Ten years deep into the game and veteran UK rapper Blak Twang is still making bangers. Twang aka Tony Rotton has consistently delivered album after album to much critical acclaim and relative commercial success.
Born in Birmingham, the no nonsense rapper's classic album 19 Long Time: Live From The Big Smoke would go onto feature in Hip-Hop Connection's top 5 UK hip-hop albums of all time.
Reaffirming his position in the scene, Twang's defining 2002 LP Kik Off spawned many hits, including the brilliant Estelle collaboration Trixta and the classic anthem So Rotton.
Twang's elder statesman status means he has become a natural spokesman for home-grown hip-hop and he often uses this platform to speak his mind on various issues – no holds barred.
Now heading his own imprint, Twang is back with brand new album Speaking From Xperience and he's pulling no punches. We caught up with him to talk about the album, UK Hip-hop and going mainstream.
Tell me about the album.
Blak Twang: The album is called Speaking From Xperience, it's not autobiographical as such but it's me speaking from my experiences and pretty much all of the music I've made has been about my experiences. A lot of people don't realise that UK hip-hop has been going for donkey years. I'm not even one of the first, I'm second, third UK hip-hop generation. I just want to maintain that because I think we've lost that connection. To a certain degree I think there is a lot of disrespect coming from some previous artists in the scene. In the same way Reggae artists still salute the older artists and in America they don't diss Big Daddy Kane – they revere him – I feel that doesn't happen here. There are DJs here who could educate but they choose not to, they just jump on the bandwagon of who's hot at the moment. Even though my music isn't about the old school I just feel on certain tracks you have to name check them.
Are there any themes on the album?
Blak Twang: Yeah I feel that as black people a lot of things have been happening in our community and we haven't been taking responsibility, so I'm talking about a lot of these issues. On tracks like So Hard I'm talking about us needing more donors. I'm quite scathing in some places but that's because we are not helping ourselves, Help Dem Lord is a track which talks about that. There's a track called How Long featuring Emmanuel Jal which talks about how long are we are going to watch our future leaders be killed. We know who's behind all the guns coming in, yet we are dumb enough to pick up a gun and kill ourselves. I'm not doing it in a way where I'm preaching, I'm just fed up of it and want to discuss it.
You often speak your mind which hasn't always endeared you to the mainstream has it?
Blak Twang: Totally. Yes it has hindered some of things that I do. Sometimes when you speak the truth people don't won't to hear it. I'm a black man, a black British man so it's going to come from that perspective. However music transcends colour, religion, everything – so that doesn't mean that white people aren't going to get it or like my music. Sometimes when you say something that is anti-establishment they kind of move the goal posts away from you and all of a sudden you become too 'specialist'. I think the way the industry works is a joke but who needs the mainstream when people support your music.
You have some great collaborations on the album, how did some of them come about?
Blak Twang: Rhymefest was in town and someone mentioned me to him and he had heard of me and wanted to work with me. So he came down to our studio and we just vibed. I would write a verse and he would go in and be inspired by my last word and would write a verse from that. Rotton City / Tony Rotton is a part of my movement and he is a part of the Plug City movement, so I flipped it into the track Tale Of 2 Cityz. Sway featured on the Legendz track really because I think he is a future legend, a legend in the making with what he has done so far and I've been told I'm a legend so I thought why not. The theme of the track was inspired by the film I Am Legend.
Do you think Grime has a lot to thank the UK hip-hop scene for?
Blak Twang: They have a lot to thank the UK hip-hop scene for, the hip-hop scene gave birth to a lot of genres, like drum and bass and was going on a long time ago. Subconsciously, there are a lot of borrowed elements from UK hip-hop. So, whether they acknowledge it or not is irrelevant, it's like saying black people don't acknowledge that Africa is the root – whether people acknowledge it or not, the fact remains. You can't runaway from what you are.