Brit-ish managed to catch up with one of the UKs hottest underground freestyle MCs fresh from his success at one of the UKs biggest open mic events and got him to give us the lowdown on what it is all about for him. Rather than go on here you can read for yourselves what he had to say….
How old are you?
18 years old.
Where are you from?
I was born in upstate New York but only lived there till I was about 4. For most of my life I lived in a suburb in Columbus, Ohio. Then at age 15 I moved to London with my parents and honestly that’s what I consider home. I mean, I matured and grew both as a person and as an emcee the most during my stay in the UK. In Ohio most kids in my position led pretty sheltered lifestyles so I was really fortunate to come over here and experience the culture.
What do you think about London as a city and Hip Hop scene? Any favorite spots (clubs, shops, hang-out spots)?
I think London is just bottom line a diverse city that has more to offer than what most people expect. There’s a lot of undiscovered talent over here and we just need people to search harder and recognize. As a city though, I think there’s a lot of misinterpretations about London and the UK in general. I mean, in America if you mention London to the average person they’ll immediately think of the Queen, Buckingham Palace, tea and crumpets and shit like that. It’s pretty pathetic, ya know what I mean… like in terms of the stereotypes and all of that. If you told an American that there’s council estates, guns, and drugs over here they probably wouldn’t believe you. But that just shows the state other societies are in nowadays, you know what I mean… people don’t know what’s going on outside their own little worlds. I ain’t saying we should be given props over here just because we’re as hardcore as heads state-side and go through just as much "street shit", I’m just saying people should know the true story, ya know. Too many myths being spread ya know what I mean. The thing with me though is I’ve attended American High School over here as well, so I’ve had a pretty strange balance of hanging around with upper class kids from the states and then with my British bredrins who have basically shown me the streets. In turn though, I’ve been able to learn a lot about different types of people and cultures. Apart from that, as a scene, there’s a lot of hot spots over here. Subterania is probably the best hip hop club. I’m also feeling places like Gass Club, WKD, Scala, etc. Used to go to Camouflage and Hanover Grand. Ocean is a proper nice venue. When Deal Real Records was open that was a cool place to go and chill and cypher with heads on the weekends, same with Dark N Cold.
OK, let us know more about the different members of your crew are and who they are associated with?
The first person I really connected with was Therapist. That was in ’98. He’s a dope emcee from Walthamstow. For about a year or so we were a duo called The Natural but really didn’t do anything on a professional level so we both went solo but remained bredrins. After that though, I hooked up with people like Cane who introduced me to Malarchi at his studio. A few heads like The Planets, Sincere, and Grimlock took notice of me when I first started doing open mics and shit. The first year though everyone else would always be telling me and Therapist about how we needed to link up with Reveal since he was one of the only other up-and-coming emcees at the time who was our age. We linked up with him soon after that and me and Revs have been tight for the last few years now. I’ve learned a lot from him as an emcee (especially about battling) and we’re good bredrins as well. Once I had that small foundation though I just started meeting other people through my peeps. Mans like Skinnyman, Chester P, Apollo, Mystro, Jargon… the list goes on and on. I met DJ Excalibah about two years ago and ever since then I’ve become a frequent co-host of his hip hop show Tales from the Legend on Juice FM (every Wednesday, 8-10PM, 102.5FM). There was period in 2000 where I really worked on honing my skills and that’s when more people started taking notice and I linked up with even more people. Troy Scalpels and I have been tight since we met at an open mic about a year ago. Me and Malarchi got to know each other better and chill a lot in both of our manors and eventually came together as the duo Perfect Strangers. Through him, I’ve grown pretty close to the whole Gemtoy crew… mans like Roy the Dark Disciple, Slaunye from Shadow Cabinet, Gem, etc. They’re safe people, for real.
When did you first hear Hip Hop and how did you come to get into it?
