Tag Archives: Caveman

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Nappa

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Developing his passion for Hip-Hop in the early-80s, the UK’s DJ Nappa made his name outside of his Luton stomping grounds a decade later, providing the production which would help his crew Phi-Life Cypher grab the attention of heads in Britain and beyond when the group first began releasing wax in the late-90s.

Producing the majority of Phi-Life’s classic 2000 Jazz Fudge album “Millennium Metaphors”, Nappa has spent  subsequent years keeping his raw brand of drum-heavy, sample-flavoured beats largely in-house, ensuring the second Cypher album, 2003’s “Higher Forces, was a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, whilst also working on the occasional outside project in-between providing long-time friend Life  with strong sounds for his slew of solo albums.

With Phi-Life Cypher announcing their split at the end of 2012, Nappa has remained busy, still digging in the crates, still crafting guaranteed head-nodders and still remaining faithful to the true-school sonic ethics he entered the UK scene with all those years ago as an upcoming producer.

Having just released his instrumental “Late Night Beat Tape” project, a wide-ranging selection of obscure samples, top-shelf breaks and random soundbites, Nappa recently stepped away from his equipment long enough to discuss his early production efforts,  the never-ending search for the perfect beat and his creative process.

Sample this!

At what point did you decide that you wanted to be a producer?

“I had turntables and was already deejay-ing and collecting breaks and stuff. But it wasn’t until I heard Caveman’s “Positive Reaction” album for the first time  in the early-90s that I really thought about producing. The production on that album blew me away. It wasn’t the typical UK sound of the time and the album really struck a chord with me. After I heard that, I started putting bits and pieces together on a four-track. I had an Amiga with this tiny little silver box that sat on top of it which was the sampler. So you could play fours things at a time basically, but no more than that. So I started making little loops on there for awhile. At the time, there was another Hip-Hop deejay in Luton, a mate of mine called Johnny The Fox, and he used to be on pirate radio. He started a rave / dance type label called Furious Records and I put my first piece of vinyl out on there. It was a bit s**t though to be honest (laughs).”

Were you recording under a different name then?

“I called myself The Creator and there was one track on the single called “Time To Get Wrecked”, where I used a Pete Rock sample from “The Creator”, and another one was called “Scat” where I just had some drums and put this little jazzy scat sample over the top. It was terrible (laughs). I think I do still own a copy somewhere and I’m sure you can get it on Discogs for 50p or something (laughs). But that was my first venture onto vinyl in 1992.”

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So prior to you actually getting into production you were listening to breaks but not with the intention of doing anything with them musically?

“Yeah, exactly. It was all about the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” albums. I think the first one I actually bought was Volume 12 with “Funky Drummer” on it plus “The Champ” and “Ashley’s Roachclip”. There was a guy I went to school with, Steve, it was his birthday one year, this would have been 1986, and he went down to Bluebird Records in Luton, which later became Soul Sense, and he brought a load of the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” albums. I remember we went back to his house to listen to them and that was the first time I heard  The JB’s “Blow Your Head”. I was just like, ‘Wow! This is crazy!’ But at that point I definitely wasn’t thinking of making beats myself, I was just cutting the breaks up on the turntables. But like I said, it wasn’t until I heard Caveman that I really started to think about doing production myself.”

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I always credit Caveman as being a really pivotal group within the British scene and, for me, “Positive Reaction” helped usher in a new era of production in UK Hip-Hop that stepped away from the traditional Brit-core sound and started to delve into funkier, jazzier samples…

“It was all about the sample material that they were using on that album. I mean, before that time, a lot of the samples you were hearing being used, you already knew what they were because they’d been used before. But when I heard “Positive Reaction”, the beats that The Principal was putting together on there just made me say, ‘Wow! What is this?’ I can still remember hearing the “Victory” single for the first time om Tim Westwood’s Capital Radio show back in 1990. At the time, I had a Sunday night pirate show on Pressure FM in Luton. Now, this was when MCM was on Westwood’s show all the time and he was doing a lot of gigs around the UK with Westwood and I remember they went to Batchwood Hall in St. Albans. I went down there and kinda just threw myself at MCM like, ‘You’re the s**t! You’re the best! What are those samples you’re using?’ He was a bit like, ‘Okay, chill out, chill out’ (laughs). But MCM was cool and he ended up playing me some of the “Positive Reaction” album in Westwood’s jeep and then gave me the tape! I was just like, ‘Wooow!’ This was before it had actually come out so I was dropping that all over the place (laughs). But me and MCM swapped numbers and we started chatting on the phone and we’re still friends to this day. But he taught me a lot about music back then. For example, Kool & The Gang, back then as far as I was concerned they were some disco pop s**t, but MCM put me onto the proper Kool & The Gang s**t. There was a track on “Positive Reaction” called “You Can’t Take It” which used Kool & The Gang’s “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight” and MCM told me about that. Then I went and found the record and it just opened me up to this whole other musical universe that was out there beyond the breaks that we’d already heard people using.”

That was the beautiful thing about Hip-Hop back then, that as a fan you took an active interest in the records that were being sampled and would want to learn more about a Roy Ayers or a James Brown. That whole process really helped you join the dots between the music of the time and the music of the past…

“Yeah, there isn’t so much of that happening anymore. But back then, that was a real eye-opener for me because before that I had really just been listening to the  original breaks and I definitely wasn’t digging into jazz or anything like that. I mean, during that late-80s era a lot of the samples that were being used on Hip-Hop records were being sampled straight off the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” albums. But when people started using the jazz samples, that opened up a whole new music world to me.”

