The Menagerie crew break it down and talk on current and future projects, how they grouped, their inspirations, the UK and Brighton scene, and lots more.
First up, could you introduce yourselves to our readers?
K: 'Sup. I'm Koaste. DS: Dr Syntax. NM: Nick Maxwell. EL: Elemental, pleased to meet you.
Who came up with the name 'The Menagerie' and why?
NM: I can't remember who came up with the name, but the dictionary definition is "a collection of live wild animals or exhibition" or "a diverse or miscellaneous group" so I reckon it suits us pretty well.
What are some of your influences, inside and out of music?
K: My main influences are Pharaoh Monch, Kool G Rap, and Oliver Reed. Maybe with a bit of Biz markie's singing in there somewhere.
EL: Neil Gaimen and Grant Morrison (comic writers) influence my writing more than most emcees I hear… but Humpty Hump is my hip hop role model and pretty much every emcee in Brighton inspires me.
DS: Late eighties/early nineties hip-hop made me catch the bug. Nowadays my peers inspire me the most.
NM: Yeah, same as Synners – Early nineties stateside ish is my favourite, but I'm really enjoying being part of the British hip-hop scene, especially in Brighton – It's obviously a pretty creative place anyway, but the hip-hop scene is just buzzing down here at the moment.
How did you guys all hook up and become a collective?
K: Well, I hooked up with the crew when I tagged along on a road trip to do a show in Lincoln last year. I'd known them for a good while, and they asked me to come along and spit a few verses during the set. Everything kind of gelled nicely, and I was asked to be a permanent member.
DS: We've all hooked up through a mutual appreciation for each other's skills. Caruana's beats are the original foundation of our sound, with me and Elemental rhyming and Maxwell scratching. Now, with Koaste and Ido in on it, we have another angle to come from.
NM: I think Caruana is probably the original lynchpin – He brought Elemental and Syntax together, and I hooked up with Elemental through mutual friends about 4 years ago. Koaste's well renowned as a solo MC on the Brighton scene and came on board with us last year, and now that we've got Ido involved as well, I reckon we're a pretty strong team.
EL: Yeah, the very first meeting was Caruana and me getting lost in Glastonbury together in a haze of mushrooms. A fine way to start a group.
What does each member bring to the table as an individual?
NM: Caruana and Ido make the beats, Elemental, Syntax and Koaste drop the lyrics and I'm on DJ duties.
EL: I also bring the top hat and moustache. Plus I am going to work on bringing trained pigeons to the table too.
Where abouts are you based and what do you make of the local hip-hop scene at the moment?
K: We're all pretty much based in central Brighton, which is handy. The local scene is stronger than ever at the moment. There are some heavy artists down here making music at the moment, which is why Touch magazine has put a Brighton Hip-Hop compilation as their cover CD this month.
EL: The local scene is incredible. I've never seen a movement that is so creative and supportive of everyone else trying to get on.
Do you reckon the Brighton hip-hop scene is the main contender to London's top spot?
K: Its definitely one of the contenders at the moment. I think Brighton brings something different to the table. Maybe it's the sea air – I think it chills us all out a bit.
EL: Without a doubt. We produce more varied Hip-hop than anywhere I can think of. Brighton's got the aggy straight up stuff but it's got the edge in terms of variation and creativity.
NM: There's definitely something to be said for that – A lot of the hip-hop coming out of Brighton is on more of a feel-good tip than a lot of the aggy stuff coming out of other cities. I think it's a tighter hip-hop community down here as well, so we can definitely give the Londoners a run for their money.
What have The Menagerie done so far and how do you feel your work has been received?
NM: We put our first album out this year and it seems to have been received pretty well. We've definitely been getting some good responses.
EL: We have all put out music alongside Menagerie in different guises. Koaste used to be part of 360 Physicals back in the day, Maxwell puts out a series of mixes called Adventures in Hip Hop, Syntax drops tracks with Foreign Beggars and I have knocked out a first album (Call in Sick). People are enjoying our stuff though, we try to bring a bit of excitement back into a live hip hop show and we're blessed with the best producers that I know for our recordings.
Have you got any projects in the pipeline and when do you think that they'll be coming out?
