UK emcee Trauma 74 is a prime example of the old adage that all good things come to those who wait. A keen supporter and practitioner of Hip-Hop culture since the 1980s, the Bedford-based wordsmith didn’t release his debut album until 2017, the expertly-crafted “The God Given Image”.
With that initial project highlighting Trauma’s talents as an intelligent, well-rounded artist, the recent follow-up “Acceptable Citizens” builds on those strong creative foundations, with 74 handling the majority of the production whilst pushing himself lyrically as he offers his thoughts and opinions on the world around us.
Here, Trauma 74 discusses his childhood introduction to Hip-Hop, working with sonic ally The Passion HiFi, and the reality of balancing life as a family man with his rap endeavours.
What are some of your earliest Hip-Hop-related memories?
“I always loved music from when I was young. My mum has told me stories of how they thought there was something wrong with me when I was younger because I didn’t have a rattle in my pram, I had a seven-inch single on a pencil and apparently I used to spin it around and make mad noises. To be honest, when I think about my first memories of school, my head was just full of music. I used to make songs up in my head all the time. A lot of members of my family, my aunties and uncles, had a real keen interest in music with quite eclectic tastes, so I’d hear everything from Bob Marley to The Clash. I’d basically listen to anything back then, as long as it was music, so there wasn’t any one type of music that I was fixed on. But then my cousin played me a tape with Run DMC’s “Sucker MC’s” on it. Right at that moment I thought, ‘Yep! This is the one!’ I just dropped everything and that’s when I started to get a real hunger for Hip-Hop.”
Can you remember what it was about that particular record that grabbed you with such urgency?
“I do always try and look back and think what it was about that record, because it was immediate. I just dropped everything for Hip-Hop and wanted it so much. I started taping music off the radio and really just trying to find as much Hip-Hop as I could. You had the Streetsounds “Electro” compilation albums back then, so I started off buying all of those. Then when I went to middle-school there was a guy there whose brothers were older than us and they loved break-dancing. I thought they were the coolest people in the world (laughs). I remember he had the Tommy Boy compilation that had come out and he also had all the “Electro” albums, so he used to tape me stuff. Then from there I was like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely what I’m into.’ But I was rubbish at break-dancing (laughs). That was not happening for me at all. Then from there we started rapping in the playground at school and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to do this properly.'”
So how did you make that transition from rapping in the playground to recording music that you felt was good enough to release?
“When I was in middle-school it was just about doing it to have fun. Then when I went to upper-school, I started to get involved in more things. I did a few battles at clubs with people, I used to rap for friends and stuff like that. But it took me a long, long time until I actually recorded anything properly for myself. It was 2003 when I first actually released anything, which was an EP. Up to that point, it really was just about having fun with it. I’d been writing and writing, amassing all these lyrics, but I became a bit notorious for being hard to get hold of. I never used to turn up to people’s studios. Or I’d come to do some projects with people but never see them through. I was just never really interested. But then a friend of mine gave me his Amiga computer as he was upgrading his set-up and he encouraged me to try the production side of the music. So once I started making my own beats, that’s when I started to get more serious about it all then. I was like, ‘Right, I want to have control over the beats I make and the lyrics as well.’ Before that, I always seemed to find myself sitting in studios trying to get across what it was I wanted to hear. I just found I had a lot of ideas that I wasn’t able to get across to other producers at the time. Once I was able to do it all myself, I was able to try some of those ideas out to see whether they worked or not. Then from there, I just made beats for a long time. But then I got sucked into going out all the time and partying, so the music kind of fell off for me. I never stopped writing but I stopped making beats for a long time. That’s how things were for some time, until I met-up with Passion HiFi.”
Passion was already producing at this point, right?
“Yeah, he could make some nice beats himself, but he was also really good with the mixing, mastering and the more technical stuff. Some of my beats were a bit loud and all over the place, so he gave me some tips on different things I could do to get the sound I wanted to hear. He just helped me to hone everything a bit more.”
So when was all of this happening?
“That was around 2009 / 2010 that I hooked up with Passion HiFi. Literally, I’d gone that long hardly doing anything with music. I mean, that 2003 EP, people around me loved it, but when I listen back to it now it was as basic as basic can be. It’s not aged well at all (laughs). But “The God Given Image” album, that’s where it all really starts in terms of me putting out a proper project.””
