Strap in… I’m going LONG!!!
Today, whilst pissing my ever increasingly finite life away with social media, specifically Wastebook, I read an interesting discussion about “UK Hip Hop” & the connotations of the “UK” prefix, started by my goony Sumgii from London Zoo. Which raised some interesting points & got me to thinking… & as many of you know, that is an incredibly bad thing.
I personally am proud to fly the UK, or more specifically British tag [note i said TAG, not flag]. Not because I am in the least bit patriotic, which I find to be the last bastion of the right wing & inbred but that’s another rant which i’ll save for next time. The reason i am happy to represent the UK prefix is because I feel that such a small scene needs a voice, it needs representatives & champions to inspire the next generation in order to survive. A role I feel we all, as established & un-established artists, labels, press, promoters, fans & supporters a like, in some way play a part in.
On the one hand I believe there is an incredible wealth of talent for such a small population & within that an even smaller niche of music. There are some of the most artistically forward thinking artists I know of coming out of Britain. That is arguably due to a lack of financial rewards putting a focus on creative & artistic reward but along with that lack of finance & infrastructure comes a much smaller pie to be divvied up to support careers & families. Jay Z, Kanye, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom, KRS One, Wu Tang & many lesser know American commercial & underground artists are in their 40 & 50’s & still have sustainable if not healthy careers. I AM, Hilltop Hoods, Sido, Tote King & many other rappers from Europe & around the world are in their 30’s & still touring & supporting themselves with Hip Hop.
However in this country there are very few Artists above their late 20’s still focussing on music & even fewer still who don’t work full time day jobs. “UK” Hip Hop is not a career to choose should you want to live a comfortable life or raise a family. Its only rewards are experiences & the pursuit of art both are invaluable to me but do not lend themselves to balance & security. You could argue that there is some fame & notoriety to be gained but a loss of anonymity is a fool’s goal & is of no benefit other than servicing a fragile ego. Once attained it is hollow & unfulfilling & leads to substance dependencies, depression & occasionally tragedies like Kurt Cobaine swallowing a mouth full of buckshot.
The problem with having such a small pie is that it leads to compromise, on almost all levels; artists, promoters, video makers, distributors, record shops, the whole food chain is forced to work to castrating budgets or seize the most minute of opportunities just to stay afloat, never mind get ahead. I think their intentions are usually positive but the outcome has a negative impact. When you have a movement predicated on inexperience & good will it can never be truly stable & without stability it is almost impossible to progress. We need to be more thoughtful in our decisions.
Promoters need to focus on quality over quantity, don’t just book as many people as you can for as little money as possible, hoping that names will pull a crowd in. That may result in greater ticket sales in the short term but the likelihood is that you will spread your budget too thinly & the night will suffer as a consequence resulting in less repeat custom. Instead invest in a decent sound system, a decent sound engineer & promotion team. Book one headline & one support act, pay them & a DJ all FAIRLY to play fun party hip hop classics for before & during the interim. My experiences of touring semi regularly in Europe for the last year have opened my eyes massively. European promoters are incredibly professional, they provide you with all the basics that you need. Refreshments, lifts to & from the airport, reasonable accommodation, a banging sound system & more. And I am under no illusion that I, certainly to begin with, was a non-entity in most of the towns I played. I was playing to crowds who had never heard of me & I acted accordingly, I went in on the humble & pushed it ALL THE WAY TO THE BASE. I smashed every show I played be it to 10 people or festivals to 10,000. If you pay pennies you get peanuts & I’m a fucking silver back Gorilla. That isn’t to say a lot of my peers aren’t Divas but once bitten, twice shy. Don’t fuck with those clowns! No artist I know is unwilling to work with you to push your night & local scene, I’m sure they exist but as I stated, this is vocational for most of us. And while I am a HUGE geek for lyrics & bars, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than 5 hours of rappers rapping rap. It’s too much. Get the DJ to play music dudes can bob their heads & rap along to & girls can dance to. These jams are usually sausage fests, as soon as you get women in, you will get men in. It’s basic logic but most importantly focus on putting on a night people will talk about afterwards, word of mouth is far more powerful than any P.R campaign… but you still need a P.R campaign.
Artists, our hands may be tied with budgets but think progressively, if you need to save money do it in the right places. Your product should be your highest priority. If you have to find a balance between a shiny finish & a wider audience, it’s easily made but if you aren’t willing to invest in your product, why the fuck would anyone else. If you are shotting CDR’s with hand written titles & photocopied artwork in CD sleeves, why would I think you have spent any time or effort on the music itself. Get your product right & if you are new to it, take time. Too many aspiring artists are eager to get heard, as soon as you get heard you loose your newness, you loose some impact, if you have a product you stand behind 100% you’re bullet proof. If you have a team of knowledgeable heads around you offering honest feedback & you wait until you have direction & style & you know yourself as an artist & you invest in your product, you will have a bigger impact. There is plenty of learning to be done on the job but you need to have some time under your belt before you have a product. And when you do have a product you then have to work it out live.
