I read somewhere that ‘malarchi’ means ‘blossoming’ in Tamil; and it’s fair to say that the East London emcee who uses the word as his moniker is also one of UK hip hop’s burgeoning talents. His debut album ‘Forgotten World’ was released with considerable fanfare back in May, so I recently caught up with him at the Darkjoint recording studio in Canning Town (where most of the album’s tracks were conceived) to find out what he is trying to achieve with his LP.
“My first album is my foundation – to let people know I’m here,” Malarchi explains. “I’ve got something to say about the society we live in. I talk about people that go through struggles and strife in life. The concept behind [the title] ‘Forgotten World’ is about people who don’t get heard in our society. There is gunplay and there is violence that’s going on but it’s hidden. So I was thinking: ‘OK, why not address the issues and talk about my life because I am [part of] that society?’ I am the ‘urban ethnic’ that don’t get seen too often… So [the LP] brings light to the scenarios that are going on. It gives direction to the next generation to see what’s been going on and how we can make a change.”
He adds, “I ain’t trying to be no politician, but at the same time want to show people that we [in British hip hop] have got the intelligence to take it to the next level. We’ve proved the point by so many artists putting out albums, getting their individual situations displayed on tracks.”
At the end of 1999, when ‘Forgotten World’ was first due to be released, Hip Hop Connection magazine’s Andrew Emery gave the LP a two-star rating and wrote in his review that his local second-hand record store ‘will have to bare the burden of trying to flog my copy of this for the next six months’. Malarchi’s response to this unnecessary gibe is, however, surprisingly calm. “People will always say what they wanna say and do what they wanna do,” he says, “ but at the end of the day, if it ain’t threatening my life, then it ain’t doing shit to me. It’s affecting whoever’s listening to them, but it’s not affecting me.”
As a result of the original album being heavily bootlegged, its release was held back for eighteen months so that new tracks could be recorded. Amusingly though, earlier this year when the new version of LP was reviewed in Hip Hop Connection, this time it was given full marks. Consequently, Malarchi decided to record a track ‘Politics’ that addressed the general fickle nature of the music industry and in particular Emery’s initial review of his album.
“That track was done specifically to prove a point,” he says. “It wasn’t really to point a finger, but because the man pointed a finger directly at me, you just expect me to just sit down and take it? There’s a degree of disrespect, and a degree of respect [that’s acceptable]. I don’t step on no one’s toes, so I don’t expect mine to be stepped on.” “People have got to watch what they say,” he adds. “Fair enough, you might not like [my music], so make your critical comments, but don’t be disrespectful in the process.”
‘Politics’ ended up being released as the B-side to the single ‘Da Shock’, a track that received considerable attention all on it’s own because of the appearance of one of America’s most respected emcees Canibus. “All I know, my dream came true,” Malarchi declares about the collaboration. “I was always thinking, If I ever did a track with [an American artist], I’d make sure that they wouldn’t outshine me, but it would be a blessing to me for them to be on the same track as them. Gem [Akisanya, the head of Gemtoy Records] sorted it out. He found out that Canibus is not with Universal Records no more and got him to fly over and do the track.”
As well as being able to work with high-profile artists, Malarchi has consistently been able to maintain a position in the media spotlight. The videos for his singles have received good rotation on MTV, he has performed live at the Notting Hill Carnival, appeared on Mel B’s BBC music show and earlier this year the ‘Forgotten World’ LP was announced as a contender for the Mercury Music Prize.
Having gained such exposure at a time when most UK rap acts struggle for even the smallest amount of coverage, some people may feel that Malarchi has a responsibility to be a representative for the entire British hip hop scene. Malarchi, however, sees the situation differently. “Hip hop is so much bigger than me. So I’m not a ‘representative’ of UK hip hop, I’m a ‘representer’ – there’s a difference,” he says. “If I’m the one that’s getting exposure then people have got to look at it as: ‘OK, this guy’s doing something that I respect,’ or ‘I don’t like it, but at least he’s doing something towards our own shit.’ If people start looking at it at that level, we’ll go a lot further than we think.
“In the UK, we need to support ourselves more. Every person that’s gonna spend money on a rap record that’s from London, they’re the people that we need to support, cos they’re the ones that are demanding our stuff and they’re supporting us. We’ve got to show them the same love back.”
For Malarchi, recording hip hop music is more than just a hobby or a past time. “It’s something that releases a little tension from me,” he states. “If people appreciate it – thank you! If people hate it – thank you!! I just do my thing. However, Malarchi also has certain responsibilities that mean that he is single-minded in his determination for success. “I gotta provide a roof for my head, clothes for my back, food to eat. If that ain’t enough, then I’ve also got a seed to feed. So there’s a cycle that keeps on going. No matter what, I’ve got goals I’ve gotta reach.
“I wanna reach the level that no-ones ever got to before [in British hip hop]. I wanna get hip hop from London to be more than a success, more that acceptable, more than understood and then give Tony Blair something to talk about!”
Malarchi’s ‘Forgotten World’ LP is out now on Gemtoy Records
Check out the interview with Malarchi’s producer, Roy ‘The Dark Disciple’