We caught up with one of the UK's most promising new artists to talk about his debut album and writing style, getting signed to a major label and tons more. Don't sleep on this Nando's obsessive.
Every year, UK hiphop magazines and internet forums get cluttered up with frustrated fans of the music, moaning that this song should have been play listed on Radio One or that album should have charted in the top twenty.
As good as those select few releases which they champion as being works of genius are, the reality is that there's always something a bit June Sarpong. Perhaps the hard battle rap that sounds like a massacre through the speakers of their gloomy club nights is slightly too threatening for the average Joe, or maybe their favourite uber quirky concept album is that bit too random to break beyond the solid wall impounding their scene. Whatever the reason, it's been the case for a very long time, that beyond the die hard crowd, nobody really cares.
Whilst conventional hiphop in the UK has only recently started to develop into something a lot more accessible, with the likes of Yungun's 'The Essance' album and Skinnyman's 'Council Estate of Mind' being a lot easier for non underground students to enjoy, the more unique and original likes of The Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Sway have hurdled into a huge lead down the track to mainstream success and respect.
However, traditional UK hiphop isn't as entirely doomed as it sometimes seems in light of Mike Skinner and company cleaning up on these shores and taking their material over to a very warm reception in America and elsewhere. For the past couple of years, a young rapper and producer from London have been quietly releasing 12" singles of the most promising quality heard for some time.
"I'm Example. I rap a lot. I'm from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. I like women (my bird), clothes, Jay-Z, Fulham Football Club, Nando's loyalty cards, running long distance, Christmas and Oyster cards" speaks an artist who has mass popularity written all over his music. His vocals are of strong personality whilst his lyrics are almost always of a story telling angle, providing tales most people under the sun can relate to, from dating and relationship melt downs to substance abuse. The beats are fresh, employing great choices of samples and the overall package doesn't require you to be a spaced out backpack wearer between sixth form and graduate age.
"Rusher is making my whole album which is about 86% completed. He is probably in the top 5 hiphop producers in the country right now. I'm sizing up a load of album offers at the moment from various people. I've always felt that if I put my album out myself independently, it would sell well. Because the music has such a large scope in terms of market diversity, I want to have some cash behind it so I can reach its intended audience."
It is down to that sentiment which makes Example and his forthcoming debut album hot property and something to anticipate highly. Rather than following the recent trend of high end UK rappers in remaining absolutely resolute not to converse with men in grey suits under any circumstances, Example speaks with a great self belief that he can work amongst the 'dark side', but not without sensible caution.
"I'm sizing up these offers to find the best one for Example and Rusher as artists. I'm still very wary of all these monkeys though. There's no denying though that if you got the right label behind you, then you can achieve a lot more than you would by going it alone. 679 Recordings have done a great job with Mike and Kano and should do the same for Plan B. XL Recordings handled Dizzee really well. Big Dada had the right strategy for Sir Roots Manuva. Small labels like LowLife do great things for their artists but you kinda feel that there aint ever gonna be the backing to make it some next level shit."
As if that wasn't to separate his mindset from the popular consensus amongst UK hiphop artists enough, there's Example's approach to music. The bigger you plan and think, the better the end result. Rather than idolising and aiming to reach the levels of underground cult heroes, the young Londoner is thinking far beyond that.
"I look at artists like Outkast and Kanye, even Skinner, who break the mould and appeal to a massive worldwide market. I'm well aware that if I don't come with something different and refreshing and at the same time talk about stuff that everyone can relate to, then my market is gonna be much smaller. You can't make money these days, rapping about rapping. I want to make music for a living so I make my music accessible. I don't feel like I'm selling out in any way."
"Everyone is preoccupied with being real. What's being real? I'm being real to myself. I'm making music that I would wanna listen to, and talk about stuff that everyone I know is gonna relate to. I eat at Nando's on the regs. If I'm around some girl's house, then I do wanna leave ASAP to get home for the Football Focus. That's why I rap about these issues. I don't just sit about, studying Jay-Z. I'm into Green Day, Paul Simon, Prince, The Killers, The Kinks, Basement Jaxx…"
Which is a great preface as to what to expect from his latest double A side single, 'I Don't Want To / Loneliness Costs'. Employing a heavy bass and on point sample, the first track tells the humorous tale of a young man dating girls and eating at Pizza Express. The second number is an incredible track, using vocals from Harry Nilsson's 'One' to create a thoughtfully narrative story. "It's very easy to relate to, whatever your background. Humour, sadness and social realism. I sound like a proper tosser. No, but it's accessible rap music for everyone."
It remains to be seen as to how the insular UK hiphop crowd will react to Example and Rusher's inevitable success. Whilst moaning frequently about the lack of mainstream interest and major label support, the scene's participants tend to always come up with more negatives than positives when an artist achieves a level or recognition beyond Channel U playlists and e-zine interviews. Estelle for instance, whom was constantly referred to as the country's number one female rap artist, until she stepped foot on a televised stage, is a prime example. Excuse the pun.
Whether it's his hair cut, trendy clothes or constant shout out's to Nandos fast food that gives fodder for sceptics to tally up criticisms towards him or not, Example is far from alien to UK hiphop and what's going on within the UK music scene in general. "K-lash is the best rapper in the country, no arguments. Plan B could be the first genuine break out hiphop star from the UK. Other than that, there's very few 'artists'. We have plenty of 'rappers' but very few 'artists'. People should keep their eyes peeled for Example & Rusher. We're gonna open doors for a lot of people."
And that's the type of attitude which the militant UK hiphop heads need to think about and accept. Not to say that Example is at all primitive in rhyming ability, but it will take someone as listenable as him to break through and sell records, before anyone's going to invest a minute of their time listening to intricate rhyming schemes over futuristic spaceship beats. If they're genuine about wanting to see their heroes make it, they have to start welcoming the rare things which come along with the potential to make that happen. Example will blow up, regardless of how they react and it's going to happen imminently.
The artist's potential has already gained attention from much of the music press, has seen Example performing on a regular basis and even satisfied Mike Skinner enough to have him dropping vocals on an album by The Streets. Baring that in mind, and Example's performances at Mike Skinner's label nights at Brixton's Plan B, and one wouldn't be taking a huge risk in betting that Example will end up on Skinner's The Beats label alongside Professor Green. That said, Example is careful not to name drop and shows admirable reluctance when asked about what seems the best move for both parties.
"I don't think there's any sense in that! Nah, working with Mike for even a very short time, I've picked up some wicked tips and learnt quite a bit about pacing topics in a story, and also harmonising and melodies. He's actually got quite a good singing voice, not like a session singer, but he knows his stuff. He seems to work quite quickly. He knows when he's got the correct take. I've worked with some people who just get you to repeat the word 'motherfucker' over and over for like an hour. Like Mike, I think the best sound for me is that raw vibe, when the lyrics and flow have a naturalness about them. It's quite old school in a way, not like an over-polished 50 Cent/Dr Dre collabo'. You get me?"
Forthcoming projects by the Foreign Beggars who will appeal well to European hip-hop crowds, and Klashnekoff, who will sit well amongst hiphop and grime heads alike, are sure to provide high quality and entertaining material, but neither are likely to consist of Example and Rusher's cross over potential. Scoop up those first singles now and you'll be laughing all the way to E-Bay real soon.
This article originally appeared in the music magazine Artrocker.