Recently crowned End Of The Weak UK champion, Jack Flash is proof that anyone can reign an entire scene while remaining entirely in their own zone of original thinking and spitting. After hearing him on works by other major British hip hop stars, Jehst and DJ IQ. Flash dropped his own album – The Union Jack, this summer.
And the colourful, energetic disc has proof stamped his present status and future potential for a scene he makes look that much more appealing to any average soul. Ahead of some sick ass tour dates, Nino caught the man himself in his hometown of Huddersfield and got a vaster variety of inspiring views than most MCs would give you on an entire album.
Nino: So what have you been up to?
Jack: Well I'm just sorting out this night in Huddersfield at the moment. Bar 22 belled me saying we've got a free night – do you want to perform. And a few of us have been talking about putting on a night so me and this guy who runs a label decided to do it. It's going to be small scale at first. But, we'll see how it goes.
Nino: You've got some good venues in Huddersfield.
Jack: Yeh, but there's a serious lack of a scene.
Nino: The minute you say hip hop night, people tend to back off, expecting violence and that.
Jack: Yeh. There is this certain stigma still attached to hip hop.
Nino: I'm praying it'll come back round again!
Jack: It's starting to. Certain things are starting to show. Cos it really can't get as bad as it!
When I was growing up there was Connected Too. That was like the community studio. That's where I met everyone that I pretty much know now and we forged all these links and stuff. We used to go down on a night and use the studio. I had a crew back when I was sixteen called United Fleet. It was like me, Apa-Tight, Simple and Ruckus. That was all out of the community projects – there doesn't seem to be much of that stuff around at the minute.
Nino: Have you ever done any youth work, like teaching, yourself?
Jack: Nah. We talked about it. Cos I've got my band as well – Extra Curricular. We've got a drummer, bassist, guitarist, saxophonist. Then there's me, a female jazz singer Ruby Wood and Tha-Bo who you met earlier. You can imagine what his voice is like if he spoke to you for two minutes! Them two compliment each other well. As you'd expect with male and female voices, you've got the top and bottom end. We've all talked amongst ourselves and with other people about just going into schools and doing something. Hip hop is never represented in schools. At all. But that's only due to the culture clash, with teachers who generally tend to be Caucasian, middle class, old and not particularly aware or interested in hip hop. All it needs is a positive representation. It's hard to break through, make that impact and follow through.
Nino: Parents would also object cos of the negative connotations that come with hip hop. Especially with the current violence climate.
Jack: Yeh. But that's why you should offer it as an extra curricular optional thing. I mean – ideally you'd want to put it in to the music classes and make it compulsory. But if you offer it as an extra curricular after school kind of thing; that could work because stuff like that is always needed. One of the MCs on my album called MC Wise who passed away back end of July, had a brain tumour. He started up this thing called Rhyme and Rhythm productions and he was doing it. He had this whole crew of little rappers, all of them like eleven, or even younger, like eight year olds. He was starting to do it you know – putting something into the community. So it can be done.
Nino: So was it the community project youth club shizzle that actually got you into hip hop?
Jack: That's where I started to meet everyone. But I had been doing it in my bedroom before hand. When I was like thirteen, fourteen. I used to put Westwood on and no matter what track he was playing…
Nino: This is when Westwood was actually aright I'm taking it?
Jack: Haha. Yeh. When Westwood was alright. I mean, he was, back end of the nineties he was credible. But yeh, whatever track was on, I used to write over it. Then one day I recorded it and I thought to myself, not only was I was the only white MC I knew of. I thought I was the only British MC in the world. I remember recording something on a cassette tape and really really nervously playing it to my friend and he was like "It's good, it's good".
So yeh, I was a bedroom MC, developing myself and then other people – Apa-Tight and Simple and stuff and got shit going.
Nino: So what kind of stuff were you listening to back then?
Jack: The first LP I was introduced to was Fugees "The Score".
Nino: Oh yeh! Classic…
Jack: That was through my brother. And he isn't really a head. I mean, he went through his phase but that was the first LP I was really exposed to. Then from there is just kind of progressed, I went and back tracked through everything that came before. I went and taught myself everything. It just got to a point where that was the only thing I was thinking. My mum always used to be like, "Ye, it's just a phase". I remember her taking back some CDs cos she read the liner notes and there was too much swearing in ‘em. But it just progressed, I knew I love hip hop man. When it bites you. That's it. You're stuck man.
Nino: It's cool that you genuinely bothered to read up on the history and that. Not enough so called "heads" do. Do you think the majority of British hip hop artists have any idea what hip hop came from? Has the need for sales overtaken the need for knowledge?
Jack: To an extent. The independent nights tend to attract people who know about everything. As far as the artists go, I wouldn't like to say whether or not they know about it cos someone could surprise you and just pull out a Tribe 12"! But the thing that's been really popular in Britain as far as sales go is grime. That's what has kicked off over the last few years.
