Ahead of his heavy new release, the much celebrated artist and producer talks to us about his recent album, juggling rapping and beat making, Sir Smurf Little and much more.
What's up Jehst, how's it going?
New day, same shit!
How's 'Nuke Proof Suit' been received?
Really well. The press/reviews have been real good. Some fans still just wanna hear that jazzy shit with the student/stoner/jobseeker lifestyle type of lyrics but I've gotta stay true to myself and grow as an artist. 'Falling Down' dropped in 2003 so obviously my life has changed a lot so my music reflects that. The thing is that a lot of rappers tell me that it's their favourite record by me and so that means a lot so I see it as my 'rappers rapper' album.
Was you suprised at how some people got way too analytical about the light humour in the single's video?
Not really. I wouldn't really say it was light humour though because if you actually look at the majority of the scenario's in the video, they're referring to some really serious issues, it's just that the comedy takes the sting out of it. Also, I think that a lot of fans forget that the artist doesn't make the video, the director and producer make the video! The artist is just the actor. When we did the video, the producer actually said to me how refreshing it was for the artist just to get on with it and not question and dictate the shoot. It's called playing your position!
You did a massive set of dates for 'Falling Down'. Are you out on the road as much this time round?
Yeah, definately, but it's been more spread out this time 'cause we didn't have time to plan it! The whole release was like 'Fuck it! Let's just get this record out before the end of the year and do some shows!'
What are some of your most favourite parts of the UK or overseas to perform at?
Leeds, Brighton, London and Manchester spring to mind. I haven't really done a lot abroad but every time it's dope. Big up my people in Czech! I need to do Hiphop Kemp again so holla at me! Also, a trip Australia is long overdue! Hopefully I'll finally get out there in 2007!
You're about to drop 'Underworld Epics'. Tell us about that.
That's a production project made up of 50/50 new joints and fresh remixes. It's definately got some classic material on there! Go cop that! I'll be working on a follow up real soon so it's not a one off, plus we got the Sir Smurf Lil' album "Myalpha" dropping on YNR in September, and that joint's all produced by me except for one beat from LG and one from Apa-Tight.
It's been talked about for years. What was the delay?
Politics, studio time and release schedules!
I'm guessing you could work with anyone in the UK you choose to. How did the choices of rappers on this album come about?
Not at all! The rap scene is chaos 'cause most man's ain't eating right! A lot of people ain't got their mind right when it comes to career building, work ethic, business etc. I work with friends and people I respect and I've learnt that it's not just about who you think is dope. It's about chemistry and building working relationships. I take this shit very seriously. It's my job! So I can't fuck with unreliable, unprofessional dudes 'cause my time is precious.
The track listing's quite short. Was it a mission fitting in tracks and artists to the final cut?
Certain tracks I wanted on there, I couldn't use because of complications with the featured artists. Plus, you gotta keep to a certain time restriction to keep the vinyl loud and I hate putting extra tracks on the CD so…
There's a few remix's on there. What one track in UK hiphop history would you love the opportunity to rework?
'Glimmaty Glammaty' by The Demon Boyz springs to mind. 'Mind Of An Ordinary Citizen' or 'Gripper The Pitbull' by Blade. 'Subtraction' by Mc Mello. More recently 'Daggo Mentality' by Klashnekoff, any Lewis Parker joint, any Kyza joint. Where's the remix work yo?! Holla at me people! Gimme remixes! Shout out to Funky Fresh Few!
Out of the many mc's around, why've you picked Sir Smurf to produce a whole album for?
Smurf is the shiznit! Trust me! Smurf is one of the only true originals coming out of London right now. In terms of creativity, he's second to none. He's got some of the most refreshing wordplay I've heard for donkeys, plus his head's in the right place. He could so easily be doing some foul shit and getting paper but he's a righteous individual. He works, he studies, his reading list is crazy! I got mad respect for him. Plus, he's a pleasure to work with. He's got a strong foundation to build on too. The Colony. Having a strong crew like that is real important. They've got so much potential. People ain't gonna know what hit 'em! For real!
What are some of the tracks on there we can look forward to hearing?
'Training Day', 'Blood On Chef's Apron', 'Travellin' Thru Sound'...
How's that project coming along and when do expect its release?
It's been ready to roll musically since last year. We mastered it a while back but I wanted to make sure everything was in place before we dropped it, for maximum impact. The whole label thing is very much about strategy. You can't just fling shit out and hope for the best. It's meticulous.
What other artists and releases are planned for YNR Productions? Is Tommy Evans still about?
There's a whole bunch of stuff I wanna fuck with but I don't wanna say anything until shit's planned. Tommy's got a project with Mr Thing which is dope but he doesn't wanna do gigs so that's shelved 'cause he's gotta go out there and promote the record if we're gonna put time and money into it. He's not involved in the business side of things any more.
What equipment do you tend to use when cooking up tracks?
The MPC60 and S950 are the meat and potatoes. I've been using the MPC1000 a lot recently, though just for convenience while I move studios. It's good for getting a cleaner sound too, but I prefer to program on the 60. It's more accurate.
Would you say that more basic studio's ignite more imaginative thinking?
Of course. But also you've gotta remember, you can't run before you can walk. It's like, you could put a mix tape together on Pro Tools but if you've never put one down live on a tape deck, how are you gonna jump those stages? The equipment doesn't make the music. You make the music.
Do you see yourself as more of a producer or rapper these days, and what do you like most about each role?
I see myself as both. I see my future being more about production and behind the scenes but I still feel I can murk most man with a mic. If I'm focussed, I'm deadly! No doubt! The rapper's the ego and the producer's the humble recluse. They're both important sides to my personality. I wanna paint again too and do art 'cause every creative outlet gives you something different back which you can then apply elsewhere. They can all compliment each other.
Do you find yourself going to pen a verse or make a beat more when you're feeling creative?
Depends. If I hear a dope beat and get inspired or get an idea how to flip some words or references, then I write. If I'm listening to music and hear something I wanna flip then I switch on the MP.
Is the increased annoynmity of producing a track refreshing as opposed to laying your personality and opinions down with a vocal?
Definitely. You worded that perfectly! I couldn't possibly have explained it any better myself! It's definately liberating 'cause it's free from all the bullshit that comes with celebrity status and people's pre-conceptions about you as a person which can be very draining and un-inspiring!
There's a big crop of really exciting rappers coming through now. Who are some of the more recent artists that you've been impressed by?
Call me biased but Sir Smurf Lil' is killing it in terms of originality and flavour. Dubbledge is crazy! He's just got mad energy and personality, and like Smurf, he's got his own identity. He doesn't sound like anyone else out there. Kashmere is disgusting. He kills me every time i hear him.
Micall Parknsun is just inspirational 'cause again, he's got that and energy. ParkE's intense! Plus, he's got that classic B-Boy shit, that real Hiphop shit in terms of vibe and style that's so absent from the scene nowadays. I get the same kind of feelin' from hearing his shit that I get from listening to classic shit like Wu or DITC. Rawness, you know? It's like when Lewis Parker came out! ParkE's made me feel good about saying, yeah, all that keyboard shit's cool, all that double time, post-garage shit is fine, but… I wanna make some raw Hiphop shit!
Which producer's skills in the lab have you most admired in recent times?
Recently? Madlib and Dilla (R.I.P) stateside and over here, Beat Butcha and LG are the top boys right now! On top of that, Apa-Tight, IQ, Ghost Town. Dagnabbit's got some crazy shit in the pipeline. Obviously people like Harry Love, Lewis Parker and Evil Ed are like the cornerstones of my sound anyway, so it goes without saying that they're way up there in my estimations. Oh, how could i forget? Apollo! Legendary with the beats! Probably the illest around, full stop. Seriously. Versatile and funky as fuck!
What's the primary source we should be checking to keep on top of your records and live dates?
Fuck knows! People have really let me down on the web side of things so I've gotta address that whole situation. The dude who looks after my myspace page is killing it! Big up! That's really the best thing to check right now.
Have you got any messages or adverts you wanna throw out there to the masses?
'Underworld Epics' is out 26/06/06. The launch party's gonna be at Plastic People, Curtain Road, E1 (nearest tube Old Street) on July 12th. And if you haven't already got a 'Nuke Proof Suit'... What the fuck are you thinking!? Sir Smurf Lil's next single 'Timothy' b/w 'Ghetto Graduate' is out in August on YNR. Don't sleep. Oh yeah… Keep vinyl alive! Peace.