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So how did things progress for you from working with that original Amiga computer set-up to coming out with Phi-Life Cypher in the late-90s?

“So, like I said, it was around 1990 when I first started getting into the production side of things, and for the next few years I was really just messing around on the Amiga. I was making loops up and then I’d play them to MCM when I’d go and check him in High Wycombe and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, they’re alright.’ He wouldn’t tell me they were s**t, but he was just being really cool about it (laughs). Now, at the time, MCM had an Akai S950 and he taught me how to use it. He even let me me borrow it a few times and bring it back to Luton. So that’s how I really learnt to make proper beats, with MCM teaching me how to work the S950 and how to sequence it with an Atari computer, which was the Atari 520. I’ve actually got an Atari sitting in front of me now that I still use, which is the Atari 1040 (laughs). But yeah, that would have been about 1994 / 1995 that I was working with the S950.”

Was that a revolutionary experience for you to go from using a basic computer set-up to then working on the same equipment that some of the Hip-Hop records you were buying at the time would have been made with?

“Totally. Even though there still wasn’t much sampling time on the S950 back then, it was about ten or twelve seconds, but that was enough. Being able to use that machine back then was a really big stepping stone for me. I was working at the time, digging roads, and I decided that I had to save myself some money and get my own 950. That was around the end of 1995 going into the beginning of 1996. So I saved some money and ended-up buying one off a guy in Crystal Palace that I’d seen advertised in Exchange & Mart.”

Do you remember how much you paid for it?

“I paid £570 for it second-hand which was a lot of money back then. Then, somewhere near Bedford, I brought an Atari ST and started really making beats. I already knew Life as he had a little crew with a studio in Luton and I’d always be messing with them. So I started making beats and giving them to Life. This was around 1996. Life was in and out of prison, I’d be sending him beats, he’d be writing and when we had the opportunity we would make little tapes. Life’s probably still got them somewhere as he’s got hundreds of tapes from back then (laughs).”

So once you’d mastered the S950 there must have been a massive progression in terms of the quality of the beats you were making at that time?

“Yeah, it totally jumped from what I was making messing around on my Amiga to what I was doing at that point. I’d learnt a lot more about breaks by then, partly because I’d also gotten to know Juliano from The Creators through MCM. I mean, Juliano’s on a whole next level with breaks, so when I met him for the first time in the 90s that was another eye-opening experience. It was like, at the time, you think you know everything there is to know about music, but then you realise that you actually don’t know (laughs). So meeting Juliano opened up another different musical world with the library records, the soundtracks, the European records…”

So would you say your beats were getting better at that point because of the familiarity you were gaining with the equipment you were using or because you were being exposed to a wider amount of material to sample?

“It was both, really. I was getting good on the 950, but then going digging with Juliano, taking trips with him up to Birmingham, he’d just be pulling out records and saying to me, ‘Take that, take that, and that one.’ I was just learning from him at that point.”

Were there any memorable digging trips from that period that still stand-out to you?

“Yeah, yeah (laughs). There was one time we were in Birmingham, I can’t remember the exact spot, but this was around the time when people were just discovering David Axelrod. We were in this shop and this place had eight or nine copies of the Electric Prunes album “Release Of An Oath”, with “Holy Are You” on it, and that was just at the time that it had been used on Fat Joe’s second album. I remember we all got a copy of that album and were like, ‘Daammmn!’ There was another guy that MCM knew from High Wycombe, this guy called Gus, this real upper-class posh dude. He didn’t make music but he collected breaks and he had the ill s**t. I think it was actually Gus who Juliano got the break from that he used on The Creators’ “Hard Margin” track with Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Gus was also the first person I knew to have a copy of the “Planete Sauvage” soundtrack. This guy just had crazy records. God knows what happened to him (laughs).”

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Were you spending a lot of money of records back then?

“I was buying records all the time. But it was Juliano who taught me about charity shops. I mean, I wasn’t going into charity shops before then (laughs). At that time, around 1996 / 1997, Juliano was doing a lot of trades with big American producers, going to the record conventions out in New York and doing trades with people like Q-Tip and Pete Rock. I remember, I’d always be carrying around a list of the records that Juliano was looking for. So there might be a John Schroeder version of “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” that he’d be looking for, I’d find it, give it to Juliano, he’d give me some really good stuff, but then he’d trade it with producers out in America because it was a British copy and they couldn’t get it out there. They were going mad for that s**t over there at the time. Whatever deals Juliano did with Q-Tip, he ended-up with all of the instrumental Tribe show albums in his collection. That was all through dealing British breaks with Q-Tip. But I got some of my favourite records off of Juliano, like my Tom Scott “Honey Suckle Breeze” album. I’ve definitely got some good records off him. I actually haven’t seen him for a few years, but Juliano was a real record collector.”

I remember going to Juliano’s house back in 1998 so that him and Si Spex could play me their album “The Weight” for a feature I was writing on them for Fatboss magazine. The interview never actually got printed as the album didn’t come out until two years later. But I can still remember how passionate Juliano was about the music he was playing me and that crazy neck-snap he’d do…

“You probably heard a lot of the same tracks that I did at that point that didn’t actually make the album. There was a Craig G track and also an F.T. track that never made the final release. But, that was the legendary Juliano neck-snap you’re talking about  (laughs). There was no head-nodding, it was his neck just snapping. That and his foot tapping (laughs). But that was around the time that Phi-Life Cypher were talking with Juliano about putting our stuff out. We’d made some demos, like “Drop Bombs”, which we’d recorded in Luton. We gave those to Juliano and he was looking to do his own label and put us out. But then with everything that went on with the Creators album, we sort of got lost in the mix. So Juliano passed our stuff to DJ Vadim and that was how we got the Jazz Fudge link.”

