Ahead of his new album and its very exciting launch party, we hooked up with UK hiphop legend Blade, to talk about the new material, the industry and more!
What's up Blade. How's it going?
All good thanks. A little hectic but still in control so can't complain.
Let's start by talking about how you've been spending your time since touring the 'Storms Are Brewing' album?
Just been in the studio recording with Baby J, doing a couple of bits with The Manoz, updating the website when possible, planning future releases, organising the album launch on February 9th, so not really getting much time to myself at the moment. I got a couple of other big things planned for 2006, but all I can say for now is make sure you pick up a copy of HHC in February.
Most artists disappear a lot longer between albums. What drives you to keep the output constant?
Music is all I know really. I used to be involved in a lot of other things like sports etc, but as time has gone on, I've been a recluse, sat behind a mixing desk or my PC, dealing with stuff to do with the music. Recently I've been focussing more on the label side of things, so I haven't been recording as much, but when we record, we do so with the idea that we'll have all the singles and the album ready to go, so we keep getting stuff out there so we're not running around like headless chickens at the last minute trying to record the next single. Music being a career and a hobby is what gives me the constant drive to keep going, doing what I enjoy most in life.
Out of the many producers out there, what attracted you to wanting to work with Baby J on a project exclusively?
'Cause I wanted to work with someone who was as ugly as me so I felt better about myself. I got fed up of working with producers who look better than me and just thought I'd give an ugly guy a break. No seriously though, he gave me a beat CD in April 2004 and when I finally got to hear it, I heard this one beat that blew me away. I had a thousand thoughts running through my head whilst listening to it and just knew this was gonna be something I would be proud to put my name to. I just liked what he was doing and also his work ethic. He works as hard as I do, well maybe not as hard, but hard enough (Laughs).
How do you feel the new material you've recorded compares to your previous releases?
It's hard to compare the past to the present but I'd say this is a lot more rounded, lyrically and musically. I've touched on certain subjects that normally would enter my mind but I'd just let them go 'cause maybe they can get a bit too personal, but this time round I just felt I wanted to go there. Also, I asked Baby J to get a little more involved and direct me where to go lyrically, which he did, and I feel that's also helped the direction of the album and added to the variety.
Can you let us in on some of the vibes and lyrical approaches of the songs on the new album?
Like I said, there's a lot of variety. There's stuff with me talking about the industry, and some other bits with me talking about the industry, and a couple of other bits with me talking about the industry, and when that's done, there's a few more bits with me talking about the industry. So as you can see, there's plenty of variety.
But jokes aside, we delve into a few personal things. The birth of my child and how it affected me, watching a friend or two choose the wrong paths in life, a couple of bits for the b-boys, one about my career from start to now, one about what I do on a daily basis which is just a sort of 'a day in the life of', a track about the system and it's effects on us and our reactions to them, and one in particular that I hold very close to me, is me paying my respects to all the UK Hip Hop artists who paved the way for what is now. A track called 'It's Your Time' where I just encourage fellow talented people not to give up their dreams, one called 'Four Walls' about me being in a mind prison and searching for an escape from it, so there's a lot to choose from really.
Not handling the production yourself, did you find this benefited your writing process and the content of your raps?
Yes it did. I didn't have to worry about the studio side of things this time round and instead, focussed all my attention on making sure the topics said what I wanted them to say, and also gave me time to focus on the label side of things. It was a huge weight taken off my shoulders.
A lot of artists just book themselves for an album launch party. Why did you choose for yours to have such a huge bill?
'Cause it's not just about me. The scene is full of talented people. I've always wanted nothing but for the scene to grow and evolve and on this occasion, myself being the person funding the whole event, and also organising it with help from Sam Seed, I felt I wanted it to be a bigger affair than just my album launch. I wanted it to be an event we could all be proud of. I'm undecided about a few things in my life right now and one of those is whether I choose to continue in this industry or not, and just in case I choose not to, I wanted to have one more last big thing to remember, and what better way to do it than to have my favourite rap crew Phi-Life Cypher there, Jehst who bought records off me when he was just 12 via mail order, who I used to chat to on the phone even as a youngster who showed so must passion for this, and not forgetting the rest of the acts who have carried the torch and who will carry the torch.
I wanted it to include up and coming acts such as Manage who's on fire right now, Diversion Tactics who I consider as not just another rap crew, but as friends, pretty much the same way I see all of the acts on the bill. I wanted this to be a tribute to hiphop, not necessarily my album launch, but something much more. More like a page in the history of UK hiphop.
It looks to be shaping up as a pretty historic jam. What can the audience expect and how can we get tickets for it?
That's the intention. I would have loved to have had it as a three-day event with every act in the country performing, but had to be more realistic about what was possible. I would also like to mention that every one of the acts has offered to do the show for free so we can keep the ticket prices down so we can make it a great occasion for everybody, artists and fans alike. We have no intention of making money out of this, but just to make it an event to remember. With regards to what the audience can expect, a lot of variety.
From the pure unadulterated skills of Phi-Life Cypher, to the immense depth of Jehst, to the energy of Swampfoot, to the great old school vibe of Diversion Tactics, to the power of Hoodz Underground, to the unpredictability of Respek-BA, to the madness of The Headcase Ladz, to the yet to be discovered potential of The Manoz, to the raw venom of Manage, CLG & Syanyde, to the happy go lucky attitude of The Pedigree Chumps, to the rawness of The Scribes, to the diversity of Hard Livin', to the forces that are Yogi, Rukus, Shade One & Baby J, and as if that wasn't enough, we have none other than Mista Jam, the original Fat Man Scoop, hosting the event with his own unique blend of extravagance. You can get tickets for this from my website, www.blade691.com. All the information is on the home page there.
