Premier is one hip hop's greatest of all time. No doubt. And I was lucky enough to interview him by phone. Nice, honest guy he was too - spoke his mind and none of that US hip hop surliness. This interview appeared in Metro last Tuesday...
‘Oh shit the AC/DC album is out! Buy that!’ blurts DJ Premier excitedly to one of his entourage, before apologising for interrupting our phone interview. ‘Sorry, I’m an AC/DC fan and I’ve been waiting to get the new album.’
It’s good to hear DJ Premier a producer with a 20-year history in hip-hop is as enthusiastic about music as ever. Premier’s the instrumental genius behind Gang Starr, the revered duo that combined Premier’s trademark clean, sparse backdrops with Guru’s husky street rhymes, and through timeless classics including You Know My Steez, Mass Appeal, and Code Of The Streets, brought a luminous lustre to hip-hop’s golden age.
He’s also collaborated with Nas, Biggie, Jeru, Krs One, Jay Z, Common and Mos Def, amongst many others, and The Source magazine rates him as one of hip-hop’s Top Five greatest producers. He DJs tonight at Matter (Sway’s also on the bill) where his two-hour set features rapper Blaq Poet, who’s Premier-crafted LP is forthcoming on the producer’s Year Round Records.
Has Premier’s production methods changed over the years? ‘I stick to tradition and source obscure samples - there are websites that try to work out what I sample, I like the fact that fans see how deep I go. I love the art form of sampling,’ he says. ‘I go and buy records and find something that I can twist into a hip hop beat.’
‘You have cats that go on online, including friends like Alchemist and Showbiz, they find samples and manipulate them in a way that I appreciate,’ continues Premier. ‘I’m dig records and look for something unique that’s going to fit the sound I’m looking for – I hear a sound in my head then I try to find the sound to match.’
What does Premier think of American hip-hop’s love affair with Auto Tune? ‘T Pain brought it back, and Kanye’s doing it - everyone jumps off on something that becomes popular and tries to extend it,’ says Premier haltingly as he carefully chooses his next words. ‘Kanye is one of the best producers of the new generation and it’s good that he dares to be different. Everyone might be doing it, but I WILL NOT DO IT. I’m going stick to my script.’
In Premier’s script hip-hop is New York street music, rather than glossy pop muzak for daytime radio. ‘Hip hop came from the ghetto and someone has to preserve the origins, even if the mainstream goes in other directions. Artists like Jay Z are not in tune with the streets because of their success and tax bracket,’ he says. ‘Everyone around me is so hood and so ghetto, and so am I - even though I’m from Texas and ride horses - I’m country but ghetto. Blaq Poet is raw with hard beats and hard rhymes like KRS One, Marley Marl, Kool Moe Dee, and NWA, he’s hardcore yet his lyrics make you go wow.’
MY Nitin Sawhney interview from today's Metro. He's a fascinating chap who's just as comfortable talking about the Hadron Collider as ancient Hindu philosophy as Sarah Palin and Estelle. Days Of Fire is stunning - shame there's no video yet, and also check out YT's Wicked Act for another affecting tune on 7/7.
'The idea you can't mix music and politics has come to dominate,' says Nitin Sawhney, as we settle on the sofa in his plush west London studio to discuss his eighth album, London Undersound. 'You've got to be careful of being political because it's considered worthy and preachy.'
It's surprising to hear these words from an artist whose career has been defined by music with meaning. His 1999 Mercury-nominated album Beyond Skin touches on identity and nuclear weapons, Prophesy (2001) looks at technology, Human (2003) celebrates mankind's commonality, and Philtre (2005) offers a soothing balm for a troubled world.
'I saw what happened with Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. I produced his album, which could be described as political, and he got treated badly by the press. I thought maybe I should watch myself,' explains Sawhney. 'Eventually, I thought: "What am I doing? What about NWA's F*** Tha Police, Public Enemy, John Lennon, jazz in South Africa during apartheid? There's a strong history across the world, I've got to say what I feel."'
London Undersound is a tight (45 minutes), focused record that addresses 7/7, the Iraq war and the dumbing down of culture in trademark Sawhney style: namely, through swirling, finessed arrangements of flamenco guitar, piano, drum'n'bass, dub, folk and soul. Its thought-provoking songs emerged from jam sessions with Paul McCartney, reggae artist Natty, singer/songwriter Imogen Heap, and long-term collaborators Tina Grace and Reena Bhardwaj among others.
Despite exploring sensitive, weighty topics, London Undersound isn't Sawhney's soapbox, it's far more subtle. 'It's like the films I like, that aren't patronising but hold up issues and express cathartic ideas. It's catharsis more than anything, getting it all out without fear of how it's received,' he says.
The 44-year-old from Rochester, Kent, who now lives in south London, obviously enjoys collaborating, and is something of a cultural polymath. In the studio, he has previously teamed up with Beck, Brian Eno, Shakira, Will Young and AR Rahman. He has worked on projects with dancer Akram Khan, visual artist Antony Gormley, Cirque Du Soleil and the Royal Ballet Of China.