I can still remember picking-up Phi-Life’s “Baddest Man” EP on white label from London’s Deal Real Records back in 1998. Something that struck me immediately about your production on there was that it had a really clear, full-bodied sound to it. Was that something you set out to achieve once you started working in a proper studio?

“I wasn’t even thinking about that sort of stuff when we  were doing the “Baddest Man” EP to be honest with you. I mean, I found it really hard at the time because I’d never been in a proper studio before at that point and the studio we were using had never worked with Hip-Hop artists before. So I was just trying to make everything sound really loud (laughs). When we started doing “Millennium Metaphors”, Juliano mixed some of the album and was really good in the studio, but he liked to really compress everything at the time, so his snares and everything would be really hard. But we were also working with No Sleep Nigel and that man is just a beast in the studio.”

No Sleep Nigel is a legend within UK Hip-Hop circles thanks to his engineer work with Blade, MC Mell’O’, Hardnoise etc. Did you learn anything from working with Nigel in the studio?

“I mean, Nigel just kinda did his thing. A lot of the time, you’d put a track up for him, he’d stick his headphones on and you wouldn’t hear from him for hours (laughs). The one thing with Nigel was that if you started talking to him you’d never get any work done (laughs). He could definitely talk. I mean, he was a lot older than us, he was a big man and he’d have a story for everything. Once you got him started you couldn’t stop him (laughs). So you kinda learnt to just leave him, let him do his thing and you knew it would sound good at the end.”

What producers were you looking up to at that point?

“Prince Paul was always my number one. Then a little later when I was around Juliano, Si Spex and Mark B, I kinda looked up to what they were doing at the time. Then, of course, you had people like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, Hi-Tek. All those guys at that time were making real good music that was inspiring me.”

You remixed the Mark B & Blade track “Ya Don’t See The Signs” in 2001 which was on the flip of the Grant Nicholas rock version with that single eventually breaking into the UK Top 30. How was that experience for you?

“Yeah. That was definitely a big thing for me. Mark B liked what I was doing and it was really a big step-up for me to do that remix. I remember I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to do it at the same time because I was feeling the pressure to deliver. But I wanted to try and make my version a totally different track to the original and, in the end, it came out nice.”

Unlike many producers, you’ve really limited the number of artists you’ve worked with over the years and a lot of your production has remained in-house on the Phi-Life Cypher projects and then Life’s solo material…

“There’s no real reason for it, it’s kinda just happened like that. I mean, I’ve done bits here and there. Even before Phi-Life came out, I produced something for a crew that MCM had back in the 90s called Next Wavelength for a single they put out on Blue Planet Records. I did some remixes for DJ Vadim and worked with a crew from Scotland called Belles In Monica. Then I also did the projects with Inja and I have the “Rebelbase” album with Cappo coming out. But to be honest with you, nobody really asks me for beats. So back then, everything that I was making was going into the Phi-Life material. “

How would you say your approach to production has changed, if at all, over the years?

“I don’t think it’s changed too much. I mean, when I listen back to beats I did years back I hear them and might think they’re not something that I’d do now. But I don’t know if my approach to making music has really changed. It’s hard to explain. I just make beats (laughs). I mean, there’s a few bits on the new Cappo album that are literally just loops and I think that’s something that I’ve learnt, which is to just go with what sounds good. Before, I would have thought that I couldn’t just loop something, I’d have to put drums on it and everything. Whereas now, if it sounds good then I’ll just leave it. I mean, if you listen to some of the music being made by people like Roc Marciano, he’s just looping s**t, rapping on it and it’s amazing. I feel that Hip-Hop is coming back around to that raw beats and rhymes sound. Just straight, hardcore beats and rhymes. I mean, a few beats on the new “Late Night” project, I haven’t actually sampled anything. I just recorded the music and then pasted the track together like I was cutting tape.”

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What was the idea behind your new instrumental project “Late Night Beat Tape”?

“I’ve been sitting on a lot of those beats for ages. I know that’s something that you probably hear a lot of producers say. But sometimes you make beats for yourself, like, ‘If I could rap then this what I would want to rap over.’ So, a lot of the beats on the “Late Night” project are the type of beats that, if I could rap, I’d be rapping on them. I called it “Late Night” because I’m an insomniac and I’ll be there sampling s**t at whatever time in the morning just making beats. I mean, sometimes you’ll make a beat with a particular emcee in mind or you make something more straight forward with the intention of having someone rap on it. But then, as a producer, you also sometimes make those awkward beats that emcees will say they can’t rap over (laughs). So “Late Night” is just a collection of little bits like that, really.”

You definitely cover a lot of musical ground on the project, including soul, funk, reggae, jazz…

“Yeah, there’s a whole heap of stuff on there. At the minute, I’m kind of into electronic music, Tangerine Dream and stuff like that. I’m finding all of these really weird electronic loops. So there’s a few Tangerine Dream samples on the new project. There’s just a selection of styles on there. I didn’t really over-think it when I was putting it together. I think that if you love Hip-Hop then you’re going to love it. Maybe some people out there don’t like listening to instrumentals and want to hear an emcee on everything, but I think most heads will listen to this and think that it’s dope.”