Can we expect you to be going on a big nationwide tour once more to support the album? What was the highlight of the 'Storms' tour?
I would love to go on a full-scale tour but am undecided if I will as yet. Just got a few things I need to sort out first. The highlight of the 'Storms' tour for me was probably doing the Royal Open Air Festival in Switzerland, where we performed on the same stage as Jurassic 5, who we had performed with in 1997 at UK Fresh in Folkestone. It was nice to be able to do what we do and have 8,000 people going nuts to it, but what was even better was that we could walk off stage and have a humble and down to earth conversation with the whole of J5 and see that not all acts have their heads stuck up their arses. For that I hold them in extremely high praise and will always have a huge amount of respect for them and their work. Also, that was the show when my son jumped on stage with me, had the whole crowd screaming and waving their hands and also managed to sneak in the words
'Dad, you're gay' on camera.
The LP's lead single 'Its Your Time' is soaked in feel good factor. Being an underground UK act, where does all that positivity come from?
It's hard to stay positive in this industry but it's all you have. A lot of times people think I'm being negative because I talk about negative things that go on, but if they actually take the time to delve deeper into the lyrics, they'll find there's always a positive result by the end of the song. I try to talk about things I experience and unfortunately a lot of those are pretty negative, so it's sometimes a struggle to keep a smile on my face, but I'm gonna keep trying because I know it's not all bad and that there are people out there who have it a lot worse than I do.
And is going the independent route with your music still as big a challenge as it always has been?
It's a way bigger challenge than it's ever been. Nowadays you just can't predict record sales because of the downloads, so you can't control what's going on and have no idea what to expect. I think we just have to take things as they come and in small doses, and just keep our fingers crossed that we get a few people who feel guilty downloading our music to go back to buying our records. After all, this is our livelihood and the only way we make ends meet for now. I don't understand the industry as much as I used to because now it's not about the music anymore but more about the image. For example, you could have a great record but no one cares about it, but if you have a great record and people see you on MTV with it, suddenly you're more important, and that's what counts to most of the new generation. It's the same record but some how the visual aspect seems more important to them than the audio, which is what it is primarily about. Maybe I'll understand it better one day?
What are some of the biggest changes in UK Hip Hop you've witnessed between first starting out and now?
We now see a lot more females at the shows and they don't mind if they get crushed in the mosh pits either, which is a good thing. The crowds used to be a lot rowdier back in the days and now there are a lot more artists than fans.
In retrospect, it must feel weird with so much reliance on MySpace pages, websites and forums these days?
It does. Once upon a time we could stand on street corners and sell records. Now everything seems to work with the net, but I also feel that there are a lot of average acts getting free publicity through these mediums and I think that's a bad thing. For acts that deserve the publicity, who've worked hard at it and have perfected their art, that's great, but I hear crews who I swear haven't been in this for more than a couple of weeks on the net and in all honesty, it's embarrassing to hear some of it. How can someone go public with that and think they are doing themselves a favour? There's a big difference between not being into something and just 'plain not ready'. I hear a lot of tracks that I don't like but I can't say they are shit because they are well constructed and delivered with conviction, but just not what I'm into. On the other hand there are those that aren't and I really feel this freedom is damaging the music world. There needs to be some sort of policing going on or it's gonna be absolute mayhem in the next couple of years. I guess we could always just switch off to it.
Which new UK artists and producers are you rating? You collaborate with many, but who'd be your dream link up right now?
My favourite newcomers are Humarak D Gritty and S. Kalibre. I think they got something special going on, but I'm also feeling Yogi, Mystro, Manage, Respek-Ba, and the list goes on. In terms of production, I'm gonna go for Baby J, Joe Buhdha and Nappa, even though they are not new to the scene. I'm open to listening to everything. Right now I eagerly await the album by First Aid from Exeter. That's gonna be big. My dream link up right now would probably be myself, Life, Skinnyman, Klashnekoff, Jehst, Chester P or Farma G, S. Kalibre, Yogi, Mystro. Manage, Lyric L, Kyza and more. Way too many to mention.
I remember at the start of your last album run, you came out at Peace Not War with no hair. What image change you got planned this time?
To come out with all my head hair sellotaped to my face. I've never played the image card ever since I've been in this and can't see me doing that now, but if I had to, I'd come out as King Kong because to me King Kong is a symbol of a living creature taken out of its environment and having to constantly fight to survive the adversities, which is something I feel I'm constantly having to do.
Your launch party flyer is a take off from the King Kong movie. What movie character would you most compare to your career in hiphop?
Actually, when we had that concept for the cover in mind, we had no idea the movie was being re-made. It's only when we did a bit of the artwork that someone told me and I was a bit gutted at first but then thought I didn't care as I knew we had that idea before we were aware of the film being re-released. Maybe Eminem in 8 mile, but obviously not the riches bit. I had a crazy unpredictable upbringing and could relate to a lot of things that Eminem was portrayed as experiencing. The one big difference was that I was separated from my family at age 3, but aside from that, more or less everything else was pretty similar. Even sitting on busses and writing my lyrics on the bus ticket, my hands, the girl's forehead sitting next to me, on her dress, etc. I'm not even joking about that.
What did you ask Santa to leave under the tree this Christmas?
A suitcase with £1,000,000,000,000,000,000 in it and a better life.
Have you got any shout out's you'd like to make.
To everybody who's supported past, present and future. I know way too many people to mention so I'll keep it simple. Just everybody who's always had nothing but good intentions for me and those close to me. The album 'Guerrilla Tactics' is out on February 20th and you can get that directly from my website.
As well as via Blade's official website, the album will be available to buy at all decent stores and online retail outlets.