“It’s based on a personality and a goal,” explains 21 year old Kebbie Conteh about the meaning behind his hip-hop moniker Joker Starr. “’Joker’ was given to me by my cousins when I was younger, and ‘star’ is what I want to be.” Having been rapping seriously for only three years, it is impressive what he has so far been able to achieve.
His debut single, which featured the quirky track ‘The Anthem’ and the verbally-vicious ‘Raw Spittage’, was given heavy rotation last year by The Chubby Kids and DJ 279 on London’s Kiss and Choice FM radio stations. In addition, the Slough resident was also able to build his rep by performing his material at live shows in the capital and abroad.
Joker Starr is currently working on his yet-untitled debut album, and as we sit in Southwark College’s music studio, where he’s about to add vocals to a new track, he reflects on the local youth centre where he first developed his rhyming skills. “There used to be seven or eight emcees and we just had the essentials: turntables, mics and a couple of DJs,” he says. “We used to call ourselves CIA – Comrades in Arms. It was just a way for us kids to throw parties and stay off the streets on a Friday night. We used to meet every week for about two years.”
From this, Joker Starr went on to form Amogee Syndicate, a tight crew of emcees and producers that Joker is quick to cite as the source of his main influences. However, when it comes to describing his style of rapping, he is more thoughtful. “When it comes to the performance, I think I’ve a highly energetic style. Lyrically, I’m just trying to be creative. I’m trying to paint a picture descriptively, whether it’s [through] battle rhymes, punch lines or story telling.”
In the summer of 2000, the musician and hip-hop producer Soliheen was putting together a selection of tracks to take with him on a trip to the USA and give to DJs and radio stations as examples of his work. He asked Joker Starr to rhyme on one of the tracks and the end result was the tune ‘The Anthem’. Joker takes up the story: “Soliheen played it first to Big Ted [from London’s Kiss FM] and from the response he got, he said ‘alright, do another track’. So we did ‘Raw Spittage’ and he took them both out to the States… I think ‘The Anthem’ was a good introductory track, but with ‘Raw Spittage’ I think that gave people more of an idea of what I was about lyrically – with its crazy chorus and dirty punch lines. It set the standard for me.”
The feedback from DJs in America proved to be just as positive as the response from their counterparts in the UK, so Soliheen and his producing partner Black Jack offered Joker Starr the opportunity to record an album. For the last twelve months, the trio has been working feverishly on tracks for the LP, which Joker hopes will be completed and released by the end of 2002. “Right now, we’ve twenty-eight solid tracks for the album,” Joker states. “I see between thirteen and sixteen tracks [being used]…I’m trying to be as versatile as possible and touch all people. There are all types of musical vibes on there.” Soliheen has produced the majority of the track done so far, but Joker has also provided beats along with G-Man and Skanky the Ashanti from Amogee Syndicate. In addition – for some of the tracks – Dark Angel, K-Lover, Skanky, Dre Miller and Soliheen make guest appearances on the mic, plus a collaboration with Jonzi D and Apollo is also in the works.
Despite last year’s busy recording schedule, Joker Starr still found time to hit the live circuit and perform sets for London’s Lyrical Lounge and the Mean Fiddler. His highlight of the year, however, came during the summer when Jonzi D flew him out to New York to perform at his ‘Lyrikal Fearta’ show. “I don’t think I’ll have another experience like that,” Joker beams. “I also did the Essential Festival at Hackney Marshes. That let a lot of people who hadn’t heard of me or seen me perform, get a chance to see Joker Starr. It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever performed in front of.”
In 2002, Joker Starr plans to further raise his profile by creating music that will appeal not only to hip-hop heads, but also to music-lovers in general. “I just want to be spoken about more, in more circles than just the hip-hop circle,” he wishes. “The music we’re doing is danceable, but it’s not corny. The underground will like it and there are certain tracks that the mainstream will like. I feel that it can really blow up.”