“The God Given Image” was my introduction to you when it came out in 2017. Obviously at that point I wasn’t aware of your history, but I remember listening to it thinking that it definitely sounded like the work of someone who was very experienced at what they were doing and also very clear about who they were as an artist…
“That’s nice to hear. I mean, we worked quite hard on it. We did play it down at times and say, ‘Well, we’ve done what could get done within the time constraints we had.’ I mean, family and all of that has to come first. so most of that album was literally recorded in the evening when we had the chance, maybe on a Friday night when you’ve been working all week and you might not even really be in the mood to record (laughs). But if you don’t, then you’re going to have to wait for another opportunity. But at the same time, you also don’t want to go in and give a half-ass performance. So you have to draw from a lot sometimes to do what needs to be done. I mean, there were times when we were like, ‘You know what? We’re going to have to re-record that track’ because when we listened back you could hear that I wasn’t giving it my all.”
Well, that attention to detail and persistence to get it right can definitely be heard in the finished product…
“One thing I’ve always said, is that you see a of people putting out mixtapes and stuff like that. Sometimes the artwork can appear to be a little bit basic and it might not have a great mix to it. Or people put their projects straight onto SoundCloud and they disappear into that huge chasm of nothingness and nobody cares. Now for me, unless you’re releasing something that really looks like you’re bothered about it, I’m just not interested. So I just wanted “The God Given Image” to sound right. I’ve always had a thing about an album not so much having a theme, but it’s got to have a feel. It doesn’t have to be a concept album where you’re telling one story all the way through, but I like it when all of the tracks on an album fit together as one body of work. That’s how I wanted “The God Given Image” to sound. To be honest, I didn’t realise how much work would actually go into it as I’d never done an album before in my life. So I went into that project almost being a bit naïve, and was like, ‘Actually this is quite hard.'”
Given that you’ve already mentioned the time constraints you experienced whilst making the album, did you, or do you, have a particular recording process?
“It’s a bit of weird process we’ve got because we’ll change a lot of the beats after we’ve finished tracks. Because we haven’t got the time, we can’t keep recording track after track to the point where we’ve got fifty or sixty tracks and then say, ‘Right, we’re going to pick an album from these.’ So it’s almost like we make the album, and then we change some of the beats. So we’ll listen to the whole thing and then might decide, ‘Okay, that beat doesn’t really fit with these other tracks’ and so we’ll change it and use a different beat (laughs). Before we know it, we’ve changed loads of tracks. But it’s fun to finally get there in the end, sit there with the album and be like, ‘You know what? This actually sounds alright.'”
Were you happy with how “The God Given Image” was received at the time?
“We came at it with no expectations. So I was quite happy with how it was received. We were realistic about what we thought the album would do. I mean, Passion and I are both in our forties, boom-bap isn’t a sound everyone wants to hear, but we knew there are people who do want that sound and at the end of the day we just made the music we wanted to make. Also, we were realistic about what we were actually able to do to promote that album. We did a couple of things, but we weren’t running around everywhere doing shows, meeting up with people and things like that. So we didn’t really throw ourselves out there massively. But for what we were able to do to promote it, I thought the album didn’t do to badly at all. I was definitely happy with the project.”
Did you already have plans at that point to work on another album after “The God Given Image” or did you intend for it just to be a one-off?
“Yeah, “The God Given Image” was going to be the album. That was going to be it. Because I’d gone so long not releasing anything, I just wanted to get that one album project out there. It was the same with Passion HiFi; he’d been doing a lot of work over the years and he was getting to a point where he was like, ‘You know what? I think I’m done with this now.’ He’d been mixing and mastering for a lot of different people, so he was really wanting to just focus on his own stuff. But after “The God Given Image” had been finished and come out, we were sat around talking and Passion was like, ‘You know what? Let just do one more. After that we’re done, but let’s just do it one more time.’ At that point, I wasn’t really thinking that it was going to happen. But we sat down, talked about it and decided that if it was going to happen we couldn’t just make the same album again. It couldn’t just be a continuation of what we’d already done. At first, we decided we were going to try something a bit odd and weird, almost in the direction of Madlib or something like that. So we decided to make a load of beats, then have a listening session, choose the beats, write to them and that would be the album. But it was actually quite funny, because when we sat down to listen to all of the beats, we were like, ‘What have we done on some of these?’ There were some crazy beats coming out. We got to the point of recording and I think because we were trying to stray so much from what it was we’d originally been doing, that some of it just wasn’t working at all. But the lyrics were alright. So there we were again, with about ten tracks recorded that we then went back through to change with new beats.”
