It seems as though in all this ‘true hip hop’ palava we’ve forgotten who the true saviours of the scene really are. They don’t have to be rocking the stereotypical dress or accent. It’s about having a pure, rooted, hip hop mentality. And of course, some genuine talent to go with it.
Don’t Talk To Strangers are far from the ordinary. The expected. Because they push themselves further with every beat. Every line.
Freedom of speech comes hand in hand with freedom of choice, but choosing is only the first step.
This horde (seriously, tons of ‘em – and I didn’t even meet ‘em all) of bevying beauties aren’t merely a crew of DJs, MCs and graffers claiming to be hip hop and not following through from the words they spit. They don’t just write and perform. They’re hip hop activists. Actively learning, teaching, inspiring, aspiring…
So give us a brief intro… how did y’all meet?
Bane: We started out when we were 11 years old. Back in 1998. We’re all from Dewsbury, the place we grew up in… It was this racist council estate hole (it ent as bad now…). It was the last place you’d expect a hip hop crew to come out of. We were the more unlikely people you know? We started out and then Murry went to Liverpool for a bit, and when he got back we just got things really going again!
Why do think you work better as a crew?
Safety in numbers innit! We still do solo stuff though, course. Some people get it wrong, they think DTTSS are like a group. Yes, we work together. But we all have our own solo projects and ish. We‘re a graff crew, and we work together as a crew. But we all have our own things going on.
Why the name – ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’?
Bane: Basically, it all comes from one line of freestyle. We were sat freestyling one day – trying to come up with the best line to diss each other. And I did this one line – ‘don’t talk to strangers, strangers’. Like, the strangers being us. That’s all there really is to it.
Do you think building a strong scene in your ends is more important that going where there is already a solid scene?
Yeh! And we’re not leaving. We said this from the start. We’re staying put. You know – artists down London and that, their people and pay for them to come up here. So why can’t we stay here and gig where we want? It’s pointless just moving to follow everyone else.
We do our own nights and that, and a lot of the time we’re loosing money because there isn’t as much money and market in hip hop as say house music or whatever. Clubs aren’t as willing to take you on for a hip hop night ‘cos not as many people will be there as if it was a house night… But for us, it’s worth it.
Speaking of that – what’s all this about you fella’s playing New York?
Yes yes! Looking forward to that! We were originally meant to be going over in June – but it’s dead that time. No one’s around. No gigs really go on. So we’re going in October, better for us as well you know. We’ve even got spaces reserved on the Harlem Wall Of Fame, which people who are living in Harlem can’t even get on so… yeh!
What are you like live? Do you freestyle or plan?
Murry: To be honest, we don’t really plan ish… We tend to get lots of drinks down us before and just jump onstage and hope for the best!
Is that how offstage writing works too then?
Bane: Haha. Well, sometimes we just pick a word and write from that. It’s hard, but sometimes we can come up with some solid stuff from that.
Favourite local nights?
There’s Beats ‘n’ Pieces in Huddersfield. Of course there’s New Bohemia in Leeds. And Get Cained in Shipley… a few more too…
Did you get any haters starting out livewise?
Not particularly. I mean, like the first time we played Beats ‘n’ Pieces nobody was interested ‘cos we’re not from Huddersfield. But it just keeps getting better…
Bane: We have respect for anyone who has the balls to just get up onstage. Whoever it is. Whatever it is. We’ll be up at the front of the crowd showing support.
Yeh. We were at that Foreign Beggars gigs, the first time they came. There were like two other heads there. So we just got up, right in front of the stare and were like ‘fuck you!’ to the rest of the crowd and they came forward. Beggar must have thought we were fuckin’ mentalists, wouldn’t play our request though. We kept fucking yellin at em.
We learnt this early yeh – take your own crowd! We have like forty people we just take along with us now. (Laughs)
Livewire: Don’t talk to weirdoes…
Can you name a particular track / album that really got you into hip hop?
The first Blak Twang album. (communal nod) And of course Jehst, and the original Mudd Fam stuff…
As far as albums go. Do you think it’s always necessary to have a balance, rather than an entirely dark / happy album?
Bane: Nah. I mean, the first stuff I released was proper dark. This one isn’t really like that at all. But the one after that could be you know… It’s how you are the time.
Phoenix: I think you do need a balance. Like I mean (I know this is on a different level), but if you look at Mary J Blige’s old stuff you’ll see what I mean.
What kind of stuff are you into now then?
Bane: I don’t listen to a lot of stuff that’s out now. Mainly the older stuff and locals. Don’t like the other ‘hip hop’ nowadays really.
Do you think the quality of music nowadays is fucked up because when artists get to a certain level and their egos get too big, they trying to learn and improve?
Murry: Yeh! Definitely. Not going to mention any names… But that’s the reality. We’re not like that. We’ll never be good enough for ourselves! We’re always learning and developing you know… Yeh. Sometimes, I’m just like. I hate the sound of my voice. I should just give this all up!
Bane: Don’t think that’ll ever change! We can always be better.
Badger: When you think you’re good enough. You stop getting anywhere. That’s when you know it’s over.
What do you think of the direction some originally solid, pure street artists seem to be taking with making their music more ‘accessible’ to the mainstream by diluting it?
Badger: Sellouts! Not into that shit at all.
As far as other genres go, what are you guys into?
Are y’all into grime then?
(In fuckin unison…) Argh, nah!
Bane: Well, I don’t think I’ve heard a lot of it. But the bit I have… nah! The thing I do like is the fact that these artists don’t rely on anyone else. They do all their own ish you know… Recording. Distributing. Promotion.
What else have you got coming up this year then?
We’ll be releasing a 12inch vinyl. With DTTSS, vinyl users will always get the better deal .There’s stuff we’ll release exclusively to vinyl you know. That’ll be around June time.
Also launching the DTTSS clothing line, already got the hats sorted and that. So that’ll all be out soon. We want to do a women’s range too. The thing with most women’s ranges is they just make the same clothes as for the guys, but smaller sizes. We’re going do it properly, with a proper women’s clothing line, next year.
Do you wanna do a ‘Boy Better Know’ kinda circulation?
Badger: No. We want to know who’s wearing it. If they ask to get something – I’ll be asking who they are, what it is they do. We’re not just going to hand them out to anybody. It’s more than that. DTTSS is more than that.
Brilliant. So we’ll all be able to recognise the other heads a mile off…
To round everything off then. What advice would you give to any aspiring MCs out there?
Listen. Just take it in. Pay attention. LISTEN.
Yesss – Brutal Artistry – Miki B, 9 Lives Clik, Eliphino, Pro Optic, Whodini, Dr Knox, Wisdomtooth, Northern Hostility – Matter, Freyed Knot – JND ExP, Spida Lee, Prac A, Jack Flash, Breakin’ the Illusion, J Bravo, Nayak, Graffers – Gova 1. Also want to shout out to UKs, Amone and Whore.
And ANYONE DOING ANYTHING AT ALL TO MOVE THE SCENE!
And the lesson learnt at the end of all this?
DO talk to strangers. You never know where it might lead…