The amount of my peers who put on lacklustre performances is infuriating. You may think I am a dog shit rapper, you may even think my stage show is pure wackness, which is genuinely fine by me but I know how to hold a mic properly (a VERY BASIC skill that an alarming amount of rappers don’t know), I sound check properly before every show, I think about the energy levels & peaks/troughs in my show. It isn’t enough to just perform your music verbatim; you have to bring an extra element to the table. Again, experience is the key but experience doesn’t have to be first hand, watch established artists, and learn from them. The amount of time I have spent studying my art through others is at least equal to the amount of time I have learned from first hand experience. Every level of your art is important & as such must be treat accordingly. Once you have a product you can back, that you are proud of PUSH THAT SHIT, build a solid team around you, people who believe in your shit as much as you do. The one thing I envy most in my peers is that team support, the time together to strengthen a movement. The likes of Eatgood & High Focus, at least from the outside appear to be a number of heads pushing in one direction. Something I don’t have the luxury of as someone who moved every few years & eventually settled away from his friends & family. I have built a foundation & support network around me but others are decades deep & have been together since they first started listening, let alone making music. Aaaanyways, violins down & back to the point. Once you have that team & the product BODY EVERY SHOW YOU CAN, play for peanuts, jump on every show & open mic available. DON”T SPAM ME & MY PAGE! That shit ain’t earning your stripes. Once you have established yourself a little more pick a fair fee, taking into consideration your travel, accommodation & rider requirements & stick either very close or right on it. DON’T play for peanuts; DON’T jump on every show you get offered.
Unfortunately there are so many acts desperate for bookings that if you don’t take any old offer, a hundred less professional acts will. However if we all start to operate professionally & we refuse to undersell our art form, & ourselves the shit will sink quickly to the bottom. All it takes is a few Artists to change the way they operate, to be staunch in requiring the bare minimum we should expect, a reasonable fee, a proper sound system with a professional engineer & sound check & a promoter who PROMOTES his night. That isn’t unreasonable, you’re not a diva for expecting the basics. If you were a call centre worker & you turned up to work to find all the phones lines were crackling & the headsets were dented or broken & you were being paid less than minimum wage for your time away from home. YOU WOULD NOT PUT UP WITH IT. Keep your ego in check & know what is & what isn’t a reasonable requirement, stick to your guns & if we all learn to respect ourselves & our profession then those asking for unreasonable fee’s & riders won’t be booked & those jumping on every booking won’t pull punters in & won’t keep promoters afloat. Eventually the wheat will separate from the chaff.
Assuming you do get bookings, remember above all else. EVERY show is as important as the last, no one in the audience cares if you’re ill, no one cares if last night you were in a sold out Wembley Arena & tonight you’re in a half empty pub in Dullsville, they have paid to see you perform. They have invested the same in supporting you as every one of the thousands the night before & YOU owe THEM, not the other way round. Any problems you have with the running of the event should be taken up with, or out on the person who hasn’t done their job, not the audience & if you took no time to sound check, or you can’t hold a mic properly, that isn’t the sound man’s fault. At every show I find out the sound man’s name & give him a beer, I promise you if he likes you he will do a far better job than if you’re an arsehole.
If a show goes terribly because the promoter didn’t promote it properly, or the sound system/engineer were awful it reflects on you more than anyone else. Sometimes those things will all fail but if you focus on the aforementioned you will have more wins than losses. If you aren’t getting the shows at the price you are asking consider lowering it, however know your limits. If you continue to accept pennies, you will only ever get pennies & while that is enough to sustain you to begin with, you will eventually have rent & bills & if you’re lucky a family to feed & clothe & £300 minus your DJ/hype man’s fee & all the other expenses incurred, once a fortnight won’t cut it AND yes you have to pay your team. That’s how it works, if you want loyalty you have to reward it as best you can, be it financially or by returning favours. Once you are more established be mindful of collabs & conduct, consider the impact of every action on your art & career but above all else make the music you want to make. To quote the fortune cookie I once cracked after a nice Chinese meal at Gourmet San in Bethnal Green (respecognise the realness). “To be successful you must decide what you want to accomplish; then resolve to pay the price to get it”. I’m sure someone important once said it but I’m not conceited enough to Google it & pretend I know.
Fans & Supporters… you are ultimately the most important link in the chain, the consumer holds ultimate power. Vote with your feet, vote with your time, vote with your voice AND VOTE WITH YOUR MONEY. If you love an artist, BUY THEIR MUSIC. I personally accept the advantages to music piracy & firmly believe that it has benefited me in having my music heard & by all means if you can’t afford to buy my music, steal it. I am giving you 100% backing. If you love the music take it but if you can afford it, please pay for it. Your average consumer wouldn’t think twice about paying £3.50 for a Starbucks, or £4 for a pint [more in Londung]. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid at pissing away £10 on the cinema but music, which you will get endless hours from, which creates sound tracks to your loves & lives. Which either entertains you & helps you forget your bullshit, informs you or supports you through the bullshit. That isn’t worth £5 for a CD or Download? The profit margins for artists are infinitesimal in comparison with the cooperate conglomerates you support in Nike, Addidas, Supreme, Starbucks, Asda, Sainsbury’s blah blah blah. Again, if it was between you having & not having my music, I would always rather you had it but if you’re bootlegging it on the one hand, then spending £40/50 on some shovel to stick up your nose, or some new Jordan’s or those fucking horrible Emperor’s new headphones – Beats By Dre. Fuck, even if you’re pissing it away on McDonalds, or KFC or some other poison. Then you can afford to pay for & support he artists who dedicate their lives to their art form, or at least take the time to make it. Were not talking major label support & networks, with world tours & merch staff. It’s home grown artists with bus passes & rent to pay. Just that one simple act of actually paying for the music you consume & buying the merch from the artists you love can have a HUGE impact on an indie scene. If the artist is righteous he will be able to pay a fairer wage to his engineer, his video editor, his producers, his DJ, his Hype man. Distributors & record stores will see a greater revenue & will give artists priority shelving, which will lead to more sales. Money breads money & while people are struggling to survive that has to be a positive thing. There is absolutely a balance to commerce & once you see people exploiting their fans or their music for financial gain. You stop buying their shit. You starve the fire of oxygen.
It always pisses me off when fans tell me how much they hate other rappers, the amount of “Fuck Pro Green” or “Fuck RizzleKicks” tweets I get is stupid. Just don’t give them airtime, don’t buy their shit. If I say fuck Rizzle Kicks, it’s different. Not that I would, as I don’t feel like they are my competition, were not competing for a slice of the same pie. I may not respect or like the music that I hear in the charts but I as a consumer vote by not supporting it. If I choose to have a rant on occasion that’s no different to your local family Corner store saying Fuck Tesco.. & Yeah FUCK TESCO, feel free to champion that cause but you can’t say that if you’re not shopping in the local spot. You’re contempt for the corporation won’t keep the independent fed.
If you go to a night & enjoy it, support the night, tell your friends about it, spread the word & RETURN. A good, well run night is worth attending irrespective of the headline act. Beer & Rap (May she rest in peace) in Brighton, a night I played & attended, which ultimately spawned the label by the same name, which went on to put out my Homeless Microphonist EP & my Braindead 12’ft R.A The Rugged Man was RAMMED every night. No matter who was on! It was a party first & foremost, hedonistic & messy every time & people flocked to it until Newborn who ran the night moved to London & discontinued the event. Feedback to your promoters about who you want to see, feed back to your artists about their live shows. Don’t always expect to be heard but feed back. You as the consumer, dictate the market place.
Until we are able to better organise ourselves as a scene, until we are able to create our own form of industry & support, our scene will struggle to run at full pace. I personally refuse to contribute to the negative connotations I associate with “UK” Hip Hop. I will always prioritise my art. It may not seem like it in the short term when I have to turn down a booking at a domestic festival, or a collaboration with an artist I respect as it doesn’t work artistically or as I know the track will never see the light of day but I’m trying to play a long game. I still want to be doing this in 10 years, I am 10 years deep & still feel like I am learning the basics but I want to learn & perhaps sometimes to personal detriment, I put my art form first.
I whole heartedly believe in the clichéd Hip Hop community but part of what I believe to be the ethos of Hip Hop is calling out the wack, don’t be a cunt & cut someone down because you don’t like what they do but don’t support poor work ethic, don’t support lack of effort. Instead post your favourite artists vids on Facebook, buy their music & attend their shows. I & many others may still have to move on to other professions but it will impact every other artist that comes up after us & then maybe UK Hip Hop will become a term we can not only embrace & be proud of but also represent globally.
There is no me, there is no you, there is only us & them… and FUCK THEM.