We caught up with a pair of movers and shakers within the UK Hip Hop scene – Fusion and Tee Max a pair of journalists who are ot unused to making a ripple or two…
Can you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about where you are from, who your crew are and who they are associated with? Who are the Execution Squodd?
Tee: That’s one for Fuse I think!
Fusion: Ex is a four-man crew from Hackney, East London. I’ve been producing beats for them since ’93. Back then we had plenty of energy but NO equipment (strictly beat juggling on turntables and blagging studio time). Our first official promo EP ‘1002’ was distributed in December 2000 and featured ‘Ohh Woah’ and ‘Ex Men’ – both tracks have now been licensed by an independent label. They released the 12-inch in September 2001. The boys are currently doing promo shows and working on new material.
How did you first get into Hip Hop, who were the artists that inspired you and why?
Tee: I started listening to Mike Allen on Capital radio in 88-89. He was a real pioneer for hip hop in the UK. The artist that inspired me most was KRS 1, and PE…but mostly KRS.
Fusion: I heard the likes of UTFO, Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh on the radio but never really got into the culture until a school friend hit me off with two albums on cassette – Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Long Live The Kane’ and NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. I took them home and REALLY listened for the first time to the rhymes – the experience blew my mind. Been hooked ever since. Back then PE, NWA, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T and Masta Ace were hugely influential.
Can you tell us a bit about what was going on around your locale at that time? Who was on the radio, what gigs would you go to, generally who was creating that early vibe?
Tee: Well where I was in Kent, so there was nothing. Just radio. I was just lucky that I was close enough to London to pick it up, otherwise who knows when I would have got the chance to listen to hip hop.
Fusion: Growing up in Tottenham, I had many different hip hop experiences. I always tuned in to Westwood’s Capital Rap Show and later Max & Dave on Kiss FM. Gig-wise I vividly remember going to Dingwalls in Camden to see Sirus and Son Of Noise (Hardnoise had just split). Flava Of The Month at Boderline was the 1st hip hop spot where I really felt like I belonged. I just remembered the anticipation heading down to the monthly gathering, the mad queues in the street, the ciphers, Big Ted, Swift, 279 on the decks and 101 wicked PAs – good memories for real.
Most heads will know you from the Hip Hop Review show on MTV Base, but this was quite a recent phenomenon. What were you up to in the years before this show came out?
Tee: I started as a photographer, going to shows taking photos for fun. Then I got my first piece of work published in Touch and HHC. From there I basically went on to work for every major black music publication in the UK, but I mainly worked for Echoes magazine. I’ve also worked for other titles such as The Face, and Q magazine among others and must of the record labels. I wrote for a couple of mags as well :o)
Fusion: Got my first break as a DJ on North London pirate Buzz FM in the early 90s. When the station started its own magazine I was recruited to write a column. From there I developed a passion for writing which lead me to write for Rap Trade and Hip Hop Connections. I was also making beats for LOE (which eventually evolved in Execution Squodd) as well as a crew called 2 Reason Or Rhyme. Unfortunately, despite an incredible amount of effort, nothing seemed to be moving forward so I decided to take timeout and go Uni to study media. Left after a year when I was offered a staff writer job at Echoes music paper. There I honed my craft, met Tee Max and eventually started my own Code of the Streets supplement to document the rise of hip hop, jungle and swing.
In 1996 we put out the ‘Homegrown’ tape, a cover-mounted cassette compilation that featured top UK acts TY & Shortee Blitz, Roots Manuva & Skitz, Blak Twang and a very young Fallacy. I was also providing GLR/London Live with a weekly music update on the radio, freelancing for several magazines including Timeout and Music Week and doing small TV spots as a black music spoke person. Left Echoes in December 1999 to become the editor of new on-line black music website Darkerthanblue.com (left dtb in September 2001). And finally in February 2000, I got my chance to do the show on MTV Base with my partner Tee Max.. Sorry it’s so long.. but u did ask.
OK, So how did the hook up with MTV come off then? It seemed like an ideal job for you.
Tee: We were asked along with other journalists, to talk about Hype Williams for MTV Base. It worked really well for them, so they asked us back to do another Q&A about Bad Boy, Deathrow, and some other topics. Fuse can pick it up here…
Fusion: … um, yeah! The peeps at MTV invited us to Ireland for the MTV European Music Awards – not for work but just to hang out (hmm… very strange). They paid for every damn thing – flight, hotel, food and drinks! So there we were at the after party, I’m drunk off too many pints of Guinness and the Head of MTV Digital decides that he wants to put us in the picture. Apparently they liked our vibe on camera when we did previous interviews for Base and wanted us to screen test for a hip hop show. WE LAUGHED… but we did it. And when signed our contracts to present the new hip hop show we stopped laughing. Shit was real.
