Friday, November 19, 2004
Sway thoughts part 1
Last night I interviewed Sway, a hot new MC, producer and artist from Hornsey, north London. He’s from the UK hip hop scene but has bucket loads of personality. He likes grime, MCed with Kano on 1Xtra recently, but isn’t aggi. And, frankly, after a year of “IIIIIIIII’LL CRACK YOUR SKULL” it’s a breath of fresh air. He’s funny, descriptive and engaging. Below are some extracts of the interview, interspersed with the ideas they triggered …
Sway: "British hip hop has a grey stigma over it. I’ve come out of that scene and I wont even lie, it was lacking quality a few years ago. I didn’t blame people for not wanting to listen to it. It was doing what New York was doing ages ago. It was like we were ten years behind."
"Then UKG came out with mans doing their own thing, inspired by ragga and drum & bass. It was a new UK sound, and it was UK hip hop but they had to distance themselves from that grey term. It was UK hip hop but everyone was in denial. The underground rap cats that weren’t making no money were too proud to say that ‘look, that’s hip hop’ were like ‘fuck that garage shit.’ The garage acts were like ‘fuck that backpacker shit.’ So no one was collaborating."
"Then this word ‘urban’ came out. And a lot of people were like ‘awh this word ‘urban’ has made all black music pigeon holed together.’ They don’t know what it’s done for the scene. But by putting all them catagories: r&b, hip hop, UKG, drum & bass, they’re making it one music. And I like that cos now I can do tunes with Wonder or Terror Danjah without having to call it a grime-UK hip hop collaboration. So that word was a really good thing for the scene. I don’t think people will see it until 2005, because there’s a new wave coming through which is merged both of them."
I witnessed Ras Kwame’s State of the UK show being broadcast last Sunday and no subject made we want to leap the mixing desk, smash the soundproof glass and shout my 2p worth than the issue of the word “urban.” There was a great deal of debate about it, but the sentiment that made my blood boil was expressed by a journalist from New Nation newspaper. Her point was that “urban” was taking black music away from the black community, or at least diluting the blackness of the music.
I suspect debate around the words “black music” and “urban” wont go away in a hurry. Only this week I was reading more fraff on Drum & Bass Arena about 1Xtra calling it “black music,” and white fans feeling excluded.
A great deal of the debate’s confusion seems relates to whether we’re talking about music or culture, about music of black origin or made for the black community. But whatever, my 2p is twofold…
Firstly I think the term “urban” works, literally, because this music does appeal to people in urban areas. Where the pirates tail off around London, so does grime’s appeal. When I go to small Devon rural villages I don’t experience people with the same multicultural perspectives as when I go to the centre of Bristol.
Secondly Ms New Nation’s view seems almost isolationist. And if there’s one thing I can guess London’s black communities don’t need more of, it’s less contact with other communities. If this country is to survive in any kind of cohesive form, without the kind of rural “passive apartheid” effect the commissioner for racial equality was talking about recently, surely multiculturalism is the way forward.
No one’s telling Scratchy he can’t be in Roll Deep, or Jeff Mills he can’t make techno, so why can’t “urban” music involve white people? Stanza from Skandalous Unlimited was at this debate and he’s Asian and from Watford, where does racial purism leave him?
Purism in music is futile anyway. Blues musicians using classical western instruments with African song, gospel artist using European choral traditions, it’s always been about dialog, or at least degrees of dialog. Why stop now?
Why can’t “urban” mean a lose collection of music forms that derive from common musical roots that appeal to a geographically similar community? Now that is a bit of a mouthful. Let’s just call it “urban”…
Much more Sway to follow when my eyes aren’t falling out with tiredness…