General, the 27 year-old co-founding member of T.H.E. is a long time lover of British rap music, having spent his teen years listening to the likes of Hijack, London Posse and Cookie Crew alongside the music of Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane. “Originally there were eight members in The Homegrown Entourage and then as time went on, it dwindled down as we realised who was down and who wasn’t,” he says. T.H.E. currently consists of General, D-Nice (the brother of one of General's university friends) and former schoolmate Barb Nemesis.
About two years ago The Homegrown Entourage teamed up with www.gaialive.co.uk, Europe’s fourth largest Internet radio station, to take their pirate radio show, The Real Deal Rap Show, online. “We have a formula – but it’s a loose formula,” General explains, “but there’s one thing – we tell the artists to keep it real.” By the same token, T.H.E. ‘keeps it real’ when it comes to giving advice to budding talents. “We get a lot of artists coming up to us for advice knowing that they’re gonna get an unbiased opinion. If you give us a demo and come up to our face, we’ll tell you if we liked it or if we thought it was shit.”
As well as providing new acts with feedback on their material, the extensive network of contacts T.H.E. has developed, enables them to hook rappers up with producers and DJs, plus to give recommendations about which recording studios to use. In addition, the services of Homegrown Vision – T.H.E.’s design company – are available for acts that need record sleeves, flyers or posters designed. “Anyone who wants authentic hip hop design should come to us. The designs [D-Nice] puts together are immaculate,” General declares. T.H.E. also act as a liaison between artists and industry people.
So, what advice can General give to new UK rap acts that are trying to get themselves noticed? “First and foremost you’ve gotta get on the circuit. You’ve got to go to open mic events, go to the live shows and see what everyone else is at. Be energised and get some crowd interaction. If anyone can see KRS1 on stage, see how he does it. I went to see [the French rap outfit] Saian Supa Crew – their stage show is fucking tight. Take note. I remember seeing Blak Twang perform at Dekefex once and the whole crowd reacted to him as if he was a US artist. It was a lovely show.” According to General, “the second most important thing is learning how to get the energy across in the studio, because recording in a studio and performing live on stage are two totally different things.”
Once you’ve got some exciting tracks laid down and you want to put out a record, General believes it is important for you to spend your money wisely and get copies of the record to the king of people who will help you. “A lot of rappers make the mistake of pressing up thousands of records and then suddenly realising that they can’t shift them,” he says. “Press up 30 or 40 copies and try to get the record to all the DJs. A lot of the DJs, like Big Ted and Shortee Blitz, are always at nightclubs. Give them a copy of the record with your contact details on it and tell them ‘see what you think and please contact me’.”
With artists like Mark B and Blade finally getting commercial success after years of promoting their music independently, there is renewed confidence that the British homegrown hip hop scene will regain the respect it commanded over a decade ago. General shares this optimism. “The late 1980s and 90s was a good time for UK rap… now we are again in promising times. There’s so much independence in the movement at the moment.” He sees that a lot of acts are now setting up their own production companies and setting up their own labels. Ultimately, General feels that the level of success that you gain as an artist is dependent purely on how much work you’re willing to put in. He states, “you’ve got to utilise your skill, your talent, your knowledge, your streetwise common sense plus who you know.” He goes on to say: “The scene’s good, but you need to get the business side locked down. At Homegrown we have a saying: 'It’s not about IF you get fucked and WHO you get fucked by, it’s about WHWN and FOR HOW LONG!’”
General is also concerned about the disunity that seems to have developed among artists in the British rap scene. “There’s a split in UK hip hop,” he declares. “On the one side you’ve got – some use the term ‘back-packers’, but it’s a wider thing than that.” He continues cautiously, “it’s more of – I don’t know – if maybe they weren’t able in the earlier days to go to the hip hop clubs. They’re mainly white and they congregate at events like Breakin’ Bread, Evidence, Scratch and things like that. Then you’ve got the other side, which is more of an urban type of thing. They go to Dekefex, Lyrical Lounge and places like that. We at Homegrown are in the middle. We see everyone as equal. We’re trying to link up as many people as possible.”
So what activities do The Homegrown Entourage get involved in to help unite UK rap acts and their fans? “What we specialise in is big one-off events. Last year we did the Hackney Volcano Festival where we got 23 UK hip hop acts performing live on-stage and got the biggest crowd in the whole festival. Before that we did the Eastside Festival where we had an open-mic and we had the biggest crowd there too.”
There are also a number of projects being planned by T.H.E. that General is keen to highlight. “We’ve got an awards ceremony coming up – The Homegrown Awards, not to be confused with any other British hip hop award ceremony! Our awards are basically gonna be about the UK hip-hop MOBOs – but without the bullshit! The awards ceremony will hopefully be in late June. It will be the biggest thing that month – no doubt!"
Homegrown have a web site which is currently under development but should hopefully be up before July. They are also planning to release a compilation album and a mix-tape, plus organise a series of live UK rap shows. “We’ve also got a tour that we’re hoping to plan to do later in the year,” General announces. “We’re gonna take the top four or five acts around the country, plus whoever’s hot in the city as well and get them to perform on stage.”
These are clearly busy times for The Homegrown Entourage, as they pursue their goal of elevating the state of British hip hop. So far, the organisation’s contribution to the scene has been considerable and their enterprising new projects are made all the more remarkable by the fact that T.H.E. is primarily a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation. “Except for the design side of things, Homegrown runs near enough for free,” General explains. “We all have day jobs, but we’re promoting, making links and doing what we can for free.” He adds, “the bigger The Homegrown Entourage gets, the bigger everyone [in the UK rap scene] is gonna get – that’s how we flex! We’re not one of those organisations that are only concerned about how big they get. We just wanna wrestle some of the power away from people who haven’t got the interest of UK hip-hop to their heart. You see, there are a lot of people out there that can make powerful decisions, but are not looking out for everybody. Some of us have got to be a little bit more unselfish.” General concludes: “First and foremost, you’ve gotta think about yourself; but once you’re big enough, bring others in. We’ve just got to get more community
spirit and a little unity and we’ll move the whole scene forward.”
Tune in to the Real Deal Rap Show (fortnightly on Mondays, 11pm – 1am); Bless the Mic (last Thursday of every month, 11pm – 1am); and check out the archive of previous shows: www.gaialive.co.uk/presents/homegrown-e
Coming Soon: www.homegrown.co.uk