Mighty Mighty; The Scribes Storm the Muck!

Another fantabulous evening at Devizes’ tropical holiday resort, The Muck and Dunder rum bar, where Bristol’s boom bap trio I’ve been hailing since day dot, The Scribes, came, saw, matchlessly interacted with the audience, and tore the place down with a riotous show of incredible skill and talent; secretly, it was foreseeable months ago……

Again, straw hats off to the Muck, just like previous evenings with the Allergies, Jimmy Needles and recently the BBC Introducing showcase, it’s the like we don’t usually see in our humble market town. Something I’ve been excited about before even leaking the scoop, hyping up here till the cows come home, and still, it exceeded my expectations. It did so with one most important element; Devizes showed their respect loud and proud, attending in full force for this sell-out show, and made me honoured to illustrate what I’d hitherto promised to frontman Ill Literate, and even his dad, Literate senior(!); this is our hometown, it punches well above its weight in knowing how to party.

For if there are others of this calibre currently on the UK hip hop scene, I’m unaware of them. The Scribes, I find no quarrel in dubbing “our Tribe Called Quest,” for the similar way they can lyrically interchange and bounce off each other, extend their presence further afield from the niche. They’re about spreading their love of hip hop and rap, using an exuberant and carefree east coast old school ethos, blended with contemporary rap techniques, blessing new audiences with what they’ve got, and aside their addictive and inimitable style, they’re having a heap of fun doing it. Just don’t do like I did, and try to capture a snap of them, they move about like Michael McIntyre on fast-forward!

Tunes played out were tricky to pinpoint, not while jigging and balancing my pina colada! Undoubtedly, they dipped into the vitrine of their latest EP, a forthcoming second in the series of the Totem Trilogy, and I did pick out my dub-inspired favourite, Mighty Mighty. Yet in rap no tune is ever precisely replicated, making an improv live show different every time. What was a highlight of the miscellany was the Doug E Fresh moments of drafting in the single-most amazing beatboxer this side of Barnard Star, which if you’ve never seen the like of in good ol’ Devizes before, it’s equally unlikely you’ve seen the like of anywhere before, if you catch my drift?! What? I’ve had rum!

With the upmost respect for the influence Mel Bush left on Devizes, the legendary promoter who bought Thin Lizzy to the Corn Exchange, I find it fascinating the same year he did, 1973, across the ocean in a Bronx block-party, Kool Herc isolated percussion “breaks” by switching between two turntables via a mixer, to prolong the beat of the track. Yet to many here, what he fashioned that night is still regarded as new-fangled!

Albeit progress out of the ghettos of New York for hip hop was sluggish, at best not arriving on our shores until a decade later, hip hop culture is no new thing. So, while this legacy for electric blues and prog-rock is still felt today, through the likes of Jon Amor, who plays the Southgate this afternoon, Innes Sibun and whenever Robin Davey returns, and this marks a blessing on our music scene which I fully appreciate, rum bar The Muck and Dunder aim for diversity, for daring to present dance, club, and hip hop, perhaps reaching out to the twenty and thirty-somethings wanting more than a standard nightclub. And for this, providing they’ll accommodate my aging sorry existence, I cannot thank them enough!

For me, you see, I loved it since a nipper; the cuts of Grandmaster Flash, the moves of the Rock Steady Crew, the subway graffiti, and right through to Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, so I believe I’m conversant on the subject to assess the Scribes are the freshest on the block, and I’m glad we showed them what we’re worth in Devizes. Because, here’s my final point, and I feel it’s the most important one, at least in destroying an ill-conceived misconception about the genre which The Scribes highlight with bells on. And that is, the pretentiousness, the bling, guns, and chip on the shoulder stereotype is a product of commercialisation, and is more often than not, an unwelcomed division.

The Scribes circumnavigated the good ship Muck & Dunder prior to the hoedown, chatting enthusiastically with all. To talk with Ill Literate is to find a kindly fellow with definite goals, a positive agenda, and ardent in the direction he needs to take this. Take his recent solo EP, The Shipwreck as a prime example; here’s a rap record on the level of concept album, akin to prog-rock, with a conscious narrative flowing throughout. This isn’t just rapping to make a noise, this is dedicated writing and production, though on a night like last night at the Muck, it’s also about appeasing the crowd, which they did, sublimely. I walked home in the pissing rain, smiling all the way.


Trending…

The Scribes on a Journey

In the distressing event of a relationship breakdown some take to drinking their sorrows away, others might venture off to “find themselves,” whereas creative types often channel their innermost moods into their art. Themes of love lost are commonplace, arguably cliché, but where Phil Collins sang, “take a look at me now, there’s just an empty space,” Bristol’s multi-award-winning hip-hop trio, The Scribes, geographically map that space, using the metaphor of being shipwrecked on an island, in a new four-track EP called “The Journey.”