Does it put you under more pressure when you’re working on an instrumental track knowing that there isn’t going to be an emcee on it to hold the listener’s attention?

“Yeah, it does. You have to make the track more involved and keep the movement going. If there’s not an emcee there that people are listening to as the main focus of a track then it’s very important to be able to keep the listener’s attention. I mean, sometimes you hear instrumental Hip-Hop albums and they’re boring because they’re just straight beats. So, as a producer, if you’re making instrumental stuff, I think it’s really important to make sure it moves and keeps flowing. I want people to listen to what I’m doing and enjoy it, not be thinking of what’s missing from a track whilst they’re listening to it.”

Do you still go out digging for vinyl regularly?

“I was actually out digging earlier today (laughs). I was out with Justice, the guy who’s putting the “Late Night” project out on his Modern Urban Jazz label. He’s from Luton as well and we’ve known each other on and off over the years. He was a big drum & bass man and put out releases of his own. He’s got his own drum & bass label but has always been into Hip-Hop, like a lot of the old-school jungle / drum & bass guys. It was actually him who started pushing me last year to put the “Late Night” project out there. I was just sitting on it and it was something that I would listen to, but I didn’t really know if anyone else would like it. But yeah, we were out earlier today digging. There’s only really one vinyl record shop still here in Luton, Vinyl Revelations, and the guy who runs it has got an outhouse, shed-type thing at his home which is just full of 45s. They’re not in any order or anything, you just have to dig through and see what you can find. But whenever I get a chance, I’m out digging.”

Do you have any other particular spots?

“Not really. I mainly go digging in charity shops, car-boot sales, places like that. There’s a guy who goes to Hitchin market every week with a load of records and everything he sells only costs a pound. I always get bits off him. So I’m still out looking for stuff. I don’t really get that whole online digging thing though, man. To me, it’s about going out, looking at the records, reading the liner notes, trying to find something that has that next big break on it. That’s the part of it that I enjoy most and sometimes you never know what you’ve got until you get home and play it.”

What’s the most you’ve ever paid for a record?

“To be honest, I’ve never had that one record that I’ve paid ridiculous money for. I love records, but I don’t like the fact that people put these mad prices on them.”

What equipment are you using nowadays?

“I got an MPC Renaissance when that came out, so I’m using that at the minute. But I’m having a headache with at the moment because it’s computer-based and my computer is a bit older and they don’t really like each other so there’s a lot of crashing and stuff (laughs). But the Renaissance is really good. It’s definitely a nice bit of kit. I just need a better computer (laughs).”

What happened to the S950 that you started on all those years ago?

“I actually got rid of that last year. I sold it to one of Mr. Thing’s friends, Mo Fingaz, so it went to a good home.”

Was it difficult for you to part with considering the personal history that was attached to it?

“Yeah, it was quite sad to get rid of it, but at the time I needed the money. I mean, all the Phi-Life albums had been done on that and a lot of other stuff. There were a lot of memories attached to that 950 so it was quite a big deal to let it go. But like I said, it went to a good home so I know that it’s going to be looked after.”

When you look at the newer generation of talented UK emcees, is there anyone out there that you’d particularly like to work with?

“I think M9 has been putting out some really good music. I think Fliptrix from the High Focus camp is amazing. Also, Farma G’s son Remus, he’s definitely dangerous. I think there’s definitely a newer generation of emcees and producers coming through now who know what real Hip-Hop is all about. They’ve watched and learnt from the people who came before them and aren’t just jumping on a bandwagon. So there’s definitely some younger dudes out there who are really making some good music, which is something that can only be good for the scene overall. But aside from the newer emcees, I’d still like to do a whole project with Micall Parknsun and also something with MCM as well because he can definitely still rap.”

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What albums, both inside and outside of Hip-Hop, do you listen to and think, ‘I wish I produced that project’?

“Outside of Hip-Hop, the first thing that popped in my head when you said that was Portishead. They were just on some next s**t when they came out. In terms of Hip-Hop, there are just too many albums I could think of that I love, man. My favourite Gang Starr album is “Daily Operation”. That’s the ultimate Gang Starr album for me. I’d also have to say Ultramagnetic MC’s’ “Critical Beatdown” and Diamond D’s “Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop”. Those albums just don’t age and are definitely some of the albums that have influenced me over the years, but I could keep naming others for hours (laughs).”

What’s next for you musically?

“Well, Life has an album out called “Sound Of The Underground” that has beats on there from Leaf Dog, Mr. Thing, DJ Lok and myself. But after that, there’s another Life album coming later in the year which is produced entirely by me. The “Rebelbase” album I’ve done with Cappo is all done now and just needs to be mixed and everything. Plus, I still have a lot of Phi-Life Cypher tracks that were recorded before we broke up that will see the light of day at some point. There are still Phi-Life fans out there and I think people would still like to hear that music. I mean, we’d basically recorded a whole album before the split and I don’t think it’s fair that the Phi-Life fans out there can’t hear that for whatever reason. But I just make beats and that’s really all I know. So whether they’re being released out there or not, I’m still going to me making more beats tomorrow.”

So going back to your favourite Gang Starr album, making beats for you really is a daily operation…

“Yeah, exactly. Whether anyone’s listening or not, I’m still going to be making beats. It’s something that’s ingrained in me now and I just still have that real love of music.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow DJ Nappa on Twitter – @Nappa72

 

HBS Music Archaeology – Brad McNamara / Chris Gibbs / MCM

UK legend MCM of the mighty Caveman crew makes an appearance on the latest episode of HBS Music Archaeology to discuss breaks, beats and some personal Hip-Hop history.

