WordPlay is among the absolute zenith of British MCs that are carrying more than their fair weight of intellect and integrity that keeps this scene rolling. Well recognised for his work with rapper Lowkey; Wordplay matches lyrical flow with mental faculty, conscious content with brilliant beats.
A favourite all over the scene, and a reminder of the essence of hip hop for many. Nino was honoured to grill him and get a platter of original opinions…
You’ve earned a name as one of the more intellectual and positively influential MCs on this island, but where does that story begin? What made Wordplay the MC, and what made the MC the intellect?
Wordplay: Uhuh, well thank you that’s a serious introduction. I mean I’m pretty sure I had some sense before I ever started rapping, but you could say I’ve developed a lot as a human being since I first set out in the game. I guess originally I’d written a couple garage bars but the style at the time was quite repetitive, and it didn’t really allow me to be as specific as I wanted, grime was just picking up if anything but it wasn’t really until I met a boy called Kareem (Lowkey) when I was about 17 maybe. He was on this super lyrical rap and he used to come around to my house and spit like 10 A4 sheets of paper to me, just sick shit. Then we’d go college and people would be dropping the wateriest, airiest kinda nothing bars and getting love for it. I guess it was a mixture of his influence and just finking ‘shhh I can do better than these mans’ that pulled me back into writing at all and then hip hop gave me a large enough canvas to really express myself, I’ve never been half hearted with anything so rapping was no different.
As far as “positively influential”, its funny, a lot of people say that but it’s definitely not something I give consideration to when I’m attacking a concept. In a way I think it says a lot about what people expect from us as “Urban” artists. Maybe not a majority of what’s being made but definitely a majority of what’s being felt is considered quite negative and I think unless people are comfortable in themselves they tend to fall too far onto one side or the other. It could be that since I try to paint quite a balanced picture I’m falling into that category of “other than gangster” but my life is as real as it is and that influence is as much a part of the picture I paint as the lack of perpetual violence. I ain’t no king pin but I’m as real about ‘what I do in the streets’ as I am about the fact I might wake up in the morning kiss my mum, have some breakfast and brush my teeth before I go out, you feel me?
So maybe my music hasn’t come across so intellectually superior or uncomfortably positive that it alienates its audience, or so over saturated with a fantasy that it dilutes its reality. For that reason it could be now I’m being heard enough to be what’s considered a representation of positive intelligent music, and if that’s true I take it as a compliment.
I think we’re in an era where a lot of the public are ‘ex’ hip hop fans and every show is catering to a different fragment of the hip hop culture, you need to be able to come consistently hard on every level, so that whoever your in front of your able to make them a fan of what you do at least.
Do you remember the first track you wrote?
Wordplay: Rah yeah I think the first full track I actually wrote was a song called “Drugs” for Nutty Professor, and looking back it was kinda basic. I mean I could rap an’ rhyme syllables and that, but listening to it now its kinda obvious I didn’t have a strong style or any kind of format to my bars. I remember he gave me some beats off the back of an open mic night at Deal Real where I spat a bunch of bars about the UK scene and the game in general. I remember proper criticising 50’s fans at the time so it musta been around when he was first dropping, its funny ‘cus I like 50 now but at the time I couldn’t appreciate his drive and determination, I just felt like he was a poor representation of lyrical hip hop. Again saying that “Pump It Up” was out at the same time and I despised Joe Budden, now I’m a fan, it can be like that sometimes. Anyway, I think it was off the back of that and then I guess he didn’t just scrap the track ‘cus he’s a nice guy. That’s my guess.
It’s crazy going back and listening to my early stuff but it helps me to appreciate how much we’ve all improved. But especially me…
How did you meet Lowkey, and what impact did that working relationship have on you as an artist?
Wordplay: Erm yeah I met Lowkey just as a regular person. You know you have those first days of the college year or whatever. I came into my new form and I might have been on a slightly cocky flex ‘cus I knew a lot of people there. But I rolled in, and really the only person in the room that looked vaguely on a level was Kareem. I always believe real will recognize real so I think we naturally came together in that situation and then because we don’t have personalities that really clash, its just happened that we’ve been able to tolerate each other outside of that forced environment. I definitely think that how we met and the fact we remained friends outside of that place has had an effect on our overall relationship.
I said before he used to come to my house and rap sheets of paper to me? Well he was really hungry for recognition at the time and I know that his single mindedness rubbed off on me to a degree.
I can remember early on before I had a name, I musta been rapping some sort of “you’re a fake a snake a rat” kinda bars and he said to me ‘try to rhyme your last syllables from the first line with the second line like “these big cats eat Kit Kats”’ or suttin and I remember that being like a light bulb in my mind and running with the idea to the point that people were hyping the way I was playing with words, so he’s definitely contributed to my development as an artist. A few see me as having been in Lowkey’s shadow on some level, since most people have only become aware of me through my relationship with him and that could be seen as negative. But I’ve always taken the positives from a situation and I value the relationship we have over peoples’ opinions of it. Were both very lyrical and we both make “real” music, but at the same time we make very different music, he has a massive following of intelligent fans around the world, some of them relate to my messages and some don’t.