We love the Scribes here at Devizine, but this really is frontman Ill Literate solo and on top form. It’s out today, 2nd September, folks, forming a continuous narrative over four tongue-twisting tracks, the first of which, The Shipwreck is out as a 7″ picture vinyl and has the perfect accompanying music video. Forget the Streets’ Dry Your Eyes, this is a punchy boom-bap emblematic work of art, this is as if Wu Cheng’en teamed up with Emily Bronte and wrote Nas’ Undying Love after being dumped by TikTok video, perhaps add a dash of Robert Louis Stevenson on samples!

As said, the character associates their breakup with being shipwrecked, track one, waxing lyrical like the rolling waves, it’s knee-deep in similes crafted with perfection, and it moves onto the second tune, The Desert, with a snake-charming pungi the condition of lostness beats our poor character down. Then it’s onto the Forest, perhaps the darkest of beats on offer here, as the “pull yourself together” stage takes hold, using a slice of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s it’s like a jungle. The finale elements on “moving on,” rather than revenge, time is a healer, and the Return compiles the previous songs, headlong into facing the future positively. Yeah, he stuck on the island but he’s climatised.

Created with GIMP

This hip hop odyssey is both written and performed by The Scribes frontman Ill Literate and produced by digger and producer Risk1 Beats, from Pontypridd. The EP will be available on Spotify and online retailers from Friday September 2nd, and it is a journey worth making, the quality of hip hop is sublime, of which we’ve come to expect, but the “concept album” complement takes it to a whole new level.


Trending…..

Hip Hop Hooray; The Scribes Rock Trowbridge Town Hall

Pleased as Punch I’ve managed to tick three Bristol-based musical acts off my must-see list in as many weeks; Boom Boom Racoon, Mr Tea and the Minions, and this Saturday night saw me boom-bap bouncing to The Scribes in the most unusual of places to find hip hop, Trowbridge Town Hall…

And bouncy it certainly is, an irresistible, partially old skool sound which embraces all the positives of UK hip hop, and none of the negative stereotypes. If we were the other side of the pond, it’d be classed east coast rap, surely(?) as the Scribes find the perfect balance between carefree and enjoyable, the like of De La Soul, the concentrated harmonising of A Tribe Called Quest, and the tongue-twisting proficiency of The Fu-Schnickens.

It’s poignantly layered with denotation, when it needs to be, yet it remains without the pretentious bravado and bling; there wasn’t a gold bikini-clad hoard of chicks sprawled across a white stretch limo (partly a shame), there wasn’t a single baseball cap on back-to-front, or a gold chain large enough to anchor a cruise ship. In chatting with Ill Literate outside, he was keen to cast off those preconceptions for his trio, and UK hip hop in general.

In fact, he was tremendously outgoing, sociable and articulate, this common association of a chip on shoulder was non-existent. What there was where truckloads of intelligent lyrics, executed so incredibly intricately, precise and with a skill way, way beyond the average; dope is the appropriate term, apparently!

But from listening to their tracks, I gathered this long before the show, I’ve been waffling about their talent for some time now, trying to get the message out there; the Scribes are the most promising hip hop act currently on the UK circuit; I’ll call it.

Though if last night proved my point, the crowd at the Town Hall was minimal and disappointing, but one talent I hadn’t predicted was their stage presence. The Scribes have a natural ability to entice, encourage and involve the crowd; it was virtually holiday camp entertainment fashioned at one point, where they divided the room in two for heckling humour, but if this was cliché, they united the sides again in harmony; nicely done.

There could be many factors as to why numbers were down, perhaps the Town Hall has a stigma for younger local hip hop fans, perhaps the publicity didn’t reach the required audience, maybe, it was pointed out by an attendee that the scaffolding obscures the wealth of events happening inside. I’d favour some marketing brainstorming might be an idea, the poster designs are rather formulated, this one hardly spelt out the awesome hip hop gig it was. Outside, a popular nearby bar’s DJ blasted out Wham’s Wake me up Before you Go-Go to a busy crowd; you can’t train stupid!

What Trowbridge and neighbouring villages need to twist their melon around is the venue is offering a vast variety of affordable events, and with the incredibly motivated Sheer Music promoter, Kieran Moore at the helm, it’s quality not quantity. Twist to the predictable preconception is, Trowbridge Town Hall is a wonderfully welcoming and aesthetically pleasing venue, pushing the boundaries. And in this notion, The Scribes were in fact the perfect act, as they too clearly push boundaries.