New Joint – MCM

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MCM – “Been So Many Places” (KingUnderground / Headcount / 2014)

Soulful self-produced b-side flavour off the Caveman emcee’s forthcoming limited edition seven-inch single.

UK Hip-Hop Honours 2012 TV Trailer – MCM / Ty / Rodney P etc.

Held in London back in December, footage of the UK Hip-Hop Honours 2012 event will be screened on Vox Africa (Sky Channel 218) tomorrow night with appearances from Caveman’s MCM, London Posse’s Rodney P and more.

Live Review – 4our Pillars

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Photo By Karen “InchHigh” Dabner McIntyre

Venue: The Underdog Gallery, London  Date: 7 December 2012

UK Hip-Hop has definitely had its fair share of ups-and-downs over the years, from industry indifference and a constant battle for attention with our Stateside counterparts, to low sales and an often unsupportive British music press. But regardless of the obstacles and adversity homegrown artists have endured throughout the decades, Hip-Hop culture has thrived in the UK, from the early days of London’s 80s Covent Garden scene to the numerous present day events held throughout the country seeking to keep the torch alight.

With this in mind, the organiser’s behind London’s 4our Pillars night (namely 90s Britcore favourites Son Of Noise) are also looking to do their part to ensure the traditional elements of Hip-Hop remain intact on our shores, whilst also celebrating the foundations of the British Hip-Hop movement.

Held at London Bridge’s intimate Underdog Gallery, this event was about so much more than just a crowd of people passing the time under one roof as they waited for the headlining artists to hit the stage. This second 4our Pillars session felt more like a family reunion than simply your standard Hip-Hop night.

Surrounded by impressive graffiti pieces from ArtJaz, Gasp and Dep, a mixture of fans, friends and artists rubbed shoulders as DJ Devastate of Demon Boyz fame and Hardnoise’s DJ Mada dropped an impressive selection of golden-era gems from the likes of Schoolly D and Main Source.

Highlights of the night included the mighty Killa Instinct tearing the place up with their 1992 Music Of Life classic “The Bambi Murders”, Son Of Noise themselves delivering a dose of their own distinctive brand of hardcore Hip-Hop, plus Caveman’s MCM and Hijack’s Kamanchi Sly passing the mic for an impromptu freestyle session with Germany’s DJ Stylewarz spinning some classic breakbeats.

An electric performance from UK b-boy crew The Soul Mavericks set off camera flashes from all directions, whilst Rodney P and Skitz were also on-hand to ensure the momentum continued.

With people having travelled from Wales, France and Italy to attend, the 4our Pillars crew succeeded in their mission to deliver an event grounded in Afrika Bambaataa’s ethos of peace, love, unity and having fun. The venue was filled with positive vibes and a genuine energy, with everyone in attendance clearly there out of a shared passion for true-school Hip-Hop.

Some technical sound issues and last minute line-up changes did nothing to dampen the collective enthusiasm of the crowd, with the spontaneous, organic feel of the entire night only adding to the feeling of being at a monumental old-school jam.

An overall brilliant experience and a testament to the timeless talent that made up the 80s / 90s UK scene, 4our Pillars may have been born out of the need to pay homage to the history of British Hip-Hop, but on this particular night we witnessed some new history being made as well.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Kamanchi Sly and MCM freestyling at 4our Pillars.

This Is How It Should Be Done… – MCM / Kamanchi Sly

Footage of Caveman’s MCM and Hijack’s Kamanchi Sly passing the mic in London at last Friday’s brilliant 4our Pillars event with Germany’s DJ Stylewarz on the decks.

Back To Cause Mayhem – MCM

Footage of Caveman’s MCM performing at last weekend’s UK Hip-Hop Honours event in West London.

New Joint – MCM

MCM – “Blow Ur Mind” (I-Innovate / 2012)

After performing at last night’s UK Hip-Hop Honours 2012 event in London, the Caveman emcee drops this track from last year’s album “The Gospel”.

UK Hip-Hop Honours 2012 Trailer – Funky DL / Dolby D etc.

Trailer for the forthcoming UK Hip-Hop Honours event in London which will feature appearances from Ty, MCM, Kamanchi Sly and many more.

Gospel Reprise EP Sampler – MCM

Following on from last year’s epic project “The Gospel” former Caveman frontman MCM unleashes more music from the vaults with his new EP “Gospel Reprise” featuring fellow UK heavywights Ty and DJ Nappa.

New Joint – MCM

MCM – “Early Days” (I-Innovate / 2011)

The former Caveman emcee reminisces on his younger days on this cut from his digital-only project “The Gospel – The Missing Gems Of MCM (1994 – 2011)”.

New Joint – MCM

MCM – “Back Again” (I-Inovate / 2011)

Taken from the former Caveman emcee’s recent digital-only project “The Gospel: The Missing Gems Of MCM (1994-2011)”.

The Gospel Album Sampler – MCM

The third and final online sampler for UK legend MCM’s new digital album release “The Gospel” which is out now via all the usual online outlets.

Old To The New Q&A – MCM

Back in the very early 90s High Wycombe’s MCM made his name as part of the pivotal UK Hip-Hop group Caveman, a crew also comprising of producer The Principle and turntable technician DJ Diamond J. The trio dropped their classic debut album “Positive Reaction” in 1991, a seemingly effortless blend of funky jazz-based samples and youthfully energetic yet reflective rhymes, including timeless singles such as the upbeat “Victory” and the commercially successful “I’m Ready”.

