It takes a strong MC to admit that if he were to step out of himself, he probably wouldn’t listen to the music he writes... tell that to Kanye West. The guy somewhere between middle and working class, Yorkshire and Portugal, Folk and Hip-Hop drops some tangential wisdom, deep insight, obscure knowledge and a sprinkling of peace, love and fucking harmony - read on, preferably with an open mind, you’ll need it! Word!
Peace and Freedom is his tagline; A.i. journeyed to Brixton’s Dogstar to find out why...
Ai.: First London gig?
YG: Absolutely, an interesting one, took a while to get started at the sound check; I had things planned for it, loop pedals and drum machines but in order to get things rolling had to sacrifice that, which is alright, gave it as much as I could... dressed as I’m dressed! [Laughs].
Ai.: What was that?! Cod Peace and Love?!
YG: Cod Peace and Love! In fact my housemates mum came up with that as I was making the Codpiece, she was like, ‘Cod Peace and Love man, I’m warning you guys, don’t touch the Codpiece you’ll cut your fingers!’ So I thought I’d drop that, I promised her I would use it.
Ai.: That’s gonna be my quote for the piece! How did you find your first London gig?
YG: Yeah I enjoyed it, it was a little rushed but I find I really enjoy it when that happens, I tend always before I go on to not really get nervous but just to sort of talk to people and immerse myself in whatever’s going on around and then suddenly when someone says ‘right your on’ it’s fine.
Ai.: So, that’s your way of calming your nerves?
YG: In a sense, it’s an odd kind of nerves that I get to start with and then afterwards I get even bigger feelings of emotions.
Ai.: Like Post-Nerves?
YG: Right, like I’m right in the throes of an adrenaline rush. I was talking to my friend Prod who was playing tonight as well, about how when you come off stage sometimes all you wanna do is disappear for ten minutes before anyone grabs you, come back having gathered your thoughts, realised how well or how poorly the set went and then see people after that. But hey, the post feeling isn’t quite as ‘God that was awful’ and I don’t know why that is, maybe I should do this more often! [Laughs]
Ai.: That’s what I’m saying, make it part of the routine!
YG: I came off stage feeling oddly comfortable with this and I got to tell you this is completely out of character for me, I never get remotely naked. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable necessarily my own body. I just don’t do it, I’m normally the guy who gets drunk, likes his comfy baggy jeans and hoodie and laughs at the other guys who do these crazy things and I thought fuck it I’m in London what’s going on?, what’s gonna happen?!
Ai.: Exactly! And representing Yorkshire with the Yorkshire flag, I didn’t even know Yorkshire had a flag to be honest, so that’s my education for tonight!
YG: Aaah it does! I’ve got plans for this as well: the centre of the Portuguese flag, Yorkshire flag, black background as opposed to the blue - inverted because there’s certain political meanings I’m not 100% certain on right now, about the whole civil war and what the flag means - I’m looking at trying to make it look a little more realistic, a little more dishevelled like a broken white rose with the Portuguese centre in it and that hopefully will be the new Yorkshireguese logo!
Ai.: Just listening to your stuff, there’s the Hip-Hop essence in your lyrics and delivery, the Folk in your playing with the chords and techniques you use and then there’s that raw ‘politik-ing’, can you define yourself musically?
YG: I don’t know if I can define myself musically and I don’t necessarily like to. I think definitions and genres are kind of horrible in one sense.
Ai.: But do we not need them as human beings to understand and make sense of the world around us?
YG: Yeah, but my understanding of it is that language is our only understanding, without language we are nothing in one way.
Ai.: From a performance perspective your intensity is next level!, like there’s fire when you perform... where do you get that fire from?
YG: The truth? I have an absolute belief in freedom. I used to do a bit of acting when I was younger and so it would be ridiculous of me to deny that there is a performer in me, because there is and there always has been. But in terms of actually wanting to make acting a career which I seriously did for quite a long time, ‘til I was about 15 or 16, it’s not the kind of industry I’m into, I discovered music, chilling with boys, smoking a bit, hooking up in a garage.
I have a strange musical progression in my life it sort of went from Guns n’ Roses, Iron Maiden and the like... in fact the first album was Belinda Carlisle! I think that was probably my Mums influence! I bought her album and then the next album was Ugly Kid Joe? America’s Least Wanted? I’m not ashamed to admit it! I remember buying it, it was £7.99 or £7.50 from Woolworths on tape.
Ai.: Why is music so important to you?
YG: I am still trying like any other human to make sense of it all and the music helps me do that. It doesn’t always come out in one go, sometimes I can write a whole lyric in one go from start to finish and it’s a song, but then other times I piece the lyrics together; I keep scraps of paper from eight years ago or more! I have three or four shoe boxes just full of tickets, postcards, letters, 18th birthday cards, shit that sticks in my mind and I revert back to it like a file - files of influence - these are the things that have influenced me as I’ve grown up.
I’m an amalgamation of random music I listen to any music, I just believe in music full stop. I listen to hardcore thrash metal right through to Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake produced by Timbaland and not have any qualms about admitting it. I hate the pretension in trying to put yourself into one category and saying that ‘I am this one music’ when every kind of music influences you be it on the radio, a DJ or be it played by some band on stage. It’s always gonna influence you and music works its way on you subliminally. I wanna make Pop music with content; conscious lyrics instead of people just singing about ‘we’re rock n’ roll, we go out, we got a record deal, our second album’s gonna be only about that’. There’s such a template, such a formula in the charts now and I wanna kind of break that chain...
Ai.: By using the formula?