The Scribes are booked to many festivals, from Shindig to Boomtown, and are popular regulars at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate. As I peered inward and ignored the lack of audience, I could imagine they’d handle a huge crowd with similar ease, and the whole house would be jumping like House of Pain on trampolines in zero G.

Support came from Salisbury-based Mac Lloyd, a solo artist impossible to pigeonhole. With a sensationally emotive voice he cast some original compositions to the crowd, using ambient and breaks backing tracks, but at times incorporating electric guitar and sporadically rapping. I could suppose it’s intelligent hip hop, at base level, but it’s too unique to categorise and played out with such skill and passion, let’s roughly liken him to what Pewsey’s Cutsmith is putting out, and open a whole new pigeonhole for them; now that’s experimentally creative and interesting. Keep your eye on Mac Lloyd.

But look, it’s Sunday; permission granted for me to go out on a whim, get a little rant off my chest?! Concerning today, not for The Scribes’ sake, more so for the general misconception of this genre, quintessentially the new rock n roll? And for it we need to go back, way back, back into time, back to legwarmers and BMX….

I grew up in dog-turd-paved suburbia, bin bag mountains on the streets, where binmen were on strike, hardly anyone under the age of 25 had a job, and a frustrated generation hostage to a Conservative regime caused white to blame black and only unite to bash the Asians. Yet gradually, Skinhead and teddy-boy gangs dwindled as we joined hands in primary school, and body-popped; I was too chubby to breakdance!

Just as a decade prior in New York’s ghettos, racially segregated warfare came to an end through the invention of block parties heralding a mixture of musical genres to appease them all. Just as rock n roll united black and white, hip hop dragged everything into its melting pot.

Now, exported to Britain a short-lived fad arrived, quickly as ever commercialised. It was carefree party vibes; Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s The Message was the exception to the rule, ground-breaking it displayed conscious prose, just as Gill Scott Heron, which warped into a freedom of expression ethos whereby frustrations of ghetto life could be voiced; enter Public Enemy and NWA.

Consequently, it became aggressive, angry and as it spread across the States rivalry got heated. It took us to the late eighties whereby the backlash returned us to a carefree offshoot. The likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Arrested Development put the hippy back into hip hop.

The genre ruled the day, but the commercialism only resisted and what rebelled was slackness in lyrics, this polarised philosophy of do or die; gold, guns and hoes; that sort of macho bullshit.

Afraid it is so, but so too does rock and ska have their extremities, and we don’t single them out with a narrow-minded preconception, we accept there’s that part to them but it doesn’t represent a majority, why do we do it with hip hop?

The roots of hip hop are not lost, just obscured like a flower in bracken. The original ethos was more akin to the carefree spirit of early rave, a generation on, than it is to a modern commercial hip hop market. We see this now through the later nineties’ association with the big beat sound of Skint and Wall of Sound, using breakbeat to throw jazz, blues, rock, and reggae into a melting point; what-cha gonna do when the fat boy’s trippin; that kinda Brighton rock!

One good reason why The Scribes are ahead of their game, they can fit into this, and unlike the nonsensical chanting of an MC, they lyrically supply something sublime.

This may play off well in the cities and festivals, but by the end of the night I tried to convince Ill Literate not to give up prompting The Scribes to the smaller, more rural backwaters, as there are pockets of resistance; there are hip hoppers doing crazy legs in the fields! Secret is, they come to Devizes via our tropical holiday-at-home rum bar, The Muck & Dundar in November; I’d sincerely hope we can show them some serious support, because believe me, the Scribes, and Mac Lloyd rocked da house, aka, Trowbridge Town Hall last night, and this thoroughly deserves our attention.

The Scribes

Trending….

Haunted House Party; Chatting with Ill Literate of The Scribes

I caught up with Ill Literate, one third of Bristol hip hop trio, The Scribes, to chat about their new single, how they, and in general, writing a rap is composed, a bit of their backstory, on diversity and where they’re heading…….

After the unnerving atmosphere of their mind-blowing previous single, Stir Crazy, Bristol hip hop ground-breakers The Scribes release Haunted House Party today, featuring Mr Teatime and DJ Steadi, which will act as a double-A-side with Stir Crazy. Somewhat slighter in neurotic ambience than its flipside, still it maintains a lingering disturbed undertone, an eerie mood weaved by the intensely hypnotic lyrical style which we’ve come to expect from the Scribes.

Despite the haunting opening piano solo, there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek with this haunted house, as might be wrongly perceived by cliché pop songs with similar themed titles. The Scribes aren’t doing the Monster Mash, don’t even go into this expecting something similar!