What was the thinking behind the title of the new album, “Acceptable Citizens”?
“We definitely wanted the album to have a theme and for the title to reflect that. We had a few titles, but they just didn’t work. But then Passion had seen a documentary about Jamaicans coming to the UK in the 60s and that term ‘acceptable citizens’ was used in the programme. Passion texted the title to me, I liked it and I also thought I’d be able to write around that. I wanted to go a little bit deeper this time around in terms of what I was saying and delve into some deeper life issues. Not to the point where I sounded like I was being preachy or anything like that, but just for me to talk about some of the things I see going on. So the album is about observation and me talking about the situations that I see some people in. And regardless of what’s going on in your life, at the end of the day, we all just want to be seen as being acceptable citizens.”
Obviously you finished recording the album some time ago and based on your social media posts over the last couple of months it had always been your intention to drop the album in April. But with everything that’s currently going on around the Coronavirus situation, the tone of the album definitely makes it feel like music for the times, in terms of you addressing certain issues within society and also encouraging listeners to evaluate what’s important in their own lives…
“My style has always been, yes, you will get a bit of showboating, but most of time I’m just simply trying to explain something. You look at someone like Bob Marley, he just always tried to explain things in his music in quite a simple way. It’s not always about using big words, but can you get your point across?”
The intro on “Rock Top” with you asking your children their thoughts on your music really made me laugh. Did you know your son was going to come out with the comment, ‘It’s alright, but you’re no Stormzy…’?
“That’s like an ongoing joke and I get that a lot. My son will call me Trauma 75, Trauma 72 (laughs). He loves teasing me. So I said I’ve gotta get you guys on it and you can do what you want.”
How difficult is it to balance family life with your musical aspirations?
“It’s hard. I’ve got a little studio set-up and maybe on a Friday or Saturday night I’ll sit up making beats until one in morning. I rarely try to do it when everyone’s up because it really can’t happen. With “The God Given Image” album, Passion and I were recording maybe a night here and a night there, doing one track at a time. But with this new album we tried to do whole days and maybe get four tracks done in one day. I mean, neither of us have really got the time to be doing this with family, work and everything else, so we really have to find time. Which is why. for the amount of time we have to put into it, I’m happy with what we’re able to achieve.
Whilst the album contains a lot of lyrical substance throughout, there are a couple of tracks in particular that I wanted to touch on. Firstly, what were your reasons for writing “Age”?”
“That was literally because we have this apparent divide in Hip-Hop where the older guys will be talking about how the boom-bap sound is the one, and then you have the younger guys who say the older heads should step-aside. It’s that cycle that constantly goes around that people always talk about. People get older, then moan about how the young people don’t show any respect. Then eventually those younger people get older and they’ll be saying the same thing. When it comes to music, age really is just a number and it doesn’t mean anything really. I’ll still love music regardless of how old I am. Plus, we could all learn from each other. So I just wanted to write something about that and how I feel about it. Like I say on the track, ‘Young became old, But your mind was never told.’ Because we are still young in our minds, really.”
And what about “SAL”, which stands for Self-Appointed Legend?
“That one is about how people want their empire before they’ve even done anything else. People will build a brand, and they’ve got hats, t-shirts, they might be putting on nights, but the music just isn’t there to support it. Then when they do make some music, they’re immediately calling themsleves legends. These titles aren’t titles that you give yourself as an artist, people give you those titles, and they definitely don’t come after you’ve released three tracks. It comes after a lifetime of music. So that track is really about letting some people know they need to get a grip – you’re not a legend yet, we’ll tell you if you are.”
Finally, given that you weren’t originally planning to record a second album, do you think we can we expect a third album from you at any point?
“I was looking at Spotify the other day and I had both albums next to each other in the library, and after all the years I’ve been doing stuff, to be able to say I put two albums out, I’m happy with that. The work definitely went into the music and I enjoyed doing both of them, but I don’t know if I’m going to be doing it again any time soon. At least not for the next couple of years anyway (laughs).”
The “Acceptable Citizens” album is available now at EvilTwinRecords.BandCamp.Com.