1992 saw the release of the group’s second album “The Whole Nine Yards…” which showcased the crew taking a slightly harder musical direction that didn’t sit comfortably with some Caveman fans.

The remainder of the decade was a relatively quiet period for MCM, with sporadic single releases such as “I Got Soul” and “Power Moves” proving the British wordsmith still had the skills to pay the bills but not being followed up by the full-length solo effort many were hoping for.

Now in 2011, MCM finally unleashes the project that was shelved back in 1995 due to label politics and industry setbacks. “The Gospel (1994 – 2011) – The Missing Gems Of MCM” is an immense 32-track collection that, as its title suggests, includes those lost mid-90s bangers as well as more recently recorded material, with production coming from Phi-Life Cypher’s DJ Nappa, former Demon Boyz member DJ Devastate and, of course, M himself.

Here the veteran of the UK rap scene talks about the early Caveman days, his memories of appearing on Tim Westwood’s infamous Capital Rap Show, and the reasons for deciding to release “The Gospel” at this particular moment in time.

So let’s take it all the way back – when did you first become interested in Hip-Hop?

Basically I grew up around music. All my brothers were into music like jazz, revival, feel-good music. I grew up with it and have always been into it. I started off as a jazz dancer when I was too young to go out (laughs). Then at around 12, 13, my cousin Smally Small was well into Hip-Hop, Diamond J as well. Those guys were really influential to me at the time. I used to listen to a lot of pirate radio stations and I was hearing Schoolly D, Run DMC and really getting a feel for what this Hip-Hop stuff was all about. Then all of a sudden I found myself writing rhymes (laughs). That was basically how things started to come together.”

At what point did Caveman officially become a group?

We used to go to Diamond J’s house and he’d have his decks set-up just cutting up on the ones and twos and we’d all be playing around with the rapping. Then about three years after that I went to college and was still heavily into rhyming. I used to try and study (laughs) but people used to think I was some sort of nutter because all I used to do was walk around listening to my headphones. Then I met this girl called Viv who told me she knew a guy called Robbie who she thought I should meet up with as he was really into his music as well. Robbie was in Aylesbury at the time and he became better known to people as The Principle. So I went to his house to meet up with him and he was playing me the instrumentals he’d made that would become tracks like “Victory”. I went away, wrote some rhymes, came back and he was like ‘Yeah! I like this’ and that was really the birth of Caveman. I then got Diamond J involved and it all started from there. Robbie sent the tracks to Profile Records and they liked it. We were expecting a demo contract at first, but the people at the label were like ‘Forget that! We like this!’ and that’s how we got signed to the label.”

Was there much of a Hip-Hop scene in High Wycombe or was it literally just you guys?

“No, no, you had Surveillance, which was Mighty Marl J’s crew, you had Plus One, there were loads of crews doing Hip-Hop at the time in Wycombe.”

As a group of outsiders was it hard for you to break into the London rap scene at the time when you started performing etc?

When we started to do shows around London and go to jams we made sure that people knew we were serious about the music. But at the same time, because we were from High Wycombe some people did look at us a certain way. But that also helped us stand out because we were just doing what we felt, we weren’t really concerned so much about what was going on in London. It was kinda difficult, but at the same time we did also get a lot of love during those early days.”

 In the very early-90s a lot of British Hip-Hop had a very militant identity and musically was very hardcore with the whole Britcore sound. The music of Caveman was immediately different as you were using a lot of jazz and soul samples that led to comparisons being made between the group and what was happening at the time Stateside with acts like Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest. What did you make of that?

We were influenced by Tribe, The 45 King, all those guys, so musically there was an element of that, but lyrically I was just rapping how I felt really. I wasn’t really that experienced, even though I’d been writing rhymes since I was 13, 14-years-old. But it still had an impact, which was the most important thing to us. We did get a lot of comparisons being made to Stateside artists because of the music we were sampling and some people said that we were trying to be American, but we really weren’t going out of our way to fit in like that. We were just doing us.”

A lot of people remember your regular radio appearances on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show back in the early-90s. What are some of the memories that stand out for you from that experience?

“It was mad. I remember we’d just done the Gang Starr show in London at The Forum and Guru came up to the station and was telling us how they’d been starting their European shows with Caveman’s “I’m Ready”. That was a really good feeling. That made me realise that what we were doing was really making a contribution to the music. We had a lot of fun with Tim on the phone lines. I remember one time Chuck D was on the show and I was just listening in and he mentioned that he’d heard our stuff and liked what we were doing and I was just like ‘What??!! Yo!!!!’. Chuck D was one of my favourite emcees at the time, so to hear him say something like that about us was incredible. Those are the real memories I have of our time on Tim’s show, personal things like that. None of what happened on those shows was pre-planned, it was all organic, it was all Hip-Hop. Another great moment was when we did a full freestyle session on the show with the whole Caveman crew up there rhyming. That was brilliant. The most beautiful thing now is when I speak to people and they have their memories of listening to the show while we were up there and they remember certain things that happened and they’re telling me how the show was a huge part of their school days and things like that. It’s a beautiful feeling to have that shared history with people.”

Caveman’s second album 1992’s “The Whole Nine Yards…” had a harder musical edge to it than the group’s debut – was that a conscious decision?

“It was sort of a conscious decision because we didn’t really want to get labelled as just doing one thing with the whole jazz rap stuff. But because a lot of people caught such a vibe from “Positive Reaction” it was hard for them to take us doing something a  little different to what they’d heard before. But looking back there are still some good moments on that second album.”

