U.K. hip hop is getting broader, brighter and bigger with every moment passing. Context MC is a perfect example of a new open minded generation. So naturally, I wanted to find out some more about the lad with his new release – the Dialectics EP just out…
Were you always into hip hop? What made you physically pick up a mike?
Context: I would not say I have always been into hip hop. I mean, I really got into it around the time I started secondary school, and I had stolen a 2pac tape off my cousin (‘Thug Life’) and just used to listen to it constantly on my tape walkman. Then, that Christmas I got Wu-Tang Forever and Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life Vol.2 and it really escalated from there. But before that, I would say I was really into rock music. I used to have Nirvana’s Unplugged Album and had it in my CD player for about a year! I still enjoy a lot of rock, mainly because as artists I think they are often more artistically free than rappers who seem to be constrained by their own image a lot of the time. But there is no doubt that hip-hop was my first, and still is, musical love so to speak.
I decided to pick up a mic, basically just because around January 2005 I started freestyling over instrumentals at parties and stuff with my mates. I quickly realised that I was pretty good at it, and plus I had loadsa stuff on my mind at the time so thought writing would be a good way to get it all out. Literally after about 2 or three weeks of writing, I starting battling. I suppose I was kinda naïve in a way about what that would achieve, but it was cool anyway.
Did you take tips and inspiration from watching other MC’s live or listening to recordings? If so, which artists/performances have had the greatest effect on how you work now?
Context: I did not really get any live tips as such, as really I have only ever been to like 3-4 live hip-hop shows, and they were really more like grime anyway so no-one really influenced me in that respect. Peoples recordings have definitely influenced me though in all kinds of ways. I would say the Mobb Deep of around Hell on Earth were big influences. Basically, at the time I used to listen to them I was fairly miserable anyway living a fairly ropey house with my girl and mate, so their miserable music just seemed to fit the bill – so my work became fairly nihilistic and evil. But, kinda balancing that out was Big L. His use of multi’s and sprinkling of humour took the ‘I want to kill myself’ edge off my music – which was no doubt a good thing. Loadsa other people influenced my writing – Nas's sense of writing with a meaning and message without being patronising or just plain irritating like I feel certain political rappers are, AZ, Wu-Tangs flow, Kano’s sense of breaking up verses to make them more accessible – all kinds of stuff really.
In terms of production, hip-hop becomes slightly less of an influence. I guess my favourite rap sound is like Premier circa-1993-6. But imitating that sound is completely pointless to be honest – and I think a lot of people mistakenly try and do so. He did it best – let him and have it and move on. So then, Havoc’s bleakness is obviously and influence. But really, its drum and bass and dubstep that influence me. Mainly the more liquid, Hospital Records sound of drum and bass which my mate at Uni introduced me to, and the searing basslines of dubstep. I just think the sound is so unique – so I took it and ran with it – adapting a hip hop edge to it. This is the sound that my brother and co-producer coined (Drum n) Dub Hop…
Do you remember the first rhyme you wrote? Can you see a great difference between you way of thinking then and now?
Context: I can remember the first things I rapped about for sure. It was very morally and politically charged – really influenced by people like 2Pac and Common. Like, I wrote a tune called ‘Coastal Teen’ which was really reminiscent of ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’. It was stuff like that that I started writing. Story telling, things about my family etc. Today, I do much less of that. Often I think it’s a bit self-indulgent and basically, not necessarily anyone else’s business. Plus, a lot of the time, I think people don’t want to hear that kinda shit. I still write it, and keep it for myself, but I wouldn’t want to record it. Instead, my stuff is much more of a personalised ‘social commentary’ – things like that. Its reflective in a more general sense – more accessible you know. Plus. I mean, I’m a different person to the one I was 2 years ago when I started writing, so its natural that my thinking will have changed…
Where does the name Context stem from?
Context: The name came from a conversation I was having with some mates about some kind of hip hop news story – might have been 2Pac’s death or something like that. Basically, they knew nothing about it. That’s kinda how it is with my mates – they love the music but don’t know much about the whole history, relationships etc.. of the music – which I like to be honest. Less pretentious. Anyway, I said something like ‘you guys need me to put this music into context’. So I just took the name. In years to come I have learned thing which have really cemented the fact that the name is really apt. Like how a context is necessary to give language a meaning, otherwise its just a collection of random sounds. Things like that really.
Could you rap us a couple of lines to sum up Context MC and you’re take on hip hop as a whole?
Context: I’ll give you a few bars out of ‘The Harrier’ which I think sum it up fairly well – “This is real, its not delusions of grandeur/ ink’ll turn gold, remain prudent and candour, used to be a student of slander/ while now I shoot the moon and acoustically pander/ abusing this genres useless standards”.
The sound for your new EP – Dialectics is very different to you old stuff. What made you change that?
Context: My old stuff, so, the Catalyst, was very constrained by several things. Namely my musical tastes – at the time I was purely into hip hop and it was that which dictated my music. So, the sound was fairly generic I would say – not massively daring. I mean, lyrically, it was top notch in my opinion – but beat wise I was kind of in limbo coz I wasn’t getting any beats off producers. Off that CD, I did a tune over an Oxide and Neutrino beat and it went down an absolute storm with everyone who heard it. It was a move away from just ‘hip-hop’, and people who liked all different music loved that tune. Dialectics is, in many ways, an expansion of that tune.
Musically, I have been exposed to a lot of new stuff since then – namely the genres I talked about earlier – drum and bass/dubstep. This has massively influenced the EP. I came to realise that hip hop can be quite restrictive at times, and given that, I decided to open it up. Plus, the fact that I produced the entire CD gave me the complete freedom to create my own sound – which I had kinda always wanted to do, but no been able to.
I mean, the sound of the CD is very different, but lyrically, its sharper than ever. I mean, if you wanted to, you could spend hours analysing my lyrics and finding little hidden messages, references, acronyms etc. Its got a bit of everything really. Like a story telling section told almost exclusively with one multi for the first verse of ‘Frantic’ (which is one of my favourite tunes off the EP), and general analytical brooding on ‘Nuff Now. I like to think I am ticking lots of different boxes. They are little sprinkles to make it a bit more special. But at the same time, you don’t have to do that – just press play and enjoy the tunes if you prefer!
Are we gonna see any videos to go along with any of the new tracks?
Context: I mean, doing a video would be cool; but only if it’s something that I think feels right. Grabbing some XLR and rapping into the camera with all my mates in the background and sticking it on Channel U would achieve nothing for me. It works for some people, and more power to them, but it’s not for me. Plus, the main thing is that I could no way afford to have one made! I mean, I am punching above my weight getting all the CDs manufactured, let alone doing a video – but yeah, if done right, I would love to do one.
Your collaboration with Georgia Ruth Williams was slightly unexpected looking at your different musical backgrounds. But it proper works. Are you a supporter of cross genre collaborations? Any specific tracks from other artists you think really hold that down?
Context: Yeah, I mean, that collab was kinda weird actually. I knew what she did, and knew she could sing, but had never actually heard her sing! I was just asking round Cambridge for any people who could sing and I came across her – and thought her voice really suited the tracks. Good match really!
In terms of cross genre collabs, I think they are vital to be honest. They open people up a little bit and stop them getting so bogged down the clichés and stuff of their own genre. That’s what my line ‘abusing this genre’s useless standards’ is all about. Saying, just coz everyone else says you need 3 lots of 16 bars, at a set BPM with an 8 bar hook and beats made on some MPC thing, you should too. Fuck that! Working with different people can help people shed those constraints. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I needed to do that collab to help me to do that – I already had – the collab was just a reflection of that.
Not really too sure of any other cross genre collabs that I really like. I mean, that Jay-Z and Linkin' Park thing was alright – not my cup of tea, but I loved the concept. I mean, I am sure there are loadsa examples out there, but I guess I ain’t heard them yet. The closest example I can think of is probably what London Elektricity did on Power Ballads where they fused soul singers over the top of drum and bass. That was amazing in my opinion.
Any artists in the scene you’d really love to work with?