Nino: You into grime?
Jack: I 'listen to it out of choice cos it's not my cup of tea.
Nino: What's your opinion of Channel U then?
Jack: I remember watching it a few years ago and there was some good stuff. Now it's all gone grime. And it's like – everybody has got a video but none of them have the campaigns to push their singles. But what happens is, you have an underground artist that manages to get on a label and the record labels say, we need to make your style more mainstream so you need to work with this producer. Then this producer will change their style a bit. These days the independent kids that are coming up are trying to recreate the commercial sound. For me its not about the subject matter. It's whether or not you make it sound good. Like Slick Rick can rock bling, but he carries off the respect with his actual track content.
Nino: Like Roots Manuva. That guy can rap about anything and make it sound crisp.
Jack: That's authority as well. When he's on a track; you know it's him.
Nino: How did you come up with the name Jack Flash then?
Jack: When I was thirteen, fourteen and had to come up with a name I called myself Jack The Ripper. It's just so fucking cliched. Back then I was smoking weed and shit. Don't do that now. Just tend to have the odd one night stand. But me and my mate were looking through this book of skunk hybrids and we found one called Jack Flash; he was like – that's what you should call yourself! So I started adding the AKA Jack Flash on as well. Then I entered this battle when I was sixteen and it got some good MTV coverage and everything and I was under the name Jack Flash. So from then it just stuck man. I don't even question it now.
Nino: So, as far as working with other MCs goes?
Jack: On the album there's obviously the Huddersfield crew. Apa-Tight, Simple, Wise, Jehst, Asaviour and Micall Parknsun. That shit all came about a few years ago. We all met each other organically.
Nino: Anyone else you're thinking of working with?
Jack: I'm proper open to it. I keep talking to Stig Of The Dump about doing a track. For me, it's not about just getting someone on a track. It's got to happen. It's more important for it to be real and organic. You can't be sat in the lab with someone and you're not both feeling the beat and just putting it together for the sake of it.
Nino: Production wise what's the deal with you?
Jack: Well on this album Union Jack, Apa-Tight did the beats for twelve out of the fifteen tracks. I did two and Jaisu did one track too. He's hot man. But production wise I've been more on it since I finished the album. You know, I've just been producing my head off man. I got some new equipment and just developed my style a lot more.
Nino: Who do you rate as producers?
Jack: Primo. I'm a big Primo fan. I can't help that. Pete Rock. Dilla. Ill Mind. Mr Porter, he's got some sick shit coming out. Everything produced by him at the moment is on fire. Black Milk. Jaisu. People I worked with! I rate them!
Nino: But you want to get more on the production tip yourself?
Jack: Well, the drummer in my band – he's not strictly hip hop but he's got a good sound. I spoke to him a lot about us connecting heads for the next LP.
Nino: Before this album, what other releases have you had?
Jack: I did a mixtape a while back called The Calm Before The Storm. That was like seventeen tracks. It was all over our own beats – we didn't just jack a Jadakiss beat you know!
Nino: So forgetting the beats for a minute. Tell us a bit about you and spoken word…
Jack: People lose a lot of your lyrics when they're said on a beat at a certain speed. With spoken word they can take it exactly how they want to. I feel people forget how to listen to hip hop. I was having this conversation with someone the other day about people not listening to hip hop like they should anymore. That makes it sound like I'm blaming the listener – but I know that's not the case. Cos your heads still know how to listen to it. I think, if you take someone like Black Thought and then you take someone like Soulja Boi. You have to listen to Black Thought ten times before you clock all his lyrics. With Soulja you've got it in one.
Nino: So do you think religion has a place in hip hop?
Jack: It depends really. If you're a hardcore Christian only rapping about Christianity, no matter how dope your beats are, at the end of the day it ain't going to be mainstream. I'm not saying you can be Christian and rap. But if your content matter is all based around that one thing, then you are only going to get Christian fans. It's all a question of degree. You're a musician. You make music. You put out what is in you. I met you today and you could be any religion, but you're just talking to me. You weren't like – yo before we talk, you need to know that I'm a Muslim. And MCs should do that either. They're just putting their message out there. You've still got a message. You've still got an opinion and real musicians always communicate that across so as long as its not forced down your throat. I mean, music is the same as any other aspect in life. As long as its not forced down your throat it doesn't really create a problem. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. So I personally don't see it as a major problem. I like that religion track on Talib' album…
Nino: Do you think the media and the men upstairs could make religion the new mainstream order?
Jack: Not really cos religion isn't really that hot at the minute. I don't think labels are looking for anyone who is pro anything at the minute. They're looking for someone who is generic. Who is going to appeal to your record buying public – which is decreasing by the minute anyway.
Nino: So, I've just got back from New York and seen first hand the crazy support Obama has got out there. Never witnessed that love of a politician in my life. What do you think it's all about?