He co-created comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, has scored more than 40 films and writes music for video games - he's currently scoring a game with a script by Alex Garland and starring Andy Serkis. And Sawhney must be the only person to have both performed at the Proms and released a mix CD for underground club Fabric.
On his albums, Sawhney acts as a centrifugal force, pulling together vocalists, sounds and ideas.
'All the people I worked with on London Undersound had a good spirit in terms of where they were coming from. For instance, Paul McCartney came with such humility and an open vibe, which really comes through,' he explains. 'I asked him how he felt about being in the public eye and his response is on the album.
'I talked for ages with all the artists before we recorded a note to explore not just what I feel but what other people feel and to find a common meeting ground to explore. I'm happy that after all these collaborations, it feels like a "me" album,' he continues. 'I've made the album I wanted to make.'
Affecting opener Days Of Fire, featuring Natty, is an autobiographical account of 7/7 and throws up the question, how has London changed since then? 'Compared to 2000, London has a sour, bitter taste and feels different now. Jack Straw said the veil is a mask of separation, that it's automatically bad - we're supposed to be a country that sanctions and celebrates diversity,' says Sawhney.
'The government will play the diversity card when it comes to the Olympics and promoting the nation, when really what is going on are tests for Britishness that homogenise everyone and create a paranoid, parochial perspective.'
It's been three years since 7/7, Boris Johnson is London mayor, and it is four years before the capital hosts the Olympics. In some respects, it feels like the city, which is celebrated as the most diverse in the world, is at a crossroads.
'I can't believe Boris Johnson, a guy who called black people "picaninnies", is running London - the BNP said vote for him,' says Sawhney incredulously. 'I'm more interested in the cultural Olympiad than the Olympics because it's the spirit of collaboration versus the spirit of competition.'
'It's important to come up with ideas that reinforce respect between nations rather than saying: "We beat them." Is that all there is to say? It's a bit farcical - people from this land mass beat people from another land mass. Does that make you better? What does it actually say?'
London Undersound (Cooking Vinyl) is out today.
You can read it in its original glory here
My review for Kano at Indig02 last Tuesday, which is published in today's Independent newspaper Great gig but I have to say the O2 is soulless, horrible and a pain the ass to get back from.
Kano, IndigO2, London (Rated 3/ 5 )
Reviewed by Rahul Verma, Monday, 6 October 2008
It's been a hectic 12 months for Kane "Kano" Robinson: September 2007 saw the release of his sophomore LP London Town, featuring Kate Nash, Damon Albarn, Craig David and Vybez Kartel. Despite the high-profile guests, London Town disappointed both critically and popularly, and Kano's since parted ways with 679 Recordings – home to The Streets.
New LP 140 Grime Street is a return to Kano's grime roots with more than an hour of lyrical spikiness and 140bpm sonic turbulence – ironically it's come at a time when grime has evolved to incorporate electro, rave, rock, calypso and developed a fun, party feel.
From the moment he takes to the stage to a chaotic barrage of beats and bass, Kano's grime and proud – and judging by the rapturous reception – the audience is ecstatic.
Kano launches into current single "Hustler", applying drug dealing metaphors to making music, sings and raps, offers the mic to the audience to finish the chorus "F**k the po po [police]". Up-and-coming MC Ghetto, all nervous energy and sociopathic lyrics, appears for "Hunting We Will Go". Skepta takes to the stage in a boxing gown for "These MCs", and in typical grime rave-cum-pirate radio style, the duo rip their rivals in rhyme to shreds.
"Don't Come Around Here", set to a visual backdrop of gun and knife-crime newspaper headlines, brings a poignant moment as Kano urges community action and delivers a thrilling freestyle highlighting the chronic lack of investment in East London until the Olympics.
Wiley and Kano's "Hunting We Will Go" is a reminder how far this relatively young music has come and how rapidly it's evolving. To half of the Teen audience – it's a way of life.
Only two tracks from London Town feature tonight – the hypnotic techno of "Bad Boy", and the pop R&B hit "Girl That I Want", which went some way to restoring Craig David's credibility. The Mike Skinner-produced love lullaby "Nite Nite" precedes the early Noughties grime anthem "Boys Love Girls".
Wiley reappears for "Wearing My Rolex" and is joined by Skepta for "Rolex Sweep", before JME, Tinchy Stryder and Ghetto invade the stage.
Kano closes with the grinding rock of Paul Epworth-produced "Typical Me", and encores with his biggest track, "Ps & Qs" from his 2005 debut album Home Sweet Home. It's a triumphant climax but telling that Kano's oldest tracks draw the biggest response.
Here is the review in its original glory
Video for Jammer & Badness' calypso grime banger, The Message Is Love, produced by Silver Link, which I bigged up in Metro over carnival weekend. Tis a heavy choon, that's indicative of grime008, but that's to be expanded on in a soon come feature for The Independent.
Video's by Mighty Mo, the UK's Hype Williams, apparently. That's what you call hype, but in all seriousness Mo's a badman, as I've stated repeatedly, on dis here blog.