammy award winning artist who thought he was apparently too high up to listen to your music with his own ears and had to get someone on his team to confirm that your music was indeed good – and this person did. From your Twitter posts, your followers could tell you were clearly not happy about what went down. Could you clarify what happened?
[Pauses, then Laughs] It’s a little different from that. Basically the point was…I was introduced to someone with the introduction that they were a “Grammy award winning producer” but I had never heard his stuff. So to me it means nothing. The producer was from the US, but I’d honestly never heard his material. For me, it’s just a title. It’s just a name, I don’t care – it’s nothing to do with the music. I wanted to hear his stuff. So I played my stuff for him because he may not know me – whoever I work with I want to make sure they know my music and know me as an artist.
It’s still a good situation and we have a good relationship now, but my point with the tweets was – I don’t care if you’re a Grammy award winner if I haven’t heard your stuff. For me it’s all about the music, so play me your music and then I can talk about you. Don’t just tell me you’re a Grammy award winner when I haven’t heard a song and then ask me to record in the studio. So for me it was just about me being about the music, we are in the music world and that’s what matters…more than any title.
Can you tell us who the producer was?
Worth a shot. Moving on, what have been your favourite tracks of the past year?
[Pauses] I like J.Cole and Miguel‘s Power Trip. Jai Paul‘s Jasmine is one of my favourite records.
We’re already coming towards the end of the summer, for some weird reason..have you achieved much of what you set out to this year?
Definitely. I think it’s been a good year, at the top of the year my team and I said that we had to throw it all at them and be as consistent as possible. So we put out the Where is He EP, and from that project I released three videos: Where Is He? With Shakka and that was number one on the MTV Base chart for three weeks, I released Closer online and Everything’s Alright with YJ and that was number one at MTV for four weeks as well. The goal was just to be consistent, and now I just want to keep doing that and raise my profile even more and break more barriers – and so yeah, I think it’s been a good year so far.
Winners is released on 19th August.