John Spiers talks with the Foreign Beggars crew to get the scoop on what they've been up to and the forthcoming album.
"We're not going to do any wack shit. Everything is dope" – Orifice Vulgatron. That's quite a direct statement for an emcee renowned for his double time rapping and frantic lyricism. But anyone who is familiar with the Foreign Beggars will probably have a hard time arguing with it.
The Beggars have been putting in work for a minute now. They are perhaps the most unlikely combination of individuals, having roots scattered across the globe. Their collective backgrounds stand in stark contrast to those of the average UK Hip Hop crew. They aren't reppin' Hackney, Hornsey or Brixton, but rather places such as Iraq, Dubai, India, Norway, Ghana and… Kentucky. Despite their eclectic global background they are undeniably a UK crew. Their first album, Asylum Speakers, is evidence that the UK scene feels the same way. With a guest list that reads like a who's who of the UK Hip Hop scene (Tommy Evans, Task Force, Skinnyman) it's impossible to deny that Foreign Beggars have their feet firmly planted in the UK scene. And having heard a handful of their new tracks, it is clear to this writer that they will soon become one of the most respected, talented and inspiring crews out there.
The crew was born out of seemingly random international connections and a focused determination to get up. Growing up between England and Dubai emcee, Orifice Vulgatron and producer Dagnabbit moved to London to make music. While they were originally more involved in the drum and bass scene they were turned off by the elitist and insular nature of the movement. Orifice ended up rhyming at Hip Hop shows as well as
"I'd get on the mic and spit some drum and bass type stuff and people got off on it because it was really different. I felt like finally something was moving, something was happening".
Orifice and Dag, along with DJ Nonames, who Orifice had met while doing the lighting for a University production of the Wizard of Oz, and beat boxer extraordinaire Shlomo began crafting the album that would go on to become "Asylum Speakers", released on their own Dented Records label.
While their debut was a solid album that received solid support, it felt more like a compilation showcasing the talents of a broad scope of individuals. In addition to an impressive group of well known UK artists, the album gave equal shine to the Beggars extended family with the likes of Dr. Syntax and Skrein popping up throughout the album. One of those listed as a guest, Metropolis, is now a full time member.
Those guests, as well as other extended Beggar family, have continued to shine in the last two years with numerous releases coming out on Dented Records. Skrein, for instance, who blessed the superb "Mind Out" on Asylum Speakers, released the scathing "Idols" earlier this year. He's also collaborating with Dr. Syntax for what is looking like a full length album under the moniker, Skreintax.
Otherwise, Dubbledge, who Orifice describes as the "man of the moment" released an EP, Smile, and has a mixtape and a full length on the horizon. It doesn't stop there. Dented Records will be pumping out work by individual Beggars. Shlomo, who has worked with Bjork in the past (and even had a cameo on Eastenders!), is keeping busy as a member of allfromthemouth.com, a beat boxing agency that aims to make beat boxing
present at every jam in the country. He is working on an album, as is Metropolis. I was fortunate enough to hear some of the tracks he's been working on and can say that the album features some of the most dense, thought provoking and intense lyrics of any release in the last few years. Daggnabit's production has also taken a turn for the darker, and seems to infuse the tracks with a compelling mix of dread and melancholy, all the time keeping the beats thumping and heads nodding. That, along with a Noname's mix tape on the horizon, should keep heads in great anticipation. But what are the actual Beggars doing?
"We've got this EP coming out now which is the first installment for the next album", the imaginatively named Orifice Vulgatron tells me, "It's got two tracks with Wildchild from Lootpack."
Listening to some of the new tracks in Orifice's Cricklewood home, I'm taken aback at the level of lyrical substance, the vast leaps forward Dagnabbit has made in his production and the sense of focus that drives the songs forward. Basically, the shit is dope.
Much discussion is bound to arise from the density of their new work. While Orifice tells me Foreign Beggars could easily have released another version of Asylum Speakers six months after it's release, the group opted instead to take a moment to reflect a little and took larger artistic steps as a result.
There were other contributing factors, however. Writers block, running a record label and traveling back and forth between Dubai and London certainly impeded on the process of making another album. The Beggars have been taking their time with it though, letting things evolve more organically over the last year. The groups members found themselves increasingly invigorated by both the quantity and quality of the music emerging from Daggnabit's lair. The creative process intensified further when Orifice began feeling that his rhymes weren't doing justice to the beats. "I became conscious of everything I was writing. It forced us to get a lot more focused", says Orifice. One can hear it in the music as well. The new tracks feel far less like a collective of talented individuals, but rather a group with a common vision.
"I think we've all progressed as artists, " says Orifice, " The new album is darker and edgier. There's more staying power in the verses, there's a different urgency."
It should also be noted there seems to be an emergence of socio-political content in the verses. While many assumed that a group with a name like Foreign Beggars would be overflowing with political rants, their past work has rarely touched on global issues. "We've just been reading a lot", says Orifice, "Learning more about how the world works." There's also a Sci Fi feel to many of the tracks that's reflected in some of the music having more of an electronic quality as well as the lyrics, which tends to be reminiscent, though not derivative, of Company Flow.
The album will hopefully emerge sometime early next year. The line up of guests is predicted to be shorter than on Asylum Speakers. And as the crew has become ore insular there probably won't be too many big names popping up (though there are murmurs of a Terra Firma collaboration). It's all for the better, they're shining plenty on their own.
"We're just trying to put up our game and go international now." Orifice tells me, "Everyone is repping on a world class level." And indeed they are. Dented Records seems to be preparing for world domination. Don't sleep on these heads.
Arranged by Dom. Conducted by John Spiers.