YG: Yeah! By using the formula, but turning it round for good, there’s bands who say they do good but they don’t really, they’ve got no message. I’m all about protest music, Bob Dylan did make a difference in the world, he changed a lot of people’s perspective and that guy’s written some of the most important lyrics of all time, you know “Times Are A-Changin’” cannot be denied as one of the finest poems ever written in my view. Hip-Hop lyrics, Sage Francis and Saul Williams those guys are out-there, lyrically they are just so next level. Not to blow smoke up their arse cos they’re just humans but they’re very talented humans with a real message.
Ai.: And even Saul Williams said – because he did a Nike thing and a lot of people dissed him for it - that to reach the masses you have to go where the masses are...
YG: I had this conversation today, my drummer is in another band and he’s in talks with Sony Records Germany, and I said to Prod earlier I don’t think I’d sign to Sony if they asked me just because they’re not really ethically the kind of company I’d support and then he put it to me very concisely, ‘you’re reaching as wide an audience as possible with the biggest label possible and they will put their money into you and try make you as famous as they can’.
Ai.: Speaking of ethics, I remember you saying onstage about not supporting the big names Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ASDA and a random thought popped into my head, ‘where do you shop’?
YG: Local supermarkets.
Ai.: Do you shop in any of the big names?
YG: I try my damndest not to! I’m currently making even more steps to not do and consciously trying not to support Wal-Mart and Tesco. The whole of Shipley has been swallowed by ASDA, you see boarded up shops, grocers shutting down because they can’t compete with the prices that ASDA offer. I think, alright, it’s a struggle financially - if you’ve got a family, which I don’t and I can’t think from that level and I would never claim to understand that - people will go where it’s cheap and they can afford to shop, but I think to a certain extent it’s kind of lazy to say that there’s nowhere else to shop when there is. I think people could make more effort... nobody is asking them to change their life completely and go out and stop shopping at supermarkets outright, but if they made more effort to perhaps get their meat from a butchers and some fresher Veg from a grocers, then they could keep a local business in business.
Ai.: You speak a lot about your Catholic upbringing... religion or spirituality? What is spirituality?
YG: I personally think that religion is divisive, that’s not to say I disagree with people putting their faith in religion, but I’m a very rational thinking kind of guy. Evolution is evolution, Darwin pretty much had it right, we are animals and we’re a progression. I think religion is a man made thing as much as language. The misinterpretations of what religious texts say I think is frightening... fundamentalism is a very dangerous thing, when you start trying to make other people believe what you believe it is dangerous.
Ai.: What’s the alternative to religion without completely becoming for want of a better word ‘soul-less’?
YG: I don’t think there is an alternative, if religion didn’t exist all you’d have is yourself and the fact that you wouldn’t want anyone to wrong you, to hurt you, to insult you for no good reason, to deny you the right to exist the way you wish to exist... as in the old Christian teaching, ‘do as you would be done by’.
Ai.: I’m always curious to find out whether people feel there is an alternative, because if spirituality – a bit of buzzword - is what people suggest, then what is spirituality?
YG: Spirituality is what’s deep within your gut, your gut instinct. It’s caring about humankind, it’s not caring about false idols, it’s just about being peaceful, being free and living your life as best as you can without hurting anyone or anything around you.
Ai.: What is Hip-Hop to you?
YG: Man, there’s so much Hip-Hop, the commercial side which I embrace as well because Hip-Hop wouldn’t be anywhere near as big or there wouldn’t be the opportunities for smaller independent labels and artists to set themselves up if Hip-Hop hadn’t been accepted in society the way it has been through commerciality. Hip-Hop to me though - it’s hard for me to say because I’m just some working-middle class white guy, probably more middle class than working class - maybe in-between the two? From a rural market town in West Yorkshire called Otley - is like punk, about letting it all out and telling the world what you really feel... like Sage Francis is aggressive in his delivery and yet at the same time he’s very peaceful, you listen to his words and you think the guys angry about it but his intentions are good. Hip-Hop for me is a massive influence in my life and I’m heading in directions even more Hip-Hop.
Ai.: Like the Global Hip-Hop Collective?
YG: It’s a project that I have an idea of that may come into fruition or may not; I wanna be part of a global community and therefore I want the music to represent that and so it would be nice using the power of the internet to get in touch with some guys from Iraq, Palestine, Israel, London, Italy, Yorkshire...
YG: [Laughs] Nigeria, China, Japan, everywhere, the whole bloody world, let’s cover it all! Get a crew, sizeable, as many as we can, 10-50, get the influences around, collect the best of that onto one record and put it out as a cause, not as a money-making statement, not as a goal to gain fame, but to do good with Hip-Hop and to unite people round the world rather than people having their own little pockets. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Hip-Hop on some level?
Ai.: The integration with pop?
YG: Yeah! If you listen to techno music there’s Hip-Hop influence with the samples, you get techno remixes of Busta Rhymes “Woo-haa!! (Got You All in Check)” and shit! Hip-Hop is an amazing and powerful tool, I think it’s the modern day punk, but its gone way beyond what punk had the capability of doing...
Ai.: The new Jazz?
Ai.: Jazz as jazz the music we know it isn’t jazz anymore... transcribed solos, studying it’s theory... whereas Hip-Hop is the new form of that freedom, that improvisation, that freestyle, that immediacy, that...
YG: Gut feeling! The feeling that you have this in you and it’s gonna come out and if you don’t let it out you’ll just fuckin’ crumble!
Ai.: Yes! Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
YG: Cod Peace and Freedom [Laughs] The future is an uncertain thing, I could be dead, I could be doing exactly what I want to do, I could be happy...
YG: In 10 years time I hope to be putting a message out to as many fucking people as possible and providing a party for them whilst they listen to that message!