After Caveman split there was talk of you dropping a solo album but it didn’t ever materialise – why was that?

“Well basically, BMG were going to take it up and then when the album was finished they didn’t bother with it. Maybe they were expecting another “I’m Ready”? I really don’t know. But I’m a music guy so I’m always going to make music that reflects what’s in my heart at the time. So although the album might not have been what they were expecting, it definitely reflected where I was at in 1995. Things had happened within the group and everyone was just really starting to go their separate ways. Principle became a Muslim, Diamond was doing his own stuff, so sadly the group just kinda fizzled out. But straight after the Caveman thing I started working on “The Gospel”. If it had come out at the time that would have been great, but actually now, I think it’s a blessing that it didn’t because the growth that I’ve experienced in those subsequent years, from having kids, losing my mum, becoming a grown man, all of that’s gone into the music and made a better project than the one I would’ve put out in the 90s. “Positive Reaction” was a very personal album, but I was still living at home at my mum’s when we made it. “The Gospel” is again very personal, but it draws on a lot more life experience for its inspiraton.”

So why did you finally decide to release “The Gospel” now?

“It was just one of those things where I met up with a friend of a friend who is in the industry and it started from there. The only reason why I hadn’t done anything with it before is that I couldn’t find anyone to work with who could really see my vision and respect what I was doing as an artist.  It seemed like everyone I was speaking to about putting the album out was really just looking to make a quick buck. I’ve never wanted to work with people like that because at the first sign of some new trend they could just shelve your project and leave you stranded. I didn’t want to get involved with certain people because they really weren’t serious about the music. I still have the same love for the music as I did back when I first came out with Caveman, nothing has changed as far as that’s concerned. So if i’m going to work with you, I need to know you share that same love for quality music.”

With the recent talk of “Grown Man Rap” becoming something of Hip-Hop sub-genre it definitely seems like the project is coming out at an ideal time…

“I think that’s what the music industry needs right now because everything is being force fed to you. There are people out there who do want to hear some real music. To be honest, whether three people hear my album and say ‘That’s the sh*t!’ or a million people say it, either way it doesn’t bother me as long as I’m happy with it. Right now, I’ve got total control of this project and I’ve made sure that I’m happy with it. It’s a good mix of the tracks that would’ve been on the original release and also more recent material that shows growth lyrically but musically is still grounded in that real Hip-Hop sound.”

A lot has changed since your early days in terms of how artists promote themselves and new projects etc. Has that come as something of a culture shock to you with this new project?

“Well, I just let the guy I’m working with deal with all of that and I concentrate on the music (laughs). But I’m on Facebook, MySpace, things like that. Really, I’m not one for talking, I just like to let the music speak for itself. But I also understand that you have to put yourself out there nowadays to let people see what you’re doing. But I’m really just that same person I was all those years ago with Caveman, just all about good tunes, collecting breaks and making music. But overall, I think the internet is a blessing and a curse. I mean, it’s great that you can go out there and add Dr. Dre and Kanye West as friends, but I don’t really have a large interest in that. I just try to deal with the music and let the people behind me promote the project.”

So can we expect more music from MCM following the release of “The Gospel”?

“Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do next. My main purpose at the moment is to get “The Gospel” out there and help get some warmth back into music and then whatever comes from that is what comes from it. Hopefully people will enjoy the project and it’ll make them aware that there are still people out there recording real music. I know that Caveman gets a lot of love for what we did back in the day, and of course I appreciate that love, but I really want people to see what I still have to offer today.”

Ryan Proctor

“The Gospel (1994 – 2011) – The Missing Gems Of MCM” will be released digitally in June.

Spreading The Word – MCM

Short documentary-style film charting the development of former Caveman member MCM’s forthcoming double-album project “The Gospel” which drops early June.   

Props to MCM and the I-Innovate crew for using some quotes from my recent review of “The Gospel” at the beginning of this clip.

Album Review – MCM

MCM

“The Gospel (1994 – 2011) – The Missing Gems Of MCM”

(I-Innovate)

In the same way that New York and Los Angeles have, until recent years at least, always been viewed as the two major cities on the US Hip-Hop map, London has long been considered the epicentre of the UK rap scene. In the 80s acts such as London Posse, Demon Boyz, Hijack and MC Duke not only stood as sonic representatives of the UK’s capital city, but also defined the entire British rap scene of the time, with very few artists from outside of the London area being viewed as credible, regardless of their talent. All that would change, however, when a trio from High Wycombe recording under the name Caveman dropped their classic 1990 debut single “Victory” through the UK arm of Profile Records.

Not only did the crew of MCM, DJ Diamond J and producer The Principle open people’s ears to the fact that there was Hip-Hop of note being made outside of London’s urban environment, they also brought with them a shift in musical direction from what was considered to be the traditional British rap sound. Prior to Caveman, UK rap was largely known for what became tagged as the ‘Britcore’ style – hard, dense production, fast-paced lyrics and militant imagery (think Hijack, Gunshot, Killa Instinct). But when the Buckinghamshire-based crew dropped, they brought with them a jazzy, funky edge that had more in common with popular Stateside groups of the time such as Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest than it did with the most of the music being made by the group’s peers just some thirty miles away in the Big Smoke.

