Nikesh Shukla

November 15th, 2004

Nikesh Shukla

Have a butchers at the mans thoughts on his current release, future projects, writing and doing interviews for ukhh.com, production, performing live and more.

When did you start work on your current EP release 'Gujerati Yam Boy' and how long did it take?

I started work on the "Gujerati Yam Boy" in September 2003. It was a period of my life where a lot of change, both good and bad, was happening and so writing the songs and producing them was my reaction to that. I didn't expect to put anything out but I ended up with a bunch of songs and spoken word pieces and they all sounded different and fresh, to me. I thought the scene needed something a little different so I decided to put them out. It took about 8 months to finish everything properly and arrange everything, play them out live, rehearse the lyrics and record them. Then, there was a period of feedback, gestation and reflection and currently, we are currently in the age of promote/whore/beg/nag/plead/please and sell, sell, sell… followed by dejection, rejection, ridicule, frustration, self-loathing and passive-aggressive masturbation.

The Gujerati part of the title makes sense, unless that's one hell of a fake tan. But what's with this Yam boy buisness?

The boring story is that I've always had problems coming up with a stage name. I'm not that cool so I can't call myself anything 'cool' like "Blade" or "Havoc" or "Shorty Shitstain" or whatever. There's a green grocer's in Brixton called "Kashmir Yam Boys" and my partner and I were walking home one night, trolleyed, discussing a stage name for me and a name for the CD and she suggested "Gujerati Yam Boy" as we walked past that shop. I really liked it in my inebriated state, so started texting people telling them I was the Gujerati Yam Boy, and it stuck so much that eventually I became the Yam Boy. I suppose, I could be pretentious and pretend it's such metaphor for knowing my roots and stuff, but it's a lot more boring than that!!

Was self production the only option or were you dead set on handling every aspect of the final product yourself?

Well, the types of beats I like are a little on the esoteric and experimental side, plus I feel compelled to add that Asian vibe to what I do, in a classical melodic and structured way, not in a cheesy flute sample way, and there was no-one really producing anything I felt comfortable enough rapping over. I started producing for myself so I'd be happy with the finished product. You are the first customer of anything you do. The test is, would you buy it if you heard it playing in a record shop? I knew that without adding all the elements and sounds I needed to, I wouldn't ever get that feeling, so I sat down and produced stuff for myself. I'm not really a control freak, but I know what I like, whether anyone else does or not and my music has to be a reflection of what I like.

How'd you describe the collection of tracks to a would be listener? What influences of artists can be heard in the music?

The tracks are like a soundtrack to my head. I grew up with loads of different influences. My parents are both into classical Indian music and Bollywood, my uncle liked rock and reggae, and my cousin and I grew up listening to hip-hop as well as, by proxy, these other influences. The tracks are those influences, which I have since grown to love, thrown into one pot and seeing what you get. The influence of artists range from ADF to Dr L Subramaniam to John McLaughlin to Asha Bhosle to Fundamental to Public Enemy to Mike Ladd to Burning Spear to King Tubby to Modeste Hugues to Hijack to Disposable Brothers of Hip-hoprisy to everyone and anyone who's ever played a tune that has made an impression on me.

I hear you dabble in the odd bit of performance poetry. What are some of your favourite poets in this field?

I do dabble. Man, the London poetry scene is amazing. El Crisis, shortMAN, Paradox, Stallion Solo, Kat Francois are amongst some of the most amazing people I have ever had the chance and luck to see perform and be blessed to perform alongside. They all blow me away on a daily basis for being so amazing. Especially El Crisis and shortMAN.

How've you found the reaction to the EP? One rag gave it a pretty poor write up whilst some online spots spoke of it well. Is it a clear cut love or hate kinda thing?

The rag of which you speak didn't hate it. They liked the beats a lot. They hated my rapping style, which I can understand as I was trying something new and it probably didn't sound as natural as it could have done. I think it's one of those things that people who like what they like won't get into. But people who are open to new types of music and like loads of different things will appreciate the different elements on there and enjoy it a little more. The Asian underground community is feeling it, and more experimental avenues in the hip-hop community like it, but those who like what they like, don't like it. Oh well, is all I can say. I could say something really snide about making more Premier-sounding beats but I think I should just accept that my sound isn't as accessible as someone like Taskforce or Jehst, but I'm still developing. I'm still learning. Anyways, my mum loves it and that's a success in my book. She's difficult to please. She still says that for a rapper, I make a better lawyer.

Some comments were made on your vocal style and it not always being entirely audible. Will you bow down to the criticism and address that next time round, or be a stubbon Dylan and do what the hell you want?

I didn't have the best recording facilities to do it. It's hypocritical cos when I review for ukhh.com a lot of the time I do listen for the mix. A producer friend of mine (who's album drops next year) said that sometimes you have to fuck it and get things out there, despite the lack of quality and hopefully people will spot some glimmer of potential. I can only hope. I think what made it worse was that I was trying a new vocal style and the bad mix didn't let it come over as well as I would have liked. Those kinds of vocal experiments need to be mixed properly. I've gone back to a more relaxed and natural style so hopefully the newer stuff will sound tougher and more organic. Also, due to the equipment we were working on, we were learning as we went. We know more stuff now. Vee Kay, who mixed it, has improved loads since finishing it and finishing his new EP so, you know, it's a work in progress. Music, for me, is a work in progress, cos I'm constantly learning. I play loads of instruments as well, so in terms of guitar, mandolin, sitar, I'm constantly improving and trying to get better. Same with vocals. I do understand what people said about vocals and it's something we are focussing on for next time.

When do you forsee a future project and are you working on any material as of now?