Context: No-one really springs to mind to be honest. I feel fairly self sufficient at the moment – you know, producing my own stuff, recording it myself, and doing the music almost all myself (apart from getting Georgia in to do singing). I mean, there are people whose style I love, and would obviously love to work with – but only if I felt that they bought something to the track. I would not like to work with someone just so I could say that I had, and use them as a springboard to launch myself – coz that would be a bit fake I think. To be honest, I would love to work with more female and male singers for hooks and things like that. I think they can really accentuate a song. But in terms of MC’s – I would love to do a tune with Klashnekoff, or Mike Skinner. But to be honest, the kinds of people I like, would not go massively well with me on a song I think – coz they have their own style going on and rap about very different things in a very different way. I am always open for collabs with artists, but its not top of my agenda really. Really, I would love to collab with other people in a different sense – like to be featured on Skream’s album in the same way that Plastician enlisted Skepta and co. Something like that would be really great.
You produce your music as well. Which most mainstream rappers don’t tend to do… How important do you think being involved in the production of your own music is?
Context: For me, it is the essence of my music. I feel I am trying to construct a very very personalised sound – this ‘Dub Hop’ sound – and getting another producer to create that sound would completely defeat the objective. I mean, first and foremost I am an MC, but at the same time, I am creating a sound – and only I can do that and feel happy with it – otherwise its not my creation is it. But yeah, I mean, for other people, if they focus exclusively on lyrics and work closely with a talented producer who understands their sound – cool. But that’s not really for me – coz all I would do would be to dictate exactly what I want to a producer – why do that when I could just do it myself. If anyone were to produce for me, I would love them to do something original, like have me produce verses and them do the hooks – something a bit more creative like that. That’s what I am all about really. I worked really closely with my brother whose opinion I value very highly. He is by no means a ‘hip hop head’ – I mean he loves the music but he is really into all sorts of stuff. He helped me in finding a musical direction of some of the tracks – especially ‘The Harrier’.
Do you think mainstream artists whose ‘catchy’ beats have been made by other people deserve any respect?
Context: It depends what you mean by deserving respect. Do they deserve as MC’s? Depends. If they have externally made beats, but their lyrics are top notch and really impressive, of course they deserve respect – anyone with talent does. But like, I saw an interview with 50 Cent a while back where he was talking about creating ‘The Massacre’ and he said how he received like 50 CD’s worth of beats and he just chose the best ones. To a certain extent, that removes some element of creativity I think. I do ‘give dues where dues are duly say’ as I say; its just that I tend to have a bit of sceptical eye when it comes to something like that.
Tell us a bit about Imperial Deities…
Context: Ah, well, this is a project I started before recording the Catalyst. Its basically a group comprised of myself and Phlite – who is like my best mate and I’ve known him for years. It basically emerged because I noticed that his writing is incredible. He’s the front man of a rock group – I am sure they have a more specific genre title but I don’t know what you would call it! – and so, he has that thing I wad talking about earlier – more creative freedom. So we just used to get together and write these really bizarre verses which read like deep poetry – almost impossible to follow as rap. I mean, you would have to write it down and annotate it to understand a single word! Once he started flowing over beats, we thought our voices complemented each other fairly well, and we just did some tracks – like Drift, Prince of Wales Road and some others on the Catalyst.
The kind of things we do are often quite abstract – lyrically. The style of writing I have on Dialectics is influenced by our joint writing session. Like, if you listen to ‘Delusions (MD)’, you will see that the entire chorus is actually and acronym of MDMA, which the song is all about. And with Imperial Deities, things like that are just massively elaborated on. We are both fairly deep thinking characters really, so together it just crazy! But yeah, hopefully we should release something soon. Its always more of a thing in the background really for a variety of reasons – I get consumed by solo projects, he is very much a sort of ‘completely focused, or completely oblivious’ kind of guy – so often it’s a bit hit and miss really! But it’s always a special creation when we get together musically.
One thing you’d never ever rap about? Why?
Context: I would never rap about anything I don’t know or understand. Or if I did, I would always acknowledge the fact that I knew nothing about it. I guess that’s kinda obvious – but like I would never rap about me going round beating people up or shit like that – coz I don’t do that! I might make reference to other people I know that do do that, but I would always make that clear. In terms of specific topics – not sure really. I guess what I have just mentioned covers a large umbrella of topics. I rap about what I do, know, and see happen in my world around me. That’s that!
Strangest situation you’ve ever come up with an idea for a track?
