Friday, 11 February 2011

Interview with Skitz

OK I admit it, I came to hip hop fairly late. I wasn't one of those guys whose favourite record at the age of 14 was Planet Rock. It was only when I was at university that I got into Cypress Hill and from there discovered The Fugees, Nas and eventually KRS One. Even then, it was some time before I really enjoyed UK hip hop, not because it wasn't good but simply because it didn't occur to me to listen to it (this was a time before Roots Manuva and Dizzee Rascal were scoring chart hits). There were good artists who finally caught my attention - from Manchester you had the Grand Central Crew led by the likes of Rae and Christian and Aim while in London you had Skinnyman and a young Roots Manuva. My favourite by some distance though was Stoke Newington's Skitz. His Countryman album immediately connected with me and made me completely rethink what hip hop was about. It brought home that the point of hip hop was not necessarily clever wordsmithing (although that clearly helps) but the artist's reflection on his environment. Skitz brought together the cream of UK talent to provide a brilliant distillation of what it was like to like in urban Britain in the year 2000 (or 2001 as this was when the album was released). 

Countryman was an album that didn't necessarily sell loads of copies but those who did buy it loved it (Its interesting to note that 11 out of 12 reviews by customers on Amazon give it a full five stars!). If you haven't heard it and you like urban music (whatever that is) then make sure you do. Countryman is like a who's who of British hip hop - featuring (amongst others) Rodney P, Roots Manuva, Skinnyman, Estelle and Represent's MC Dynamite. It surpasses most other urban records in terms of MCing and production and is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.  I caught up with Skitz recently keen to find out what his inspirations were in making the record and to find out more from the man behind one of the very best hip hop albums of the Twenty First century .

What were the first hip hop recordings that made an impression on you?

I guess that would have been Run DMC, Fat Boys, LL Cool J, UTFO.Just old school stuff really. After i got into it I started trawling second hand record shops and understanding the foundation. My Sugarhill section is the pride and joy of my vinyl collection.

When did you first decide that you wanted to make your own music?

I was doing pause button mix tapes about 87-88 stringing up two tape decks going into another before i got decks. I guess that's when i fell in love with building stuff.

Who were the key influences on the 'Countryman' album?

Really my life at the time. UK Hip Hop, Primo, a lot of underground US stuff. My Son Solomon, Graff, My people, sweaty dingy clubs, big sound systems, revolutionary music and obviously a lot of producers that were around at the time.

What do you remember about the recording of the album?

Well it took a while. We spent a long time mixing and recording. Jonny Too Bad that was doing all the engineering and co producing had a nice studio round the corner from my house in Stokey and we'd just hang out catch a vibe and go in. The vibes were good and the Ronin label was pretty happening so yeah it just felt like a good productive and creative time.

How do you work in the studio?

All ideas are done at home then i take it to the big studio for the vocals and to mix. Any extras are recorded that need to be

For me, one of the stand out tracks is Fingerprints of the Gods which consists of 4 different MCs showcasing their skills – how did the idea of that come about?

I blatantly took the idea straight from Primo and the tune 'speak ya clout', he had Guru, Jeru and Lil Dap on it. He had 3 mcs and 3 riddims. I had 4..

What about We Make Them Make Noise – what were you trying to achieve with that track?

Just fusing my love of Jungle and Hip Hop and showing that Jungle mc's could hold their own on the lower tempos.

How did the cover art come about?

She One was a friend of mine i used to roll around with in Brighton. I was a second rate graff artist so loved the letter form..She is the don when it comes to wildstyle so was an obvious choice to do the cover. Mau Mau who is like one of my oldest friends did the back cover. On Sticksman he did the cover.

What impact do you think the album had? Do you think the breakthrough of artists such as Dizzie and Plan B as well as Roots Manuva has led to a tipping point for the UK sound?

I like to think that it showcased a lot of talent that we had over here and shone the light on a few. A lot of people went on to bigger and better things...but they all had their own thing going on before Countryman. I think it was just nice for them to all be heard together. The UK goes from strength to strength on the underground. Shame about all the absolute shit that's sweeping our radio dials and DABs. So much weak watered down garbage that gets support...drives me crazy. But the diversity of the UK scene always comes through...Dubstep, DnB, Dancehall, Garage, Electro, Grime, Hip Hop....Everything pushes boundaries. Its just a crying shame that most Radio stations follow fashion and are just scared to take a risk or really support talented acts.

The follow up Sticksman came out this year, how has the reaction been to that?

Amazing. The feedback has been so positive and everyone seems to agree its a quality album that you can listen to the whole way through which is what i set out to achieve. No weak tracks! I spent a whole heap of time mixing and tweeking each track as well as bouncing all the album to tape for that beautiful warmth that only tape can give. Then I mastered it. No corners were cut! Although obviously the scene has changed since the first album. This is a Smartphone, app loving, Youtube generation who don't go record shopping, people hardly buy Cd's any more. Everyone downloads for free. The next generation are here and UK Hip Hop is different now. You can't really make money from sales as a smaller artist. Its all about gigs, live shows, merchandise and building the brand. Change is good and has to be embraced otherwise you get left behind.. I feel like i did that on Sticksman influenced by other genres and other sounds and tempos. Go check it on itunes and honestly you can't tell me its not quality...!!

What next for Skitz?

Keep building, hustling, ducking and diving (fucking and skiving).
Look after my children.
Make a million.
Keep it revolutionary.
Sticksman is available now at Itunes, Amazon and all good retailers

1 comment:

  1. Great article, thanks Tom. Will be re-living Countryman this weekend as a result.

    Always thought of it in the great tradition of British urban 'folk' soundscapes - like Rounds, or Metal Box, Dubnobass..., or even Leftism.

    Never knew Skitz was from Stokey though!