I first heard hip hop when I was about 5 years old. I grew up in a pretty wealthy upper-class society so I still feel blessed that I was lucky enough the get into hip hop. Fortunately, I had my older brother and cousins around me when I was nuff young and that was right around the time hip hop was getting big in the late 80’s. I just remember hearing shit like Biz Markie, LL Cool J, NWA, Rakim, Kid N Play… all that shit when I was growing up. So a few years after that I would just start getting my own tapes after I heard people like NWA, EPMD, Naughty by Nature, Too $hort and mans like them either on radio or MTV. Around 8 years old I started rhyming, but just through freestyling. I guess I was just around rap and hearing it so much it just seemed natural at the time to spit. Plus, rap was just different and I enjoyed the beats and music aspect of it. Lyrically, I just felt emcees were doing some dope poetic shit. But when artists like Wu-Tang, Nas, Biggie, Smif-n-Wessun, Dr. Dre & Deathrow, and all them were getting big around ’93 and ’94, that’s when I proper got into it. I pretty much left basketball and all the other shit I used to be into behind and just got into writing more. I probably got hundreds of tapes from around ’92 to ’95. I went to public school in the states so there was a wide range of people attending. You had the wealthiest kids from rich families and then proper poor kids from government housing and that. So there were always some people around me who were into hip hop or who rhymed, but still, I couldn’t fully relate to what most rappers were saying until I got to the UK. That’s when things took off.
How do you feel about UK hip hop? Obviously the press is giving it a bit of coverage at the moment, do you think it can keep growing from here?
The thing I always say about UK Hip Hop is that there’s more talent over here and the scene is better. I mean, in the states it’s true that at least there’s a market and people are making a living off this music thing, but because of that there’s a lot of big ego’s and heavier competition. Over here, the majority of people who do this are purely doing it for the love and dedication to the art, you know what I mean. People are truly hungry over here and they deserve to be recognized, ya know. But still, I think there’s too much complaining and hate that’s going around. Even though there’s a sense of unity and everyone seems to know each other, there’s too many mans going on too fed up and aggravated. True, we’ve been looked down upon for a while over here but still, at the end of the day, complaining isn’t going to accomplish anything. Plus, if you make underground music then why would you expect it to sell as well as a commercial record? People gotta realize that making commercial/mainstream records doesn’t necessarily mean selling out ya know. Look at brares like Eminem or Jay-Z who are still improving as emcees but sell crazy units. Basically, as long as you keep the skill and integrity in tact while staying true to yourself, there’s nothing wrong with "going commercial." I mean, mans gotta put food on the table so it’s just time to move forward and elevate. None of us are really at the point where we can look back and say, "Yeah, we’ve reached the top." And we gotta realize the scale we’re working with too. Gotta stop thinking about being satisfied once we get props from London and the UK…this shit is worldwide, ya get me. That’s why I don’t look at this as British Hip Hop, I just look at it as Hip Hop that’s British. Calling it British Hip Hop is just categorizing. Lastly, people have to realize what they’re capable of doing on their own ya know, instead of waiting around for A&R’s or labels. If you get up and work, get some money together, there’s a lot you can do within this game. Some people may say who am I to say all this, but this is just my opinion ya know what I mean.
Who are the UK artists you listen to and admire?
It might seem biased, but I rate most of the artists that I’m personally cool with. People like Reveal, Therapist, Mystro, Grimlock, Jargon & MI5, Doc Brown. Those are people that when I hear it makes me wanna write…ya know, inspiring bottom line. Troy Scalpels is definitely one of the nicest emcees I’ve heard from anywhere, and heads ain’t ready for his new shit, haha, for real. Just be prepared for top notch lyricism, that’s all I’m saying. Also, T Dangerous is another best emcees I’ve heard anywhere, let alone the UK. But those are all the ones I’m bredrins with as well, ya know. I’m also feelings artists like Task Force, Jehst, Universal Soldiers, Out Da Ville, etc. There’s a lot of dope people out right now doing their thing. Plus, I respect the older heads like Rodney P, Gunshot, Skinnyman, etc. for just opening doors in the beginning and still being able to make dope product. In addition to the emcees there’s a lot of nice producers. Mans like Skitz, Nappa, Task Force, Dark Disciple, Blufoot, etc. I’m working with a few others and making beats myself now as well.
Outside the UK, or Hip Hop even, do you have other favorite artists?
State-side, I’m feeling cats like Eminem, Canibus, Big L, Sticky Fingaz, Jay-Z, Wordsworth, Ras Kass, etc. The lyrical ones, ya know. Jojo Pellegrino and Rise from Demigodz are two newcomers I’ve been impressed by lately. They’ve been coming with a lot of hot shit recently…two guys to watch out for. For a while I used to limit myself to only the underground but eventually realized I should just recognize talent, period. I got a wide variety of music I listen to but what I listen to is different from what I truly respect and am inspired by. Honestly, I like to party and hit the club a lot, and shit like Nelly and Puffy and all that is good when you’re on the dancefloor, ya get me. That’s what those people do best, ya know…make people dance. In my opinion, they’re not claiming to be some amazing lyrical emcees, they just wanna make people party. So I think haters should just let em do their thing ya know what I mean. But the shit I respect and get inspired by is when an emcee like Em or Canibus drop an incredible punchline or when Mobb Deep or Kool G Rap kick some ill street shit. The shit that takes a gift to write and is actually impressive. Outside of hip hop I listen to artists like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Olu. Relaxing stuff. I’m not really into the whole rock/rap thing but I think groups like Hed PE & Rage are decent.
If people know of you it will probably be through your freestyling at open mic events. Over the years where have you performed and how did those shows go?
The last two years I’ve done more shows then I can possibly remember. The first open mics I ever did though were probably the Homegrown ones and the ones at Deal Real. Just doing those along with cyphers at places like Dark N Cold and even having sessions at mans houses I learned a lot about emceeing as far as delivery, flow, and what impresses people. I’ve done open mics at Lyrical Lounge (Jazz Cafe, Scala), Opium, Spread Love, WKD, etc. The open mics I’ve done don’t really stick out in my mind. I’ve done a lot of nice shows though. The Word Association (Big Up to Crystal!) always had me perform at their nights. There’s been five of those; two at the Indo Bar, one at Orange Room, the 291 Gallery, and Ocean. Those always take in hype crowds. Malarchi and I have done shows at Hanover Grand, Ocean, Mass, and this place in Tuffnell Park recently where I performed in front of my entire school. Even though that wasn’t a hip hop crowd, it’s probably the show I’m most proud of because kids I wasn’t really safe with before and who weren’t into rap were giving me props afterwards cuz they said they could really see that I was determined and talented…all saying that I’ll end up going far with this…and that’s something I can really appreciate…when I can reach different types of audiences.
Obviously you had some success at the Battle Scars tournament. Do you think your position was justified?
I was definitely happy about April’s Battle Scars. In the first one in January I had to go up against a female emcee and ended up "losing." I obviously thought I was robbed and that’s not being biased towards myself but it’s because I honestly thought I was coming better lyric for lyric. Rather than bitch and moan about it though, I just kept my mouth shut, went back and worked on the skills to come back during the April competition to prove that the first time was a fluke. I honestly wasn’t actually concerned with winning, but more of just proving a point and earning respect. I didn’t really prepare for the second one or write any rhymes ahead of time so it wasn’t really on my mind until the night… which was nice because I wasn’t nervous or anxious when the night came. As far as that night, I’m just very thankful that I won. I basically went through each round not thinking of the next one… just concentrating on taking out each emcee one by one. I eliminated the crowd, the prize money and all that from my head so I was pretty relaxed but focused. Battling Reveal was madness since we’re bredrins and all. We’d battled before but only at his yard and shit like that, so it was kinda awkward. But, we knew that whoever won between us, it would be all good and no beef. That final round I fed off of his aggression and energy on stage to just turn his lyrics around and flip them back at him. I think I came off real laid back which I was trying to do… make it look like I didn’t really have to use any effort to win ya know what I mean. After I won that though, I got a shitload of attention and all that, but still, even if I look back at the tape of it now I’d say I was unimpressed with my performance. And that makes me happy because Battle Scars didn’t leave me satisfied ya know…it just pushed me harder and motivated me to keep going, ya get me…raise my own standard and up the scales.
Who would you fear as a battle MC?
Honestly, I’m not afraid of anyone as a battle MC. And that’s not arrogance it’s just confidence ya know what I mean. I try to keep myself at a level where I can say I’m writing or spitting shit that’s better than anything else I’m hearing. If I can’t say that to myself it’s not good enough. So I’m really a perfectionist and my own standards are extremely high. Always been hungry… I remember when I used to write 5 verses a day a few years (no way I do that now though, haha). And that’s just practice ya know what I mean. But now, I think it’s better to battle emcees that are doper than most. Cuz taking out someone you already know you’re better than isn’t really gonna do anything for you or improve your skills. Personally, when I’m battling I feed off of whatever my opponent is throwing at me. So if I’m battling a proper nice rapper, that’s gonna get my adrenaline rushing and just make me work harder, which I think is better for me as an emcee and also ends up being a lot more fun.
Where can people catch you ripping the mic? Do you host any nights or get down on the regular?
Well if you see a mic that’s anywhere near me it’s gonna get burnt. Haha, nah jokes, but serious… I’m kinda slowing down on the open mics and all that, getting more into shows and bigger things ya know what I mean. I feel I’ve paid my dues and went through the effort of getting my name out and now it’s just time to try and build on that. Still though, another part of why I’m leaving open mics alone is cuz I think the standard has dropped a bit. I remember when every open mic was just full of tight emcees who would usually leave most mans scared to spit after them. I don’t see that much anymore. Nowadays it’s a lot more newcomers and mediocre cats stepping up. I mean, they gotta start somewhere too I guess but at the end of day I wanna be accomplishing goals and moving forward instead of staying in the same spot. It’s not being arrogant or anything or saying that I’m above them, but I just don’t get excited or inspired to rhyme so much at open mics anymore, at least over here. That’s just a matter of opinion. But trust, if there’s a dope emcee ripping an open mic, guaranteed you’ll see me come up after him, haha.
Are you looking to get a demo out and maybe get a record deal?
I’ve got a lot of old demo’s and literally thousands of lyrics accumulated but basically the first thing that’s coming out for me is a track I recently finished with the Nextmen called "Global Warming" for their next album. They heard me at the first Battle Scars then said they wanted to do some work together. It was just a big opportunity for me being as the record will come out state-side as well through a major label. But they ended up giving me a lot of freedom when it came to the material. That track is just some of my nicer punchline shit, pure lyrics. I wanted the track to be something that’ll leave people saying, "Did you hear what Kera just said?" ya know. And I try to blaze everything I get on so I knew I had to make this track extra sharp being as it’s gonna be heard by a lot of heads. Just two 32-bar verses of fire. The b-side is a track called "Fallen" featuring Est’elle. We’re working on that at the moment. That’s more of a relationship track about what a guy goes through when he actually encounters a girl he has feelings for but doesn’t really get the same in return. It’s gonna catch a lot of people off-guard, but it’s some deep shit and written from experience so I’m hoping it’ll do well and show that I have versatility. I also got two tracks on the Dark Disciple’s upcoming album, one solo cut "Euology" and then a future single called "Lensmen" featuring Slaunye and Malarchi. In addition to those, I got tracks in the works with Malarchi, Reveal, Skinnyman, Grimlock, Natural Born Spittaz, and a few other artists. What’s mad though is that I’m gonna be going back to the states soon. So basically I’m gonna wait and see how these records do and take it from there ya know what I mean.
What artists would you like to work with perhaps to produce for you or just to collaborate with?
In the UK I’ve pretty much worked with or am working with almost everyone I’d like to collaborate with. That’s just through networking during the past few years and getting to know bare cats. Most artists I work with thought I know as people as well, which is very important to me cuz I have to get along with whoever I’m making material with ya know. It helps when you can admire someone as an artist and plus as an individual and makes it easier to come up with some dope shit. State-side I guess it’d be nice to work with most of the rappers I mentioned earlier. When I go back later this year I’m hopefully gonna connect with Canibus so I’ll have to see what happens. Producer-wise I’d just love to bless a Premier beat. He’s pretty much uncomparable when it comes to making raw shit to spit over (most people know that by now I guess). I’m also feeling the other obvious mans like Rza, Dre, Alchemist, Pete Rock, Beatminerz. I’d really like to get on some Hi-Tek beats as well. I think he’s one of the nicest at the moment, plus he’s from Ohio, haha. I think Timbaland is definitely a musical genius and bare heads are failing to recognize that he’s well ahead of what most people are doing. I was impressed by Eminem’s production. Havoc, Beatnuts, Neptunes…the list just goes on and on in the states. I think that’s mostly due to the resources available to them over there though. UK could easily be at same point in a couple years.
How do you feel about British society and some of the problems/issues happening in London at the moment?
I think there’s definitely a lot of tension and problems going on within London. Although it’s a whole lot more diverse than places like NYC or LA, there’s still nuff racism and it’s still a pretty messed up class-oriented society. It’s just sad to see the police and the government looking down upon a lot of the lower class over here. People gotta understand that everyone in London ain’t living lovely. The youths coming up today are just getting cheated because the system isn’t offering them enough opportunities or making sure there’s enough positive influences in their lives ya know what I mean. That’s probably why you see bare youths just going on mad shit now cuz they have nowhere to turn to ya know that I mean. It’s always the same story. There’s just a lot of anger and aggression stored up in the urban youth. And I ain’t trying to come off as revolutionary but I’m just saying that the people in higher positions need to realize how much the upcoming generations are being damaged ya know what I mean. And I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I believe it’ll only help if you make an effort to try and get people to wake up to the bullshit.
Moving on, what is going to be keeping you busy over the next few months?
At the very end of August I’m going back to the states (Boston, on the East Coast) to study and go to uni. I’m attending a communications / media school so I’m looking to learn a lot over there. And I mean, I can’t just rely on hip hop as a career just yet ya know what I mean. And plus, I’ve just been blessed with nuff opportunities and uni is one of those, so why let it go to waste. Just trying to make my future secure. As far as the UK though, I’ll be coming back a lot… during Christmas and every summer. Hoping to move back once I finish uni.
In the longer term what do you see happening to you as an artist? What are your hopes and aspirations?
As an artist, who knows what’ll happen. My one main goal at the end of the day though is to just get to a point where I’m making a living off this hip hop shit. That would be a dream come true ya know. Getting paid off of doing the one thing I actually love doing and possibly the only thing I’ve gotten into purely on my own initiative and worked at primarily alone. I honestly do want the money, fame, girls… ya know, all that shit. But along with that I just have to keep the skill progressing and stay true to myself. Without that it wouldn’t mean anything. But bottom line I’m just tired of hearing all these underground heads complaining about commercial cats "selling out" and all that bullshit, cuz they know they wouldn’t be complaining if they were in that position. I mean, ya don’t have to fake it and act like a gangster or anything like that, but what’s wrong with having fine girls in your videos and buying cars and mansions if you’re able to? Ya get me… there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s actually you and you deserve it. I ain’t about dressing up in some flashy shit and doing corny videos in nightclubs sipping Cristal and shit like that cuz that’s not what I do on the regular. But still, luxury would be nice. And plus, I like women, getting lean, and partying in hot spots in addition to just chilling and taking it easy in the streets, so that’s what I would reflect. Well, don’t wanna get too carried away… Also I hope I’ll eventually inspire younger people with what I do in the same way that rappers inspired me when I was little. Ya know… show people that you can do what you want to, believe in yourself and to prove it doesn’t matter where you’re from or whatever. Just use your talents. Apart from that I’d love to see UK Hip Hop reach the point where US Hip Hop is and to see all the heads over here finally get some long deserved credit. I mean, those are the people that inspired me, so it’s only right that they get rewarded.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Not really, ya know. I think I’ve made all my answers way too long already, haha.
Is there anyone else you would like to mention?
Big Up to all my crew, emcees, family and the rest of my bredrins…you know who you are. Big Up to everyone doing their thing in UK Hip Hop and Hip Hop worldwide. Don’t give up y’all. I’d like to send a shout out to all the sexy ladies that are on my jock and will be on my jock in the future, haha. Keep it up. Mad props to Brit-ish for letting me do this and nuff respect to anyone that took the time to read this long-ass interview. Love is love ya know. And lastly, Thank You to anyone that’s ever given me support or better yet brought negativity into my life and motivated me… y’all are the ones that keep me going. Peace
Can you kick a quick rhyme for the readers?
The assassin is here, verbally passing my years
I should stop writing, I have enough verses to last a career
The way my mind thinks, I’m coaching this shit, I’m above game
A bedroom rapper, only in the halls if they’re "of Fame"
I step on stage, that’s when the ovation starts
Emcees bite my style so much when they write every bar needs quotation marks
Colder than glaciers with competitive nature
Putting money on me in battles is a repetitive wager
The most furthest, outshining me is basically worthless
It won’t happen, I’ve killed more "mics" than Jamie Lee Curtis
Even people who hate rap are respecting my name
I plan to get more airplay than a pilot who has sex in his plane
Got my shit God, for hoes with the dough I keep my dick hard
I spit bars and I’m outta this world, I think I miss Mars
Like Nintendo games you get played, I beat you in spurts
Like windowpanes, y’all rappers are so see-through it hurts
What you hoping for? Probably me, I’m the one you don’t ignore
I got more freestyles than a Salvation Army clothing store
I’m flowing more than anyone with tired faces
You can’t bring anything new to the table, like a retired waitress
In terms of girls I’m in desired places
My mouth’s on fire, and I won’t stop rhyming till the entire place is
Admired phrases created, my spit soaking
Stopped using cigarettes but due to mics, I haven’t quit smoking
Thank you very much to Kerosene for your interesting and detailed answers. Everyone here wishes you the best in your studies and for your rhymes.