So Citizen Smith Vol.2: Nothing to Lose has evolved from mixtape to album… Do you think that tells you that your evolvement as an artist is a lot more progressive than many other MCs in the game?
That’s a tough opener! I don’t really want to start comparing myself with others, but there was definitely a conscious decision made during the editing and mixing process to cut all the dubs that I had. Initially I had 20 tracks including 5 dubs, but I felt that they might end up devaluing the project a little bit. By that I just mean that, if you hear a Jay Z beat, what’s to stop you thinking I jacked all my beats, or that I don’t really mix my music, I just record over completed tracks. I mix everything and structure every bar of music to fit the lyrics, and I just wanted that to stand out you know? Plus, sometimes I think that dubs can really date your work- like, who wants to hear your UK version of Lean Back now? That would already feel old… Dubs can work if your smart about it though, like if you look at Stylah’s Crash Course, its all dubs, but he’s put so much thought into the music he’s chosen, using timeless tracks from all eras of hip hop, and DJ Snips has blended them with the original breaks they’ve come from. That’s real effort and innovation. That’s all you really need to elevate your CD above the status of “Mixtape”.
You’ve been working with some big producers on some very varied tracks, It seems you’ve expanded your style a lot since Vol.1 why do think that is?
When you’re an artist you’re kind of like a shark- a shark can’t rest coz their gills stop working. They have to keep moving forward or they die. I have to branch out and try something new on every track, especially in the Hip Hop world- people are so fickle, they’ll be like “Oh, he’s just doing the same thing again”, so I’ve got to keep it moving. I’m getting more into writing for singers, working on melodies- I’ve always been a hook man. There’s some big hooks out there you’d be surprised were written by me! I make a decent living doing that kind of work. But yeah, for me it all boils down to the quality of the production. I work alongside all my producers and change things I don’t like, you know- “replace that snare, let me play the bass line”, that kind of thing. I don’t work with beat makers, only real artists with a love for good music, sound quality and the final product. Those are proper producers. On the DL I’ve got the Gorillaz on board for some tracks on my next album so that should be very interesting. We’ve done one track together already for next year and it came out crazy, so we’ll see what happens!
You’re openly marketing Vol.2 as a completely different franchise to what came before, are you trying to hit different markets?
I’ve never been 100% Hip-Hop. The art form runs through my veins, everybody knows that, but I’ve always been a bit of a hippie, a bit of an indie kid. It was never always just Rap. It’s just, for me, not being able to play guitar, I just did the music that came naturally to me, which was Hip Hop. If you come to a Doc Brown show, the crowd looks like how my friends look: Black, White, Mixed Race, Chinese, and Indian, Indie kids, punks, B Boys, working class and middle class you know? So I’m not cynically saying “Oh, I want to get Skater Kids now” or something, I’ve just never been a “This is strictly for da streetz” or “only for my niggaz” kind of guy.
DJ Snips pops up on Vol.2, as well as some of the PP family, are you still considering your PP role an important aspect of Doc Brown?
Definitely, Poisonous is a hard thing to pull off because we got 6 rappers and a DJ- that’s not like a band where you got 5 musicians and a front man all doing their different duties- you’re talking about 1 DJ and 6 Front men! It’s crazy! So yeah, it’s hard to control, but in a weird way that’s the beauty of it- Poisonous songs are wild coz that’s how our environment is when we come together: we argue, we drink, we smoke, we’re loud and unruly, but when there’s a song with all of us on it, the energy is incredible. So I’ll always be Poisonous, whether we’re a full on group or just affiliates. The Poisonous vibe taught me how to really rap, to add intensity to my words… Plus, me and Revs started Poisonous so it’s a done deal, I’m PP for life!
Your brother Luc Skyz makes an appearance too, and the track ‘links a rise in teen violence to the way young people are stereotyped by the media and others’ is this an issue close to you both?
We’re not idiots- just because we’re young and we rap, doesn’t mean we don’t see the bigger picture you know? To me, the media is constantly trying to scare people into thinking that it’s those on the outskirts of society that are or have the potential to damage our comfortable way of life. So that means ethnic minorities: homosexuals, Muslims, and teenagers are all seen as some kind of threat to the traditional way of life in Britain. I hate it when the news tries to make these attempts to segregate us using melodramatic stories about shit that isn’t really news. I don’t know what the advantage is to making everyone hate everyone or fear everyone else- it’s divisive and dangerous and we don’t need it in the UK. To me, the real essence of this country is our history of liberalism and acceptance, those are beautiful things that we should try to hold onto and promote. So that was what I was touching on in that song, but I didn’t want to preach, just make a statement. Luc understood that perfectly, and I think he actually murks me on that track- if you listen carefully, he’s talking about fighting from a million different angles in 22 bars- its sick!
There’s some epic productions on Vol.2 Superstar Movement and Nothing to Lose, for example both very different but outstanding production tips, who have you been working with on this project?
As always, I’ve tried to get established artists (Nutty P, Snips, and Mr Thing) and mix them with raw, untapped talent. Executioner (Nothing to Lose) was brought my way by Noughty Records, a company who wanted me to do a track for their compilation album. I heard his classical violins and it was over. I laid both verses on the first take. That’s the only song on the album that was a one taker. The swagger in my voice is ill, and it was Executioner’s vibe that made it that way. Kelakovski (Superstar) was a dude that Lowkey put me onto- an enthusiastic northerner who just really wanted to be down. I wanted him to do me an intro type track and he hit me with this! Its nuts, it’s like theme tune or something. He got mad coz I replayed the bass line myself, but I think we both like it now!
You’ve branched out massively into TV and radio, you’re probably reaching a far bigger audience doing this, and a much more commercial audience, was this your intention or is it something you just enjoy doing?
In school I was always the dude the teacher got to read shit out loud in English class and that. I was the go-to guy when it came to public speaking. I was a livewire in drama class as well. It’s just something that’s always been second nature to me- to get paid to do it is crazy! I couldn’t ask for more. Radio Producers at Capital FM or BBC are always so surprised when I do shit in one take. They’re like “Wow that took Denise Van Outen 20 takes to say!” I’m like, “You’re giving me shit written down on a piece of paper to read off- I’m a rapper, I have memorise a million words for each show- this shit is nothing to me!”
Have you got any big projects coming up later this year or early next year, either solo or with the PP family?
The next big one is the new Doc Brown Album proper, which drops June 2007. I’m four tracks in, one of which is produced by the Gorillaz boys like I said, so that should be massive. I been touring with Mark Ronson too and he’s got a couple tracks on Cristina Aguilera’s new one and Lily Allen’s, so we’ll see if that bears any fruit… I can’t really go into who the album’s going to come out with coz its still at the negotiation stage, but I can tell you that 2 of the 4 tracks have got a couple of serious bigwigs very excited…. Needless to say, whatever happens, it will get a lot lighter then the Document LP, which was spectacularly mishandled by that shitty little label, but that’s another story!
Anything you’d like to add or any shout outs?
Luc Skyz is next!
Thanks for taking the time Doc.