Soon-ish. I'm currently rehearsing and putting together a live Yam Boy orchestra with some amazing people. I'm working on an Asian beats mixtape. I'm working on material for a new EP called "Punkwallah Blues", which should sound bigger, better and a lot more natural I reckon. I'm loving the beats on there. Without wanking off about my own music too much, one of the instrumentals gives me shivers. It's a little less weird too. Also, a close friend of mine, the Goonda-Raj, is working on a new project, which I am supplying most of the vocals for. That'll be a bit more spoken word, a lot more arty. I dunno what will happen with it. A couple of labels have expressed an interest, but then, they're paid to express interest. Money on the table is a lot harder to come by. Watch out for that one too, I guess.

Forgive my assumption if its wrong, but what line of business do you find yourself in when you're not in recording artist mode?

Line of business? I have none. I'm an amateur/part-time journalist for ukhh.com and Undercover Magazine. I'm a novelist and playwright. Have written a play and a novel and working on a second novel at the moment. I also do community outreach work as my day job. I'm doing anti-racism work through various arts youth projects in SE London. I guess that's my business and livelihood.

You've spoke with a lot of artists. What are some of the more interesting part time jobs they have going or is it all about the giro?

I don't know. Most of them work, some of them are starting to have music as a career, which is really positive. One friend of mine who works in quite a well-known band works in pornography (or at least, used to.) He shall remain nameless. The bassist in my old band used to work as a boom microphone operator on porn films, as well. I don't know who has interesting jobs at the moment, also, I don't want to out anyone who may be working for the man or something.

What's been the coolest interview for ukhh.com that you've conducted, and the finest promo that you've blagged?

There are three interviews that really stick out for me for different reasons. The best interview I ever did was with a hero of mine… Michael Franti. First off, he's really tall, which intimidated me but he's really nice and soulful, full of heart and amazing wisdom and history. His interview was like a pinnacle for me cos he was so amazing but so humble. My interviews with the great Infinite Livez are always unforgettable. The first time I did an interview with him, my MD player broke on the way to the interview and I had to short-hand write everything and made loads of mistakes, which pissed him off a bit. Sorry Inf! The second time, he brought Barry Convex to a Chinese restaurant and the other customers were a little perturbed by the gargling garbling sound of a mutant puppet talking about Britney Spears and lemon chicken at full volume. An interview with Ghost and Kashmere and 563 ended up with me spilling a vase of water on some woman's coat, which was extremely clumsy and stupid of me. But yeah… Michael Franti. Best promo has to be "Dans le Club" by TTC, it's my favourite track of the year and the most extreme club track you'll ever hear. Everyone needs to check that song out.

You could forgive some people for thinking that the UK hiphop scene is an internet focused thing. What do you see as the pro's and cons of all the web exposure?

The pros are definitely that people from everywhere and anywhere will gain access to your music. I've had people buying my CD from Canada and Japan through finding me on the net. A possible collaborator from Brighton found me on the net. So it's great for exposure and publicity, as well as connecting you to a whole bunch of like-minded people, who in theory should be able to give you positive feedback. The cons are that people forget that the outside world still ticks on and that the net isn't the be all and end all of it. You still have to send those CD's out, play those gigs, meet those people and get some fresh air and exercise.

Name one rap night the geeks should definitely log off for.

The forthcoming ukhh.com nights that Mr Lingo and I will be organising for Love Music, Hate Racism in the New Year. The first one will be 15/12/04 at Catch in Shoreditch. A Christmas celebration, if you will. Yeah, that one. Attend, raise some money, show some support, and get some fresh air (before you get into the bar.)

Have you done much live stuff promoting this EP or do you intend to? Whats the comparison between being behind a pen and a mic?

I do a lot of open mics and the odd gig here and there. I'm currently rehearsing a live band, which took about 8 months longer than I meant it to, in terms of getting all the players together. So we are behind schedule but it's gonna be something quite special. The comparison between a pen and a mic is that they are both long shapes rather than round shapes. I think that whatever you can achieve in your bedroom kicking rhymes with your mates can become undone in a second live. It's a different kettle of fish, up there on stage. But for me, live is a huge part of the process. Which is why I want to do it properly, rather than the usual standard. The live band will still be incorporating a lot of hip-hop elements. Live samples and turntablism-extraordinaire. It's gonna be good.

Give me three plus and three minus points of the uk hiphop scene as you see it at this moment in time.

Plus:

1) A sound is developing and it is developing at a steady enough rate for there to be an alternative sound developed.

2) Everyone is pushing and working really hard, despite not seeing much back at the moment. 3) Loads of exciting artists developing.

Minus:

1) Too many MC's, not enough listeners, as Beans said. Not enough fans. Need more fans.
2) It's all very insular and back-slappy. People want to see the scene grow but love the fact that it's still their special little scene. That isn't paying many artists' bills.
3) It's not very open-minded.

Anything you'd like to add?

I suppose I should do the obligatory shout-outs thing: Kal!, Vee-Kay (buy his "Myster-Vee tour" EP next year), Mr Lingo, Neel, Thockla, Excalibah, 563, Ghost, Blufoot, Infinite Livez, Dirtburg, U'Mau, Pete Hurley, El Crisis, shortMAN, Big Juss, TTC, Lazy Habits, the Untold, Indy, Nihal and Preya from the Beeb, QED and Smiff, Nemo, the Brixton crew, Darren Rapier, Yoshi, Rebel Uprising, Clotaire K, Charged, ADF and State of Bengal. And Tony Wright of course. Buy me EP "Gujerati Yam Boy" from www.yamboy.net or www.movemusics.com. Till All Walls Fall The Yam Boy.