Jack: Well I think Obama represents change. And America is begging for change. I was having this conversation with someone the other day. You know, certain people are saying that if he gets in power, he's going to get killed. There's a lot of support there but America is filled with corruption. I don't know. I like the fact that someone is coming and inspiring people over such a massive scale. He seems like a positive guy. You've still got to keep the mentality that he's a politician, he can't be trusted. He's in a very dirty industry isn't he? It's never one person controlling it all anyway. But as a campaign it has been sick! Really strong.
Nino: There has been a great deal of support from hip hop heads too. Do you think that if Obama did win it would be an effectively positive thing for hip hop?
Jack: Yes. Definitely. One major thing is the whole attitude has shifted. Hip hop has gone from Fuck Bush to Pro Obama. Which is good cos its a positive thing they're pushing. It's not just saying fuck someone. Here is something we can push rather than just talk about. Time will tell. You never know till someone gets elected. They do the whole campaign telling you this and that…
Nino: And then they throw it all back in you faces! Politics ey? We never learn do we… So back to Flash man! As far as you playing other cities goes, what's the deal?
Jack: I got a tour set up. I got seven dates at the moment and will be getting another eight to add onto that. Which will be nationwide. I just need to confirm that. Waiting on the confirmation call today. Just get on my myspace and have a look. It'll all be up there soon. Should be quite a good tour.
Nino: How do you feel about British audiences? Is there too much looking cool but being careless?
Jack: You have to work to win the crowd. Its good. It keeps you on your toes. The best thing I love to do is singling out one person from the crowd and telling them to put their hands up!
Nino: Do you think other European crowds are more responsive?
Jack: You know. Seeing the Czech and Polish crowds is incredible! They give their artists so mad love and are so into it. You would never think Czech and Polish hip hop is so big!
Nino: We need more of that passion here. Same with my fam in Germany. They throw themselves into every aspect of the scene they can!
Jack: Its crazy what's happening out there but I always get the feeling we're just like an inch away from making it happen. It's only ignorance – people not knowing. That's one thing I've noticed. When you introduce real hip hop to someone. Okay. Take myself as an example. Say I've done a show and won someone over – they're like – I didn't know this about this shit! I'm surprised to see an MC can do that! And I'm like, there's a bunch of us, a whole scene.
Perhaps it is the MCs who need to work harder to get people involved. Cos if that is what we're up against – we need to win them over. The live band element beings more people in. They see a MC with turntables and they immediately feel threatened. You bring some familiar instruments and all of a sudden it makes it more approachable.
Nino: So what does MCing mean to you? And how does it differ to rapping?
Jack: Rapping is the doing. MCing is the being. An MC can do it on anywhere, anytime. They can freestyle, aren't afraid to jump about and control the crowd. The rapper just raps. The MC can bring it to the studio too. But the MC is the guy who is strict to himself and who trains himself. The rapper just opens his mouth. Anyone can do that.
Nino: Do you battle at all?
Jack: No no. I don't battle. I didn't want to get into that scene. It's just not me. I put my energy and time into my tracks. Battlin is cool. I freestyle everyday. All the time. Can't help it. Battlin is an aspect. If someone challenges me I'll battle them there and then. But it's just something that's got to happen.
Nino: Does the cipher scene make you fight harder to improve though?
Jack: Well. If you've got people stepping on your toes you're going to up your level all the time. That's why so much hot stuff comes out of New York. Competition is so tough only the best make it.
Nino: The Yorkshire scene seems so contradictory on all that don't you think? Like everyone agrees with what we're saying but they don't put the soul and time in like in New York where if there's a good jam – all the heads get down.
Jack: It's crazy. Like, you came from Bradford to Huddersfield today. It's not far. I've played there. Ten minute drive. People should travel to hip hop.
Nino: Totally… How about a quick freestyle then before you get off?
As an MC I gotta keep to my word /
While I'm spitting in Verve /
It's gotta to be on me to drop certain superb /
I don't know if it flops or not /
But I'm spitting a little something for BRITISH HIP HOP /
It's what I live for /
I give more than your average /
I ain't a battle kid /
But I'll stand up and slap a kid /
That's the shit /
Rappers got to aspire /
I'm the fire dude /
I got desire too /
I'm a higher crew /
Something on another level /
Turn up the bass /
Tweak the treble /
Quicker than ever /
Flash like the weather /
When it's lightening /
This is what's happening /
I'm not writing /
I'm fighting like I'm Tyson /
Throwing rights and lefts /
And oh yes /
I suggest that right now I just rest /
Take a breath /
Came back for one more and now I drop it yo /
Kick in the door.
Nino: Final advice to aspiring MCs?
Jack: Be on it. Don't let anyone kick you off. Just be the fuck on it. That's the only thing man.