As far as an insight into the industry side of things, its always good to have some one that understands what your going through but who's advice isn’t jaded by or relationship solely based on the industry, and I mean he’s brought me through on shows and opportunities that not only put me in a position to showcase my ability, but that also gave me priceless experience so its always love there, you feel me.
Could you drop us a few lines that lay down your style and stance when it comes to hip hop? (could be from an existing track / off the top of your head)
Wordplay: Ahh just a few yeah…
Aright sa look,
A sinister kinda criminal minded killers are livin in my bits/
Biggens are given ‘em guidance bit of advice but littlens fink its intisisin/
Sa listen I figured I’d bring em the light since spitters just didn’t provide it/ ignorant Rymers in a position to guide young innocent minds
Just missin ambition to drive em innit. Easy
Could you drop us some of your favourite lines by another artist that you think really address the whole idea of unity hip hop is supposed to create?
Wordplay: Haha that’s a pretty specific example yana, but err I think Joeys got a line in Dear Diary like:
“We all equal, no one lower or above me, I love my team just as much as they love me/ If not more/ If I turn the knob we all going through the door, I ain't coming back for y'all”.
I feel like that represents where are heads need to be at right now in terms of unity, I think were all a lot stronger if we can humble ourselves just enough to work with each other yano.
Are English words enough for Wordplay? Reckon you’d ever try dropping us a track in a different language? If you had to pick one to learn on the spot, which would it be and why?
Wordplay: Erm, I dunno. I’ve been teaching myself Spanish recently and when people send me messages from abroad I always try to respond in their native language if I can, but I don’t speak any other languages fluently. Chinese would probably be a smart move with the economy the way it is at the moment. I’d never say never and it would be interesting.
‘I Need To Get Away’ is among your heart deep masterpieces, have you ever run away?
Wordplay: Heheh ‘erm, not officially I don’t think so. I had quite a free child hood, no curfews, lose discipline, so until my mum became ill I used to just get up and leave and go stay somewhere else when I needed space. We’d lived in so many areas there was always someone or somewhere I could go back to see. But I never slid out in the middle of the night with a bag full of pre packed stuff though, naa, I just used to get away, my house was always crazy and even now if you come in you can feel the energy levels.
That song “Get Away” was largely inspired by me coming back from some summer shows I’d been away on and being confronted with a situation that had developed in my absence. Its crazy ‘cus being away from the ends and personal stuff can always be a breath of fresh air and I’d felt like I was in a really good place when we were away, but as soon as I came back I was just absorbed by the negativity surrounding me.
Could you tell us a bit about the track ‘Tie My Hands’?
Wordplay: Yeah of course, I was with a talented young singer for about four years, we met at a show we were both performing at in back in ‘04. In the beginning we both had so much potential and we were in a great place for each other at the time, a lot happened but I was stabbed a few times early in ‘05 and I couldn’t walk for months, she dedicated a lot of time to me so I have to take a degree of responsibility for stunting our shit in the beginning. But I don’t think we ever got out of that cycle, it was like one death after another, one emotional tragedy after another continuously. I’ve always been a very driven person and I’ve never let anything or anyone hold me back. We were inseparable for years but you can’t keep running with someone that’s ready to stop where they are, so I had to get out of that situation. I felt like we needed some space and she felt like she needed someone there, I couldn’t be, so she got with a boy we know and is now pregnant with his baby. The whole thing kinda bun me ‘cus I still love the girl but “Tie My Hands” was like self recognition that I’d made the right decision. “Tie my hands, what am I gonna do” I wasn’t done running she was.
Could you tell us a bit about your background in acting?
Wordplay: Yeah, my mum is an actress, she used to do a lot of work before she lost her balance, so I was around the business to a degree as a child. People had tried to protect me from the industry as a youngster and always gave me examples of kids that had been chewed up and spat out by the whole process, but I was always looking for a way to express myself, to be creative and to get paid to do suttin I enjoy. I was lucky to be in a position where that was encouraged rather than stamped out, I remember doing a film called "Dandidust" when I was still in primary school, some adverts, but like I say besides my mum people weren’t really encouraging about the profession. I auditioned for the NYT in ‘05 and I know that going away with them definitely gave me room to appreciate what opportunities were open to me. I realized as well that while they’re are a lot of people tryna get noticed the reality is that there aren’t many from our backgrounds that can afford to take it seriously. Its similar in the media, to get a job with a big magazine, your probably gonna have to work as intern first, for free. Most working class people never have that luxury of support to see them through those periods. It’s a catch 22, but if you can break through that barrier you become a 1 in a 100 instead of a 1 in 1 million. Also people appreciate your life experience in acting so I think it can be a positive avenue for kids who’ve been forced to grow up at a young age to channel there emotion, I was definitely one of those kids and I’m sure having acting as an outlet has been as therapeutic for me as rapping has.
If you made a film about your life, and had to use another MC from anyone in the world to play you, who would you pick and why?