Context: Er, none that have really been that strange. I mean, I wrote the 1st verse to ‘Frantic’ while I was in a lecture, so I guess that was kinda odd. But other than that, perhaps the whole way I write is fairly odd, as I very rarely use a paper and pen – I always write songs on my phone and save them as drafts. Dunno if that’s weird or not!
Will we see a Context MC mix tape? Is the whole mix tape thing something you support?
Context: I do support the whole notion – but perhaps in a different way to other people. What I like about mixtapes can be seen in the grime genre – they are so self sufficient and put out their own mixtapes all the time and have a great work ethic. That aspect I really applaud. But, in general, I think they tend to dilute the quality of music. What’s the point in having 4, 60 track mixtapes released in one month, with loadsa 2 minute song snippets while a DJ shouts-out people over the top. To me, that’s just really fucking annoying! I would rather have like 3 or four a year that were all top quality. But that’s me. Hip Hop mixtapes are not the sort of thing I would buy to be honest. Drum and Bass mixes are understandable – like the Drum and Bass Arena mixes or Hospital Mixes. They are awesome and I support them all the way!
Having said that, I am currently producing a mixtape, but like all my stuff in this Dialectics age, its got a completely different stance. I will say more about it when its done and dusted, but I am hopefully gonna be working with the Sonic Assault lads to put something together. We’ll see how it goes though.
Any favourite mix tapes you’ve copped from other artists?
Context: I don’t really have that many to be honest as like I said earlier, I think most of them are crap. I do really like Kano’s ‘Beats and Bars’ – but I guess that isn’t a mixtape in the traditional sense. Nether are the few others I own – like ‘Vatican City’ by Raekwon and a few others. The only mixtapes I have are from different genres – like the Hospital Mixes, or Dubstep All-Stars – stuff like that.
Any artists we might have not heard of that you’re really feeling at the moment and we should check out?
Context: Well, as far as MC’s go… not sure really. The majority of stuff I hear it fairly mainstream anyway so most people will already have heard of it. Musically though, I have just got this amazing album which is the kind of thing you put on at like 5am after a really heavy night – which is ‘Untrue’ by Burial. Another one which suits that mood is the Journey Inwards collection from LTJ Bukem. Basically, my mates Rob and Tom keep introducing me to all kinds of crazy music! Haha. Loads of incredible Drum and Bass – like High Contrasts remix of Imogen Heap’s tune ‘Headlock’ or a Yana Kay and Sunshine tune which Pendulum remixed called ‘Remember Me’. Both epic tunes! There are plenty of hip hop tracks I am feeling, but people will have heard of them so I won’t patronise people by recommending it!
What’s the plan for 2008 then? Will you be gigging at all, if so, where can people catch you?
Context: I am hoping 2008 will have good things in store for me. I mean, I’ve got the CD release of Dialectics in the next week or two to kick off 2008 (as its only available through the UK iTunes Store at the moment), my next single which I am already working on – plenty of other stuff! In terms of gigs – I am really looking forward to doing some, but I am not massively good at going about it! Ha. I am hoping to do plenty of gigs in Norwich and Cambridge where I go back and forth between, and definitely further a field if people will have me. It will not be a traditional ‘hip hop’ show with people standing around, nodding their heads trying to look cool – I want it to be much more of a party atmosphere. That’s what I am really looking forward to – putting on a heavy party!
Any last words to the hip hop fans all over Britain? Owt else you want to get off your chest?
Context: Yeah; don’t take stuff so seriously all the time! Of course, being serious has its place, but analysing every little metaphor and simile and judging the music solely on the basis of that, can make the music really sterile and takes away from what is being created – good music! That’s what attracted me to the other genres I have been discussing – they just go out, get completely wrecked, and just have a great time. I think that needs to happen more to be honest!
I would also say to people – don’t tailor your lyrics to suit a market – just write whatever you want – if its well written, people will be receptive. Lastly, I just want to give a massive thank you to my girl Charlie who has been so incredibly supportive in everything I do, and also to my brother who made ‘Dialectics’ possible. Big thanks to Georgia too of course!
Basically, get your ears ready for a bit of a new musical experience, and get hold of my CD if you feel inclined to do so. Its something new and original, and I think it’s important to have stuff like that thrown out into the musical arena.
If you wanna contact me for whatever reason: