What can I say about Skinnyman? He’s a bit of a legend really. His "Council Estate Of Mind" LP on Lowlife Records is one of the classic UK hip-hop joints of the last decade, he’s been in and out of prison and had more label trouble than most, but when he rocks the mic he rocks the mic right.
I caught up with him after his Leeds show at the breakdancing spectacular that is Fresh Jive to have a bit of a chat. Read on, or click here to read my blog on the night.
So to start on a trivial note… I know you’re into your clothes and that… what are you wearing right now and what are you trying to project with that?
Skinnyman: What I’m wearing is garments entirely made in sweat-shops, where looking around London in the shops that I try to spend money in to buy garments to keep me warm, there’s no fair-trade items of clothing other than THTC. So underneath what I’m wearing is a THTC t-shirt, then I’m wearing a green jumper with… what’s his name… Sylvester the cat… and Frankenstein trainers. And a warm jacket – "I’m clever because I wear my leather in the winter…"
That’s good… you’re obviously a political MC so it’s good to get started on that straight away. So, anyway, you’re from Leeds originally, Little London is it?
Skinnyman: Yeah I’m from Little London but my parents are Scottish so I still hail Scotland. I’m like a Scottish MC, not a UK MC. [In a Scottish accent] Doon’t ge’ i’ fookin twisted, a’reet.
So you’re in London but you’re not necessarily – from London?
Skinnyman: Nah I’m Scottish.
So, I was thinking originally you’re from Chapeltown but that’s not the case… Little London, right?
Skinnyman: Yeah Little London… you’ve done more research than most, young man!
I do my best, man – I try not to come out with just like "So what’s your musical influences?"
Skinnyman: My musical influences are everything that’s melodic and harmonious.
That’s the question I’m trying not to ask… that’s what I’m saying…
I know Cee-Lo man, that’s nice. So you like your Dirty South? I know you were doing a track earlier over Three-Six Mafia [a remix of "Love’s Gone From The Streets" performed over 3-6’s "Stay Fly" instrumental].
Skinnyman: Yeah, over the Crunk? I mean, I love all types of music and I’ve been on music coming from New Orleans for over the last fifteen years now, before Master P, so I’ve always given Southern hip-hop a space.
Yeah, because with a lot of UK hip-hop, the one criticism that could be made even of the good stuff is that it’s influenced purely by East-Coast US hip-hop… the influence hasn’t even spread as far as the West-Coast stuff. Whereas you’re into your Grime, you’re into your Crunk… everything.
Skinnyman: I’d say that throughout my life’s experience, the most influential style of music to me that I’ve incorporated into my music has been reggae dancehall.
Yeah? You can hear that a little in the way that you deliver your lyrics.
Skinnyman: Is that obvious?
No, not immediately obvious, but when you say it – and it’s been mentioned in previous interviews.
Skinnyman: I’m glad you picked up that there was a ragga flow there.
So anyway… you talk about the council estate experience. The term "chav" gets thrown around a lot with regards to that situation… what’s you take on the term "chav"?
Skinnyman: My take on the term "chav", just to set this clear with all those who are unfamiliar with the term or unaware of the real meaning… "chav" simply means "baby". So it’d be like "Ah, look at that little chavvy" meaning "Look at that little child, that little baby" and when they’re saying "They’re dressing in chavvy style" it means they’re dressing in the kids’ fashion. So "chavvy style" simply means young children’s fashion ‘cos chavvies are children.
Ok, good answer. In your lyrics, you’re talking a lot about conscious stuff… and there’s the video to "I’ll Be Surprised… where you kind of see the comeback from the gangster lifestyle…
Skinnyman: The video?
I’ve seen a video online… have you not done an official video?
Skinnyman: I have never seen a video to "I’ll Be Surprised".
Someone’s maybe done one then?
Skinnyman: Yeah? Congratulations. Thank you.
Oh okay, I thought that was official! But still, you are generally talking about… not so much "conscious" because that’s an overused term in rap, but some aware stuff about the environment where you come from.
Skinnyman: I think in my material I try to be what I would call socially aware of the things going on first-hand in our immediate environment. There’s a lot of things that are glamourised within our immediate environment that are negative aspects of our community that actually bring our communities down, such as drugs, unemployment, mental illness, suicide, depression, all these kinds of negativity that seem to be glorified within certain music forms, especially hip-hop. Now what I do is I try and look at the source of these epidemics.
So perhaps to understand and celebrate the people that are going through that but not to celebrate the fucked-up stuff that’s happening to them?
Skinnyman: I mean it’s merely to reflect and present facts so that one can draw one’s own opinion on what I’m presenting rather than me sway your opinion onto thinking something.
But I think the way you deliver it, I think you’ve got your own opinion, that comes across and I think mans can understand that…
Skinnyman: We all have our own opinion and what we’ve got to try and not let come within that is our egos. Ego can be a very destructive thing so within my music I try and have as least ego as I can. It’s still coming from my opinion but I don’t try to sway anybody’s opinion, I merely try to present facts from my opinion in the way that I see that I feel the facts deserve to be presented and then people can decide for their opinion from that.
OK… you did a little track with Mark B and Delta recently ["One Less Gun"]… man from Australia… how was that?
Skinnyman: It was amazing. Delta’s a cat from Australia who really lives 100% hip-hop lifestyle. Coming from Australia, with the culture and difference that we have here in Britain, we have to try our hardest to understand what kind of culture they have to adopt hip-hop as their own and embrace it and give a fully-fledged representation of it. I’d say Delta is a fine example of that repping out of Australia. He’s also a socially conscious rapper who wanted to approach me to do a track about "One Less Gun". Basically, the way that we feel about gun crime is that as long as there’s bullets in existence, there’s always going to be a gun to put them in and shoot them. So if we can stop the manufacturing of all bullets, maybe we can stop the manufacturing of death.
You’ve done some tracks which indicate pretty clearly that you’re not fond of crack dealers, right?
Skinnyman: No, I definitely believe that it’s a cancerous plague that I’ve seen bring down good people with high morale in my community. When I look at my lifespan of how many friends I’ve had who I’ve regarded and had respect and admiration for who have become addicted to drugs and lost all the good things about them that I used to rate them.
There are a lot of American acts at the moment – the Clipse would be the prime example to me – they’re making a certain amount of sales and they’re getting a huge amount of critical acclaim from people who probably haven’t actually dealt with the direct effects of the things they’re rapping about. How do you feel when you see for example the Clipse getting 5/5 in XXL?
Skinnyman: Obviously the fans want to buy into a lifestyle and obviously the lifestyle they’re expressing through their music is the lifestyle of a drug-dealer. For some people who want to embrace this through the music, they can do by purchasing a CD. Hence the levels of sales that they’ve had, especially with such a successful production team behind them as The Neptunes and the marketing strategy of the record company. All these things should be taken into consideration but when we look on the crack epidemic and we look at how much these so-called rappers claim to be selling in distribution of narcotics on the street corner, there must be a very bad drug epidemic that they can relate to within their community that they are the cause of.
Most of them are liars. Just to sum it up, all of these rappers are talking about how they shot someone when they ain’t never even held a gun.
You mentioned Water Aid during your set – we should obviously get on to that in a second but is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Skinnyman: Do look out for my son’s offering, which is Lil Jigz presents The Puzzle Of Life – Volume One. It’s going to be featuring everyone from the Grime circuit, Hip-Hop circuit, everybody from the UK urban umbrella really because we’re not trying to prejudice against any form of musical category under the umbrella.
And who’s your crew down tonight?
Skinnyman: The crew that I’m here with tonight is the whole of the Mud Fam – we’ve got DJ Nasah, who is the International Bolliway Superstar. We’ve got Richy Rich from the Getaway EP Project. We’ve got Singa Blinga, who is the Reggae Vocal Sensationalist. We’ve got Crazy Commotion, who’s are hypeman and my self, Skinny-minny-man!
We’re missing one member, my son, Lil Jigz, but due to licence requirements he wasn’t able to enter the premises tonight.
Okay, so finally – tell us about wateraid.org.
Skinnyman: In the year 2006, we are expecting a toll of 11 million children to die in an area like Kenya. Wateraid.org is an organisation that tries to bring about clean water for these children in need. If we look at the fact that what the American government spends on nuclear research every year, a third of that money could wipe out Third-World debts around the world and if we look at the fact that England spends money to provide 10,000 gallons of water every day in Africa for the growth of flowers to be exported and sold in European territories, it’s just kind of outrageous the way that we’re living in this day and age.