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