Whilst making the show, you obviously learnt and the show got better. However was it a struggle against the management and lack of finances to get it out the way you wanted?
Tee: There were only two things we felt we needed. One was that we could still continue working as creative consultants through our company Izm. The other was that we were able to play and support hip hop from the UK. We own what we were able to do to the man who believed in us in the first place – Peter Good. He left to go to e4. From then on it got more difficult to get ideas looked into.
Fusion: Initially Base wanted us to play Macy Gray and TLC videos. We soon squashed that. After that, our mission was really to retain editorial control and to promote homegrown hip hop. Admittedly, it was difficult to make moves when the budget for the show was so tight. But, at the end of the day, hip hop came from nothing, so Tee and I always took on the challenge to make an entertaining show that reflected the music and the culture that we love.
Was there a master plan behind the show? Did you feel that you could help the UK Hip Hop industry?
Tee: There was no master plan. We just knew how much talent there was out there. We’d covered most of it when we worked at Echoes. We felt that if people were given a change to see the scene for themselves, that they could make up their own minds about whether they liked it. Media tends to make up our minds for us, before we get a change to even see or hear anything.
Fusion: Tee and I have always supported the scene in the UK. Being on TV gave us a new and more powerful tool to continue our work.
Were you sacked? And if so, why was this, because everyone I have spoken to was just glad that there was an outlet like yours which was truly representative and did so much to put on the UK. It seems as though you fell foul of the usual music biz pressures and corruptions.
Tee: The only corrupting influences were personal politics from the now head of MTV Base. We wanted to do one more year and try to get some tours set up, so artists could get to spots a round the country, with TV support. Do something to strengthen the business side of things within the hip hop scene, then duck out. But we were signed for a one year contract. We saw that out. So as far as we’re concerned we did our job, as the contract stated that if the show wasn’t working, they could terminate it at anytime.
Do you think that there is a reduction in the choice for the listener and Hip Hop fan on the airwaves? If you agree do you think this could be linked to big corporations trying to milk Hip Hop and sell it to teeny boppers?
Tee: Corporations have always been there. As before, it’s just personal agendas at work. Doing the Review showed us that people do want to have a choice in what they hear, and the only reason they don’t have that choice is because the people employed to give them that choice play the music THEY like. And I have to say even though I know people won’t like me saying it, and even though I’m not into HIS personal agendas, Westwood is probably the closest to achieving that choice right now!
Fusion: Like Tee says, corporations have always been involved. As with any youth culture movement, the establishment wants to buy into it. After all, to control and influence the youth is to control and influence the future. The trick is to understand that talent has an economic value – this is essentially the difference between a hobby and a profession. As we get older it becomes increasingly important to earn a living out of what we do (mortgages etc). I’ll always love hip hop because it has shaped the way I think and given me so many good memories but moving forward I strive to turn my personal passion into a progressive business. Entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons embody this aspiration.
As for there being a ‘reduction in the choice for the listener and Hip Hop fan on the airwaves’, this may be true. But why rely on the one medium when the internet is providing hip hop fans with more options than they have EVER had before?
Have you heard Itch 105.15 FM? What do you think of guys like that trying to do their thing and get the music out there?
Tee: Well it’s obviously a good thing! I met with the guys from Itch a while ago, and they’re about their business. I haven’t had a chance to hear the output yet, but we’ll be trying to help them get to where they want to be, in terms of a good radio station, and a well run business concern. I rate them highly for taking this first step!
What are your thoughts about the state of UK hip hop?
Tee: I liken it to…all our major UK sports teams. Good, but good ain’t winning them gold medals, the Ashes, or the World Cup. It could and should be better.
Fusion: The likes of Moorish Delta, Skinny Man, Taskforce and Roots Manuva are all setting a standard with their own unique takes on hip hop in this country.
Do you think it is going somewhere or is it stagnating?
Tee: It’s going, but needs professional help to get there.
Fusion: I was at Roots Manuva’s finale show at The Forum and witnessed a packed house all they’re to feel the Roots vibe. Made me feel proud that we are no longer playing to such crowds as the support PA for an American act. Things are getting better.
Is this perhaps different to what you see happening within US Hip Hop?
Tee: Of course! In the States it’s a business and a culture. They both co-exist. Sometimes with a little tension, but because there’s ALWAYS people looking out for the culture, things get dealt with. Not swept under the carpet, or ignored if it’s a little hard to deal with.
Who are the UK artist’s that you listen too?
