We caught up with who you'll know best as John The White Rapper, to look back on his record deal with Sony Music, the material he did then, his critics, leaving the label and what the future holds.
First up, what's your artist name now? is Mr. Lacey the new John The White Rapper?
Yeah, I go by Mister Lacey now aka JTWR I guess. Ha. I don't quite know how, but yeah.
Where in the UK are you from and where are you these days?
I was born in Hackney but lived pretty much all over London. I was taken from my parents at six and moved around from home to home. North, South, East, West and a few suburbs. Milton Keynes, umm, Newcastle. Right now, I'm in South Central L.A.
How did you end up to be living in the US and what do you miss the most/least about ol' England?
My girl is out here primarily and I just like L.A. I really wanna get music going in the U.S. I miss my peoples the most and then shit like Fish and Chips and the chocolate is better in England, and the Fanta. I can't drive and where I'm at, that's hard. I like the fact I can just get up and go in London. It's hard to do that here.
Back when you started out, how did you land a contract with Sony Music?
I walked into Sony and demanded to see someone. They said no but gave me a number so I called it from the building, basically saying 'Oi, you better see us now'. I guess he saw the funny side and humored us. Me and a few others went in to see someone there. I had only wrote about 6 pages of lyrics at this point and had two tracks, so he said go do more. I did and a few months later I got signed.
What are your favorite memories and what's the wildest thing you did with the cash and exposure?
My fav' was being signed and thinking 'Wow from JSA to this shit'. I wasn't thinking about anything else, just that I wouldn't have to rely on my social worker anymore and I could help out a few people… I didn't really do wild shit with my money, I just wasted it. I remember I took six grand out the first day I got an advance and went to Oxford Street. I bought this and that and a safe to put the rest of the money in. It lasted a few months.
I gambled a lot of cash away and bought my friends a lot of shit. I was naive and to be honest it is a shame that with the sums of money I had, I got nothing left to show for it. I'm owed a large sum still, but due to technical shit, people are reluctant to give me what I am owed but it's okay. I'll do okay. I've just got to focus and work hard.
Revisiting the material of back then, do you still dig it?
It's funny 'cause I pretty much start disliking my shit straight away. I'm always trying to better it but there's a few tracks that I still think 'Yeah, this one needs to come out in some way still'. It's surprising though because people will say 'Hey, I love this track or that one' and I'm like, 'Ha, really? You like that one..?'
A lot of UK rap fans gave you their typical closed mind treatment. How did that feel?
Fuck it. It was hard at first but now I'm like 'fuck it'. I never said I was the greatest lyricist. No one can tell me I'm not real though. That is what pissed me off. These cunts were making assumptions about me which is fine. People do that but not many people in the scene at that time gave me the time of day.
I think it was harder to be different back in 2003 as compared to 2006. People were reluctant to accept the change in UK hiphop for a while. I think as it grows, it's become more accepted I guess. I won't call names but some people in the UK scene back then were small minded fish. I don't know how they are now though, 'cause I stopped caring.
Big up the few that did give me the light of day though. Excalibah did. I got love for him. Akira The Don did, Sov' did. A few people did. I got some decent reviews and press but by the time people started getting it, my shit at Sony was doomed.
Do you feel it was too early to be signed and be put in such a position?
I do feel I rushed into my record deal with Sony a bit too fast. I had like, 5 labels wanting to sign me. I now feel maybe one of the other labels would have been better for me, but you live and learn.
Do you feel nervous for Lady Sovereign to be picked up at such a young age and rushed through the industry?
I'm proud of her. I've got mad love for Sov' and have had it from day. People can hate all they want 'cause she is on big things and I get worried about her sometimes, but she's cool and she can handle it now. She's real busy but I try keeping in touch and make sure she is okay. I'm linking her this week in L.A which should be heavy.
What do you say to the twats who wrote you off as an Eminem imposter?
Now I'm just like, 'Okay, whatever. I've not heard that before…'. It depends on how it is said because sometimes people mean it as a compliment and other times not.
What caused you to leave the label? Did they sort you out with a nice package?
Basically I had an inexperienced A&R. He was reluctant to inform the larger guys at Sony what was happening, which isn't good I guess. I feel the wrong single was released. I was not a huge fan of the video. The promotion was not right. It was a mix of things. I do not want to whine about it really. I think what with the Sony BMG merger, it might have happened anyway. A lot of people were fired and dropped. I never got a redundancy package but I'm still owed thirty grand which I need right now. Haha.
Have you been keeping the rhyme books going during this time?
Not like I should be, but I have a lot of ideas and every now and then I put something new on Myspace. I'm trying to find some producers and artists to work with here in Cali' right now, so hopefully big things for 2007.
What projects have you been working on and when do you think they'll drop?
I was working in Amsterdam with Sovereign and done some work on Akira The Don's last mix tape. I would like to focus on an album now and yeah, I'm confident that when it is done and sounding right I hope it would see the light of day.
How do you think you've developed as an artist?
I work on my flow a lot more now and experiment with sounds and different genres more often. I have not got a name for mystyle right now. Damn. I guess, check out 'The Sing Along' demo on Myspace. That was the most recent thing I've done. I got new ideas all the time though.
Who are some of your biggest present day influences and inspirations?
My life is still number one inspiration. I get jokes from the fact that on top of my life story so far, I can now add that I'm living in South Central L.A. so new shit to write about. Sov, Akira The Don inspire me right now, 'cause they are two good friends of mine and they've both just released their first LPs and that's heavy! Big up Tego and Whylout? too and Sladey and Envy. They have nothing but positivity for me and I have nothing but the same for them. My girl too. She is fuckin' great.
Are you still getting major labels calling you up and showing an interest?
I heard a few would be if I give them the music. I'm hoping next year I get some US labels into my shit. I would like to have more music for them first.
Would you still consider a major deal or would you now prefer to go it the indy route?
I would not mind to be honest. I just want to be able to tour, release my music to the masses and live comfortably. Haha. Damn it. Is that too much to ask?
How much do you keep up with the UK scene?
To be honest, I'm keeping up with a select few and that is all. Now you have asked me though, I am going to listen to Ex on the net to see what is new. No matter what, I'll fly the flag for the UK though and will have love for the scene. I love how UK hiphop has expanded. Now I hope it continues to do so and like I said before, people can hate Sov' all they want but she is flying the UK flag the highest right now, regardless if people want to accept that or not.
I mean, in Dam Jay Z called my phone and invited us to dinner. Man, that's nuts and that's where Sov' is at right now… I'd like to see more of us UK heads on that level. Look beyond the UK. There is a whole world for us to get at. I think the world wants to hear more from the UK. Infact, I know they do.
The scene's pretty different to when you came out. How ya feeling the emergence of Grime music?
Grime was there, but yeah, now there is the togetherness of the scenes which was not really there before. I think Dizzee had a huge impact on that. Skinner too, fused genres. I mean, people were doing it but they done it on a mass level at that time. A good MC is a good MC regardless and we all rep the same place so togetherness is a good thing. To me, Grime is the UK's take on crunk and crunk is hiphop… therefore grime is hiphop. There are so many branches on this fucking hiphop tree now, it's stupendous… even Jay Z is riding the 'Forward' Riddim.
Where can people keep up with your news and music?
Have you got any shout out's to people back home?
Yes. Big up to Sovereign, Akira the Don, Tego and WhyLout, Black Piranhas, Frewsion, Jack Shack, Amy Winehouse, Tyler, Oddkidd, Jace and to any to everyone else that deserves it but I forgot. Special Thanks to you for this interview and last but not least my Mrs, because she is looking after me with my fucked up stomach flu… Boo Hoo.