K: Well, we've got the second Menagerie LP well underway now, which is great, cause I wasn't in the crew when the first one was written!
DS: We also have our solo projects we're simultaneously working on. I have a 12 coming out in September on Carbon Imprints called 'Frauds', and I collaborate a lot with Foreign Beggars. Check out their new 12 'Let Go' coming soon. I'm on the B-side of that.
K: I'm starting to put together tracks for a solo release too. 'Menace II Sobriety' should be out around the time of the London Olympics! (Laughs).
NM: I'm just continuing to work on my series of 'Adventures in Hip-Hop' mix CD's – Vol.9 is out now and I'll be working on Vol.10 over the summer.
EL: I am working on a number of secret inventions that will change the world. Plus I have got a second album (The Grand tour) in the works.
What can you tell us about them in terms of some of the tracks and vibes?
K: The new LP's gonna have some very varied subject matter on! We're keeping the sense of humour in our rhymes for the most part, which in some ways is integral to the way we do our thing, but there's also a few serious tracks scattered around as well.
DS: We're lucky to have 2 of the most productive beat makers around, who have very distinctive styles. Caruana has quite a madcap, comedic style when he does Menagerie stuff, while Ido comes with the fast paced bangers. We get the pick of the bunch from both to write to, which is good for quality control, I think.
NM: Yeah, the beats we get provided with are obviously an important part of the sound we create and most of our tracks tend to be on a jazzier, feel-good vibe, with a few decent bangers thrown in for good measure.
How did you hook up with the labels Breaking Bread and Esperanto records?
EL: Esperanto is a new label set up by Ido, which is aimed at promoting Brighton based hip-hop talent with a handful of high quality releases planned throughout this year. Breaking bread is all Tom's connects, and his 'Splice of life' EP (featuring Dr Syntax) is still available.
Do you feel being on small and independent labels is a significant or minor disadvantage?'
EL: The exact opposite. Being on a smaller label allows for more freedom of expression, less business headaches and not having to worry about losing the integrity of the music. The menagerie are never going to be top ten, but we can guarantee that every release comes straight from the heart and exactly as we intended it to sound… Something you can't say with a lot of releases on big labels.
How does Caruana find the time to produce so many hot tracks for so many different artists?
EL: He has trained an army of trained apes that he keeps in a basement that make his beats for him. He doesn't produce any of them himself. The entire menagerie album was really produced by a trained orangutan called Geoffrey, but Caruana takes all the credit.
NM: He hasn't got a girlfriend at the moment!
Who do you guys rate in the UK scene right now and who's dropped the hottest record of 2005?
K: There are a lot of good artists out there at the moment, I'm definitely feeling Yungun, but my record of 2005 so far is Give The People What They Want by MC Mello, produced by Aroe (of First Down fame) – Its incredible, unlike anything that's been released for ages.
DS: People need to look out for Stig of the Dump from Newcastle and Clev Cleverly from Rotherham. They're two of the illest in the country as far as I'm concerned. Also Mole from round our way, he's hella dope.
EL: The Brighton heads remain my favourite UK acts: Born again heads, Imagineers and Lost Souls in particular. Hottest records I've heard outside the UK this year are all Kanye West's and Little Brother's stuff…
NM: I reckon the hottest record of 2005 so far has to be Blackbeard's remix of 'Barfight' by First Rate & Skinnyman – It's crazy sweet.
Do you wanna make any shout out's or plugs?
K: Definitely. There's four FREE tunes of mine to download from www.myspace.com/koaste. I'd like to shout out all the Beer & Rap crew, Newborn, Daps, Enlish, Proper – All the Massive Warriors family, Mole & Iris, Big P…
DS: Rarekind, Imagineers, Foreign Beggars, Undali, Blam Stoker, THTC.
EL: I'd like to shout out to Flevans (www.flevans.co.uk) and torez (www.torez.org) who both make some lovely tunes and have free tunes to download. Plus keep an eye on Brighton for the Hip hop festival every summer, it can be checked out via www.brightonhiphop.com along with lots of downloads and cool stuff.
NM: Too many to mention, but shouts to the whole Brighton scene for making it what it is and giving us the opportunity to do our thing.
Any enquiries for booking the Menagerie or buying our stuff can be answered at firstname.lastname@example.org