Wordplay: Heheh, I probably wouldn’t look that far ‘cus I gotta rep the UK but If I was gonna pick another artist, and one that looked like me, I’d probably pick Ice Kid. He might be a little lighter than me, but he’s from the zones and I was a couple of years below his sister in school, I think they’re a talented family so heed probably do a good job.
Will Wordplay ever write a book?
Wordplay: More than likely. Question is would you read it?
What really influences you as an artist on a day to day basis?
Wordplay: The things we do, but don’t say to each other. I think a lot of the time our opinion of our own behaviour and our level of respect for one another is jaded by our own ego. I’m like the spot light on those behaviours. I notice them because I hate them and I hate to see them in myself.
Has hip hop evolved or dissolved?
Wordplay: I think its Like Nas said we’ve gotta “destroy and rebuild” because its definitely dissolved on some level. I mean if you try and burn a CD quality disk for your car or suttin as apposed to a mp3 CD, you get about 12-15 tracks on it if your lucky, these days people expect 20-30 track mixtapes, there alone you gotta literally half the sound quality of the music just to fit it on the same disk and that’s before you’ve even started talking about its creative content. But then I think its also like a phoenix, it never died, it just came back in 2.0 so from a more optimistic perspective you could say its definitely evolving, its just whether its changing for the better or the worse.
Hip hop was unlucky in that the end of its natural pop life kinda coincided with the financial decline of the entertainment industry as a whole. Because of that were not seeing much money be pumped into new projects to the support a return of real hip hop.
Jay Z or Common?
Wordplay: Haha Common had a line about black men being with white women…
““Black men walkin with white girls on they arms / I be mad at em, as if I know they moms” – Common (Real People)
And I’m mixed race, but for a few reasons Jay.
Faith or facts?
Wordplay: I have faith in facts yeah, I don’t know. To a degree I’m grounded by logic but I have faith that anything is possible, literally.
Youtube or the library?
Wordplay: Ahh I wish I could say the library but Youtube’s right there in my pocket so probably Youtube.
Israel or Palestine?
Wordplay: Long Live Palestine.
Speaking of Palestine… What’s your message to our readers, any hip hop heads and the general soul out there; regarding the current Gaza horrors?
Wordplay: Don’t be afraid to have an opinion. I meet a lot of intelligent people who are fully capable of understanding what’s going on, but a majority of them seem to hide behind the accepted idea that it all goes to deep for them to even attempt to look into. Do your own research, you can never learn enough.
How long do you think it will be before this situation calms down?
Wordplay: That’s beyond me…
Does hip hop have a duty to speak out against oppression? Why are so many major heads so hesitant to speak out when it matters?
Wordplay: I don’t know if hip hop as a culture has a duty to be anything, but as rappers we definitely have more freedom than most artists to be specific in our message so we don’t have to be vague if we don’t want to be. I might have 10 to 15 words in one line where as a singer might only have 3 to 5 in that same bar, so If I want to say something specific I have the canvas to.
But it’s a double sided sword, you asked, “Why are so many major heads so hesitant to speak out when it matters?” and the truth is that having so much freedom to say what’s on your mind makes it way too easy to say something that a number of people aren’t confident they agree with. Its like when you meet someone and you get on with them because you haven’t known them long and you relate on every level your required to be on in that environment, but once you’ve both expressed yourselves a few times you see that maybe you only relate on those levels and in reality you didn’t agree with them on most issues. If you as an artist have love off the back of some two dimensional image that people have of you, your best bet is to keep your mouth shut, talk about things everyone can relate to or your bound to alienate a fraction of your audience. I think because of that, we’re limited to hearing from a majority that just cant keep there mouths shut or a minority that value their cores over their own welfare.
So what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Wordplay: I’ve been working non stop, so this year I plan to be at least as productive, I wanna keep pushing forward, definitely videos, I want to release two solo projects but I’m also talking with an American producer Dru Famous and we might put out a project together at some point as well. I know Anton Flanders (also known as Nutty P) has written a short film and I’m happy to have a role in that production and few other parts that I don’t wanna over hype but look out for me. I mean in terms of recognition I wanna become firmly established in ‘09, Ali Vegas has got this line like…
“I bumped into Joe, he said suttin that bothered me, he said vague you still rappin,
I said dam its that hard to see?”
I don’t want there to be question about what I do by the end of this year.
Where can we catch you live?
Wordplay: That’s really down to you lot, demand us to your promoters ‘cus our live scene is wounded right now, but I’ma be everywhere I can be so support the scene and you’ll see me without a doubt.
Any final shout outs or words of wisdom?
Wordplay: Most definitely shout outs to my peoples Lecks an dem, also Nutty, Lowkey, Addagio, Celos, Dru, The Makers, all my Sheffieldians, Honey D, go check my top friends there’s too many to name. But mainly love to everyone that ain’t given up on the game, that’s keeping this thing moving and that’s doing it with a little grace. Look out for a bredda called Mr 13 and a young boy called Mic Righteous. Ova than that Life IS what you make it my peoples so lets Make it. One