Tee: Moorish Delta, Roots Manuva, Yogi, Skinnyman, Lee Ramsey, Est’elle, Blak Twang, and Fallacy.
Fusion: The same as Tee… but with the addition of Rodney P, Skeme, Big P, Scorzayzee and Mystro.
Do you listen out for any other types of music?
Tee: Sure bloody! Everything, apart from thrash, techno, and country.
Fusion: Love jazz and am starting to get more into rare groove… must be getting old, eh.
So, what have you been up to since the demise of the Hip Hop Review show?
Tee: The State of Independence keeps us very busy. We still working on where we want to go from here, but I just had one of my photos in a book called ‘Seen’: Black Style in the UK, and now I’m trying to get a book project off the ground right now. It will be ten years since I got my first photo published, and Fusion’s been bugging me for a minute to get my work seen by a wider audience. Thinking about getting back into my photography after a long break.
Fusion: Been busy in the studio working on material for Execution Squodd, Est’elle and a couple of other up-and-coming artists. Also working closely with Fallacy. We’ve formed a group and have signed a single deal with Rawkus for our debut track ‘Groundbreaker’. So it’s all go.
Can you tell us more about the State of Independence Newsletter? What is in it and how does one get hold of it?
Tee: It was basically our way of showing support to those that had shown us support. That we weren’t going to abandon they when the show came off the air. You can become a State citizen by emailing us at email@example.com, and we’ll send it to you. Simple.
What is the deal with the Izm Consultancy? Certainly is an interesting name. What do aim to achieve with this company?
Fusion: Izm was formed in 1999 as a company because Tee and I were always being asked to advise and consult on projects. We just decided that we would start to do it in an official capacity. Our first client was photographer Jenny Baptiste who was working on an exhibition idea. We worked closely with her to develop the concept of her Revolutions @ 33 1/3 exhibition. We handled press, promotions, merchandise, the launch at the Levis gallery and the after party. Since then we have worked for companies like BBC, and are currently involved in the development of several recording artists.
Our aim is simple: On a grass roots level, we want to make sure that up-and-coming talent is nurtured to its full capacity. These are the powerbrokers of the future so we feel it is key that they are given all the tools available to succeed.
On a business level, we want to make sure that corporations looking to tap into the culture for their own ends are put in contact with creative people who can best promote and reflect the true richness and diversity of the culture. These people in turn should be paid and credited accordingly for the exploitation of their work.
Are you at all politically motivated? If you could change something about society, what would it be and why?
Tee: WOW! Don’t get me started b! People need to be more proactive. Take part in what’s going on. Don’t sit back and expect others to fight your battles for you. Support the people that support you. I’ll have to leave you with that one, otherwise this interview’s gonna get a whole lot longer! (And it’s long enough as is).
Fusion: I feel u!
What is going to be keeping you busy over the next few months?
Tee: Nuff! Getting the State out across the country, and next the world. And getting Izm working the way we want it, working on the Fallacy & Fusion project, and a whole lot more.
What are your longer term plans and objectives?
Tee: Helping to create a working, living industry for the next generation. The people within the hip hop scene now may not see the money and success in their working life, but that doesn’t mean that the youth coming through have to suffer the same fate. I want to be seen as one of the people that helped to provide the bedrock for the rest to build on. And I think we helped through our work at Echoes. Sitting down with artists, passing information to help get them a little further. And by having the first dedicated hip hop show in the UK, playing UK produced music and supporting the people making that music.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Tee: Yes! People need to build, not tear down. There are WAY too many people looking out for self, holding on to information they can’t do anything with! It’s like me having a nice ride, but I can’t drive it. Rather than letting someone use it, I leave it to get rusty. The tires go flat. The engine seizes up. What good is it then? In the same way myself and Fuse could have used the Review for our own personal ends. Then the show would have finished, and accomplished nothing for the wider hip hop community here. We need to link as a PROPER community. Helping each other to grow bigger and better. Forget about record companies and corporate run TV channels. It starts with us.
I know you had a few things to say about Westwood after popping up in our forums. Would you like to explain why you perceive his show and persona to be part of the problem?
Tee: Well I would if the problem was just Westwood. The problem is everyone wants to be a powerbroker. The Chubby Kids and All City are probably the purest in terms of what they do and how they do it, but they know they can still improve, and they will. Westwood can’t be held solely responsible for the lack of an infrastructure within the UK. Everyone has to take part of the blame for that.
Is there anyone else you would like to mention?
Tee: Yes! Everyone that helped and supported us before, during, and after the Review. They know who they are. And to the citizens of the State of Independence. Thank you. Your support means a lot to us.