Early Caveman singles such as the aforementioned “Victory” and the brilliant “Fry You Like Fish” caught some unfair criticism from staunch UK rap supporters who felt the crew were simply trying to emulate the sounds emanating from New York, but by the time the group’s debut album “Positive Reaction” dropped in 1991 it was clear Caveman’s musical identity was very much their own. The album was packed with tight, sample-heavy production, deft cuts and witty, often personal lyrics that came with a conscious, uplifting element. The crew even caught a little mainstream attention for their lively Jimi Hendrix-sampling single “I’m Ready”.

Although Caveman’s sophomore album (1992’s “The Whole Nine Yards…”) wouldn’t receive the critical acclaim of its predecessor, with the group splitting soon after, the impact “Positive Reaction” had on the homegrown rap scene was clearly tangible and is perhaps even more evident in hindsight than it was at the time. Although MCM would go on to release some stellar solo singles throughout the mid-to-late-90s, one of the UK’s best-loved rappers largely dropped off the radar, another name seemingly destined to be confined to the annals of UK rap history. Until now.

Taking its title from the shelved mid-90s album MCM was due to release via a deal with BMG, “The Gospel” is a mammoth 32-track collection of full-length joints and instrumental interludes spanning the last seventeen years. The trick here is that the album hasn’t been sequenced in chronological order, so although it’s possible to spot a few of the older tracks due to MCM’s youthful delivery, for the most part it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a body of work work covering almost two decades. The remastering quality of the older cuts contained here is on point, bringing them inline with more recent work in terms of their overall sound, so until the High Wycombe wordsmith shouts out a “2003” here or a “1998” the album plays as one cohesive project.

MCM’s love of soulful breaks and samples ties “The Gospel” together, and it’s this passion for all things funky that informs all the tracks included here, both old and new. Largely self-produced but also featuring musical input from a handful of like-minded collaborators, “The Gospel” basks in the warm sonic glow of golden-age boom-bap and jazzy vibes. Building on the musical blueprint set out on Caveman’s “Positive Reaction”, “The Gospel” showcases an artist whose creative direction has never been influenced by the trends of the time, with MCM’s love of true-school Hip-Hop evident throughout.

The beginning of the project finds MCM going back to the future, with a re-vocalled Rinse Dog-produced remix of the previously mentioned Caveman track “Fry You Like Fish”. Rattling drums and huge bass kicks are almost enough to set-off involuntary demonstrations of The Running-Man, whilst MCM delivers his witty rhymes of twenty years ago in an obviously more mature tone.  The self-explanatory “Jay Dee Tribute” finds M dropping conscious rhymes over a Dilla-inspired track which also features a dope verse from newcomer Magical.

On the DJ Nappa-produced “Came Into My Life” MCM uses the well worn metaphor of Hip-Hop as being a woman with whom he’s shared a rocky yet passionate relationship with over the years. But rather than sounding tired and overused, the sincerity in M’s rhymes brings new life to the oft-heard comparison (“A lotta new jacks and industry cats, wanna get up in your thighs, try you out for size….90% of your rappers on some fake G shit, don’t know how to caress the steel when it’s time to spit”).

The hypnotic Maverick-produced “Blow Your Mind” is easily one of the album’s high points, as MCM faces the stresses of life over a beautifully crafted backdrops of soulful vocal samples and gentle pianos. Meanwhile, Demon Boyz member DJ Devastate increases the album’s head-nod quotient in no uncertain terms with 1995’s “You Can’t Fade Me”, a potent blend of jazzy Buckwild-esque boom-bap and forceful social commentary.

“The Strength” is a hauntingly mellow track which finds MCM explaining the importance belief in a higher spiritual power holds in his day-to-day life, whilst the previously-released self-produced banger “Power Moves” stills sounds as humongous today as it did back in the mid-90s, thanks to its obese beats and timeless samples. “On The Spot” is a dope, stripped-down pass-the-mic cipher jam featuring TKO and Da Verse dropping some punchline-heavy bars alongside their brother-in-rhymes.

Considering the length of “The Gospel” the quality levels remain high throughout, with even the Pete Rock-style instrumental interludes being worthy of your time. This project isn’t merely an excuse to release a heap of archived tracks for the sake of nostalgia that wasn’t considered good enough to be heard the first time around, instead it’s the sound of an artist finally being given the opportunity to share good music that circumstance and finances prevented from being released when most of it was initially recorded.

There are some who will consider “The Gospel” to be a comeback of sorts for MCM, but in essence, the likeable emcee from Bucks never left, as evidenced by the wealth of quality unreleased material included here.

So the question now isn’t about what MCM has been doing for all these years since Caveman split, it’s what is he going to come with in the future now he’s planted himself firmly back on the UK rap map?

On the strength of “The Gospel”, whatever MCM does next, it’s going to be something worth waiting for.

Ryan Proctor

“The Gospel” will be released in June 2011.

That Golden Vibe – MCM

Online promo clip for the forthcoming release of MCM’s album “The Gospel” – the former Caveman emcee’s welcome return to the game will feature twenty-five cuts both old and new and is due to drop this summer.

New Joint – Capitol 1212 / Mike G / Dizzy Dustin / MCM / Cadence

Capitol 1212 ft. Mike G, Dizzy Dustin, MCM, Cadence & DJ Sheep – “Good Feelin'” (1212 Records / 2010)

All-star posse cut produced by Scotland’s Capitol 1212.

The Gospel According To… – MCM

Second part of the online album sampler for former Caveman member MCM’s forthcoming project “The Gospel”.

Still Fryin’ Like Fish – MCM (Caveman)

UK rap legend MCM of Caveman fame (“Fry You Like Fish”, “Victory”, “I’m Ready” etc) returns with his forthcoming album “The Gospel”.