But you know me, I showed my age with the trio, jokingly citing a lampooning track, The Haunted House of Rock from the debut EP of eighties hip hop trio Whodini. Why one third of the trio, Shaun Amos, aka Ill Literate agreed to chat is beyond me, but he did, and here’s the awkward questions I threw at him, and his answers!

Hopeful he’d humour me, I went wrangling on a technicality with the group’s name. I reckoned it should be “Scribes,” and not “THE Scribes,” as the first denotes a copyist, i.e., anyone who writes, prior to the printing press and can be traced back to ancient Egypt, whereas the latter usually relates to a particular group from biblical times who were largely critical of Jesus, probably contributed to his crucifixion. “What’s in a name,” I asked!

“Wow man, I’ve got to say I don’t think we’ve ever thought about it to that extent!” Shaun acknowledged, “when we first came up with the name, we did have a list of possibilities, including some genuinely terrible ideas like “Guttersnipes”. When we settled on “The Scribes” we did quite like the vaguely iconoclastic undertones going with the main thrust of writing. We already knew we wanted to write music by our own rules rather than by going with trends or scenes.”

I’m glad he didn’t bite at my absurd logic, as likely it matters not one iota, rather there was reason. Being scribes are writers, it leads us into my intrigue at how they, and rappers in general go about writing and composing a track, if they have a set formula?

“It really does vary hugely, we work with a lot of producers and the process of getting a track completed is different every time,” he replied. “When I’ve composed the music, myself I tend to bring it to the rest of the group with an idea of what I want the song to be about, maybe even with a hook already written and recorded. Sometimes we’ve got a topic we want to write about and we’ll seek out music that will fit with it. Quite often producers will make a selection of pieces for us to listen to and mess around with and we’ll get a vibe off a particular track, sometimes by jamming it out in the studio, sometimes on the road between gigs listening to bits on the car stereo.”

I see the writing process for a solo, say acoustic musician, usually being a lone affair. Whereas scripting an episode of the Simpsons, for instance, is a group affair, the best writers gather around a table and knock the jokes and narrative about, which is more how I’d envision they work a song, because there’s three of them and the subject has to harmonise, as they bounce lyrics off each other. Unless, one contributes an idea and the others adlib their parts?

“We do bounce our lyrics off each other a lot,” he confirmed, “checking they make sense mostly!

Shaun Amos.

“We do bounce our lyrics off each other a lot,” he confirmed, “checking they make sense mostly! Whichever one of the aforementioned routes we’ve taken to write the track, it’ll almost always end up with us all agreeing a hook together, that then tends to set the topic of the track in stone. We then go off and write our verses separately before coming back together to record. So, while the hooks/theming is generally a group effort, the verses are much more of a lone affair!”

But what of adlibbing rappers freestyling, I’m guessing they’ve set templates to fuse with a running theme, but usually this consists of a simple premise; boastfully bigging themselves, or criticising the opposing rapper. Yet tracks from the Scribes meld like crochet, tackling tricky subject matter, they weave in and out of notions, rather than repeating words or thoughts. How does this process start, with a subject, or with a set of words which flow?

“It pretty much always starts with a subject,” Shaun elucidated. “Maybe not even something as specific as a subject, sometimes it might just be a feeling or an emotion or a general statement. Either way it’s enough for us to aim our verses at, and I think doing the actual verses as individuals does mean we end up with maybe a couple of different takes on each topic, or at least a couple of different ways of expressing it. Having said that, in hip hop there’s always room for a bit of bragging wordplay and head nodding crowd pleasing!”

That said, I guarantee The Scribes could freestyle the ass off most!

“That’s not really for me to say!” he laughed. “I think our freestyle game is pretty tight, we crack it out at most performances!”

Does Ill Literate find a trio is, as De La Soul say, the magic number, when it comes to composing a rap? “Where,” I asked, “and when did it all start? I mean, were you all separate artists who assembled, or have you always been a trio?”

“I don’t know if it’s the number of people involved that’s important, more that the people involved are on the same wavelength and get along well. Both for the writing process and for the amount of time you end up spending together on the road! Me and Jonny have been best mates since we were five, and have basically always rapped together, we met Lacey during the early days of gigging and he got onboard straight away!”

While on the backstory, I asked Shaun for his first musical memory, particularly his introduction to hip hop, feeling it was time to remind him when I cited buying Whodini’s “Haunted House of Rock,” in, shit, 1983, though this was not my first hip hop record!

Ah, there it is! I remember it well; and owe it all to Mr Magic’s wand!

“We do have some pretty old school influences,” he chuckled, “though Whodini may be a bit old school even for us! I think my first introduction to conscious hip hop, as opposed to mainstream hip hop which was very gangster back in the day, was through friends at school. We used to listen to records at each other’s houses, a lot of the early Rawkus Records compilations like Lyricist’s Lounge and Soundbombing. Bristol has a pretty big scene for hip hop so there were also a few local records shops with a good selection of underground releases that we could dig through, though a lot of the time we’d just look for instrumentals we could rap to! I think that late 90’s boom bap hip hop sound is pretty much the backbone of all The Scribes’ tracks!”

I confess; had to Google the subgenre boom bap, certain it wasn’t an explosive breast, as I originally fathomed! I discovered while unfamiliar with the term, many of my personal hip hop likes relate, pioneers like Marley Marl, and acts such as LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest. But I’m going to throw Shaun off subject, ask him if he liked English Lit at school, if teachers accepted anything he might’ve have wrote as credible by their formal standards, and if he sees his writing as poetry.

“I never really liked it as a subject, but I have always read a lot, I love books! It’s probably the main thing I do outside of music. That and watching pro-wrestling. It’s a heady mix! I don’t think I ever showed any verses to teachers in school, not sure what the reaction would have been to be honest. I’ve never really found it important to label anything we do but I would personally say it is a form of poetry, just a very rhythmic and flexible one that’s written to be performed rather than read.

The Scribes

I’ve likened, in previous reviews, The Scribe’s sound, the way they intertwine lyrics and alter voices with accents and intonations to create a certain mood, be it fearful or humorous, to the Fu-Schnickens, but the way its composed, like the magic of Tribe Called Quest, as I reckon, they mastered this best. “That a fair evaluation?!”

“We will always happily take ANY comparison to Fu-Schnickens or Tribe!”

Shaun Amos.

“We will always happily take ANY comparison to Fu-Schnickens or Tribe!” Ill Literate contently responded, “that’s good company to be in!”

 Yet nothing I’ve heard from their album, Quill Equipped Villainy, or the Totem Trilogy and singles, unless I’m mistaken, use recognisable samples. It’s an easy gimmick to include beats or a riff which people will recognise, whereas everything they seem to do is original. I asked him if I was right, and if so, if that’s something important to them.

“I guess this is something that varies from producer to producer. I personally don’t use any samples in my production, I just play/compose everything myself in the studio on guitar/bass/keys. I know a lot of producers who pride themselves on using only incredibly unknown and niche samples, spending a huge amount of time digging through obscure vinyl to find tiny little elements. I also know a lot who don’t really mind how “known” a sample is, as long as they switch it up so much it ends up as something unrecognisable from the original. I guess including a sample that is well known, so that the song becomes essentially a hip hop version of the original track, almost like a cover, is an easy way to get a bit of traction. Same as if you sample a movie theme song and do a song about the movie. But having said that I’ve heard some great tracks that do just that, so who knows?!”

On multiplicity, the album sees a number of collaborations; Akil from Jurassic 5, and Leon Rhymes. How far would they take diversity; “would it be acceptable to you for a producer to create a drum n bass, or house track from your lyrics? What about a mainstream artist asking you to fuse a rap into some cheesy pop? Because it’s a tricky balance isn’t it, not being seen as selling out to the ethos and genre, but creating publicity and notice?”

“We’re always up for anything,” Shaun replied, “I love hearing remixes people do of our tracks, be it Drum and Bass, Funky House or anything else. Even if someone did want to take our work and turn it into cheesy pop, I think I’d be cool with that. More just so I can hear what they do with it, rather than for any publicity or fame! I’m always interested in seeing what other musicians do and how they work and the different techniques used by different genres.”

Haunted House Party is released today, and yeah, it rocks, but what’s next for the Scribes?      

“Well, hopefully we’ll be back gigging before too long, at least in time for the festival season this summer! Til then we’re working on keeping the releases and videos coming! Hoping to do a few more special one-offs on The Get Down Records, like transparent 7″ vinyl for “Stir Crazy”/”Haunted House Party.” People can keep up to date by signing up to our mailing list at QuillEquipped.com and on all the usual social media bits, Facebook and Instagram. It also helps a lot if you follow us on Spotify so we can make sure you know when we drop new tracks!”


Trending…

PREVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amour”@ Lavington School, Devizes – Wednesday 26th, Friday 28th, and Saturday 29th October 2022

Opera Is Back! – The Elixir Of Love! – Go See This Show! by Andy Fawthrop We’ve said it before, and we feel no shame … Continue readingPREVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amour”@ Lavington School, Devizes – Wednesday 26th, Friday 28th, and Saturday 29th October 2022

%d bloggers like this: