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.
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.
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.
Got my groove thang on at the Muck & Dunder, Saturday, with help from The Allergies; yeah, I can still cut a rug, just!…….
It was the standout track on Bath’s premiere funky groovers, Stardust Collective’s 2014 Shindig ‘Afterhours’collection which alerted me to the wonders of Bristol DJ duo, The Allergies.
Drenched with a classic Stax undercurrent, “As we do our Thing,” acts as a go-between, teasing unnoticeable changeovers from archaic soul, which is favoured by my Boot Boy Radio show audience, to modern breaks, which perhaps is not so favoured, but I love to josher. I’ve blended it in with everything from Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds’ Get Down, to Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog, and out into Skint’s big beat anthems from Cut La Roc, or Wall of Sounds’ Wiseguys. It’s a tune which also turned Craig Charles’ head at the time; nuff said.
Saturday night at Devizes’ one and only rum bar, the glitzy without being pretentious Muck and Dunder, and one half of the duo, Roy, aka, DJ Moneyshot had drawn the short straw, while Adam, or DJ Rackabeat, his partner in beats, browsed the exotic cocktails menu.
Lumbered with me waffling this in his ear, and expanding it into an Uncle Albert moment, Roy didn’t seem to mind, least humoured, my “when I was in the rave,” ramblings, on the grounds we had a mutual associate in Stardust organiser Slim Goodgroove, who I’ve not seen since art college.
If some in Devizes would shake negatively at a £15 ticket stub to watch two guys putting records on, when live music is the usual order of the day, they didn’t see what I and the punters of the Muck & Dunder saw. You know, here at Devizine we promote and celebrate live music, and I could go as far as suggesting for many in this area, DJ culture is somewhat alien. Yet hardly new-fangled, DJ Kool Herc delivered hip hop to NYC ghetto bloc parties the same year I was born, Grand-wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash and a handful of others turned mixing records into an art form.
And it’s very much in this ethos and spirt which The Allergies base this show on. Their skills on the wheels of steel are as spellbinding as Miles Davis with a trumpet or Hendrix with a guitar. If it was an honour and privilege to witness this magic here in our humble town, it was nothing compared to the irresistible urge to shake our booties uncontrollably for an astounding two hours, of which these magical master-mixers shaped.
After being smoothed in with RnB jams from Bath’s Graham the DJ, The Allergies went off on one, cutting and scratching with such proficiency they made it look child’s play. I’ve not got my groove thang on like that since the heady days of largin’ it with Norm, Brighton style.
Though comparisons to Fatboy Slim perhaps too meek, if there’s a difference, the squidgy 808s have waned, and the Allergies favour blending seriously intoxicating 45s of classic funk and hip hop with contemporary reworks. The result was an off-the-scale funky jam, the like old Devizes has never seen before, as the duo swapped and changed positions, sometimes passively battling, other times complementing, weaving their enchanted sounds as they used two turntables as a musical instrument.
If crowd-pleasers like Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes The Hotstepper raised the roof, brassy adaptations of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk captured the imagination, but the melting pot was vast, and wrapped in their unique funk revival ethos, ending on a peak with a mashup of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya to the beat of The Special’s cover of Message to you, Rudy; vinyl junkies would kill for a peek into their box of 45s.
Backward caps off to the Muck & Dunder for an excellent booking and most memorable evening’s entertainment, the like we’d usually need to trek to a city of cultural influence for. Here’s a comfy and hospitable lounge striving way beyond ramming a tacky nightclub concept and driving dance music events to Devizes with the matured and sophistication it by now deserves.
While it’s not so easy to review a DJ set as a band, I hope I captured the glorious moment. It needs mentioning, the Muck pulled off something I was interested to peruse the attraction of locally. It was adequately filled, and, as it was in the rave era, the crowd were there to party therefore left qualms and attitude at home. As it should be; dancing is about throwing ones cares aside for the moment, and if you witnessed me gyrating like Sonic the Hedgehog on a gyroscope, it’s because it was impossible not to!
They didn’t mind a joker rearranging letters on their menu board to spell out titillating alternatives, and for every tip you give bar staff comes the promise of giving Boris Johnson a wedgie! A quality night with the tastiest menu of cocktails; it’s a tropical holiday experience in your hometown! Yet while DJ culture will continue at the Muck, there’s a variety of events coming up, including live music Sunday sessions, the first on 19th December, with the brilliant Ben Borrill. Long live the Muck & Dunder, and all those who sail in her.
So, you’re planning to go out-out, the decision rests on music or a night of comedy. An unnecessary dilemma, no need for a crystal ball, tarot cards or Paul the psychic octopus, you can do both in the land of chips n ham. In fact, if you happen to own a psychic octopus, this will be right up your street.
I’ve been waffling on the subject of comical music of recent, reviewing release from Monkey Bizzle, Death of Guitar Pop, Mr B, and Scott Lavene, but here’s an evening not to be missed for your dancing shoes and funny bone alike.
Lord of whimsy himself, Brighton’s steampunk chap-hop artist Professor Elemental, who’s been in a friendly feud with the very same Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, goes head-to-head with Calne’s nonsensical Real Cheesemakers, and the ref will be Chippenham’s own legend and Edinburgh Festival favourite Wil Hodgson in a night not to be missed or dissed.
One randomly selected lyric of Professor Elemental might whet your appetite, “this one’s for the crusty festivals and shows, where a fan tries to hug me and I get a dreadlock up my nose,” and honey, he’s got rhymes you haven’t heard yet. Expect hilarity at the Old Town Tavern on 16th October, demand trousers, horses and dinosaurs, tickets are eight quid, a brown one on the door. Facebook yo bad self, tell ’em you want in.
Fancy a break from the serious side of life? Tired of bolshy reactionary keyboard warriors blotting facts and illogically splicing political car crashes into positives? Or maybe it’s just that bastard tap in the upstairs bathroom, dripping, and the only thing the bimbo at the call centre is filing is her fingernails.
You need some Chop Chappy time, a dose of which is available from Bandcamp. Some name-your-price craziness from Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer spawned yesterday, and chockfull of jolly, pythonesque hip hop lockdown cabin fever rejoinders, it’s what the doctor would recommend; the madcap scientist type.
Lessons from Double Dee & Steinski I’ll give you, but no album is going to wax lyrical Michael Palin fashion over the Grange Hill Theme, throwdown Grandmaster Melle Mel’s Message over the Charleston, or bite LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out with a Wurzels-fashioned backbeat, usually.
And we’re only five tracks into Chop Chappy, inspired by the tunes of his lockdown “niceolation” parties, every Tuesday, on his Mixcloud. Though, since its dawn, the likes of The Treacherous Three, Doug E Fresh or Ron & the DC Crew sprinkled comedy into hip hop, and today even locally we’ve Goldie Looking Chain, Monkey Bizzle, Corky, and more, it’s only cliché if you fail to find an original angle. Mr B subtitles his angle, The Gentleman Rapper, and with mock pomposity it does what it says on the tin, granting said tin should be authentically displayed in a museum of curiosities.
Lounge style Casio keyboard Bowie, a gangsta version of Presley’s cover of That’s Alright Mama, a Chas n Dave skanking Pistol’s Pretty Vacant, are just some of the actions, but while there’s always a gentlemanly vintage edge, it’s not all vintage sourced.
As well as old skool, contemporary rap acts go under Mr B’s sniping tool, one revealed to my outdated knowledge to be Cardi B, apparently. Called in E-troops, Shazam recognised it despite the fairground organ pasted atop. One, namely Flat Beat, even tested the app, admitting ‘this is tricky’ and it expanded its search to find a remotely similar track. I knew what it was, couldn’t put my finger on the title. Yet others are instantly recognisable as you dally through its crafted mosaic, from Daft Punk to a sample of Bojo’s bus model making waffle.
There are few occasions, like Nearly Robin, where Mr B raps original lyrics, and that’s most definitely the funniest parts. But to face facts, nothing here is desert island discs, hip hop is throwaway, music caught in the moment, and not repeated. This said, it makes Mr B hugely prolific, sixteen releases strong on his Bandcamp page since 2008.
So, rather than expect a stairway to heaven or bohemian rhapsody, accept, for a while, you’ll be bamboozled by Mr B simply mucking about and mashing up, and then, and only then, will you see, this is about as much fun you can have with two turntables, mic, sampler, and gramophone 78s; and for that much alone, it’s highly entertaining and amusing.
Yes, we’re being drenched with live music events like a mega tsunami over a once barren desert. Yes, locally hip hop is a needle in a haystack. Something different to suit you sir? A worthy trip to Salisbury on Friday I’d highly recommend, where if you go down to the Winchester Gate on that night, you’re sure of a dope surprise, because Friday’s the CiderFest Weekend Special day Bristol’s premier hip hop trio The Scribes have their throw-down!
Yes, we love The Scribes here on Devizine, not a bad review yet, and you can see for yourself, with Pewsey’s own Latino acoustic singer-songwriter yet in a hip hop fashion, Cutsmith supporting them, equally never a bad word said about him either. So, if you fancy some raw, contemporary UK hip hop, The Winchester Gate is the destination to lock in, and it’s free; no ticket required.
Listed in the current CAMRA Good Beer Guide and voted pub of the year three times, (which is, as De La Soul will remind you, the magic number) by the Salisbury & South Wilts Branch of CAMRA, The Winchester is more than Arthur Daley’s drinking hole and somewhere we’ve notched on our to-do-list.
This is isn’t the favoured way to start a review, but this is idiot music for stupid people, if you think this is stupid then you’re a fucking idiot, and that’s a quote, from the opening title tack, which ends on, “oh, there it is, up my bum; can I eat it now?”
If Goldie Looking Chain is all too millennial, but hip hop, for you, should be served with massive chunks of deadpan sauce, west country tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and general silliness, Monkey Bizzle’s debut album, Idiot Music might just be the thing to pick off the menu.
Through the Pythonesque nature of Idiot Music though, wailing guitars, proficient drumming (from Cerys of the Boot Hill All Stars), and substantial dope beats means this is far from amateurish, and will rock the festival circuit. In fact, the Somerset five-piece sold out the album launch party at The Barge on Honeystreet a fortnight ago; I see why. This drips with Scrumpy & Western charm, like Gloucestershire’s Corky, Wurzels meets the Streets, the elements of “agricultural” hip hop make this apt for our local crusty scene. Yet with wider appeal, it is, simply, parental advisory fun.
Primates tend to be a running theme, a particularly danceable funky signature tune named Monkey Funk, a King Kong themed rap, another including David Attenborough samples. There are also drug references aplenty, the reggae-inspired Heavy, or Doves (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) needs no explaining, but in it, it mocks the chav culture in such a way you may’ve thought only Goldie Looking Chain could. Something it’ll inevitably be compared to, but more so than the humour drafting this side of the Seven, what makes this so appealing is its nod of respect to hip hop rather than mocking it, is greater than that of Goldie Looking Chain, in a similar way there’s was with Beastie Boy satirists Morris Minor and the Majors, if you get as old skool as I!
One thing’s for sure, Monkey Bizzle isn’t to be taken seriously, but for the most part it’s listenable to as a hip hop album rather than pure novelty too, unique rappers Skoob and James make this so, especially as the album trickles on, both CU Next Tuesday and Ha Ha Ha being particularly entertaining, Oi Mate ripples with The Streets’, Give Me My Lighter Back but under a ska riff.
Nothing here is going to become next summer’s banging anthem on Radio One’s Big Weekender, an honour they’re clearly not bothered by or striding towards. To face facts, what you get is a full album of highly entertaining flip-flop and amusing lyrics of daring themes, wrapped by gifted musicians only playing the fools. And for which, Idiot Music has got my name all over it!
It’s not every day we hear a quintessentially hip-hop track with the magnitude of enriching classic rock riffs, say, as Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street or Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky.
Agreeably the nineties downbeat and trip hop era unleashed some masterful acts, particularly of the Bristol scene. And there’s shards of precisely this too, of Massive Attack and Portishead, in Can’t Come Home, a new Wise Monkey single from Stockwell featuring Storm Jae and Nory.
If I retain through rose-tinted specs, a passion for those naughty nineties it’s fuelled by nostalgia; I was young, once! Can even recall some bits of it. But rather than the drifting layers sluggishly building of aforementioned trip hop, the wailing guitar here hits you full in the face, more akin to said enriching classic rock tracks.
Even all this said and done, there’s nothing content to rest in a time of yore here, as the alignment of beats, astute male rap and uplifting female vocals of Can’t Come Home is fundamentally fresh and contemporary. Enough, I feel, to cross the barrier from myself to my teenage daughter’s musical taste, and that rarely occurs! This combination makes the song especially unique and substantially epic.
With the attitude and gumption of Stevie Nicks, and the mezzo-soprano range of Joni Mitchell, Storm Jae is a jolt in the right direction for an enveloping new era of singer-songwriters. Nory seems more elusive, I can’t find any information on! But teaming up with the trailblazing hip-hop-come-rock crossover musician and producer Stockwell is a match made in heaven, a heaven you can hear for yourself.
It’s agelessly sharp, emotionally elevating and an impactful grower, which will tease the palate of rock and urban adherents alike. If I make you wince to note Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith some thirty-five years ago, or if you have to ask Siri what I mean by that, neither matters, this tune will appease either.
After fondly reviewing the single Falling from ReTone’s homegrown drum n bass label SubRat last May, the Pewsey-based vocalist featured, Cutsmith, who also runs the label, has his debut single under the name out in a manner of days, and I’ll whisper to you now, it’s outstandingly good.
On a musical journey due to be released on SubRat, Osorio returns Cutsmith to his Canarian roots. Principally it’s hip hop, yet with a meshed element of west country acoustic guitar, but chiefly and precisely why it’s so mesmeric, is that Latino tinge. I’m damned if this, aside the missing wailing electric guitar, wouldn’t look out of place on Carlos Santana’s classic 1999 album Supernatural.
Yet that said, the practise of a Latino hip/trip hop blend influencing modern reggae should not be cited via the mainstream, but pioneered in the nineties by artists like Ky Mani, and what Jus Right is putting out now. Osorio would mould nicely with these, rather than reggaeton, which is something I admit still needs to find a place in my affections. Yet Cutsmith is not Wyclef Jean, hence there’s something definitely local when he slips neatly from song to rap, and it’s smoothly accomplished, brewing with confidence.
In theme, but, and this is a big but, not in style, there’s something like Totally Tropical about it too! When, you know, they sang “we’re going to Barbados,” in as much as there’s a homesick notion to Osorio, excepting of his love of the British festival and music scene, but partly wishes to soak up some exotic sunshine and ambience. Can’t say I blame him really!
The very reason I’m tipping this so much, is because the subject works so incredibly well with the sound. As well as it’s fresh and exciting, the prospect of Wiltshire-based hip hop is something we so desperately need more of.
If Cutsmith’s relationship with Devizine got off to a shaky start when playing a White Bear Sunday session, where our writer Andy was critical that while good, it wasn’t his cup of tea, it’s been fully mended now. I spoke personally to Cutsmith at the time, who took it in good stead, and I said it was a shame it wasn’t me at the Bear at that weekend. Opinion is all we can cast, and while trying to be fair I do ask for honesty, it’s not worth the effort if flattery is all the reader gets. Oh, woe is the subjective nature of casting a review, as for the areas Andy was critical of, are the precise same reasons why I’ve got lots of time for Cutsmith’s music.
A case of differing tastes and perhaps a generational thing. But whatever, this debut single proves it today; it’s a grand job, I love it, and I’d like to see Cutsmith working on an EP or album as the potential is overwhelming.
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! 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!
“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.”
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!” 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 Trilogyand 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!”
Following the release of Chilly’s new album ‘A Very Chilly Christmas’, platinum selling UK producer Toddla T has put his very own spin on the record, The Coldest Crimboout today (16th Dec.) Featuring help from friends Nadia Rose, Serocee, Coco and Deli OneFourz, and even Jarvis Cocker features, Toddla T and Chilly Gonzales delight with this tongue-in-cheek hip hop “very festive mixtape.”
It’s an amusing quarter-of-an-hour of naughtiness seasonal rap, like a nativity gone bad. Chilly Gonzales may revisit old carols and the new pop standards on his album, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without friends and family, so Gonzo has assembled his gang to celebrate the holidays in his playful and intimate style.
A Very Chilly Christmas Special gives old-school TV Christmas variety shows a 2020 makeover. “Santa Claus, like all of us, has had a challenging year,” Chilly says, “and has decided to go to therapy.”
A very chilly christmas special, with guests Feist, Jarvis Cocker and more, streams December 23. Details and tickets here.
Getting snowed under here at Devizine Towers, but speedily need to push this to top priority, ahead of tonight’s (Saturday 12th) gig at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate from Bristol hip hop outfit, The Scribes. I whopped up a quick preview of the event, but as I pressed publish an email popped up with their latest EP The Totem Trilogy Part 1, made in collaboration with Chicago raised producer Astro Snare. Should fans of UK hip hop hear it, they’d be planning to head to the Gate for this free gig, by hook or by crook.
The Scribes are a multi-award-winning hip hop three piece based in Bristol consisting of lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Ill Literate, rapper Jonny Steele and beatboxer Maestro Lacey. In 2013 they signed with US label Kamikazi Airlines, co-owned by Dizzy Dustin of legendary hip hop act Ugly Duckling and released two albums, The Sky Is Falling and The Scribes Present Ill Literature worldwide to critical acclaim, garnering the group a sponsorship deal with ethical clothing company THTC, alongside artists such as Ed Sheeran and Foreign Beggars.
By 2016 they had signed with Reel Me Records, releasing a sonically challenging 16-track album which thrived on a perfected blend of poignant lyricism, A Story All About How, and the apocalyptic concept album, Mr Teatime & The End Of The World, winner of the UndergroundHH.com “Concept Album of The Year” award. Last year The Scribes received global recognition, upon releasing Quill Equipped Villainy, featuring Akil the MC from Jurassic 5, TrueMendous and Leon Rhymes from Too Many T’s.
My personal affection for the genre though, goes back to the old skool. Prepped by Kraftwerk’s influence on eighties electronica, rolled with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s production on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, and still nothing equipped me for the eureka moment I first heard Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock, on a journey to Asda in my Dad’s Cortina! Only lingering in the underground less than a year, the US hip hop and breakdancing movement swept the UK, and it was inevitable we’d develop our own brand.
As hip hop spread through the States it distorted to hackneyed fashion far from the original blithe ethos of revelry. Pretentious bling, hoes and pimping one’s ride, and of course gangland rivalry were never on the original agenda. While some during the later eighties, like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, strived away from this tenet, recapturing hippy, carefree roots, the east-coast/west coast rivalry and vehement bravura dominated and hallmarked the modern preconception of hip hop.
Meanwhile, by a method akin to rock n roll some twenty years prior, the place to hunt for creative and innovative progression of the genre was neither east nor west coast, but here in the UK.
Because hip hop was never supposed to be uniform, shaped by urban multiculturism it’s naturally a melting-pot of genres and an experimentation in fusion, always has been. Given Caribbean roots and common affection for reggae, it’s inevitable those influences would have a profound effect on UK hip hop.
Full-circle in actual fact, considering pioneer of the genre, Kool Herc was a young Jamaican NY immigrant with a sound system, who altered from dub to disco and funk as residents didn’t favour reggae. And, in a nutshell, and to wrap up my waffling, that’s precisely why I love this EP; it’s like The Scribes dipped a colander into said melting pot, and extracted only the very best ingredients.
It’s a non-commercial, bundle of heavy beats not relying on a single subgenre. Opening with I’m Back, for example, fresh, dripping with early east coast scratching and rapping. Yet Mighty Mighty follows, leaning on dub akin to Roots Manuva with brass, subs and a contemporary dogmatic theme comparable to Silent Eclipse, albeit this was divergent towards John Major’s government (apologies for my archaic comparisons, it’s an age thing!)
By the third tune we’re back to nonchalant fun with Rock This; I’m in awe, this is lyrically composed with a witty genius parallel to the Fu-Schnickens. Heart Breaks though swaps back to east coast; sublime rap harmony with a R&B slant, pensive piano chops and soaring strings with a definitive Bristol angle, as if a Tribe Called Quest came out of St Pauls!
Keep Bouncing ends the ride, and I’m left pondering Dizzee Rascal’s influence, yet tougher, as Rodney P, this is fresh, possibly the most marketable sound given today’s impact on the scene. The Totem Trilogy Part 1 is the first of a 3 EP series featuring the stunning artwork of renowned illustrator Chris Malbon. The absolutely gorgeous cover designs of the 3 EPs will link together to form one image of the titular totem. With guest vocals from both AstroSnare himself and founding father of the UK hip hop scene MC Duke, here, clearly, is something imminent, a rise of The Scribes, a method grasping an evolution for UK hip hop, yet firmly aware of its roots and unafraid to exploit them.